10 US Open Talking Points - UBITENNIS
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10 US Open Talking Points



Rafael Nadal (zimbio.com)

The past two weeks in at the US Open has been filled with a variety of shocks and surprises. From a series of high-profile withdraws leading into the tournament to Sloane Stephens’ triumphing in the women’s draw, this year’s edition has been one to remember.


Here are ten points to take away from the US Open.

1) The feel-good moments

Outside of the Olympics, does any sport have events that continuously provide as many emotional moments as tennis? Every major this year has featured so many inspiring storylines, and the US Open was no exception. After undergoing surgeries earlier this year, two young Americans advanced to their first major finals, and showed such grace in both victory and defeat. Not to mention the winner of that women’s championship was ranked outside the top 900 just five weeks ago. A classy, 37-year-old former champion advanced to her third major semifinal of the season, and won more matches as majors than any other woman this year. A veteran who hadn’t won a match at a major in two years due to illness and injury, and arrived in New York ranked outside the top 400, wins three rounds of qualifying and four rounds in the main draw to reach the quarterfinals. A beloved big man, who has lost years of his career to injury, couldn’t hit one winner for the first hour of his fourth round match due to illness, yet used the energy of the crowd to save match points and win a five-setter. Tennis is unique in providing a new set of compelling stories so frequently throughout the year.

2) Sharapova’s return
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One comeback I was not as inspired by was that of Maria Sharapova. Yes, she served her time. Yes, she is a five-time major champion. Yes, she has millions of fans. But the way in which her return was romanticized is a really bad look for the sport. Let’s not forget Sharapova tested positive for a performance-enhancing drug, and admitted to using that drug for the previous 10 years before it had been banned. I can’t speak to the television coverage of Sharapova’s return in other countries, but the US coverage included video packages set to dramatic music which celebrated her return and her fighting spirit. I found this a bit disturbing. On Tennis Channel, Martina Navratilova went as far to say Sharapova’s first round upset of second seeded Simona Halep validated the wild card she was given. While I respect Navratilova more than anyone else in the sport, giving a wild card to Sharapova is the equivalent of rolling out the red carpet to a cheater. She should be given no preferential treatment, and should earn her way back by competing in smaller tournaments and qualifying draws. The result of the match does not validate the issuance of the wild card.

3) The Nick Kyrgios debate
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The tournament also featured the usual debate over whether Nick Kyrgios is good for the sport. This was sparked by his first round loss to a player ranked outside the 200 as Kyrgios complained of a shoulder injury and appeared to again not give his all. Kyrgios’ big game and big personality are very good for the sport. But a player who continues to give less than 100% after admitting to tanking in countless matches, and who has also said he doesn’t love tennis, is terrible for the sport. Perhaps he just needs to mature. Perhaps he’s afraid to fully apply himself out of a fear of failing. We can only speculate as to the reasons, but do the reasons really matter? Until he’s ready to give the sport his all, let’s end this debate and focus our attention on players who do.

4) Fabio Fognini’s downfall
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No one at the US Open was a worse look for the sport than Fabio Fognini. During his first round loss in singles, Fognini swore at a female umpire in Italian, calling her a whore. This is one of three code violations he was cited, being fined a total of $24,000. It wasn’t until three days later, and after he played and won two further doubles matches, that he was suspended from the tournament. What took so long? This suspension came way too late, especially for the two doubles teams that were eliminated after Fognini’s vile display. While Fabio’s apology on Italian television seemed heartfelt, his words deserve more than a $24,000 fine and a suspension from the doubles draw. Let’s hope the Grand Slam Board, who are currently reviewing the incident, impose a much harsher punishment.

5) The clever use of bathroom breaks
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The use of prolonged bathroom breaks to disrupt the flow of a match must stop. After blowing a set and a break lead to Caroline Wozniacki, Ekaterina Makarova appeared near-tears as she dropped the second set tiebreak. Makarova proceeded to take a bathroom break that approached 10 minutes in length. After basically creating her own timeout, she received no penalty. Having regained her composure, Makarova easily won the third set 6-1. Ekaterina is far from the only player to do this: she’s just the most recent example. This gamesmanship has become far too common. There needs to be a certain amount of time allowed for such a break, after which a player is penalized for extending past the allotted time. I’m sure the bathroom breaks would immediately shorten if players lost a point for every 30 seconds they were late in returning to the court.

