By Cheryl Jones
Last year Spanish dynamo, Rafael Nadal made history. He became the first man to win ten titles in a Single Grand Slam. This year, much as the last several years, he arrived at the same location, at the same time. There was a bit of a surprise waiting across the net. It wasn’t one of the usual “other” three – (They are Roger Federer who chose not to be here this year. Andy Murray is recovering from an injury isn’t here either. Novak Djokovic left early, having been defeated by an Italian upstart, Marco Cecchinato.) – who all have for quite a number of years consistently been his opponents as tournaments played on all surfaces are thinned to the last few before a champion is crowned. Actually it was because there’s a new guy in town and he’s from Austria.
Dominic Thiem is a twenty-four-year-old who owns a flowingly swift backhand and a complete grab bag of perfect shots that much to the consternation of other players are outright winners most of the time. Thiem is from Wiener Neustadt. He’s been playing tennis since he was six years old. When he became a professional in 2011, he was touted as someone to watch by most tennis aficionados who pay attention to upcoming stars. It was a good call. His performance in the 2018 Roland Garros battle on clay has been steady and brilliant all at the same time. He whittled away at the lineup on his side of the draw in Paris and after defeating the top “Next Gen” player Alexander “Sascha” Zverev, he moved on to Italian, Cecchinato in the semifinals, and even though the Italian player had vanquished Djokovic in the quarterfinals he was no match for the stealthy Austrian.
To gain his now very familiar place, on Roland Garros’ final Sunday, Nadal managed to defeat an equal number of players along his way and when the two men strolled on to the court, the crowd went wild. They were looking forward to a great match, and they got one.
On paper the match itself appeared close. In reality, no matter how well the Austrian returned, Nadal had an answer that was served with exclamation points. Midway in the third set, Nadal moved to his sideline seat and yanked at the bandage that has been encircling his wrist the entire tournament. (When he was asked about the bandages earlier in the tournament, he said it was due to the humidity and the perspiration that might incidentally flow onto his hands and then his blister prone fingers.) He also tried pulling the wraps of adhesive tape that covered several of the fingers on his left hand, and when a medical staff person arrived on the scene, Nadal grimaced as the intervener massaged his forearm. Nadal wasn’t really idle, he reached with his right hand into his racquet bag and pulled out a pill, which he downed with a bit of water and soon he was back on the court, minus a point that was deducted for the unscripted timeout. Each change over from that point forward was spent with the same medic massaging that same left forearm and Rafa continued to grimace and took yet another pill. It must have been traumatic for Nadal and Thiem, too. Quite soon, the match was complete and surprise, surprise – Rafael Nadal had won his eleventh Roland Garros. The 6-4, 6-3, 6-2 score was more than enough to ensure the historic win for Nadal.
The Spaniard, as always, took a bite out of the Coupe des Mousquetaires and grinned from ear to ear for the cameras that were snapping shots from every direction. He held the trophy high and as he pulled it to his chest as the Spanish National Anthem played, he cried tears of joy and hugged the coupe closer and closed his eyes, likely already planning to add yet another coupe just like the ones already in his trophy case – next year. That would make it an even twelve, and his need for symmetry could be satisfied with the perfect arrangement. (In case anyone has missed his need for that balance just check out his water bottle line-up next time he’s on court.)
Thiem had nothing to regret about his performance this afternoon. Nadal has seldom allowed anything to be a roadblock in his path to the final during Roland Garros. At 32 years old, and now with eleven wins here, he has been nearly perfect each time he has competed in Paris.
Thiem was seeded seventh to Nadal’s number one. In 2011 when Nadal had won his sixth Coupe, Thiem was runner-up in the Junior Boys. He lost a squeaker to Bjorn Fratangelo of the United States, 3-6, 6-3, 8-6. Thiem took the loss in stride and won his next three singles tournament. He actually finished 2011 with a win in the Dunlop Orange Bowl. From that point forward, he has been on a march to his current number seven ranking.
He spoke at length about the match and praised Nadal’s astounding achievement. He had watched Nadal from the comfort of his sofa eleven years ago and nearly every year thereafter. When asked which he preferred, he smiled and said, “Physically I enjoyed more watching him on the couch.”
He went on to say that it was wonderful that he had made his way to a final and iterated that “Still, I’m disappointed. It was a final. I really wanted to win.”
