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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Laver Back In the Conversation For Greatest Player?

Daniil Medvedev thwarted Djokovic’s Calendar Year Grand Slam ambitions and is ready to take over as the best in the game.

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Who’s the greatest player ever?

 

How about Rod Laver, the owner of two Calendar Grand Slams?

Or what about Rafa Nadal, the owner of 21 major singles titles (including Olympic Gold)?

Or what about 20-20-20-Laver?

HOW DOES 20-20-20-LAVER SOUND?

Since Novak Djokovic failed in his bid to win a Calendar Grand Slam on Sunday, I nominate the last of the three possibilities. 20-20-20-Laver sounds like a winner.

For Djokovic just to enter the conversation was a major achievement, and that was spurred by the Serbian’s bid for a Calendar Grand Slam.

Daniil Medvedev ended that conversation on Sunday, at least for now, with his straight-set 4-4-4 dismantling of Djokovic in the U.S. Open final.

DISAPPOINTING YEAR FOR NOVAK

As 2021 turned out, it was a really disappointing year for Djokovic, even though he won the year’s first three Grand Slam events. Most players would be out celebrating if they won three Grand Slams in one year.

The loss to Alexander Zverev in the Tokyo Olympics ended Novak’s Golden Grand Slam. And then Medvedev took care of the Calendar Grand Slam talk and the possibility of Djokovic breaking a 20-20-20 deadlock with Nadal and Roger Federer.

So, what’s next? I doubt that Novak is planning to skip the Australian Open in January. Even that one won’t be easy for Djokovic as a result of what has happened in late summer.

NO PICNIC DOWN UNDER FOR NOVAK

Djokovic has practically owned the Australian Open with nine titles in Melbourne, and eight of the last 11. But Medvedev and Zverev will be major obstacles for Djokovic in Melbourne, along with Stefanos Tsitsipas.

The Australian Open isn’t likely to be a picnic for Novak, even if Federer and Nadal skip the trip. If so, Federer and Nadal will be leaving the Australian Open in capable hands.

Things should start heating up by the quarterfinals Down Under.

By the way, Djokovic is 34 years old. That’s about the age Nadal started having trouble winning Grand Slams.

A DOMINANT VICTORY FOR THE RUSSIAN

Medvedev beat Djokovic at just about everything he tried on Sunday. Djokovic was never in the game on serving competition or powerful forehands.

Those areas belonged to the 25-year-old Russian.

And movement? On this day, Medvedev had a picnic. The 6-6 first-time Grand Slam winner was everywhere with his amazing quickness. Djokovic couldn’t put a dent in his baseline defense.

Medvedev even out-did Djokovic in the Serbian’s usually solid drop shot department, pinning  even more disappointment on Novak.

Novak even caused a ball girl to change directions during the match as he swung his racket near the surface in  frustration after losing a point. Later, he punished his racket by smashing it into the court and destroying it.

MEDVEDEV’S SERVE MADE THE DIFFERENCE

The key to the relatively easy win for Medvedev was his serve. He was a perfect 15-for-15 on first-serve points in the opening set.

Medvedev obviously had little trouble with his serve until he was ready to end the match. With Medvedev owning a match point at 5-2 in the third set, the crowd tried to help Djokovic. Only then when the crowd got into the act of trying to break Medvedev’s attention did he double-fault twice in a row before netting a forehand to give Djokovic the game.

But in the final game of the match, Medvedev was ready for the crowd attack, although he double-faulted another match point away before ending the match with a big serve out wide for a 6-4, 6-4, 6-4 victory. Djokovic managed only to hit the bottom of the net with his backhand return.

And suddenly, the tall Russian looks like the best player in the game.


James Beck was the 2003 winner of the USTA National Media Award as the tennis columnist for the Charleston (S.C.) Post and Courier newspapers. A 1995 MBA graduate of The Citadel, he can be reached at Jamesbecktennis@gmail.com

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Raducanu Proved She’s The Better Player

The British sensation shocked the tennis world – can she keep it up in the coming years?

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They played in the largest tennis stadium in the world.

 

They were teenagers. They achieved a dream early in their careers.

It just as easily could have been a junior championship a year earlier in their careers.

Only a few people would have been watching then. Such an event might not even have drawn newspaper coverage.

REAL LIFE NOW SETS IN

This meeting was much bigger and more important. The two participants would be $2.7 million richer between them before the day ended. They would become famous the world over, at least for now.

But this was Saturday, 9/11/21.

Real life now sets in. There probably are at least 100 other players in the world who are just as outstanding as Emma Raducanu and Leylah Fernandez. Yet, most of them will never be involved in a Grand Slam singles final.

NEVER TO BE FORGOTTEN

What Raducanu and Fernandez accomplished will never be forgotten, always listed in tennis annals.