6) Wozniacki’s rant
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Coming out of that same match, I was surprised the bathroom break was not the story. Instead, Wozniacki complained to the press about her court assignment. On an extremely crowded schedule due to the previous day being an almost total rainout, Wozniacki played her second round match on Court 17. She felt it was unfair to have the number five seed on the fourth biggest court on the grounds, while Maria Sharapova was scheduled on Arthur Ashe Stadium.

According to Wozniacki, “someone who comes back from a drug sentence, and you know, performance-enhancing drugs, and then all of a sudden gets to play every single match on center court, I think that’s a questionable thing to do.” When questioned by the press regarding Wozniacki’s comments, Sharapova responded by saying, “’if you put me out in the parking lot of Queen’s I’m happy to play there.” She continued by saying, “all that matters to me is I’m in the fourth round. Yeah, I’m not sure where she is.”

While it isn’t really fair to have Sharapova play all of her matches on Arthur Ashe Stadium when she’s unranked and returning from a drug suspension, there is more to be considered when assigning courts. Like her or not, Sharapova is a big star. Her matches at this tournament drew much more attention than almost all other players. That was also the case before Sharapova’s suspension. It was appropriate for her to be placed on stadiums that can hold more fans. Wozniacki may be a top five player, and a two-time US Open finalist, but she does not draw anywhere near the same crowds as Sharapova.

7) The New York fans
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Speaking of court assignments, they truly can impact the outcome of matches. Perhaps Wozniacki does pull that match out on a bigger court in front of more fans. Certainly we saw Americans such as Madison Keys and CoCo Vandeweghe benefit from playing in front of boisterous crowds on Arthur Ashe Stadium throughout the tournament. To the contrary, Juan Martin Del Potro benefited from not being placed on Ashe. Del Potro said after his fourth round comeback that he would have retired from that match if not for the thousands of fans passionately urging him on, and most of those fans were grounds pass holders who would not have been allowed inside Ashe. Players often cite the fans as a critical factor in a match’s outcome. Sometimes that’s a bit of pandering, but at this US Open, it was apparent just how much court assignment, and a crowd, can impact a match.

8) The scheduling
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On the subject of scheduling, the US Open would benefit from moving one week earlier. By the second Tuesday of the tournament, summer in New York is basically over. Schools are back in session, and the crowds for the day sessions thin out considerably. The amount of fans willing to hang around for the end of the night session also decreases. The USTA tries to combat this by offering discounted tickets for the day sessions in the second week (or sometimes even free tickets), but the empty seats remain. Adjusting the tournament calendar is extremely challenging, but it would help attendance during the second week of the Open.

9)The ultimate pet peeve?
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My pet peeve of the tournament: the fans in the crowd who see themselves on the big screen in the stadium and wave. As a television viewer, it completely distracts from the match. The worst offenders? Those that try to take a picture of themselves on the big screen. This does not happen at other majors. If television directors are insistent upon showing fan reactions throughout the match, there’s an easy solve here: show a different feed on the stadium screen that focuses solely on the action on the court. Please, I beg you.

10) Tour success doesn’t make grand slam glory
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I was taken aback by hearing Alexander Zverev was the pre-tournament third favorite to win the title. I understand the bottom half of the draw was without a “big four” member. And yes, the 20-year-old phenom has won five titles this year, including two Masters 1,000 events where he defeated Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer in the finals, respectively. However, his best result at a major is one fourth round appearance at Wimbledon. Surely this will change sooner than later, but the difference in results at majors versus non-majors is clear. For the men, winning best-of-five sets is much different than winning best-of-three. As Zverev’s own camp has stated, the youngster’s body is not yet at the top level of conditioning. But we’re also seeing this happen on the WTA tour, where they play best-of-three at all tournaments and physicality is not a factor. 22-year-old Elina Svitolina is a prime example: she’s also won five titles this year, including three Premier 5 events, yet has not been past the quarterfinals of a major. Svitolina defeated four top 10 players in Toronto, but struggles to do so at Grand Slam events. Performing at the majors with more pressure and eyeballs on you is a wholly different situation, and some players take more time to excel on the big stage. Results outside the majors don’t always immediately translate to Grand Slam success.


Novak Djokovic’s Moment Too Big For Tsitsipas



Image via Australian Open twitter

Perhaps, it was too much for Stefanos Tsitsipas to think about achieving in one day. That’s beating Novak Djokovic and winning his own initial Grand Slam title, not even to think about the bonus part of the package — becoming the No. 1 player in the world.


At any rate, it obviously wasn’t meant to be for Tsitsipas to derail Djokovic.

