From Iva Majoli To Jelena Ostapenko - UBITENNIS
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Editorial

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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Editorial

Who Will Stop Novak Djokovic?

The Serb dominated this year’s US Open dropping only a couple of sets in the early rounds. With Djokovic at 14 and Nadal at 17, Novak is now closing in on the Spaniard in the all-time list of Grand Slam champions.

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Flushing Meadows – Novak Djokovic captured his 14th Grand Slam title on Sunday in New York equaling the great Pete Sampras in the all-time list of major champions. When Sampras won his 14th title in 2002, at the time his record was so astonishing that it seemed impossible for anybody to match it, let alone surpass it. Fast forward to 2018 and you will find Roger Federer with 20 Grand Slam titles, Rafael Nadal with 17 and Novak Djokovic with 14 in a truly Golden Era for men’s tennis.

Djokovic only dropped two sets on his way to his third US Open title: The first to Fucsovics and the second to Sandgren in the early rounds, when the players had to deal with atrocious playing conditions caused by a brutal heat wave. In the following five matches, Novak dominated the field in extraordinary fashion, solidifying his position at the top of the game.

After struggling for more than a year with an elbow injury, Djokovic is now back to his best level. He is the top player that can better adjust his game to all of the different playing surfaces, winning six titles on the Australian hard courts, three on the American hard courts, one on the French red clay and four on the Wimbledon grass.

Djokovic’s game is certainly less elegant than Federer’s or less muscular than Nadal’s, but it is probably more complete and solid. While Novak’s passion and emotions often show his human side, he is also capable of shifting gear to automatic pilot mode that allows him to make zero mistakes even against four or five consecutive forehand bombs by Juan Martin del Potro.

In the first set of yesterday’s final, Nole was tactically perfect. He kept targeting del Potro’s backhand with pinpoint accuracy and as soon as the Argentine dropped the ball short, Novak jumped on top of it and forced his opponent to hit improbable low percentage passing shots from way far back in the court. It was a pattern that Djokovic successfully used at least ten times in the match. The Serb also showed that he wasn’t afraid to engage in cross-court rallies against del Potro’s forehand. The Argentine is usually lethal from the center or left side of the court, but he is less effective when he has to go cross-court. As a result, it was Juan Martin that hit his forehand into the net more often than Novak.

After Djokovic comfortably won the first set, the patterns of play were clear: Del Potro had to hit four or five consecutive monster forehands to break down Djokovic’s defense and win the point. Such incredibly difficult task forced del Potro to over-hit and miss too many shots.

The “Tower of Tandil” showed tremendous pride when he tried to level the match with an unbelievable second set, setting Arthur Ashe Stadium on fire and taking advantage of a few nerves that started to creep in Djokovic’s game. Despite del Potro’s efforts, the Serb managed to close out the 1 hour and 35 minutes set in an enthralling tie-breaker.

Novak went up a break at the beginning of the third set, but del Potro never gave up and managed to break right back. At that point, Djokovic took control of the match and never looked back. 6-3, 7-6, 6-3 was the final score in Djokovic’s favor after 3 hours and 16 minutes of play.

“I played to my limits for almost the entire match, trying to hit winners with both the forehand and backhand, but Nole was always everywhere. He’s a great champion, I am very happy for him,” an extremely sad Juan Martin del Potro said in his post-match press conference.

After capturing two of the four Grand Slams, Novak Djokovic is now the player of the year, despite the fact that he had a shaky start in the early months due to this elbow injury and inactivity. He is now ranked No. 3 behind Nadal and Federer, but if he plays well in Asia and at the ATP Finals, he will have the chance to finish the year as the world No. 1.

(Article translation provided by T&L Global, www.t-lglobal.com )

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Editorial

From Serena’s Meltdown To Kyrgios’ Pep Talk – 10 US Open Break Points

These are the topics worth further discussion following the 2018 tournament.

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The past two weeks of the US Open will forever be remembered, but not all of it will be for a good reason. Arguments over shirt changes, umpire rulings and tournament rules at times overshadowed the brilliant performance by some players. Now the tournament has concluded with Novak Djokovic winning the men’s trophy, there remains a series of issues that needs to be addressed. 

