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

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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.

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It’s Unfair, Rafa Is Too Good In Roland Garros Final

James Beck reflects on Nadal’s latest triumph at Roland Garros.

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Rafael Nadal - Roland Garros 2022 (foto Roberto Dell'Olivo)

This one was almost unfair.

 

It was like Rafa Nadal giving lessons to one of his former students at the Nadal academy back home in Mallorca.

When this French Open men’s singles final was over in less than two hours and a half, Rafa celebrated, of course. But he didn’t even execute his usual championship ritual on Court Philippe Chatrier of falling on his back on the red clay all sprawled out.

This one was that easy for the 36-year-old Spanish left-hander. He yielded only six games.

 It certainly didn’t have the characteristics of his many battles at Roland Garros with Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer.

It must have been a bit shocking to the packed house of mostly Rafa fans.

RAFA DIDN’T MISS ‘HIS SHOT’ OFTEN

Nadal didn’t miss many of his patented shots such as his famed reverse cross-court forehand. He was awesome at times. Young 23-year-old Casper Ruud must have realized that by the middle of the second set when Rafa started on his amazing 11-game winning streak to finish off a 6-3, 6-3, 6-0 victory.

Ruud is good. The Norway native will win his share of ATP titles, but probably not many Grand Slam titles. If any, at least until Rafa goes away to a retirement, certainly on his island of Mallorca.

Rafa already has his own statue on the grounds of Roland Garros. Perhaps, Mallorca should be renamed Rafa Island.

RUUD COULDN’T HANDLE RAFA’S PRESSURE

Ruud displayed a great forehand at times to an open court. But when Rafa applied his usual pressure to the corners Ruud’s forehand often  went haywire.

Rafa’s domination started to show in the third set as Ruud stopped chasing Nadal’s wicked reverse cross-court forehands. 

Ruud simply surrendered the last three games while Nadal yielded only three points. Nadal finished it off with a sizzling backhand down the line. In the end, nice guy, good sport and former student Ruud could only congratulate Rafa.

JOHNNY MAC: RAFA ‘INSANELY GOOD’

The great John McEnroe even called Nadal’s overall perfection “insanely good.”

If Iga Swiatek’s 6-1, 6-3 win in Saturday’s women’s final over young Coco Gauff was a mismatch,  Iga’s tennis idol staged a complete domination of Ruud a day later.

It appears that the only thing that can slow Rafa down is his nearly always sore left foot, not his age. He won his first French Open final 17 years ago.

For Nadal to win a 22nd Grand Slam title to take a 22-20-20 lead over his friends and rivals Djokovic and Federer is mind-boggling, but not as virtually unbelievable as winning a 14th  French Open title.

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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At The French Open Rafa and Novak Lived Up To A Battle For The Ages

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Rafael Nadal (photo @RolandGarros)

Rafa Nadal is simply amazing.

 

His herd of fans couldn’t have been more pleased with their hero on this day just hours from his 36th birthday. He was never better, his patented reverse  cross-court forehand a marvel for the ages and his serve never more accurate.

The presence of his long-time friend and rival on the Court Philippe Chatrier that he loves so much made Nadal’s victory over Novak Djokovic even more special. The 59th meeting between these two warriors was a match for the ages, marvelous play by both players. Some games seemed to go on forever, with these two legends of the game dueling for every point for nearly four hours in a match that started in May and ended in June.

NADAL HAS NEVER PLAYED BETTER

The 6-2, 4-6, 6-2, 7-6 (4) victory sends Nadal into his birthday on Friday to face Alexander Zverev for a spot in Sunday’s final of the French Open. Win or lose now, Rafa will remain the all-time leader in Grand Slam singles titles until at least Wimbledon due to his current 21-20-20 edge over Djokovic and Roger Federer.

Nadal played like he could go on forever playing his game, but he is quick to remind that his career could end at any time. The always painful left foot remains in his mind.

But the Spanish left-hander has never played better than when he overcame a 5-2 deficit against Djokovic in the fourth set. Nadal sparkled with energy, easily holding service, then fighting off two set points with true grit, holding easily to get back to 5-5 and then holding serve at love for 6-6.

A 6-1 TIEBREAKER DEFICIT TOO MUCH FOR EVEN NOVAK

The tiebreaker belonged to Rafa for six of the first seven points. That was too tough a task for even Novak to overcome.

Rafa’s podiatrist must have felt relieved at least for now. If Rafa was in pain, he didn’t show it for the first time in quite awhile.

If Nadal could pull off the feat of taming the big game and serving accuracy Zverev displayed while conquering potential whiz kid Carlos Alcaraz, and then taking out whoever is left in the battle between Denmark’s young Holger Rune, Croatia’s veteran Marin Cilic, Norway’s Casper Ruud and Russian Andrey Rublev, Nadal might own a nearly unbeatable lead with 22 Grand Slam titles.

