From Iva Majoli To Jelena Ostapenko - UBITENNIS
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From Iva Majoli To Jelena Ostapenko

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Jelena Ostapenko (zimbio.com)

Two decades ago, there was another Jelena Ostapenko. Iva Majoli, too, was 19 years old when she showed up at Roland Garros. She shocked the tennis world when she upended Martina Hingis in the 1997 French Open final.

 

Majoli actually may have been a better tennis player than Ostapenko. Make that a more complete tennis player.

But the slender Croatian never won anything major again, although she did show up in Charleston in 2002 and prevented crowd favorite Patty Schnyder from winning a Family Circle Cup title. Majoli was never heard much from on the tour after winning that Family Circle. She retired a couple years later.

OSTAPENKO WAS IN CHARLESTON FINAL

Ostapenko was in the final of the Volvo Car Open a couple of months ago. Of course, the Family Circle Cup was the forerunner of the VCO.

But Daria Kasatkina proved to be much superior in tennis smarts than Ostapenko. And, for that matter, Simona Halep, too.

As one writer described Kasatkina’s 6-3, 6-1 domination of Ostapenko at the VCO, “Poor Jelena went into over-hit mode and played right into Kasatkina’s hands. The Russian (Kasatkina) knew exactly what to do. She started playing the mind game with a softer, less aggressive approach.

“Ostapenko continued to go for broke, whether she was in position or not. By then, she was  lunging into what she hoped would be winners, not errors. Balls flew everywhere.

“It got even worse when Kasatkina went into a semi-moon ball attack. Kasatkina’s blooping balls bounced short and didn’t come up high on the clay. They caught Ostapenko off stride as she floated balls over the baseline.”

HALEP PLAYED HER NORMAL GAME

Darren Cahill is an excellent coach with a great tennis mind. Surely, he had seen video of what happened to Ostapenko in Charleston and prepared Halep to take advantage of Ostapenko’s weaknesses in Saturday’s French Open final.

If so, Halep must not have heard her coach. She played her normal “vanilla” game. She actually played well, but without strategy.

Halep kept the ball in the middle of the court much of the match, balls landing near the service line and bouncing up into Ostapenko’s power alley. “Is that one just about the right height?”

Ostapenko feasted on them, hardly having to move.

Ostapenko was on fire, and Halep fed the flame in a 4-6, 6-4, 6-3 victory for the young Latvian.

Halep must have thought her “A” game would be too good for Ostapenko. When Halep wasn’t keeping the ball in the middle of the court, she hit solid cross-court ground strokes to the corners. No bloopers, no short balls, no slice backhands.

In short, no flexibility.

HALEP LACKS FLEXIBILITY

This French Open final may have revealed why at an age nearing 27, Halep hasn’t won a Grand Slam title. She doesn’t have the power of an Ostapenko or the finesse of a Hingis.

Halep has a pretty game to match her looks. She’s obviously a great athlete, muscles bulging out of her lower legs.

But she plays a fragile game of little flexibility.

You might also say that Ostapenko’s game also lacks flexibility. The difference, however, is that when this powerhouse of a young woman is on her game, her opponent’s only option is to enforce change.

Halep didn’t, or couldn’t.

MIRACLES GO KID’S WAY

Even miracles went against Halep. What else could you call the gift that was handed to Ostapenko with Halep serving at 30-40, 3-3 in the third set. A wild Ostapenko backhand down the backhand line was headed out by at least 10 feet when the ball miraculously hit the top of the tape between the sideline and net post, reverse-bounced sideways and dropped just inside of the sideline.

Instead of deuce, Halep suddenly found herself facing a 4-3 deficit.

Even the match point appeared to be sheer luck for the Latvian youngster. With Halep serving at 30-30, Ostapenko got a backhand on Halep’s serve. The lame-duck return caromed off Ostapenko’s racket and fell just inside the far sideline. Halep could only watch.

Match point!