1) In a surreal women’s final, Serena Williams and Chair Umpire Carlos Ramos both handled the situation remarkably poorly

Nowadays, it’s commonplace for people to choose one side in a debate, vehemently defend it, and refuse to look for common ground. But in most situations, many shades of grey exist, which is certainly true in the debacle that was the women’s singles championship match. Let’s begin with the code violation for illegal coaching, which was completely valid. Patrick Mouratoglou admitted he was coaching to ESPN’s Pam Shriver after the match. His excuse was that “everybody does it” and nobody gets called for it. But as Jon Wertheim pointed out on Tennis Channel in the US, the “everybody does it” excuse is never a good one. Patrick cited Toni Nadal not being called for his constant illegal coaching of Rafa over the years, but actually Nadal has received code violations for illegal coaching in the past. As Ben Rothenberg of the New York Times pointed out, even Carlos Ramos himself has made this call against Nadal before.

Serena completely overreacted to this, launching into multiple diatribes throughout the rest of the second set about how she’s not a cheater. But this violation was called on her coach, not on her. And while it doesn’t matter if she saw the hand signals from Mouratoglou for the sake of the violation, I don’t buy the argument that she didn’t see it. How would she know to excuse the hand signals as a thumbs up if she didn’t see him? Serena’s had to overcome more sexism and racism during her career than I could ever begin to grasp, so her offensive-minded defense is understandable. But in the context of the match, all it did was escalate the situation, which served to distract herself and take away from Naomi Osaka’s victory.

The third code violation is where the match really spiraled into utter chaos, which the chair umpire cannot allow to occur. Yes, Serena was verbally abusive towards Ramos. Calling him a liar and a thief does qualify as verbal abuse accordingly to the rulebook. And I’m all for chair umpires taking less abuse from players, and asserting more authority. But this was not the time to make that point. This was a situation that called for more discretion from Carlos Ramos. Awarding a game to Osaka in such an important match, with history on the line, was unnecessary. He should have given her further warnings or involved the tournament officials to help diffuse the situation before resorting to a game penalty. After this third code violation was called, I kept waiting to see a replay of Serena saying something worse to Ramos, but such audio never surfaced.

Was sexism at play? That’s a fair claim, as there’s certainly still plenty of double standards in tennis. And as Patrick McEnroe of ESPN highlighted, a male player likely would have been treated differently in this situation. But Serena fully lost her composure, as we’ve seen many times before on the same court. She was more concerned with voicing how unfairly she felt she was being treated than winning a tennis match. Those complaints should have been curtailed and continued after the match. Serena repeatedly demanded an apology from Ramos for damaging her character. I suggest both Ramos and Serena owe Osaka an apology for ruining what should have been her moment.

2) Full credit to Serena for saving the trophy presentation

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When the fans began to boo at the mere announcement of the trophy presentation, I cringed for what was ahead. Thankfully, Serena stepped up and told the crowd to stop booing, and that Naomi is a deserving champion. The crowd followed Serena’s lead, and cheered the awarding of the trophy to Osaka. That could not have been an easy speech for Serena to give, but her gracious words here were spot on.

3) Naomi Osaka is an incredibly deserving and likeable champion

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What a delight Naomi has been this year, especially with her endearing honesty during her post-match words at Indian Wells and during this fortnight. It’s a shame we’ll never know if she would have finished off Serena in the final without all the hoopla. However, she was thoroughly in control of the biggest match of her career before the mayhem erupted, and against the greatest women’s singles player of all-time. Luckily, she likely has many more Major titles in her future where she’ll be able to thoroughly enjoy her triumphs.

