April 26, 2020

An Experiment Worth Watching

Tomorrow the Mutua Madrid Open kicks off its innovative Virtual Pro tournament -- a stab at not only giving tennis players and fans something to watch during the global shutdown, but also helping support those who may be under more pressure these days than the biggest stars. It's a truly noble effort, one I hope other events will be able to replicate as this pandemic drags on.

But I've already talked at length on the competition's virtues. So instead, today I'm going back to the good old days when we could actually size up the field.

To be fair, "sizing up the field" in an event like this requires some bold assumptions that may not have any basis in reality. Like with the year-end championships, the Virtual Pro is structured in groups of round robins, where the top two finishers will make the quarterfinals and then will play a traditional bracket-style elimination after that. But with the players battling on screen rather than on court, any advantage that comes with seedings and brute strength is all but eliminated when they pick up a game controller.

Still that allows for a motley group to participate. Caroline Wozniacki and David Ferrer are both retired, Bianca Andreescu was still recovering from a knee injury that's kept her out of play since October, and I'd never even heard of Fiona Ferro before this event. There's no reason these guys couldn't "upset" Rafael Nadal or Karolina Pliskova. And maybe I'm just stereotyping the generation, but I imagine that Alexander Zverev and Stefanos Tsitsipas are probably pretty good at video games.

So having said all that, and without consequence, I'll go ahead and pick who I think will make the quarters in each group.

The men: Denis Shapovalov, Gael Monfils, Dominic Thiem, David Ferrer, Stefanos Tsitsipas, Kei Nishikori, Alexander Zverev, and Karen Khachanov.

The women: Fiona Ferro, Carla Suarez Navarro, Elina Svitolina, Victoria Azarenka, Bianca Andreescu, Caroline Wozniacki, Donna Vekick, and Genie Bouchard.

But of course, in the end, it doesn't really matter who comes out on top. It's just good to know that all these guys are playing for a good cause, and hopefully we'll all come out better off on the other side of this.

And if you want to watch all the action, you can do so on Facebook in English or Spanish starting tomorrow morning.

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