When asked if he was surprised that it took until the seventh game of the second set before the umpire warned Nadal about his usual “too much” time taken between points, he said, “I didn’t say something to him because I don’t ever have a watch, so I don’t know how many seconds anyone is taking.” (Rumbles overheard from many an onlooker have suggested a timer with a “bing” sounding when the approved 25 seconds have expired.) It didn’t seem to matter in the long run, though. The extra three minutes that Rafa took dealing with his confusing finger injury merely cost the Spaniard a point and evidently he may have ascertained it was somewhat a “cost of doing business” demerit.
In his after-match interview, he said that the problem with his hand was a confusing cramp in his middle finger. He felt as if the wrist wrap had impeded the circulation to that digit and it frightened him. Evidently it all worked out and when the match was over, he remained Number One in the world for yet another week.
For once, Nadal didn’t serve one ace. Thiem managed seven of them, but all to no avail. Thiem’s unforced errors were nearly double what the Spaniard’s were. In the end, all of the statistics were immaterial. Rafael Nadal is staying where he feels best – at the top of the heap – The King of Clay.
ATP RANKINGS UPDATE: Novak Djokovic, No.1 once more
After the US Open the Serbian champion reclaims top spot. Alexander Zverev is back in the Top 10
By Roberto Ferri
“Don’t ever underestimate the heart of a champion”
Rudy Tomjanovich coined this maxim just after his Houston Rockets won the NBA championship in 1995. He was paying homage to Akeem Holajuwon. It perfectly suits the heart of Daniil Medvedev, who proved 99% of tennis fans in the world to be wrong, convinced as they were that he would lose the semifinal to former No 1 Carlos Alcaraz.
But his dream to win a second US Open, after his triumph in 2021, was shattered by another champion, whose heart and class is even greater: that’s Novak Djokovic, who affixes his seal on his return to No.1, equalling Margaret Court Smith’s record of 24 majors.
Djokovic dethroning Alcaraz is not the only change in the top 20: Sascha Zverev is back in the top 10 after almost one year and Ben Shelton, great protagonist of the Us Open, debuts in the top 20 best players in the world.
A few comments:
Stefanos Tsitsipas, Andrei Rublev and Alexander Zverev gain 2 positions.
Ben Shelton devours 28 positions.
Sinner, Tiafoe, Norrie and Dimitrov lose one.
Casper Ruud and Karen Khachanov, runner up and semi-finalist respectively at the 2022 US Open, drop 4 positions.
One step forward for Fritz, de Minaur, Paul, Auger-Aliassime and Hurkacz.
ATP NITTO FINALS
From 12 to 19 November the 8 best players of the ranking based on the points earned in the ongoing solar season will be playing the Nitto ATP Finals in Turin.
Will Novak Djokovic succeed in winning a second straight title? He appears to be heading in the right direction.
Thanks to his triumph at the US Open the Serbian overtakes Alcaraz also in the Race to Turin.
Jannik Sinner holds fourth spot while Andrei Rublev overtakes Stefanos Tsitsipas and is now fifth.
The eighth position is occupied by Alexander Zverev.
Last year runner up, Casper Ruud is currently 10th. This means he would feature in Turin as a reserve.
ATP NEXT GENERATION FINALS
The Next Gen Finals, dedicated to the best under 21s, (8 effectives and 2 reserves) of the season will take place this year in Gedda, Saudi Arabia.
The 2022 winner, Brandon Nakashima, will not be defending his title, since he was born in 2001.
Taking for granted that Alcaraz and, most likely Rune, will be playing the ATP Finals, we have included in the chart the 12 current top under 21s.
Besides Ben Shelton, other 11 players have achieved their career highest this week.
We tribute a double applause to the four players who are making their debut in the top 100.
The 25-year-old Croatian Borna Gojo, 22-year-old Australian Rinky Hijkata and the Swiss next gen Dominic Stricker all reap the reward for their brilliant runs at the US Open. Seyboth Wild, the Brazilian who stunned Medvedev in the first round of Roland Garros leaps to No.76 after winning the Challenger in Como last week.
Translated by Kingsley Elliot Kaye
COMMENT: Novak Djokovic Proves His Greatness At US Open
Love him, or hate him. But respect him.
No tennis player has ever been better than Novak Djokovic.
Even Rafa Nadal and Roger Federer have to take their hats off to Novak, and admire him.
Now that Rafa and Roger have left Djokovic on his own stage at least for now, tennis fans love Novak.
DJOKOVIC WENT ONE STEP FURTHER
Djokovic’s performance on Sunday evening in the U.S. Open final was simply amazing. Daniil Medvedev also played his heart out, but Djokovic went one step further. He was sensational.
