Bringing off-court news…
In short, there are no COVID Rules at this year’s Australian Open, which has shocked Bianca Andreescu after having endured some of the strictest quarantine rules on the planet in 2022.
As a Spaniard, a Mallorcan, and a global traveler, the launch of our hotel brand is a project I have had in mind for a long time. ZEL is synonymous with feeling good at all times and enjoying life and how we live it throughout the Mediterranean. I was really attracted to this new concept that we have been working on with Meliá from the start. Rafael Nadal
Last year, in-coming flights were subject to hard quarantine for 2 weeks but now, players who test positive for COVID-19 are being allowed to continue their participation at the event.
“Last time I was in Melbourne, I was quarantined in my room for 2 weeks. Damn,” the Canadian tweeted.
With the worst of the pandemic seemingly over, quarantine rules worldwide, including Australia, have eased.
Meanwhile, Italy’s Camila Giorgi is being investigated for allegedly receiving falsified vaccination proof documentation last year.
While travellers no longer need to provide proof of vaccination to enter Australia, it seems Giorgi competed at both in Melbourne and at the US Open last year when such documentation was required.
The Giorgi family doctor, Daniela Grillon, claims the athlete obtained a fake COVID-19 vaccination certificate.
Grillone was arrested in February 2022 and charged in Vicenza with administering fake serums and providing fake vaccination certificates to dozens of high-profile people in Italy.
In December, La Repubblica dropped a bombshell as it released the names of several celebrities and public figures who are being investigated for using false COVID-19 vaccination certificates.
Girogi’s participation in the 2022 season-opening Grand Slam in Australia will no doubt raise major concerns for tennis authorities as former World No 1 Novak Djokovic was infamously deported from the country over his decision not to get vaccinated against COVID-19.
The Italian, ranked 66, is in the main draw at Melbourne Park and drawn to play Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova.
The WTA has stated that it is aware of the allegations against Giorgi, and is ‘currently monitoring the situation and any investigations that may be brought forward’.
Swiatek named Polish Sports Personality of the Year
Iga Swiatek, the WTA’s standard-bearer in 2022, has been named Poland’s Sports Personality of the Year, the first tennis player to win the award since 1937.
Jadwiga Jedrzejowska, Poland’s best player prior to the advent of Open Era tennis in 1968, won the award in 1936 and 1937, and it was Lewandowski, in fact, who nominated Swiatek for the honour .
The 21-year old beat out soccer star Robert Lewandowski and her fellow tennis player, Hubert Hurkacz, among others, to win the award.
“Two years ago, I made it to the second place. Lewandoski was first,” Swiatek said at the WTA Finals. “This year, I’m pretty curious what’s gonna happen!”
Unable to attend the gala in person, Swiatek credited the support she received in her history-making 2022 season in a scenic social media post from an Australian beach where she acknowledged in the award.
After helping Poland reach the semi-finals of the United Cup, Swiatek withdrew from this week’s Adelaide International 2 with a right shoulder injury.
She will be the top seed at the Australian Open, which begins on Monday.
Kia extends AO partnership
Kia is extending its support of the Australian Open as Major Partner to 2028, having first begun in 2002.
Kia hosted an official vehicle handover ceremony at Federation Square in Melbourne on 10 January with two-time AO champion and Kia Global Ambassador Rafael Nadal in attendance.
During the ceremony, Kia presented tournament officials with a fleet of 130 vehicles featuring the popular Carnival MPV, Sorento SUV, Sportage SUV and fully electric EV6 crossover.
The vehicles will provide safe, comfortable, and efficient transport for players, match officials and VIPs around Melbourne for the full duration of the tournament.
Svitolina to return
Elina Svitolina is set to return to the tour after childbirth, taking to the practice court and signing a new deal with the agency that also represents Dominic Thiem and Daria Kasatkina.
Her comeback is being planned for some stage in the 2023 season.
The Ukrainian recently with Kosmos Management, a boutique athlete representation agency.
“Elina, who has won 16 WTA singles titles, will be working with John Morris as she looks to make her return to tennis in 2023 after having given birth to her first child last year,” a statement read.
Svitolina and her husband, Gael Monfils, became parents to daughter Skaï Monfils in October 2022.