Djokovic accomplished it all in one neat package.  Say hello to the player many tennis experts are now calling the greatest player ever. Of course, that’s a little premature due to the fact Rafa Nadal was all alone with 22 Grand Slam titles before Djokovic matched the total on Sunday by winning the Australian Open’s men’s singles title.


Then,  there’s the great Roger Federer, in reality, possibly the greatest player who ever lived.

So, forget GOAT. It doesn’t matter, whether Nadal or Djokovic wins another Grand Slam title.

Poor Federer. He’s probably home with his children laughing about all of this.

And Rod Laver? Of course, Laver was on hand to watch Djokovic’s superhuman effort.

Back to reality. The moment.

Djokovic lived there Sunday night.


Tsitsipas wasn’t ready for the challenge. Djokovic certainly was.

It’s as simple as that.

Novak played great. Tsitsipas didn’t give himself a chance to win.

Djokovic stayed in the moment. Tsitsipas allowed the situation to take over his game and apparently his mind.

Tsitsipas must have been back home in Greece where he would be crowned if he could be No. 1 in the world and win a Grand Slam.


Tsitsipas had his chances, even though he was down 4-1 in the first set before you could blink an eye.

He actually was two points from winning the second set in regulation, then quickly fell behind, 4-1,  in the tiebreaker.

Tsitsipas took the third set to another tiebreaker, but lost the first five points and then lost the match, 6-3, 7-6 (4), 7-6 (5).

He never seemed to be keyed into the match, repeatedly miss-hitting key shots, even to open courts.

Meanwhile, Djokovic was near-perfect. He surely is a great one, a legend.

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. 

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Novak Djokovic Saves The Day In This Australian Open



Novak Djokovic - 2022 Nitto ATP Finals Turin (photo Twitter @atptour)

It’s a good thing the Aussies allowed Novak Djokovic to stay in Melbourne this year.


Otherwise, the young crowd of players might have taken over completely in this Australian Open. After all, Rafa Nadal, Andy Murray, Daniil Medvedev and Iga Swiatek among others didn’t stick around very long.

Novak is saving the day Down Under for the great ones.

This is an Australian Open unlike any in recent years. It’s almost like the Australian Open, with its usual midnight to early-morning Eastern Time matches has taken a step backward in world tennis. 

American fans apparently no longer can watch those great matches that start at 3 a.m. or 4:30 a.m. ET, except on ESPN+.


This Australian Open appears to be kind of lost in the shuffle this January, virtually taking away its major status.

In the absence of those early-morning battles, I guess it’s okay that most of the top men and women other than Novak, Stefanos Tsitsipas, Andrey Rublev, Tommy Paul, Elena Rybakina and Jessie Pegula have sang their Aussie songs and headed elsewhere, except maybe for doubles.

Don’t overlook the tall Russian Rybakina on the women’s side. She’s two wins away from her second Grand Slam title, having upended the top-ranked Swiatek in the round of 16 and then taking care of former French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko in the quarterfinals.


Ben Shelton and J.J. Wolf are certainly outstanding American college level talents that came racing out of the winter red-hot.

But like MacKenzie McDonald, who thrashed an unprepared Nadal with a college-like all-power game only to falter the next round against a journeyman player like Yoshihito Nishioka, it’s doubtful that either Shelton or Wolf can stand the test of the only great one left — Djokovic.

In the long run, Shelton especially and Wolf likely will be stars. But these newcomers aren’t likely to hit the tour with the greatness that Carlos Alcaraz displayed when he was healthy during the last half of 2022.


Other stars from last year such as Jannik Sinner, Cameron Norrie, Casper Ruud, Matteo Berrettini, Nick Kyrgios, Denis Shapovalov, Alexander Zverev and Felix Auger-Aliassime will make their own noise once the tour hits Europe and America.

As far as Americans other than Paul, I like the looks of young Jenson Brooksby, who upended the second-ranked Ruud in the second round. The 22-year-old Brooksby looks like a future star, that is if he gets in better physical condition.

Thus, Novak appears to be an almost certainty to sweep to his 22nd major title in an event that has been his own private playground for much of his career. That shouldn’t change on Sunday in the Australian Open final. 

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. 

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A Dream Week For Holger Rune In Paris



image via https://twitter.com/RolexPMasters

Across the springtime of 2022 and culminating at the end of summer, a 19-year-old Spaniard named Carlos Alcaraz made history of the highest order in his profession.


Alcaraz was astonishing during that span, establishing himself as the first teenager in the men’s game since Rafael Nadal at Roland Garros in 2005 to capture a major when he took the U.S. Open title. This electrifying performer now resides at No.1 in the world and will probably conclude the year at the top despite an abdominal injury preventing him from competing at the season-ending ATP Finals in Turin.