4) This unfortunate situation should not be used to change the coaching rules

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On-court and mid-match coaching have been creeping their way into tennis in recent years. Following Saturday’s incident, some are now calling for the coaching ban to be done away with. Billie Jean King tweeted, “Coaching on every point should be allowed in tennis.” In a press release, WTA CEO Steve Simon also called for coaching to be allowed during a match at all tournaments. I vehemently disagree: please don’t let this happen. The lack of coaching during a match is what makes tennis unique. You’re out there without teammates and without a coach, and need to figure things out on your own. It’s revealing of character, and adds to the drama of the sport. Instead of eliminating the coaching rule, let’s more heavily and equally enforce it. Yes, it happens often without being called, and some umpires call it out more than others. But it’s also impossible for chair umpires to keep their eyes on both players’ coaching boxes at all times with everything else they have to watch on the court. Let’s have an official watch both players’ boxes to monitor illegal coaching. I’m sure electronic line calling is just a few years away, so this could be a good use of line judges who will be otherwise out of a job. And overall, this entire situation should lead to a review of how we can make the rules in tennis less ambiguous and simpler for all to understand.

5) Mohamed Lahyani crossed the line in encouraging Nick Kyrgios to compete

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In another case of good umpires making bad decisions, Lahyani stepped down from his chair to motivate Nick Kyrgios during his second round match against Pierre-Hugues Herbert. Kyrgios was down a set and a break to the Frenchman, and was again displaying a lack of effort on-court. But it is not the chair umpire’s place to impel a player to try their best. Following this inappropriate pep talk, the match completely turned around, with Kyrgios winning in four sets. By all accounts, Lahyana is an extremely well-liked and respected umpire. I myself enjoy seeing him in the chair, as I enjoy his signature score and line calls. But this simply cannot happen. And no matter how much goodwill a chair umpire has earned, an infraction like this is deserving of punishment in some form.

6) Alize Cornet should be allowed to change her shirt on-court

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Geez, it was a rough tournament for the chair umpires. Alize Cornet returned to the court from a heat break only to realize she had put her shirt on backwards. Instead of asking to return to the bathroom to turn it around, she quickly took it off on-court and put it on the right way. Chair Umpire Christian Rask cited Cornet for a code violation, as the USTA rulebook states this is not allowed. The double standard here was quickly highlighted by many, as male players take their shirt off on the court all the time. And in the year 2018, we really can’t be offended by seeing a woman in a sports bra, can we? Fortunately common sense prevailed here, and this rule will be expunged.

7) Rafael Nadal will not win another hard court Major

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Some will consider this opinion too bold, but hear me out. Over the past 12 months, Nadal has retired or withdrawn from nine of the 12 hard court tournaments he’s entered. And with his knees acting up again at this tournament, I doubt we’ll see him play much during the rest of 2018, with all remaining tournaments played on hard courts. I realize he won the US Open just one year ago, but he really wasn’t tested in that event, and only had one match early in the tournament that lasted more than three hours. And yes, he won the Rogers Cup earlier this summer, but that’s a best-of-three set event. Nadal’s knee pain on hard courts has become a troubling pattern, to the point where I expect he’ll soon pull a reverse-Federer in managing his schedule. If this pattern continues, he may focus the majority of his efforts on the clay court season, and perhaps the short grass court season, where his knees take less punishment.

8) For goodness sake, use the roofs for more than just protection from the rain

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As someone who attended the Open this year, I can attest to how brutal the heat and humidity were on many days. Even sitting still while watching a match in the evening was terribly uncomfortable, especially in Arthur Ashe Stadium where there was almost no air circulation. And beyond the discomfort of the fans, the quality of tennis on the hottest days suffered significantly. The US Open has two courts with roofs now, and those roofs should be closed on severely hot days. As Jon Wertheim pointed out on Tennis Channel, these rising temperatures are the new normal, and not a one-time fluke. For the sake of the players, for the sake of the officials, and for the sake of the fans, let’s make the sensible decision here before someone’s health is seriously jeopardized.

9) The serve clock is not speeding up play. Actually, it’s slowing play down

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As I feared, the 25-second serve clock that’s been utilized during the US Open Series has not fully served its purpose. I applaud the effort to be transparent in calling time violations, but the result of the visible on-court clock has been many players watching the clock count down and not serving until it almost expires. In the past, these players wouldn’t be aware of how much time they had left, and wouldn’t have the luxury of waiting the full 25 seconds to hit their serve. The worst offenders of this during this tournament were Rafael Nadal and Marin Cilic, who consistently kept their eyes on the winding-down clock. Now I’m not suggesting the removal of the serve clock, but rather some adjustments to this new innovation. The clock should be started with 20 seconds rather than 25 in an effort to further expedite matters. And while chair umpires have exercised good discretion in most cases as to when to start and pause the serve clock, there’s still too much discretion to be exercised here. Let’s make more specific rules as to when the clock should begin, and when the clock should be paused, to align enforcement amongst umpires.