“I am really happy to sign with Kosmos Management and work with the team,” Svitolina said. “This is an exciting team in my life and I look forward to exploring different business opportunities with John, Galo, and the team. I can’t wait to start.”
Svitolina has not played since March 2022 owing to pregnancy and childbirth, while Monfils played only 21 singles matches on tour all season and last competed in the Canadian Open in early August.
Rafa Nadal launches electric race-boat team
Spain’s Rafael Nadal has become a new team owner in the UIM E1 World Championship, the world’s first all-electric race-boat championship.
The 22-time Grand Slam champion will enter his own team for the inaugural season, which is set to get underway later this year and will see up to 10 teams and 20 pilots racing on the water in iconic cities around the world.
Nadal, who has expressed support for E1’s mission to accelerate clean mobility and restore marine ecosystems, joins a growing list of sports personalities to own an E1 team, including current Formula 1 driver Sergio Perez’s team affiliated with his native Mexico.
“I’m really excited to be getting involved with a project like E1 that values sustainability and will make a positive impact on society as a whole, especially in coastal communities,” he said. “I also like the fact that E1 has a clear mission and is committed to preserving marine ecosystems.
“As a professional athlete, I recognise how making marginal gains has a positive impact on performance. To see this same competitive spirit and approach being applied at E1 to optimise the performance and efficiency of sustainable marine mobility is good news for our oceans.”
Nadal will also be supporting E1’s Blue Action Programme, which has been designed to create a positive impact on local communities through projects aimed at restoring marine ecosystems along city waterfronts.
Six-time major winner Mirza to retire next month
Multiple doubles Grand Slam winner Sania Mirza of India is planning to retire after the WTA Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships next month.
The former doubles World No 1 is a two-time Asian Games mixed doubles gold medallist, and also won singles silver and doubles bronze at the New Delhi 2010 Commonwealth Games.
The 36-year-old had initially decided to retire at the end of last season, but an elbow injury ruled her out of the US Open, ending her season in August.
The 6-time major champion, 3 in doubles and 3 in mixed doubles, is competin in the Australian Open with Kazakhstan’s Anna Danilina before bidding goodbye in Dubai, where she has been living for more than a decade.
“I was going to stop right after the WTA Finals, because we were going to make the WTA Finals, but I tore my tendon in my elbow right before US Open so I had to pull out of everything,” Mirza was quoted as saying by WTA. “And honestly, the person that I am, I like to do things on my own terms. So I don’t want to be forced out by injury. So I’ve been training.”
Channel 9 loses John McEnroe in AO commentary
Seven-time Grand Slam champion and former World No.1 John McEnroe will not be commentating on the Australian Open for Channel 9 in Australia this after his employer ESPN did not send him to Melbourne.
McEnroe has been a regular in the commentary booth and facilitator of on-court interviews but he will not be on Australian screens, although he apparently will still be heard via Eurosport.
McEnroe is not the only pundit missing from Nine’s commentary team, with former Aussie star Sam Groth was voted in as the Member for Nepean in Victoria’s state election in November.
Two-time Australian Open winner Jim Courier, however, will return, joining Todd Woodbridge, Lleyton Hewitt, Jelena Dokic, Dylan Alcott, Casey Dellacqua, Sam Smith, Alicia Molik, Mark Philippoussis, Darren Cahill and Peter Psaltis in the commentary booth.
According to reports Boris Becker is to make his commentary return at the Australian Open following his release from prison in December, after which the 6-time Grand Slam winner was deported from the UK to native Germany after serving just 8 months of his two-and-a-half year prison term, having been found guilty of four charges under the Insolvency Act and for concealing £2.5million worth of assets after being declared bankrupt in 2017.
Just a month after his release, he will return to punditry work as part of German Eurosport ‘s commentary team.
Becker won the Australian Open in 1991 and ’96 but, according to the Daily Mail, his criminal record will prevents him from travelling to Melbourne for the tournament.
Instead it is believed that Becker will work from Eurosport’s TV studio in Munich and is expected to pick up £250,000 for the work.
Becker will co-commentate on feature matches and present a ‘Matchball Becker’ analysis programme twice a day.