To be sure, Alcaraz has been the sport’s “Man of the Year” in so many ways. And yet, a fellow teenager has now joined the Spaniard in the top ten, and that surely is no mean feat.

Denmark’s Holger Rune celebrated the most stupendously successful week of his career by improbably toppling the six-time champion Novak Djokovic to win the Rolex Paris Masters crown. Rune upended the game’s greatest front runner with a final round triumph he will surely remember for the rest of his life. Somehow, despite being in one precarious position after another—and finding himself dangerously low on oxygen at the end— Rune fended off a tennis icon who had swept 13 matches in a row over the autumn. Rune upended an unwavering yet apprehensive Djokovic 3-6, 6-3, 7-5 to garner his first Masters 1000 title. The grit and gumption he displayed on this auspicious occasion was ample evidence that he authentically has a champion’s mentality, a wealth of talent and a reservoir of courage that must be deeply admired.

It was a fascinating contest from beginning to end. Djokovic was unstoppable in the first set, breaking Rune in the fourth game when the precocious Dane served two double faults which seemed largely caused by overzealousness. Djokovic won 21 of 26 points on serve, nursed the one break he got very professionally, and outmaneuvered Rune time and again from the backcourt. His controlled aggression was first rate. Serving for that opening set at 5-3, Djokovic closed it out at love.

He then reached 0-40 on the Rune serve in the opening game of the second set, but squandered that opportunity flagrantly with an errant backhand passing shot, a netted forehand second serve return and a cautious overhead that eventually cost him the point. Rune held on sedulously, and soon moved to 3-0. That opening game was critical, changing the complexion of the set and allowing Rune to believe he was in with a chance.

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Rune held serve the rest of the way to make it one set all. But, once more, Djokovic took command. He broke the Dane for a 3-1 third set lead when Rune went for broke on a big second serve down the T and double faulted. Djokovic sought to cement his advantage in the fifth game, opening up a 30-0 lead and later advancing to 40-30. He stood one point away from a 4-1 lead which might have proved insurmountable, but Rune made the Serbian pay for a backhand approach lacking sting and direction, passing Djokovic cleanly down the line off the backhand.

Rune managed crucially to break back, closing the gap to 3-2 and denying Djokovic a hold he should have had. Djokovic was visited at the changeover by the trainer, who attended to a left quad issue that was burdening the Serbian. But thereafter Djokovic seemed physically fine and appeared to be wearing Rune down. Leading 4-3, Djokovic pressed hard for a break, but again Rune obstinately stood his ground and came up with the goods in the clutch.

There were two deuces in that eighth game, but the Dane refused to allow Djokovic to reach break point. On both deuce points, the 19-year-old unleashed dazzling backhand winners down the line before holding on gamely. The set went to 5-5, and Rune’s opportunism was again showcased. Djokovic was ahead 30-0 but Rune collected four points in a row to seal the break, taking the last two on unprovoked mistakes from Djokovic.

And so Rune served for the match in the twelfth game of the third set with a 6-5 lead. His lungs were almost empty as Djokovic probed time and again to climb into a tie-break. It was hard to imagine if Djokovic managed to break back that Rune would be able to stay with him in that playoff. He was exhausted from the mental, emotional and physical strain of the hard fought third set.

Six times in that last game Djokovic stood at break point, but he could not convert. Rune’s temerity when it counted was almost breathtaking. He erased the first break point by lacing a forehand down the line for a winner, and then benefitted from a shocking Djokovic netted running forehand on the second. Then Djokovic had complete control on his third break point, only to send a backhand drop shot into the net.

Rune remained unrelenting, saving the fourth break point with an overhead winner, and erasing the fifth when Djokovic pulled a backhand pass wide with a clear opening. Rune reached match point for the first time but his explosive second serve landed long for a double fault. Djokovic advanced to break point for the sixth and last time, only to be stymied by a service winner from the Dane. Soon Rune was at match point for the second time, and he closed out the account stylishly with a forehand pass at the feet of Djokovic, who was coaxed into a netted half volley. For the first time ever in 31 Masters 1000 tournament finals, Djokovic had lost after securing the opening set. Walking on court with Rune in Paris, Djokovic’s career record overall after winning the first set was 891-38 (just shy of 96%), which is a higher success rate than any other male player in the Open Era.