Maybe there was more to this one than just a kid winning her first WTA Tour title in a Grand Slam.

James Beck is the long-time tennis columnist for the Charleston (S.C.) Post and Courier newspaper. He can be reached at Jamesbecktennis@gmail.com. See his Post and Courier columns at http://www.postandcourier.com/search/?l=25&sd=desc&s=start_time&f=html&t=article%2Cvideo%2Cyoutube%2Ccollection&app=editorial&q=james+beck&nsa=eedition

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Cori Gauff: The Finest Example Of The Williams Sisters Legacy At Wimbledon

$1 million in endorsements and a win over Venus before her 16th birthday. America has a new sporting sensation on the horizon.

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photo by Roberto Dell'Olivo

WIMBLEDON: A star was born at the All England Club on Monday as the latest teenage talent sent soundwaves around the women’s circuit.

 

Just over a week ago 15-year-old Cori Gauff found out that she has received a wild card to play in this year’s Wimbledon qualifying tournament. Battling through three rounds, she reached her first main draw at a major. The youngest player in the Open Era to have ever done that. Little did the public know at the time, that was only the start.

Taking to Court 1, Gauff took on her idol, Venus Williams. A seven-time grand slam champion who made her debut at the tournament almost seven years before she was born. In a battle of the generations, youth prevailed as Gauff roared to a sensational 6-4, 6-4, win. Producing a mental and physical display that went well beyond her age. Hitting 18 winners to eight unforced errors and saving two out of the three break points she faced.

“I’m super shocked. But I’m just super blessed that Wimbledon decided to give me the wild card. I mean, I never expected this to happen.” Said Gauff.
“I literally got my dream draw, so I’m just super happy I was able to pull it out today. She played amazing, was just super nice. She’s always been nice the couple times I met her.”

Gauff is one of the many who have benefitted from the legacy created by both Williams and her sister Serena. The most successful siblings in the entire history of the sport. Just seconds after the biggest win of her life, Gauff spoke with Venus at the net. Paying tribute to what she has achieved in the sport.

“I was just telling her thank you for everything she’s done for the sport. She’s been an inspiration for many people. I was just really telling her thank you.”

It could be argued that too much hype is gathering around the youngster, who had to take an online science test on the eve of her final qualifying match. However, Gauff is not an ordinary teenager. Even before Wimbledon, she has earned the reputation of being a teenage prodigy. As a junior, she contested the final of the US Open at the age of 13 in 2017 before winning the French Open the following year. At the Miami Open in March, she won her first match on the WTA Tour.

“Cori is such an exciting young player. She’s so cool. She’s a great girl. I love her dad. There’s just really cool people.” Former world No.1 Serena said on Saturday.

The rise of the American hasn’t gone unnoticed in the corporate world. She already has endorsements with food manufacturer Barilla, clothing brand New Balance and sports equipment maker Head. Forbes magazine lists her endorsements as being worth in the region of $1 million.

The Williams sisters aren’t her only heroes. Another is Roger Federer, who also has an endorsement deal with Barilla. It was a conversation from the Swiss maestro that Gauff links with her grand slam triumph in the juniors.

“Roger Federer definitely inspired me. When I lost in the first round Australian Open juniors, I talked to him. Gave me kind of a pep talk. The next tournament was French Open juniors, and I ended up winning it, so I guess it helped.” She said.

The desire to be the greatest

Embed from Getty Images

Fresh off her win over Williams, Gauff was questioned as to what her goal was next at The All England Club. She responded by saying, `to win it.’ The determination is something past onto her from her family. Her father, Corey, played basketball at Golden State University. Meanwhile, her mother, Candi, excelled in Track and Field whilst at Florida State University.

“I want to be the greatest. My dad told me that I could do this when I was eight. Obviously, you never believe it.” She explained.
“I’m still, like, not 100% confident. But, like, you have to just say things. You never know what happens.”

Williams is one of those who think Gauff has what it takes to rise to the top. Visibly frustrated by her loss to the rising star, the 39-year-old was impressed with what she saw on the court.

