Maria Sharapova: The Beauty of The Night - UBITENNIS
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Maria Sharapova: The Beauty of The Night

Maria Sharapova has never lost a match under the lights in New York. Will she keep her record intact?

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FLUSHING MEADOWS – Just like Catherine Deneuve was “The beauty of the day” in her iconic 1967 French movie Belle de Jour, Maria Sharapova might as well be considered “The beauty of the night” at Flushing Meadows. Sharapova is 23-0 under the lights on Arthur Ashe Stadium and the Russian superstar seems ready to add another victory to her incredible record as she is facing Carla Suarez Navarro of Spain in tonight’s session.

 

Sharapova burst on to the tennis scene in 2004 when she captured the Wimbledon title at only 17 years of age stunning the overwhelming favorite Serena Williams in the final. Maria went on to win other four Grand Slam titles, which is a remarkable achievement even if many had predicted that Sharapova was going to be at the top of the women’s game more consistently. After defeating Serena for a second time in the 2004 WTA Finals at Staples Center in Los Angeles, Sharapova lost 18 consecutive matches to Williams in what has become one of the most one-sided rivalries in recent history. Nevertheless, it’s ironic how the two have never faced each other in New York under the lights.

Sharapova’s infamous 18-month doping suspension has also contributed to the ups and downs of her career: The Russian dropped from No. 7 to No. 262 in the world rankings. In 2017, her comeback was far from brilliant, with only one title in a small tournament played in Tianjin, China. While her legion of fans thought that Sharapova could have easily climbed back to the top ten in a few months, coming back to a full-time schedule has been very difficult for the Russian.

Maria Sharapova and Serena Williams are the only active players to have completed the Career Slam, but Sharapova’s last major title was at Roland Garros in 2014. This year in New York, Sharapova has been flying under the radar as the No. 22-seed. Her recent results have been quite disappointing with a first-round loss to Diatchenko at Wimbledon and a straight-set defeat against Garcia in Montreal. If Maria prevails over Suarez Navarro tonight, she will face the winner of Cibulkova-Keys.

It is important to mention that the last seven Grand Slam tournaments have been won by seven different women: Serena Williams, Ostapenko, Muguriuza, Stephens, Wozniacki, Halep and Kerber. If the winner of this year’s US Open is neither Serena nor Stephens, we will have eight different Grand Slam champions in two years for the first time since 1937-38.

In the men’s tournament, the big favorites Djokovic, Federer and Nadal are still in contention to win the title. Federer is the only player yet to drop a set, while Djokovic and Nadal have dropped two each. Roger is yet to be seriously tested in this tournament and I doubt that his round of 16 opponent John Millman will represent a big challenge tonight. This could be an advantage for the Swiss maestro, who will be very fresh for the final matches of the event.

We are certainly headed towards the highly anticipated quarterfinal clash between Federer and Djokovic. Today the Serb will face João Sousa – the first Portuguese player in history to reach the round of 16 at the US Open.

After the No. 4-seed Alexander Zverev was sent home by his older countryman Philip Kohlschreiber, yesterday the No.5-seed and last year’s runner-up Kevin Anderson was upset by Dominic Thiem in straight sets. The 26-year-old Austrian will compete in his first Grand Slam quarterfinal outside of Roland Garros, where he has already reached two semifinals and a final. 32-year-old Anderson seemed fatigued after the five-set marathon against Denis Shapovalov in the previous round.

Thiem’s quarterfinal opponent will be none other than Rafa Nadal in an unusual hard-court battle. The two have already faced each other on clay on numerous occasions, with Rafa leading 7-3. Not too many players can say to have beaten Nadal on clay three times though and it will be very interesting to see how Thiem will fare against the Spaniard tomorrow. It should be better for Thiem to play Rafa on a slow hard-court than on clay.

In my opinion, the biggest surprise of Sunday was the fact that there were no tie-breakers in the five-set battle won by John Isner against Milos Raonic – the two biggest servers on the ATP Tour. At 33 years of age, Isner amazingly proved to be in better physical shape than the 27-year-old Canadian.

(Article translation provided by T&L Global – Translation & Language Solutions – www.t-lglobal.com )

ATP

Intriguing Team-Ups Lure Eyes Doubles’ Way. Will They Stay For The Problems, Too?

Will the recent surge in high-profile double partnerships have any impact on the long term future of the discipline?

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Cincinnati Open, Western and Southern Open, Andy Murray, Feliciano Lopez
Photo Credit: ATP Tour Twitter

In one of his press conferences at the Western and Southern Open in Cincinnati, Andy Murray said he would not be playing the US Open. His announcement came a day or so after his initial declaration that he would be playing only the two doubles events in the final Major of the season. A few things came out of Murray’s remarks. The first and the obvious was that the former world no. 1 was ready to give it his all (yet again) to play singles. The second, the understated aspect, was that doubles while seeming easy vis-à-vis singles required just as much focus, if not more. Then, there was a third.

