By Cheryl Jones
In 1991 there was a lot going on for a young boy whose family skied very well. He could certainly ski well; it was part of his genetic makeup. But, at four, he decided that he liked tennis. And to his family’s surprise he was good. Not just, “Oh, how cute – a four year old playing tennis”, good, but extraordinary. When he was six, Jelena Gencic, a Yugoslav tennis player spotted him and told his parents that he was the greatest talent she had seen since Monica Seles. Gencic worked with him until he was twelve. She then suggested that he move to the Pilic Tennis Academy in Germany where he spent the next several years working on his game.
A diligent fellow at heart, he wasted no time. He became a professional when he was sixteen. Looking back at his ATP rankings shows what seems to be a meteoric rise in the rankings. July 7, 2003 he was at 767. By August of 2007 he was number three in the world. Since then his rankings have consistently been at the top of the heap. He was number one for four years during 2011, 2012, 2014, and 2015. His play remains amazingly consistent, despite hitting a few speed bumps along the way.
A few years ago, after a myriad of health problems that seemed like allergies, he consulted specialists that figured out it was gluten intolerance. He discontinued the wheat and whatever else that contains gluten from his on the go menu. A dramatic change occurred. No more allergic reactions. Even with a few stumbles recently that saw him change coaches, today he is Number 2, and like Avis, he always tries harder.
The first Monday of 2017 Roland Garros saw him defeat Marcel Granollers of Spain in a lengthy, two hour and 27 minute straight-sets match. It wasn’t really close on paper, but Granollers made the most of his time in the spotlight on Court Philippe Chatrier early in the afternoon. The 6-3, 6-4, 6-2 score belied the competitive efforts of the Spaniard who kept Djokovic on his now thirty year-old nimble toes.
Card players know that there is a “tell” when someone either has a good or a bad hand. Djokovic has always had what I think is a “tell”. He has a habit of bouncing the ball before he serves and the number and frequency of the bounces change with his impression of how he’s doing in a match. Normally there is a six or seven bounce prelude to his serve. His nervous serve has six or seven bounces, then a halt and six or seven more. The bounces usually add up to thirteen. Today’s match included just a few of the thirteen-bounce variety, but they were there.
After the match, he explained how it felt to step on the court after his win last year that gave him a coveted prize that went beyond the Coupe de Mousquitaires he garnered when he became the 2016 winner at Roland Garros. He said, “Well, different (from before) because obviously coming to this tournament for the first time as defending champion gave me, probably more than anything else, relief, you know because the anticipation and the pressure and expectations that I had also for myself, but all the other people around me in the last three, four, five years before 2016 Roland Garros trophy was really big.”
It was more than “extra” big because it completed his very own career Grand Slam. He already had taken home the prizes from the other slams – six from the Australian Open; three from Wimbledon and two from the US Open.
A win this year would put him in a very exclusive “club”. If he can manage to make it through the draw with Rafael Nadal, somehow out of the picture, he might be able to eke out a win and become the third man in history to win all of the slams – twice. He would join Rod Laver and Roy Emerson, who are the only men to have won each of the grand slams twice. That said, there’s another biggie that would go down in the history books. He would be able to do it in the Open Era. Even though Laver won some of his titles in that era, Emerson and he were in competition before the change.
There is a lot to be said for goals that increase one’s chances of leaving an indelible mark in the history books. He’s done a yeoman’s job of making everything fit together to give him an opportunity to achieve the objectives that he must have begun to strive for when he was twelve and living away from Belgrade and his family.
He recently announced that he had brought André Agassi on as his coach. After today’s performance, it seems like that plan is working very well. It’s another one of those only time will tell instances.
After his win today, he didn’t seek the spotlight for himself alone. He stepped to the center of the court and asked the ball kids to join him in an impromptu dip and wave to the crowd. He’s a diplomat in shorts, carrying a tennis racquet. Tennis needs him. He is a wonderful ambassador to the world in general; but for tennis, he is a gem from Belgrade that sparkles more than a diamond, and with that, reflects all that’s good in the game.
US Open: Shelby Rogers Delivers; Serena Still A Threat To Win 24th Major
After all of these years of playing in the U.S. Open, Shelby Rogers is finally a seeded player.
The Charleston, S.C., native has been playing America’s premier tennis event almost continuously since her debut in New York in 2010. She’ll turn 30 years old in a few weeks and has worked her way up the rankings to 31st in the world.