England will always be proud of its new Grand Slam champion. At long last, Virginia Wade has company.

And Canada will never forget its feisty Grand Slam runner-up.

They stood the test while other more touted and talented players buckled at the knees. High-ranked players crumbled at the thought of losing to a mere teenager.

Next time, that advantage probably won’t exist.

BRITISH 18-YEAR-OLD WAS THE STRONGER PLAYER

Raducanu and Fernandez played the final like the teenagers they are.

Raducanu came close to making it a one-sided result when she held match point twice with a 5-2 lead in the second set. But Fernandez did not give up on her left-handed game that Raducanu had conquered before in the junior ranks.

After losing both points and the game to make the match closer, Raducanu fought off a pair of break points in the next game before making good on her third match point for a 6-4, 6-3 victory.

The British 18-year-old generally outplayed the 19-year-old Fernandez most of the 111-minute final. Raducanu had more firepower on her serve and ground strokes.

RADUCANU A PERFECT 10

Raducanu played like a tour veteran, even if it was only her fourth tour-level event. It was her 10th straight win without dropping a set, counting her three wins in qualifying just to get into the main draw. No women’s qualifier before even had advanced to a Grand Slam final.

She has the game to win consistently on the tour, but probably not strong enough to challenge the Top 10 players and Grand Slam titlists right away. She’s now no longer under the radar. Everyone wants to beat a Grand Slam champion.

This may have been just a one-shot opening that Raducanu took full advantage of to win a Grand Slam title.  Just in case the road ahead gets bumpy, she might want to be thrifty with the $1.8 million payday.


James Beck was the 2003 winner of the USTA National Media Award as the tennis columnist for the Charleston (S.C.) Post and Courier newspapers. A 1995 MBA graduate of The Citadel, he can be reached at Jamesbecktennis@gmail.com

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Novak Djokovic Was Pushed To An Amazing Performance

Zverev fell just short of beating the world N.1, and now Medvedev is the last obstacle still standing on his path to a Calendar Year Grand Slam

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Novak Djokovic was simply amazing Friday night.

 

True, he made a few mistakes against Alexander Zverev, but not when they counted most.

Zverev also was superb, but his mistakes came when they counted really big.

For those reasons, Djokovic is getting ready to play for the unthinkable. No one had thought much about a Calendar Grand Slam until back in June when Djokovic shocked the tennis world with a victory over Rafa Nadal at the French Open.

By the time Wimbledon came around without Roger Federer and Nadal in the field, the odds were high that Djokovic actually could achieve a Calendar Grand Slam. And then he won Wimbledon and in the process turned the race for most Grand Slam titles into a 20-20-20 battle.

ZVEREV CAME CLOSE TO SPOILING THINGS

When Federer and Nadal pulled out of the U.S. Open, all of Djokovic’s goals except a Golden Grand Slam when he lost to Zverev at the Olympics were in play.

Nearly two weeks later, Djokovic is one victory away from breaking out of the 20-20-20 deadlock as well as completing a rare Calendar Grand Slam.

Zverev pressed Djokovic into playing his very best to escape with a 4-6, 6-2, 6-4, 4-6, 6-2 victory in the U.S. Open semifinals. Only a cold start to the fifth set chilled Zverev’s hopes of spoiling Novak’s dreams.

Even after losing the first five games of the fifth set, Zverev still came close to making things interesting by winning the next two games and going to 30-30 in the eighth game.

MEDVEDEV HAS THE GAME TO WIN

Zverev’s improving game, and his big strokes and serves probably were enough to make Novak hope he won’t have to face Zverev’s hard balls again in January at the Australian Open.

That leaves only Daniil Medvedev between Djokovic and immortality.

Medvedev will have to be at his best to beat Novak. The slender 6-6 Russian can’t afford even a brief meltdown if he is to take Djokovic to the wire.

Medvedev appeared to be in awe of Djokovic when the two met in  this year’s Australian Open final.  Djokovic won that one easily in straight sets.

DANIIL IS DUE TO MAKE HIS MARK; IT’S HIS TIME

Medvedev’s game is a piece of work. He is completely unpredictable.

His whip forehand is one of the best shots in tennis. He backs it up with incredible movement.

It all depends on whether Medvedev can stick with Novak until the end. If Medvedev is still there, Novak likely will feel the heavy legs from his 214-minute bout with Zverev.

Not even Djokovic can out-move Medvedev. And the Russian’s uniquely quick serve has plenty of pop. He is due to win a Grand Slam.

But Medvedev will have to pull off a miracle against one of the smartest and slyest players tennis has ever seen if he is to win this U.S. Open.


James Beck was the 2003 winner of the USTA National Media Award as the tennis columnist for the Charleston (S.C.) Post and Courier newspapers. A 1995 MBA graduate of The Citadel, he can be reached at Jamesbecktennis@gmail.com

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