“I think the sky’s the limit, it really is,” Venus said of Gauff.
“She did everything well today. She put the ball in the court, which was much better than I did. She served well, moved well. It was a great match for her.”

Only time will tell how great Gauff can become. It isn’t all down to ability. How she fair over the coming years mentally under the spotlight will be a stern test. As it was for previously teenage talents of the game such as Martina Hingis and Jennifer Capriati. Although the signs are good.

“This is just a tournament. I’ve played a lot of tournaments. Obviously, this one is a little bit different. But I’m just right now relaxing, then focus on the next round tomorrow.” She stated.

Now the talk of the entire tournament, Gauff will play Magdaléna Rybáriková in the second round. A former semi-finalist back in 2017 who knocked out 10th seed Aryna Sabalenka in her opening match. Like Venus said ‘skies the limit’ for the new star of women’s tennis.

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At Curtains For 2019 French Open, It Was All About Women Proffering Intrepidity

Ashleigh Barty’s maiden Major title win over Marketa Vondrousova culminated an eventful fortnight from the women, who held themselves distinct vis-à-vis the men at Roland Garros.

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(photo by Gianni Ciaccia)

What will we remember about the 2019 French Open? The return of Roger Federer, or the restarting of his 15-year-old rivalry at the tournament with Rafael Nadal, or Nadal’s bid for an umpteenth title, or Dominic Thiem’s thwarting of Novak Djokovic’s second Roland Garros – and non-calendar Slam – title. Or, will we think of how botched up French Tennis Federation’s (FFT) organisational and scheduling skills were, in which the male players looked to have preferential footing over the women. The controversy involving Thiem’s and Serena Williams’ press conferences, notwithstanding?

 

We will remember all of these. Even so, thinking about how one press conference was shunted aside to accommodate the other, ostensibly that of a man, will be a reminder of how women snatched the narrative of the event for themselves, from start to finish.

When the women’s singles draw was released, the usual bunch of names remained in the spotlight. Naomi Osaka, Petra Kvitova, (then) defending champion Simona Halep, Karolina Pliskova, Garbine Muguruza, Sloane Stephens, Elina Svitolina, and even Serena Williams dominated the discussion even as the other seeded and non-seeded players remained in contention. As is wont in tennis – especially in women’s tennis – predictions about potential upsets also took an important place of their own, though no one really expected a wild ride this time around.

At least, that was the consensus with expectations overflowing that one among these women would fulfil the coffers of consistency. However, as results flew about in a non-linear manner, rather than heighten frustrations about the women’s tour’s unpredictability, exuberance reigned high about the currently-prevailing depth in the women’s side of the game.

Case in point: Johanna Konta reaching the semi-final in Paris in spite of possessing a poor record previously in the tournament. Or, the manner in which youngsters such as Sofia Kenin, Amanda Anisimova, and Marketa Vondrousova rose collectively in a show-of-arms about them being the sport’s future, extending the subject from where Osaka had left it off at the Australian Open. Even 23-year-old Ashleigh Barty’s winning her first Major against the 19-year-old Vondrousova, for that matter, can be considered a continuation of the aspect of the younger lot shining.

The NextGen Dilemma

And one cannot help but think if the lack of hyping about Next Generation” players among the women has contributed to younger non-favourites finding it easy to establish themselves in the mainstay of the WTA tour.

It would be wrong to compare the men’s half of tennis with that of the women. Nonetheless, there is no denying that the likes of Alexander Zverev, Denis Shapovalov, Felix Auger-Aliassime, Borna Coric and Stefanos Tsitsipas gained somewhat premature prominence. In that, the roadmap about their probable path to glory was set even before they could find – and make – their place in the frenetic tour. To be honest, except for Zverev, and Tsitsipas this year, the others are still struggling to push themselves to where they are capable of belonging.

