10 Takes From This Year’s French Open - UBITENNIS
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10 Takes From This Year’s French Open

10 topics worth further discussion following the 2018 tournament.

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Rafael Nadal (Zimbio.com)

From Rafael Nadal’s 11th Roland Garros title to Simona Halep’s first, here are ten storylines from the French Open that deserves more discussion.

 

Nadal’s supremacy

1) “Undecima” for Rafael Nadal, unfathomable.  86-2 at Roland Garros, with a 22-0 record in semifinals and finals.  His ability to win the pressure matches and pressure points on this surface is unprecedented in this sport, and some would suggest in any sport.  As Dominic Thiem’s own coach, Gunter Bresnik, told Christopher Clarey of The New York Times even before Sunday’s final, “He is, for me, the best competitor I ever saw in any sport.”  His last two matches were perfect examples. Nadal saved all six break points he faced against Juan Martin Del Potro on Friday, then broke to win the first set and ran away with the match.  Similarly on Sunday, he broke Dominic Thiem at love to win the first set, and broke Thiem’s will in the process. Rafa’s enduring success in big moments on clay should be marveled at.

Halep’s triumph at last

2) Simona Halep didn’t achieve success as the majors as quickly as Nadal, but her story is more relatable and inspiring.  She lost in the final at the French Open last year despite being up a set and break against an unproven player. How does she respond?  She reaches the quarters at Wimbledon just one month later on her weakest surface. She loses that quarter-final in a tight three-setter, when a win would have made her the new number one in the world.  How does she respond? She makes the semis and finals just one month later in Toronto and Cincinnati, respectively. She loses an emotional first round against Maria Sharapova at the US Open. How does she respond?  She earns the number one ranking just one month later with a run to the final in Beijing. She loses her third major final in Melbourne after saving match points in two earlier rounds. How does she respond? She wins the very next major, despite being down a set and a break in the final.  Simona’s ability to continually pick herself back up so soon after each crushing loss should also be marveled at.

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Djokovic’s run

3) Some are hailing Novak Djokovic’s run to the quarters as another step forward in his comeback.  But I disagree: if anything, this fortnight was a step backward for him. Losing a major quarterfinal to a man who had never before won a match at any Grand Slam event will stun for some time to come, and will rattle his confidence on such occasions going forward.  Most disturbing for Djokovic during this tournament was his attitude. Novak’s frustration level during many of his matches was startling, especially considering it often came out at times where he was ahead. Rafael Nadal has talked about the need to enjoy the suffering when on court.  Djokovic appears far removed from enjoying competition on the tennis court, and far removed from the player who two years ago held all four major titles.

Serena’s return

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4) Serena Williams not being seeded at Roland Garros was quite absurd.  Does anyone believe she was not one of the 32 most likely players in the draw to win the tournament?  I get that she came in with few matches and few wins, but she’s still a 23-time major champion. Even so, she advanced to the fourth round, with two victories over top 20 seeds.  She may have gone much farther had she not gotten injured. And as many have pointed out, I’m sure the seeded players themselves would also agree Serena should be seeded, so they’re guaranteed to not face her before the third round.  Just ask Ashleigh Barty. It’s time the majors exercise some discretion, and some common sense, when it comes to seedings. Serena will not be ranked high enough for an automatic seeding at Wimbledon. Your move, All-England Club.

The best-of-five debate

5) Lots of heated debate these past two weeks on twitter as to whether the men should continue to play best-of-five at the majors.  I would suggest a compromise (a foreign concept nowadays, I know).  Both the men and women play best-of-five at ALL tournaments (majors and non-majors), but sets are played to five with a tiebreak at 4-4 of every set (including the final set).  Ad scoring remains, as no-ad eliminates too many pivotal and dynamic points from the match.  This would address many issues without losing what makes the sport great.  You would still get the drama of five-set tennis, but you speed up play and make each point within a set more meaningful.  Match times would be close to the current best-of three-format, with approximately the same number of games required to play out a match (in both the minimum and maximum possibilities).  It seems archaic that men and women have different scoring systems and play for different lengths – does any other sport do that?  Women should be fully treated as equals beyond equal pay (which they deserve regardless of the scoring systems used), and be given the same amount of court and TV time.