10) The bathroom breaks have gotten entirely out of control

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I lost count of how many times during this fortnight the player who lost a set initiated a bathroom break in between sets. This amounts to a self-imposed timeout, and is being used as gamesmanship to disrupt the flow of a match that’s not going their way. And apparently there’s no enforced limit as to the length of these bathroom timeouts, as they can easily last up to 10 minutes. Both men and women are utilizing this tactic, and it needs to stop. Let’s make use of the new serve clock, and use it for bathroom breaks. Give players three minutes to leave the court and return ready to play. If they go over the time limit, start with a warning, and then deduct a point for every 30 seconds thereafter. I assure you the prolonged bathroom breaks will quickly become a thing of the past.

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Editorial

Only Novak Djokovic Could Have Dreamed Such Good Things Would Happen

After a turbulent past 18 months, Novak Djokovic has returned back to the top of men’s tennis.

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NEW YORK — So, Novak Djokovic wins two of the year’s four Grand Slam titles. Just another year. Nothing special?

Not exactly.

What a year for the 31-year-old Serbian wonder.

DJOKOVIC NOW SERIOUSLY INVOLVED IN RACE

All of a sudden, Djokovic is seriously involved in the race for career Grand Slam titles. A little over two months ago, no one — other than maybe Novak — would have dreamed this might happen so quickly.

While it is rather questionable whether Roger Federer will increase his record total of 20 Grand Slam titles, Rafa Nadal likely will get a couple more to add to his total of 17.

But here’s Djokovic, sitting at 14 Grand Slam titles with the ability to shoot up to maybe 17 in the next 12 months.

A FOCUSED NOVAK IS ALMOST UNBEATABLE

When Djokovic is totally focused, there may not be anyone in the current game that can handle his style of play. Certainly not Juan Martin del Potro, who could only push Djokovic in Sunday’s U.S. Open final, but couldn’t take even one set off Novak in a competitive 6-3, 7-6 (4), 6-3 romp for Djokovic past the tall Argentine.

Djokovic is a great one, for sure, but even if he surpasses Nadal and Federer in Grand Slam titles, I wouldn’t consider Novak to be in the same class as Rafa and Roger.

As for as I am concerned, Federer and Nadal are history’s best tennis players, maybe with the Rocket, Rod Laver.

DJOKOVIC IS GAME’S RUNNING CHAMPION

Novak not only is the reigning champion of the year, he is the game’s running champion. No one is in Djokovic’s league in sheer movement, agility and mobility. He’s a yo-yo, in and out, and back and forth.

That’s his game. The tennis part is just along for the ride, and not in the league of Federer, Nadal and Laver.

But Djokovic is tough. Just like Sunday when he allowed del Potro’s cannons to wipe out a 3-1 deficit in the second set, Novak wasn’t finished.

Del Potro fought for his tennis life, but it wasn’t to be. Djokovic wasn’t to be outdone. Once Novak tied the set at 4-4 by holding service in possibly the longest and most competitive game of this U.S. Open, the end was in sight for del Potro.

THE RUSH TO THE BATH ROOMS TOLD THE STORY

You could sense that the end was in sight as a good portion of the Arthur Ashe Stadium crowd rushed for the exits and the nearest bath rooms. And it wasn’t even an odd game, or a change-of-sides game.

No one would bet on del Potro being able to get the job done when Novak settled his sights on the job at hand on the court.

The second set did go to a tie-breaker, but after a couple of loose errors to fall behind, 3-1, Djokovic won six of the next seven points to take a two sets to none lead.

Del Potro was doomed. Djokovic could taste Grand Slam No. 14.

– –

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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