Through nearly the entire last game of the encounter, Rune knew full well he had to finish it off there. Djokovic was well aware that his opponent was physically spent. Both players understood that the match was totally on the line; Djokovic would almost surely have prevailed in the tie-break had they gone there. For Djokovic, the loss was disappointing but not necessarily devastating. He put himself in a position to win twice, but did not realize his goal.

Yet he recognized that perhaps the match he played in the penultimate round against Stefanos Tsitsipas had taken a toll on him mentally. He had crushed Tsitsipas in the first set. From 2-2 in the first set he won five games in a row and then had a 0-30 lead on the Greek competitor’s serve early in the second set. Tsitsipas escaped and stretched Djokovic to his limits before the Serbian came through from a mini-break down at 3-4 in the third set tie-break to win four points in a row. Djokovic was victorious 6-2, 3-6, 7-6 (4) but that victory required an inordinate amount of emotional energy.

An exuberant Rune was ready to pounce if given the opportunity. He did just that.

In fact, Rune set a Masters 1000 tournament record with five wins over players ranked in the top ten. His Paris indoor journey started when he fought back valiantly to defeat Stan Wawrinka 4-6, 7-5, 7-6 (3), saving three match points in the process (two in the second set, one in the third). After that escape, Rune stopped Hubert Hurkacz 7-5, 6-1, Andrey Rublev 6-4, 7-5, Alcaraz 6-3, 6-6 retired, Felix Auger-Aliassime 6-4 6-2 and then Djokovic.

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Rune’s dynamic rise into the top ten has not happened by accident. He has won 19 of his last 21 matches, appearing in four consecutive ATP Tour finals during that remarkable span. He was beaten in the title round contest at Sofia by Marc-Andrea Huesler, won Stockholm over Tsitsipas, lost to Auger-Aliassime in the Basel final and now is the Rolex Paris Masters champion. Auger-Aliassime had won three straight titles before Rune stopped him in Paris. Djokovic had not lost since Auger-Aliassime defeated him at the Laver Cup. Rune refused to be intimidated by the size of their reputations and the strength of their recent records.

Rune wisely decided to skip the Next Gen ATP Finals this week in Milan. He will fittingly be the first alternate for the Nitto ATP Finals coming up in Turin starting on November 13. I have no doubt he will be ranked among the top five in the world by this time next year, and perhaps even reside among the top three. What impressed me the most in his match with Djokovic was his adaptability. Although Djokovic often set the tempo in that duel, Rune’s tactical skills were outstanding. At times he looped forehands and sent soft and low sliced backhands over the net to prevent Djokovic from feeding off of his pace. In other instances, Rune hit out freely and knocked the cover off the ball. He constantly shifted his strategy and Djokovic could not easily anticipate what was coming next. Rune employed the backhand down the line drop shot skillfully as another tool to keep Djokovic off guard.

No one in the game opens up the court better than Rune to set up forehand winners produced with a shade of sidespin that fade elusively away from his adversaries. Djokovic was the only player all week in Paris to comfortably return Rune’s serve, but on the big points Rune had an uncanny knack for finding the corners and landing big first serves. He saved ten of twelve break points against Djokovic. Moreover, he converted all three of his break points against a renowned opponent. Djokovic broke him twice but Rune would have lost his serve three more times if he had not performed mightily when his plight looked bleak.

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What was most demonstrable at the Rolex Paris Masters was Rune’s propensity to play with immense poise under pressure. Not only did he survive that skirmish with the three time major champion Wawrinka in the opening round, but he somehow overcame Djokovic despite winning five fewer points across the three sets (97 to 92). Rune played the biggest points better than one of the most formidable match players of all time. He is a highly charged young player who has rubbed some players the wrong way with his high intensity bouts of abrasiveness on the court, but his comportment in Paris was very impressive and he did not put a foot out of line during his appointment with Djokovic. He handled the occasion awfully well under the circumstances.

In the weeks and months ahead, Rune will become a target of lesser ranked players looking to enlarge their reputations by virtue of striking down more accomplished adversaries. He will feel a different kind of pressure when he moves through the 2023 season in search of the premier prizes. But this is an enormously ambitious individual who is reminiscent of Alcaraz in terms of his outlook, sense of self, and mentality. They may well develop a stirring rivalry over the next five to ten years that will captivate galleries all over the world. Throw Auger-Aliassime into the mix with Alcaraz and Rune as well.

Tennis will be in exceedingly good shape in the years ahead. Djokovic remains in the forefront of the sport and he is a very young 35. The 36-year-old Nadal is not yet done by any means. But the younger generation is upon us, and it is apparent that Holger Rune is going to take his place among the game’s most illustrious players with increasing force, persuasion and urgency.

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