10 Break Points From The Australian Open - UBITENNIS
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10 Break Points From The Australian Open

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This year’s Australian Open has come to an end with Roger Federer and Caroline Wozniacki winning the singles titles. It has been a tournament that has attracted a record crown to Melbourne Park, but some of the issues raised by players are worth talking about further in 2018.

 

1) The scheduling of matches

The scheduling office at the Australian Open did not show a lot of love for women’s tennis. Out of the nine instances where the night session on Rod Laver Arena included a men’s and women’s match, the women went on last seven of those nine nights. When the women follow a best-of-five men’s match, the women often don’t take the court until at least 10 or 11pm. There’s not much energy for those matches in front of a mostly empty arena at that late of an hour. While the tournament tried to balance that by often scheduling the women first in the Margaret Court Area night sessions, any time where the women go on second can leave them without much of an atmosphere. Years ago it was customary for the women to always go on first. While it’s been a nice experiment to mix that up in the pursuit of equality, we should go back to the way it was as long as the men continue to play best of five. It’s also unfair that three of the four women’s quarterfinals are played during the day, as are both their semifinals. Scheduling the women on weekdays with sparser crowds, while the men get the prime time spotlight at night, is not fair. This was even more of a shame in a year where the women’s tournament was much more captivating than the men’s. I understand TV partners can have a lot of influence over such decisions, but it’s time for all parties involved to re-think the tournament’s scheduling.

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2) The ATP calendar

Following his retirement from the tournament, Rafael Nadal had the following to say: "Somebody who is running the tour should think a little bit about what's going on. Too many people are getting injured. If we keep playing on this very, very hard surfaces what's going to happen in the future with our lives?" These comments come in the wake of other top male players such as Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray, Stan Wawrinka, Kei Nishikori, and Milos Rainic continuing to struggle with injuries over the past six months. There's many changes the tour can consider to limit the damage to players' bodies, including decreasing the amount of hard court tournaments, as well as going to a best-of-three set format in at least the earlier rounds of the majors. Regardless of what the change is, it's clear the governing bodies need to consider the health of the players as a higher priority.

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3) The hot weather

Speaking of the health of the players, this heat rule in Australia is ridiculous. Not only is the "wet bulb" standard confusing, but the standard required to close the roofs and halt play on outer courts is way too high. It's not fun to watch players suffer from the effects of the heat, which result in lower quality matches. It was highly uncomfortable to watch Novak Djokovic and Gael Monfils play during one of the hottest days of the year, which is just one of many examples where a match suffered due to the heat. In addition, it's uncomfortable and unsafe for the fans. The modern game of baseline rallies is too grueling for such conditions. The Australian Open has three roofs – let’s make better use of them.

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4) The grunting of players

The level of grunting/shrieking/screaming coming out of Aryna Sabalenka during her first round match against Ashleigh Barry was excruciating to listen to. It was an automatic use of the mute button, or even worse for the sport, a channel changer. It was so absurd that fans in the crowd began imitating it, to the point where the chair umpire had to ask they stop. The WTA has been saying for years that it would work to prevent this annoying form of gamesmanship at a younger age. But this 19-year-old is proof significant progress has not been made, and it's a shame: it drives fans away from tennis.

5) Changes to the draw

There was much talk during the tournament of how starting with next year’s Australian Open, majors will go back to only having 16 seeded players in the singles draws. Simon Cambers did an analysis here that’s well worth reading, regarding how the number of early round upsets decreased in the men’s singles draws after seedings were extended from 16 to 32 players. It’s appealing in that 16 seeds will result in more interesting matches during the first week of the majors, as players ranked 17-32 will no longer be protected from playing a seeded player before the third round. For example, at the Australian Open, 17th-seeded Nick Kyrgios could have drawn top seeded Rafael Nadal in the opening round. However, will we end up with worse matchups in the second week? If so, I’d argue this is not a positive change. I wonder if the major title counts of Federer, Nadal, and Djokovic would be the same under the 16 seed format, and if their records will be harder to chase now.

6) The new clock

One innovation that was a welcome addition to the sport is the introduction of a countdown clock for the pre-match warm-ups. A clock on the scoreboard counts down one minute for players to walk onto court and report to the umpire at the net, followed by a five-minute warm-up. They’re then allowed just one minute to be ready to play the first point. It's a common sense change to speed up the time from when players walk onto court and when the first point is played. If players go over the allotted time, they receive a fine. Most fans likely didn't even notice this new rule, which makes me like it even more. Subtle changes like this for the sake of expediency and transparency are always welcome.

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7) Zverev’s punishment

Mischa Zverev was fined $45,000 for what was deemed an unprofessional first round performance. A new rule allows players to still receive half their first round prize money if they withdraw prior to their match, and allows a healthy player to not only take their place in the draw, but also the other half of the first round prize money. This is a result of the large number of male retirements that happened in the first round of majors in recent years, as players not ready to compete at their best were not inclined to withdraw before the match as they would lose all their prize money. Yes, this punishment seems rather harsh in Zverev’s case, as Mischa is a player with a good reputation. He cited a viral illness as his reason for retiring during the second set, and perhaps he arrived to the court hoping to tough out the illness and give his all. But the clear message sent to players going forward is a good one: you’ll be better off financially if you withdraw rather than retire mid-match.

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8) Talks of a union

Tennis is a sport filled with conflicts of interest, some more harmful than others. But it was still surprising to hear of Novak Djokovic’s unannounced closed-door meeting with the ATP Player Council. As the Daily Mail first reported, Djokovic asked for non-players to leave the room, and then spoke for close to an hour about the need for a players’ union. The ATP is a governing body that represents both players and tournaments, and there is speculation amongst players that they are not getting their fair share of increased revenues from the tournaments. There was even speculation regarding a potential boycott of next year’s Australian Open, but Djokovic played down that talk when speaking to the media. This may be the biggest tennis story to follow as 2018 progresses.

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9) Halep’s heroics

If tennis gods exist, they really owe Simona Halep a break. Following a tortuous 2017 Grand Slam season, her 2018 Australian Open was just downright cruel. After saving match points in multiple matches that went passed 6-6 in the third set, she was just two games away from winning her first major title before losing the last three games of the women’s final to Caroline Wozniacki. Halep complained of feeling faint at times during the final, and was later taken to a hospital for treatment of dehydration symptoms. Considering the long matches she played in the hot temperatures, it’s no wonder. It was so refreshing to see a first-time WTA number one so valiantly fight for their first Grand Slam title following their ascent to the top of the rankings: too many recent new number ones have immediately faded after achieving that honor. Karma owes Halep a few good draws at upcoming majors.

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10) Federer’s legacy

As tennis fans, we are really lucky to be able to see this record-breaking men’s era, featuring such likeable players that are not afraid to share their emotions with us. Watching Roger Federer’s twentieth major victory was special enough. But his emotional post-match speech, followed by extended applause as tears ran down his face, was just a great moment in sports. The 36-year-old still loves the game so much, and we should embrace every last tournament where a uniquely talented champion with such character is present. Federer, as well as the other veteran champions like him, will not be easily replaced when they retire.

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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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