Not that all younger players in the women’s tour have found their groove. For many, it is still work-in-progress. Having said that though, it is unquestionable that the WTA’s pace is way ahead of that of the ATP in being able to bring its future to the forefront parallelly alongside its present.

That the organisers of the 2019 French Open were oblivious to this unique selling proposition (USP) of the women’s game as it went about prioritising the other gender, then, ought to be remembered the most about the Major. So that by the time the next Slam – and even other events – come about, apathy and indifference do not tar the women’s draw, reducing it to some kind of unavoidable-yet-unimportant sideshow.

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2019 French Open: Where The ‘Fedal’ Twain Shall Meet Again

The re-igniting of the Fedal rivalry at the French Open has renewed implications, going beyond the event itself

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Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, French Open 2005
Photo Credit: Live Tennis

For a while now, make that years’ worth, we have been waiting for a Roger Federer-Rafael Nadal clash at the US Open. The draws have been made, either they have been grouped in the same half – and one has fallen short – or they have happened to be in different halves entirely, and have never met.

 

One reason for the higher-than-usual (in the last couple of years) pangs to see Fedal square-off in New York is because of how each of their meetings in the three other Majors has been. We have seen Nadal end Federer’s reign as the favourite at Wimbledon, and the Australian Open. The first result coming about after multiple attempts while achieving the second, in a far easier manner.

But it is what we have had the opportunity to see in Roland Garros that has kept this rivalry distinct and blazing, impervious to time passing by. Twelve of their previous 38 matches have come at the three Majors. Five of these 12 meetings have come by in Paris, four in finals and once in that fated semi-final in 2005, which in the truest of terms was the origin of this rivalrous duopoly. And, it had to happen the way it did for audiences to understand the significance of what this rivalry was and would continue to be.

Though, for a moment, let us imagine an alternate reality. A reality in which the Swiss, instead of the Spaniard, won their first meeting and the ones to follow thereafter. Let us think of an alt-verse where results at the 2008 French Open and Wimbledon did not turn out the way they did. And it was the Mallorcan in place of the Basel-born who needed a coincidental intervention to halt the latter in his tracks in Paris, the following year.

If all of these had transpired, would we have felt the same way about the two being the nemesis of each other? What hold would each player have had in our lives? Would we be thinking of them as a duology, where each player is one half of a pair that has added to men’s tennis’ qualitative appeal?

Indeed, they would have been rivals still but we would not have seen them as equals – as the greatest of the game – despite the clear unevenness in their head-to-head, albeit in Federer’s favour. Most of all, if they had been slated to play in the semi-final of the French Open nearly a decade-and-a-half removed since their first meeting there under such envisioned reality, perhaps, we would not have been this excited about the prospective match-up.

The reality as we know it is so much better. In its moments of exultation and in times of despair – for the players, their fans and even for the supposedly unbiased viewers – reality has presented the players as humans. Each match between Federer and Nadal has seen both players put forth this quality – humanness – at the forefront while vying for wins. Regardless of how easy or hard the results have come by for either player.

When Federer and Nadal step onto the court for their 39th meeting, they will try to do the same all over again, impassive to time’s turning. As Federer said, “Like against any player, there is always a chance. Otherwise, nobody will be in the stadium to watch because everybody already knows the result in advance…For me to get to Rafa is not simple. It took five matches here for me to win to get there. That’s why I’m very happy to play Rafa, because if you want to do or achieve something on the clay, inevitably, at some stage, you will go through Rafa, because he’s that strong and he will be there.

In a way, this match is also about getting closure, specifically in the French capital.

Where Wimbledon and the Australian Open have given us relative cessation, the French Open has remained in limbo in its one-sidedness. This contest, coming at a time when both have different highs at their backs, promises to be an interesting pivot for them to revisit their rivalry and their legacy at the Majors.

Even as it rekindles exigency for more of their matches at the Majors. Not only in Flushing Meadows later in the year, but perhaps in the soon-to-follow Wimbledon championships, too, in a unique kind of second wind.

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