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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The Next Group Of Hopefuls To Replace The ‘Great Trio’ May Be Beaten Out By Youth

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Carlos Alcaraz - Roland Garros 2022 (photo Roberto Dell'Olivo)

What is it with this supposedly great crop of newer and younger players groomed to take the places of the “Great Trio” of  Roger Federer, Rafa Nadal and Novak Djokovic at the top of the men’s game?

 

Only Daniil Medvedev and Dominic Thiem have won Grand Slam titles, both at the U.S. Open. And that’s about it. Medvedev just fell to Marin Cilic in the French Open round of 16.

Who?

You remember the 33-year-old hard-hitting Croatian who won the 2014 U.S. Open. Cilic had hardly been heard from since the 2018 Australian Open where he was runner-up . . . until  Monday when he needed just 45 minutes to conquer Medvedev.

THIEM JUST ANOTHER PLAYER THESE DAYS

Thiem? He looked like the real deal in 2020 when he won the U.S. Open. The Austrian is now 28 years old and an injured right wrist in 2021 has pushed Thiem far down the ATP rankings.

Then, there was the next presumed superstar: Stefanos Tsitsipas. The aggressive potential superstar came up empty on Monday against a virtually unknown teenager. Holger Rune was fantastic in his four-set domination of Tsitsipas.

The just-turned 19-year-old Rune appears to have it all: speed, quickness, power and touch. A 40th ranking isn’t too bad for a teen-ager, especially when it will zoom higher as the result of his advancement to a Grand Slam quarterfinal.

ARE MEDVEDEV, THIEM AND TSITSIPAS REALLY THAT GREAT?

Maybe Medvedev, Thiem and Tsitsipas aren’t really as good as they once appeared to be. They are certainly not in the category of all-time greats. They have had their chances to become household words.

Maybe the members of this group weren’t meant to be the superstars to replace Federer, Nadal and Djokovic as fan favorites.

Maybe, it’s the next group of younger players, even teenagers. Yes, it appears that Carlos Alcaraz may outshine the likes of Thiem, Medvedev and Tsitsipas in the next few years.

MAKE WAY FOR CARLOS ALCARAZ?

It just happens the 19-year-old Carlos Alcaraz may become one of the eventual replacements for Federer, Nadal and Djokovic.

Carlos Alcaraz is one week younger than Rune.

Alexander Zverev might have been ahead of the others if he hadn’t blown so many chances for stardom the last few years. Still, he is the Olympic champion and probably has more potential than Thiem, Medvedev or Tsitsipas.

A HERD OF PLAYERS WAITING TO MAKE THEIR MARKS

There is a herd of virtually unknown players waiting to make their mark. For instance, take Casper Ruud, 20-year-old Jannik Skinner and Matteo Berrettini. They have the potential to beat anyone.

But Alcaraz and Rune look like the best of the new young guns of tennis.

Of course, it really doesn’t matter who wins the Nadal-Djokovic quarterfinal showdown in Paris. They are two of the greatest players ever. Nothing is going to change that, not in Paris or anywhere else. Their place in history is written in stone, alongside Federer.

WOMEN’S GAME UNPREDICTABLE

The women’s game is even more unpredictable than the men’s game. One reason is because the WTA no longer has superstars the likes of Venus and Serena Williams, and Ashleigh Barty.

Top-ranked Iga Swiatek looked ready to take over the women’s game with her long string of consecutive wins. But in the last two rounds of the French Open, Swiatek has looked like just another good player at times.

That may be due to the fact that the Polish sensation is going for her second French Open title while taking a 31-match winning streak into the quarterfinals. But it happened in the third round against 95th-ranked Danka Kovinic and then again Monday in round of 16 against 74th-ranked Qinwen Zheng.

Swiatek suddenly looked very average, but then bounced back to take both matches in the cool weather once she put on a white jacket in each match. She aroused her game early enough to avoid losing a set against Kovinic, but not against Zheng.

PEGULA MAY TEST SWIATEK

Swiatek now will face newlywed Jessie Pegula in the quarterfinals. Pegula is now playing the best tennis of her career and has rocketed to No. 11 in the world. Like Swiatek, Pegula is a fighter. She won’t go down easily and may be Swiatek’s toughest test remaining in Paris.

The 28-year-old Pegula called Charleston her home while she trained for a couple of years at the then Family Circle Cup complex, which is now the home of the Credit One Charleston Open stop on the WTA Tour. Pegula was married in last October at the famed Biltmore Estate in Asheville, N.C.

Pegula also is having doubles success in Paris. She teamed with Coco Gauff to reach the third round in doubles, hoping for a victory there to advance to the doubles quarterfinals as well.

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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