March 24, 2020

My Dream Team

And so, it's official.

Tokyo and the IOC announced today that the 2020 Summer Olympics will be postponed, likely not happening until next year.

It's not a surprising move, given all the other cancellations we've already seen -- not to mention the fact that Japan was smack dab in the middle of the coronavirus crisis at the outset.

Still it throws yet another wrench into what's already been a tumultuous season for tennis, and how the Games are ultimately scheduled brings up a lot of questions for the sport, as Jon Wertheim lays out so well in this Sports Illustrated piece. After all, officials aren't planning according to the tennis calendar -- as much as I'd like to believe that this sport is the one around which all others revolve, they've got to plan for everyone participating, athletes and otherwise, and there's no guarantee that the same weeks between Wimbledon and the U.S. Open will work next year.

But all those issues aside, one opportunity the delay does provide is that players not quite in the running to make the team this year can put their nose to the grindstone and qualify in 2021 -- that, of course, assumes they have a chance to put their nose to the grindstone. So today I'm going to wildly speculate about a couple of people I'd like to see play in some sixteen months time -- and since I'm in New York, I'll focus on the home team.

Let's start with the men -- John Isner currently sits atop the Americans' singles rankings, and while he did make the quarters in London, he skipped the Rio Games in favor of Atlanta and was already leaning toward sitting out this one too. Still there are a host of other men who could fill his shoes. Taylor Fritz and Reilly Opelka have the ranking points, and Tennys Sandgren, after his stellar run in Melbourne, has (had?) the momentum that could propel him to the top shortly once we get back in action, and you know my heart had early on been set on a star turn from Frances Tiafoe.

Unfortunately, some of the younger players way down the rankings who could be hitting their prime next year, may not get enough match play in time to boost their stature -- teenagers like Brandon Nakashima and Sebastian Korda have both had some nice results recently, but sitting sub-200 they may be a little too long of a shot.

By the way, let's not forget doubles. The Bryan Brothers, long a staple on the American roster, are supposed to retire after the U.S. Open, which should have allowed them to raise the flag for their country one more time. Will they change their minds, or do we need to look for some other options? I'd love to see Rajeev Ram take the lead -- the Australian Open champ has been playing a lot with Britain's Joe Salisbury, but could be a good anchor for a U.S. pair.

And then there are the ladies, who are also in danger of seeing some of their most stalwart representatives passing the age sweet spot for the sport -- Serena Williams will be 39 and Venus could be 41. Sure there's a cadre of young talent in the mix, from Sofia Kenin to Alison Riske to Coco Gauff, who'll finally be free from restrictions at the ripe old age of 17 next summer.

But there are a couple other women who could also make the cut. Outside the highest-ranked players, there's Jennifer Brady, who beat Ashleigh Barty in Brisbane and Elina Svitolina in Dubai, and Jessica Pegula, who reached the final in Auckland. Either one may storm back on the scene and surprise us all. But let's also keep an eye on 18-year-old Caty McNally -- she's had most of her success on the doubles court and is far overshadowed by her compatriots, but she's still got a win over Sam Stosur this year and took a set off Serena in New York in 2019. We always like to find a few star to focus our attention on, and there's no reason she can't be the next one.

Of course, like so many things these days, all this prognostication is like spitting in the wind. Who knows when we'll be back on the tennis courts and how even the best players will fare after such a long gap between match play? Still with so much real uncertainty out there, why not create a little of a more frivolous sort?

And as we all wait for the one day when it's actually safe to #ReopenAmerica, I'll send you all a virtual hug and hope to see you on the courts soon.

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