Meanwhile, it seems the BBC will be dropping Becker from its Wimbledon coverage as the German is now banned from entering UK due to being a foreign national who didn’t have British citizenship.
Becker, 55, who had lived in the UK since 2012, had been an integral part of part of the BBC’s tennis coverage since 2017.
A source told the Sun newspaper : “His services are no longer required at Wimbledon, his favourite gig. It’s understood his team haven’t been told so he’s sure to be gutted. But he can’t get back into the UK, so covering it wouldn’t be easy.”
Following his release from prison Becker was paid a reported £435,000 for the exclusive interview with German television station Sat TV, when he revealed his prison hell including having death threats from murderers.
As part of a New Year’s Eve video message to fans Becker said: “I call this the most difficult year of my life. But it’s done, it’s dusted. I came out alive – I think I came out stronger. I think my mental health is better than ever.”
Serena Williams baptised as a Jehovah’s Witness
According to reports, Serena Williams has recently been baptised as a Jehovah’s Witness after studying the religion for some time.
The American has spoken about her desire to get more involved in the faith, but had never fully committed to it until now.
During an interview with Vogue in 2017, the 23-time Grand Slam champion said: “Being a Jehovah’s Witness is important to me, but I’ve never really practiced it and have been wanting to get into it.
“Alexis didn’t grow up going to any church, but he’s really receptive and even takes the lead. He puts my needs first.”
Williams was baptised at the Jehovah’s Witness Assembly in West Palm Beach Florida.
Forbes list of the World’s Highest-Paid Female Athletes of 2022 features 12 women players of the 25 athletes mentioned, who have accumulated an estimated $285 million between them during the year before agents’ fees and taxes.
The list, which takes into account on and off-field earnings, is full of some of the most prominent and influential athletes in sports.
Naomi Osaka, absent from the WTA Tour as she is pregnant, snagged the No 1 spot for the third consecutive year, with her earnings reaching $51.1 million in 2022.
Only $1.1 million of Osaka’s $51.1 million came from on-court earnings, though, as she suffered injuries throughout the 2022 campaign that impacted her appearances in tournaments.
Superstar Serena Williams came in at No 2 ($41.3 million in earnings) and Olympic skier Eileen Gu ($20.1 million) at No 3.
Osaka and Williams are the only two women to place in the Top 50, while, according to Forbes, only 6 athletes made more than Osaka in off-court endorsements this year.
World No 1 Iga Świątek, who won the French and US Opens in 2022, had $9.9 million of her $14.9 million come from prize money.
Here are the top 10 highest-paid female athletes in 2022:
- Naomi Osaka, Tennis: $51.1 million
- Serena Williams, Tennis: $41.3 million
- Eileen Gu, Freestyle Skiing: $20.1 million
- Emma Raducanu, Tennis: $18.7 million
- Iga Świątek, Tennis: $14.9 million
- Venus Williams, Tennis: $12.1 million
- Coco Gauff, Tennis: $11.1 million
- Simone Biles, Gymnastics: $10 million
- Jessica Pegula, Tennis: $7.6 million
- Minjee Lee, Golf: $7.3 million
The Forbes 2022 list highlights the growth in earnings for female athletes, with 8 making more than $10 million, twice as many as in 2021.
It is the first time more than 7 women have crossed that threshold in a single year since the magazine introduced the ranking in 2008, with Swiatek, Emma Raducanu and Coco Gauff each crossed that milestone for the first time.
Indigenous art and culture to be celebrated at AO First Nations Day
The Australian Open will celebrate the world’s longest continuous living culture on First Nations Day with a packed program of art, food and performances, on Wednesday 18 January.
Seven-time Grand Slam champion Evonne Goolagong Cawley and three-time Grand Slam champion and proud Ngarigo woman Ash Barty will both participate in First Nations Day, which is now a permanent AO feature following the huge success of the inaugural event in 2022.
A 14-strong First Nations ball-kid squad will also take to the courts at the AO, with the team selected from across the country during trials at the National Indigenous Tennis Carnival in Darwin and training sessions in Victoria.