The 25-second rule

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6) I’m more curious than ever to see how the introduction of the service clock in the main draw of this year’s US Open will play out.  Too many players have abused the rule regarding time allowed between points for too long. The men seem to be the worst offenders here.  Nadal regularly goes beyond the 25 seconds allotted from the time the score is announced to the time the serve is struck. And the number of times Djokovic and Cilic bounce the ball before serving has become comical.  While I’m all for speeding up the sport, I don’t see these players making any drastic changes to their pre-serve rituals, especially Nadal. Are officials ready to penalize them beyond warnings, and beyond the loss of a first serve, for such infractions?  And will a visible clock on court just create more controversy? If umpires are liberal as to when they call the score, such as not immediately calling it after a prolonged point, that doesn’t remove discretion from this issue. And if fans are still making noise when the clock gets to zero, will the server be penalized?  I still have more questions than answers, but let’s either consistently and transparently enforce the rule, or get rid of the rule altogether.

Where is hawk-eye?

7) In the year 2018, there’s still too many instances where umpires and players stare down at marks on the court and argue over whether a ball was in or out.  If hawk-eye is not exact enough to be utilized on the clay, can’t the technology be further advanced with the proper investment? And even if hawkeye is not perfectly precise on clay, perhaps it should still be utilized.  At least it would be a definitive ruling. And even if players argue the mark on the court doesn’t agree with hawkeye, it’s harder to fight with a computer than a human. It’s been reported that the use of hawkeye on clay is an agenda item at the upcoming ATP Player Council meeting prior to Wimbledon, so let’s see what comes out of that.

Umpire should have the ultimate say

8) Why are players allowed so much say as to when a match is stopped due to rain or darkness?  This call should be made by the chair umpire and tournament officials, and decisively so. Rafael Nadal should not be able to pack his bag and effectively decide himself that it’s raining too hard to play.  Caroline Wozniacki should not be able to stop play for several minutes while arguing it’s too dark to continue. Officials need to take the power back here. If a player doesn’t want to continue, start the service clock and penalize them if they’re not at the service line in time.  Players won’t like it, but they’ll oblige accordingly.

The empty seats

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9) Something should be done about the amount of empty seats on the lower levels of the show courts in Paris at the start of play.  This happens not only on days with 11:00am starts, but even days with 2:00pm starts. I understand how important lunch time is to the French, but if they’re not going to arrive on time, move the VIP seats a bit higher so the empty seats will be less visible on TV.  Or alternatively, start play at a later time on the show courts, and only schedule two or three matches per day. The players scheduled first on are robbed of a good atmosphere for their matches. Wimbledon doesn’t have this problem. The US Open is adjusting their show court starting times this year for this very reason.  The French should follow their lead.

The troublesome tarp’s

10) Last year at Roland Garros, David Goffin slipped on the rolled-up tarp at the back of the court while chasing down a ball.  The injury Goffin suffered to his ankle caused him to miss six weeks of his season, including Wimbledon. A year later, the tarps still sit at the back of the court.  Why? This is an incident that could easily happen again, and could easily be prevented if the tarp is moved off the court and instead stored nearby. And for that matter, why do we still have the signs that stand at the feet of the line judges?  How many times have we seen players trip on them during the clay court season? In Monte Carlo this year, Thanasi Kokkinakis was on crutches after tripping over one of these signs. The answer as to why they haven’t been removed is, of course, money: advertising space is sold on them.  But why continue to unnecessarily put the players at risk of injury? Stick a few extra crocodiles on the walls behind the courts and prioritize the players’ health.

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Australian Open Daily Preview: Aryna Sabalenka and Elena Rybakina Play for the Women’s Championship

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Aryna Sabalenka on Thursday in Melbourne (twitter.com/australianopen)

2022 was a trying year for Aryna Sabalenka.  She completely lost her form on her second serve, striking double-digit double faults in many of her matches.  And in her third Major semifinal within a 14-month period, she again lost in heartbreaking fashion, by a score of 6-4 in the third for the third straight time.  Many athletes never recover from such issues and scar tissue.  But in just the first month of 2023, and after working with a biomechanics specialist to fix her serve, a calmer, more confident Sabalenka has achieved her first Major singles final.