That’s a big achievement from the little girl who hung on the fences more than two decades ago to watch her older sister Sabra play high school matches that eventually led to an Al-American career for Sabra at Emory University. Sabra became a psychologist and, of course, is one of Shelby’s biggest fans.
LOOK OUT FOR ROGERS?
Rogers took the direct route. She didn’t play high school tennis, but left the classroom before high school to train in tennis, study online and play the junior circuit. She turned pro in 2009 at age 16.
Monday evening at the Billie Jean King Tennis Center, It took Rogers awhile to start living up to her ranking. But once she turned the corner after dropping the first set in nine games, Shelby started looking like a seasoned top 30 player.
Rogers sort of blew The Netherlands’ slim Arantxa Rus away, taking a 3-6, 6-3, 6-4 victory in the opening round of the U.S. Open. Rogers especially played the deciding 28th game of the match like the veteran pro she is. She hit one long forehand and netted one ball in that game, but otherwise she rode her big serve to victory in the clinching game. At 40-30, she delivered a huge first serve down the middle that Rus couldn’t put into play.
WOMEN’S RACE TO TOP PRIZE WIDE OPEN
The way things are on the women’s tour these days, with no true leader while once-amazing top-ranked Iga Swiatek tries to regain her dominance, anything is possible.
Yes, even finally a 24th Grand Slam title for Serena Williams.
But this is about Shelby Rogers. She is playing the best tennis of her career nearly a decade and a half after her life as a professional tennis player started.
With any kind of luck, Rogers could leave New York ranked among the top 25 players in the world, or maybe higher if she continues to serve and play the kind of big-ball tennis she played in the last 19 games Monday night.
WHO’S NEXT IN LINE
So, what’s after Swiatek, who started the year on fire with a long unbeaten streak that went through the French Open and rewarded her with as many points as the confined totals of the Nos. 2 and 3 players. Of course, Ashleigh Barty’s retirement after winning the Australian Open opened the door for Swiatek’s rise to the top.
And then Wimbledon’s grass took care of Swiatek.
Nos. 2-5 Anett Kontaveit, Maria Sakkari, Paula Badosa and Ons Jabeur are all outstanding players, but none currently fit in the great column. They appear to be waiting in line for Swiatek or another Barty-like player to step forward to rule the women’s tour.
WHAT ABOUT UKRAINE’S DARIA!
Then there are almost totally unknown players such as Ukraine’s Daria Snigur. I hadn’t given Snigur much chance at all on the pro tour until her shocking U.S. Open first-round victory over multi-Grand Slam tournament winner and seventh-ranked Simona Halep.
The last time I had thought about Snigur was when she upended Charleston’s Emma Navarro in the Junior Wimbledon semifinals and then won the Junior Grand Slam tournament.
At Junior Wimbledon in 2019, I thought Navarro, who also is now on the WTA Tour and is currently ranked 145th in the world, would roll past Snigur the way she had in the 2019 Junior French Open quarterfinals. But Snigur is so deceptive with her ground strokes that strike like lightning, she dominated Navarro at that Junior Wimbledon.
So, maybe the currently 124th-ranked Snigur may be ready to make a mark on the tour after scoring her first tour victory by defeating Halep.
NO NOVAK, BUT RAFA IS THERE
Without Novak Djokovic, the men are about as unpredictable as the women, with the exception of one player. Rafa Nadal, of course, entered this U.S. Open, with a perfect 19-0 record this year in Grand Slams.
Daniil Medvedev is the defending champion at the U.S. Open, but even though he is ranked No. 1 in the world, it’s a long road to the final for the Russian. Medvedev hasn’t always been predictable.
And already, No. 4 Stefanos Tsitsipas has been eliminated by a complete unknown, Daniel Elahi Galan.
Wow! The Greek star probably was about as much of a favorite as Medvedev.
And poor Dominic Thiem was cast on an outside court. And he lost. Just a couple of years ago, Thiem was winning the U.S. Open.
My top five picks in order would be: Nadal, Jannik Sinner, Nick Kyrgios, Medvedev and Andy Murray. Yes, Andy looks pretty fit.
James Beck was the 2003 winner of the USTA National Media Award for print media. A 1995 MBA graduate of The Citadel, he can be reached at Jamesbecktennis@gmail.com.
Will Rafael Nadal Keep The Grand Slam Winning Feeling Going In New York?
Rafael Nadal has injury doubts heading into his search for a 23rd grand slam title in New York.