“First Nations Day at AO 2023 is going to be fantastic,” Wurundjeri Senior Elder Aunty Joy Murphy AO said “Tennis Australia has worked hand in hand with our community to recognise and value Aboriginal people and culture.
“Each year gets better and better and I am so excited about the diversity of activations.”
Tennis Australia supports the Uluru Statement of the Heart and encourages the national conversation to continue to ultimately formalise a lasting and appropriate voice for First Nations people to the national Parliament.
Inclusion rests at the heart of our sport. With the intention of honouring our proud First Nations sporting heritage, our aim is to continue to work closely with members, players and indigenous elders in the communities in which we play to help realise the aspirations of the Uluru Statement of the Heart.
A range of activities and performances will be held throughout the day.
AO extends with Chubb
Tennis Australia and Chubb, the world’s largest publicly-traded property and casualty insurance company, have extended their multi-year partnership with the Australian Open up to and including 2025.
Chubb, which has been the official insurance AO partner since 2020, has a global presence, operating across 54 countries and territories, and provides commercial and personal property and casualty insurance, personal accident and reinsurance solutions to a diverse group of clients.
Chubb’s partnership will be brought to life at the Australian Open 2023 with exclusive broker and client hospitality, on-court signage, an on-ground consumer activation, and sponsorship of the Australian Open’s digital daily highlights.
Nadal Launches New Global Hotel Brand ZEL
Rafael Nadal is expanding his global empire with a new lifestyle brand in partnership with Meliá Hotels International.
The new lifestyle hotel brand in Madrid includes resorts and urban hotels that will first debut in Spain, followed by future destinations in Europe, the Middle East, Asia, and America.
The joint venture between the two global brands, both with Mallorcan roots, will also include strategic international partners focused on F&B, design, well-being, and technology.
“As a Spaniard, a Mallorcan, and a global traveler, the launch of our hotel brand is a project I have had in mind for a long time,” Nadal said. “ZEL is synonymous with feeling good at all times and enjoying life and how we live it throughout the Mediterranean.
“I was really attracted to this new concept that we have been working on with Meliá from the start.
“I’m confident that ZEL will be a great success and will achieve considerable growth and be enjoyed by all of our guests, which is why we are creating it.”
The future plan is to launch more than 20 hotels within 5 years, focusing on destinations that attract premium-quality leisure travellers in the key regions where Meliá Hotels International operates in Europe, America, the Middle East, and Asia.
With a focus on the Mediterranean coast and in capital cities such as Madrid, Paris, and London, the first ZEL hotel will open in Mallorca in 2023.
Nadal has his hands in a wide variety of international businesses, and teamed up with singer Enrique Iglesias and then soccer star Cristiano Ronaldo to invest in the restaurant chains TATEL and TOTÓ.
The first TATEL restaurant opened in Madrid, followed by others in Ibiza, Miami, Beverly Hills, Doha and soon in Dubai.
TATEL serves Spanish-Mediterranean food, while TOTÓ, located in Madrid, offers Italian cuisine with traditional recipes, inspired by the Italian cinema of the 1950s.
Nadal opened the first Rafa Nadal Tennis Centre in 2018, located at the Grand Palladium Costa Mujeres Resort & Spa in Mexico, offering training programs for adults and children.
The Rafa Nadal Tennis Center also opened in the Sani Resort in Greece.
Kyrgios & Osaka become co-owners of Miami Pickleball Club
Nick Kyrgios and Naomi Osaka became co-owners of the Miami Pickleball Club, a facility dedicated to the rapidly growing sport of pickleball.
For those unfamiliar with pickleball, it is a paddle sport that combines elements of tennis, badminton, and table tennis.
It is played on a smaller court with a lower net and is often described as a mix between tennis and ping pong.
Kyrgios and Osaka, both of whom are known for their competitive spirits and love of sports, see the acquisition as a way to give back to the pickleball community and help grow the sport.
They have both achieved tremendous success in their respective sports, are no strangers to the world of business.
Kyrgios also named 3 other athletes, basketball players LeBron James and Kevin Durant and NFL legend Tom Brady, who are co-owners of another pickleball club, and hinted at a future rivalry.
“We are coming for you LeBron James, Kevin Duran, Tom Brady,” he posted on social media.