 

2022 was a milestone year for Elena Rybakina.  Six months ago, the 23-year-old had only won two WTA titles at smaller events, and reached one Major quarterfinal.  Then she surprised the tennis world by winning Wimbledon this past July.  However, she was granted no ranking points due to the controversial backlash to Wimbledon’s ban of Russian and Belarussian athletes.  And in the ensuing months, Elena was often banished to outer courts at bigger events, including this one, with court assignments unbefitting of a reigning Wimbledon champion.  Rybakina used all of this as motivation, and has achieved her second Major final just six months after her first.

Also on Saturday, the men’s doubles champions will be crowned.  Will an Aussie team triumph for a second year in a row?  Wild cards Rinky Hijikata and Jason Kubler will face Hugo Nys and Jan Zielinski, in a first Major final for both of these partnerships. 


Elena Rybakina (22) vs. Aryna Sabalenka (5) – 7:30pm on Rod Laver Arena

Sabalenka is a perfect 10-0 in 2023, and 20-0 in sets.  This is the fourth time out of the last six Majors she has advanced to the semifinals or better, and she already owns two Slam titles in women’s doubles with Elise Mertens.  Regardless of Saturday’s result, Aryna will reach a new career-high of No.2 on Monday.

Rybakina had lost five of her last eight matches heading into this fortnight, but has found her form as the event has progressed.  She has dropped only one set through six matches, to last year’s runner-up Danielle Collins.  Elena will debut inside the top 10 on Monday, as high as No.8 if she wins this final.  And she would be solidly inside the top five with her points from Wimbledon.

Sabalenka leads their head-to-head 3-0, though all three matches have gone three sets.  In fact in all three, Sabalenka won the first and third sets, while Rybakina won the second.  They’ve played four years ago in Wuhan, two years ago in Abu Dhabi, and two years ago at Wimbledon. 

Aryna’s vastly-improved serve and demeanor have been crucial in advancing her to her first Major singles final.  But can she avoid double faulting, and remain calm, in what is the biggest match of her career?

No player’s serve has been more effective during this tournament than Rybakina’s.  As per Tumaini Carayol on Twitter, more than 50% of Elena’s serves have gone unreturned, which results in a lot of easy points.  And no player remains more calm on court than Rybakina, despite the berating comments her coach may share during the match

I expect Elena’s experience winning Wimbledon six months ago to prove extremely valuable on Saturday, and slightly favor Rybakina to win her second Major.


Saturday’s full Order of Play is here.

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Australian Open: Novak Djokovic Seals Final Showdown With Tsitsipas After Paul Victory

Novak Djokovic will look to capture his tenth Australian Open title on Sunday.

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Novak Djokovic (@atptour - Twitter)

Novak Djokovic is into the Australian Open final after a 7-5 6-1 6-2 victory over Tommy Paul.

 

Djokovic will have the chance to claim his tenth Australian Open title and his 22nd Grand Slam title after a dominant straight sets victory.

Paul gave a good account of himself in his first Grand Slam semi-final but was ultimately outmuscled by Djokovic.

Djokovic’s bid for history will now go through Stefanos Tsitsipas on Sunday.

Competing in his first Grand Slam semi-final, Paul settled into the match playing some dynamic tennis to force Djokovic into early errors.

Djokovic started the match in rather erratic fashion but managed to save a break point to hold in the opening game.

However the former world number one found his range eventually as some world-class returning capitalised on nerves from the American as he broke and held for a 3-0 lead.

The Serb’s variety in pace and depth of shot was too much for the American as he dictated the tempo of the rallies.

Once Paul held serve to settle into the match in the fourth game, Djokovic’s onslaught continued as another break in the next return game secured another break and a comfortable 5-1 lead.

What would follow would not be in the script though as Djokovic produced more and more errors with Paul’s stubborn and dynamic style finding confidence as he punched holes through the Serb’s game.