Rafael Nadal will look to repeat successes from Melbourne and Paris by answering his doubters with triumph in New York.
The Spaniard enters the last grand slam with injury doubts having only just come back from an abdominal injury suffered in his Wimbledon quarter-final against Taylor Fritz.
It was injury that saw his calendar grand slam dream come to an end and ever since then has been recovering in the hopes of finishing the grand slam year strong in New York.
However in his first match back Nadal was defeated in three sets to Borna Coric in New York which has put doubts on whether the Spaniard can be a threat in the US.
Nadal will likely not have to worry about Novak Djokovic but a victory in New York could see him be world number one with current number one Daniil Medvedev defending the title.
The likes of Medvedev, Carlos Alcaraz and Stefanos Tsitsipas will be standing in Nadal’s way and if the Spaniard isn’t match-fit then he could face an early exit.
However as tennis pundit Barbara Schett pointed out, ruling out Nadal at this stage would be foolish and the Spaniard always raises his level at the grand slams, “The match is always different from practice,” Schett told Eurosport.
“And whoever had an abdominal injury and a tear on the abdominal muscles knows how it feels. You have to be extremely cautious. You’re worried that you’re going to reinjure it again.
“And I think that’s what we’ve seen on Wednesday. When he played against Coric, he was a little bit uncertain how the body was going to hold up. And for sure he’s going to feel better and better.
“If there’s no damage to the abdominal muscle, then he still has a week and a half to improve his health, to improve the trust also that he can extend and he can’t bend on the serve because that’s the trickiest shot, the serve and the smash.
“When that is the case, Rafa Nadal certainly can be dangerous again at the US Open. I mean, he’s so fired up at every single Grand Slam. We’ve seen this year playing the best tennis of his life. You can never, ever write him off.”
Nadal is currently undefeated at grand slams and if fit, the Spaniard will certainly fancy himself to win another seven matches at the US Open this year.
Whatever it should be interesting to see if Nadal improves before the US Open with the tournament starting on the 29th of August.
Does WTA Need A Top Rivalry To Drive The Sport?
Iga Swiatek is the WTA’s dominant world number one but does she need a rival in order to drive the sport to new heights.
The WTA has a dominant world number one and a variety of talented players on the tour but the one thing it’s lacking at the moment is a top rivalry.
First of all it was supposed to be Bianca Andreescu and Naomi Osaka, then Ash Barty and Osaka and also Barty and Iga Swiatek.
However none of these match-ups created a top rivalry over a long period to generate an overwhelming amount of interest.
After Barty’s shock retirement, many people were left disappointed at the fact that her and current dominant world number one Iga Swiatek could not compete for the sport’s biggest titles in a fierce rivalry.
Now Swiatek sits at the top of the WTA rankings with almost a 4,000 point lead at the top. The rest of the field are very talented and that in itself is an intriguing aspect of the WTA’s appeal.
But the one thing the women’s game lacks is a top rivalry to generate a hype that the ATP clearly has right now.
As Mark Petchey said it’s an issue that needs solving soon as every sport has one, “Rivalries drive the sport. What they do is make sure that it manifests itself in a big polarisation of a large fan base, against another one,” Petchey was quoted as saying by Tennis365.
“You look across the board, over F1, look at the tribal nature of AFL, of Premier League football here. It’s a huge part of what you need to have a successful sport. That is the one thing that is missing from the women’s tour at the moment, is a superb rivalry, with a little bit of edge.
“That’s why I say I’m sad that Ash pulled up stumps, because I think that rivalry could’ve developed with Iga in that way. Would it have been quite as intense as the Rafa-Novak and Roger-Novak rivalries? Probably not. But it would have been there. Going into every major saying that you’re not looking forward to a specific clash potentially when the draw comes out, does hurt the tour a little bit.
“You can’t keep saying ‘oh, anyone can win it’. Because you’re just not tagging anybody… you’re not setting the scene for something amazing that’s going to happen, a nice little volcanic eruption right at the back-end of a major. They need some people to be a bit more consistent and getting through, because that’s what will be a massive driver for the WTA.”
It’s hard to argue with those points of view from Petchey as rivalries are what are talked about for decades after players have retired.
It will be interesting to see whether Swiatek will continue to dominate the rest of the field or whether someone can build a rivalry with the Pole heading into the remainder of the season.
The next big WTA event of the year will take place at the Rogers Cup in Toronto on the week of the eighth of August.
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