It was a thrill-a-minute three-set match. It lasted well into the night after starting at mid-afternoon. The second set alone lasted 104 minutes.
Djokovic was the winner, 6-3, 7-6 (5), 6-3, but New York still loves 2021 champion Medvedev.
A FOURTH AND 24TH TITLE, AND A 24 TRIBUTE
At 36, the oldest U.S. Open men’s champion ever, Djokovic obviously has a special place in his heart for the number four. It’s the number of times he has won this tournament and the 24th time he has won a Grand Slam title.
The number 24 also was displayed prominently on the white jacket. Novak, his team members and family wore for the victory celebration as a tribute to the No. 24 jersey of deceased friend Kobe Bryant.
Djokovic lost his footing at least three times in the tight second set, stumbling to the surface once, apparently due to the length of the rallies.
Djokovic could look like he was almost completely wiped out of it physically one minute, and then play like Superman the next minute.
THREE POINTS MAY HAVE BEEN DECISIVE
Both men played great tennis, especially in the thrill-a-second second set in which Medvedev gained one set point in the 12th game before Djokovic recovered to force a tiebreaker.
Medvedev appeared to be in charge after out-playing Novak to win one of his drop shots to take a 5-4 lead in the tiebreaker. The match may have been decided on the next three points, all won by Djokovic on errors by the 6-6 Russian.
The big question now is what happens next January in the Australian Open. Right now, Djokovic probably wants to play . . . and win what has been his favorite tournament as far as success. But things can change quickly for players in their mid-30s. Just ask Roger or Rafa.
James Beck was the 2003 winner of the USTA National Media Award. A 1995 MBA graduate of The Citadel, he can be reached at Jamesbecktennis@gmail.com.
Alcaraz Fell Victim To Unbeatable Medvedev
Carlos Alcaraz was no match for Daniil Medvedev in the US Open semi-finals.
A star had to fall. There was no other way.
This time, Carlos Alcaraz was the victim. Daniil Medvedev was unbeatable.
The 6-6 Russian was everywhere, playing almost perfect tennis in a 7-6 (3), 6-1, 3-6, 6-3 win over Alcaraz.
So, one former champion went down while one advanced to Sunday’s final at the U.S. Open.
And then there was Novak Djokovic, another former champion headed for the title match.
U.S. OPEN WAS THE BIG WINNER FRIDAY
The U.S. Open couldn’t lose once Djokovic dominated young American Ben Shelton, 6-3, 6-2, 7-6 (4).
Djokovic appeared to be content with just winning while getting the preliminaries over with. He seemed to be a little miffed by Shelton’s cockiness. There were no hugs or embraces when the match ended. Just a handshake.
Shelton has huge potential, but it’s going to take some time before he’s ready to join the likes of Djokovic, Medvedev and Alcaraz. He’s a better athlete than he is tennis player.
Novak is ready to go for a record 24th Grand Slam title.
Believe it or not, Medvedev will be playing in his fifth Grand Slam final.
Sunday should be a great day in Arthur Ashe Stadium, with two former champs, Djokovic and Medvedev, going against each other.
CAN COCO HIT WITH SABALENKA
The women’s final will be interesting. Can Coco Gauff compete with Aryna Sabalenka?
Sabalenka looked helpless against Madison Keys’ big strokes and serves in the first set of their semifinal on Thursday.
Sabalenka couldn’t win even one game in that set. She looked helpless.
But she obviously felt all along that she could beat Keys anytime she wanted. Or why else would the powerful Sabalenka go for broke on almost every shot? And it almost cost her.
Amazingly, Sabalenka waited almost to the final moments to decide to play within her game and stop the wildness.
Once Sabalenka decided to settle down and play to win, Keys went just the opposite way, similarly to her one-sided loss to Sloane Stephens in the 2017 U.S. Open final.
Keys appeared ready to win this time as she held a 6-0, 5-4 advantage over new world’s No. 1 Sabalenka, who seemed to be stumbling all over the court as she repeatedly hit wild shots in every direction.
Just like that, everything changed. Sabalenka started hitting winners everywhere as Keys reversed roles with Sabalenka. Not only did Sabalenka win the second set while dropping just one point in a tiebreaker, she stormed through a decisive 10-point third-set tiebreaker to win the match.
James Beck was the 2003 winner of the USTA National Media Award. 1995 MBA graduate of The Citadel, he can be reached at Jamesbecktennis@gmail.com.
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