Djokovic couldn’t convert set point and was broken twice as Paul reeled off four games in a row to level the opening set at 5-5.

In the end Djokovic would produce his best tennis when it mattered most with the Serb holding to love and then breaking on his first opportunity to take a tight opening set 7-5.

Although the opening set was littered with errors and erratic from both players, Djokovic produced a consistent standard in the next two sets as he improved the level on serve.

Once again Djokovic took a 5-1 lead in the second set and despite late resilience from Paul, the Serb held his nerve to wrap up a two sets to love lead.

The world number 35 had his moments of world-class tennis but ultimately it was Djokovic who was too strong as a further two breaks of serve sealed his place in a tenth Australian Open final.

After the match Djokovic commented on the state of his hamstring injury, “It’s great, and perfect and 100%,” Djokovic gladly commented in his on-court interview.

“Yeah – we’ll say against Stefanos in two days! Of course you are not as fresh as at the beginning of the tournament but we put in a lot of of hours in the off season. I know what’s expected and I have been in so many positions in my career.

“It’s a great battle, with yourself and the opponent. Long rallies and you could feel the heavy legs in the first set but I was fortunate to hold my nerves. After that I was swinging through the ball more and I am just pleased to get through another final.”

Djokovic and Tsitsipas will face each other in a second Grand Slam final after Djokovic won the Roland Garros final in 2021 in five sets.

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Novak Djokovic’s Father Say Australian Open Flag Incident Was ‘Unintentional’

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Srđan Đoković - foto: Fonet

The father of Novak Djokovic has said he will not be attending his son’s semi-final match at the Australian Open to avoid the possibility of any ‘disruption’ after being caught up in an incident on Wednesday.

 

Srdjan Djokovic has been forced to issue a statement after a video surfaced online of him posing with fans waving Russian flags with one of those also bearing the face of Vladamir Putin. Witnesses reported there was pro-Russian chanting with one of those also wearing a T-shirt bearing the letter ‘Z’ which is a symbol for the Russian army. 

The Russian and Belarussian flags, as well as items with the Z symbol, are banned from the Australian Open as a result of the war in Ukraine. Tournament organisers have implemented the rule since day two of the Grand Slam following an incident involving a Ukrainian player Ukraine’s Kateryna Baindl in her match against Kamilla Rakhimovaon on the first day. 

62-year-old Srdjan said he never had any intention of causing controversy and said his family only want peace in the world. Although in his press release, he didn’t offer any apology for taking part in the photos. There had been claims that Srdjan was heard saying a pro-Russian phrase in the video but this has since been disproven. Journalist Sasa Ozmo confirmed the phrase used by him was ‘Ziveli, Ljudi’ which translates to ‘Cheers guys’ and also means goodbye. 

“I am here to support my son only,” Srdjan said in a statement on Friday. 
“I was outside with Novak’s fans, as I have done after all of my son’s matches, to celebrate his wins and take pictures with them. I had no intention of being caught up in this.
“My family has lived through the horror of war, and we wish only for peace.
“So there is no disruption to tonight’s semi-final for my son or for the other player, I have chosen to watch from home.”

No explanation has been given as to why Srdjan decided to pose for the pictures to begin with when it was visibly clear that the fans were holding a Russian flag. Especially given the current political situation with the war in Ukraine which the United Nations say has caused at least 18,358 civilian casualties, including 7,031 deaths. 

Ukraine’s Marta Kosytuk, who reached the semi-finals of the Australian Open women’s doubles tournament, said she was upset by the incident that took place. Speaking to reporters on Friday, she didn’t weigh in on saying if Srdjan should be banned from the tournament altogether but did point out that such situations ‘can’t be left unseen.’ 

“It hurts a lot because there were specific rules, they were printed out outside that this is not allowed to bring flags and so on,” said Kostyuk.
“Really hurts that they were out there for some time, they were on the court, in the stands as well.
“I don’t know, I just don’t understand, it really hurts and I don’t understand how this can be possible.”

As for Djokovic, he hasn’t commented on the matter leading up to his semi-final clash with Tommy Paul. The former world No.1 is bidding to win the Australian Open title for a historic 10th time in his career.

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