 

In tennis’ continuity though, the relevance of the doubles game is not a recent epiphany. However, the last few tournaments of the 2019 season that featured some eclectic partnerships – Stefanos Tsitispas and Nick Kyrgios, Andy Murray and Feliciano Lopez, the Pliskova twins, Andy and Jamie Murray, and so on – has made doubles slightly more prominent than singles.

Singles has become monotonous with the same set of players making it to the final rounds. On the other hand, doubles has brought in more verve to the existing status quo of the Tour, with each player’s individuality adding to the dynamics of the team. After his first outing as Kyrgios’ doubles partner at the Citi Open in Washington in July, Tsitsipas pointed this out.

“It’s the joy of being with a person who thinks differently and reacts differently. I would characterise him (Kyrgios) as someone who likes to amuse. I’m very serious and concentrated when I play, but he just has the style of speaking all the time. It’s good sometimes to have a change,” the Greek had said.

These changes – as seen with Murray’s recent decision – may not extend for a longer period. The culmination of these short-term team-ups does – and should – not mean the end of the road of doubles piquing attention, per se. At the same time, these transitory partnerships also reroute the discussion back to the financial side of the doubles game.

In a recent interview with Forbes, Jamie Murray – a doubles specialist – shared how conducive it had become for players to take up doubles as the sole means of a tennis career these days, as compared to in the past.

“Because the money is always increasing in tennis, it is a much more viable option to go down the doubles route a lot earlier than previous generations. Before, people would play singles and then when their ranking dropped, they played an extra few years of doubles. Now it is a genuine option to start off much younger and have a career in doubles,” the 33-year-old said.

Despite Murray’s upbeat attitude, these increases have not exactly trickled towards doubles, especially at the Slams including the upcoming edition of the US Open. For 2019, the USTA showed-off yet another hike in the prize-money coffer. The men’s and women’s singles champions will be awarded $3.8 million. In comparison, the men’s and women’s doubles teams winning the respective title will get $740,000. This sum gets further diluted for the mixed-doubles’ titlists who will get $160,000 as a team.

This is the third and final takeaway that emerged from Murray’s US Open call. For several of these singles players, intermittent doubles play is an option. For those who play only doubles, that is the only option they have. The doubles game requires similar effort – travel, expenses and fitness – the costs continue to outweigh the benefits. These momentary team formations are a gauge revealing the disparity of tennis’ two sides, visible yet obliviated beyond tokenism.

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Andy Murray, Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic’s Big Four reunion in Cincy

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ATP Cincinnati, Andy Murray, Western and Southern Open
Photo Credit: Western and Southern Open Twitter

A few years before, there existed a quartet called Big Four in men’s tennis. At certain points in their time-line of dominance, injuries plagued each member of this four-member group. However, the severity of their affliction in one player, Andy Murray, saw his name erased from this elite pocket. Thus, the Big Four was reduced to the Big Three with Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer making up the troika.

 

At the 2019 Western and Southern Open in Cincinnati, three of the erstwhile Big Four troupe reunited as they re-entered the circuit’s circus. And each player had a different path leading up to the event, too, underlining how divergent their careers had become despite overlapping scheduling.

The 2016 season was the common catalyst leading to this divergence. From Federer’s injury to him pausing his season to focus on rehab after Wimbledon, to Djokovic pushing his boundary as a marauder and completing the non-calendar Slam, and to Murray ending the season as the world no. 1. The year in consideration also threw up other names – Nadal’s season ended in an agony of injury, while Stan Wawrinka won his third Major at the US Open. In its bounty of giving and taking, 2016 changed how we looked at these players – especially the first four – and the irrevocability of assumption that these guys could get past any hurdles stopping their way.

Juxtaposing with Cincinnati, in the three years since 2016, Federer and Djokovic have vaulted past their share of physical problems. Yet, in the Ohioan city, they have different motivations guiding them. This is the first time that Djokovic has entered the Cincinnati draw as the defending champion. Meanwhile, after having been drawn in the same half as the Serbian, Federer has the proverbial score to settle against him. “I can’t wait for my next rematch with Novak or my next time I can step on a match court and show what I can do,” the 20-time Slam champion said in one of his pre-tournament media interactions in Cincinnati.

There are a few opponents to get past before their slated semi-final meeting occurs. Nonetheless, their sustained competitiveness adds its fervour to the already-hefty top-half of the men’s draw. In the midst of their respectively successful opening rounds, Murray’s first-round defeat to Richard Gasquet in straight sets became a contextual misnomer for comebacks.

Yet, Murray’s was the most stirring return. This was not because of the emotional crossroads that had sprung up at the 2019 Australian Open regarding his retirement. But on account of how farther Murray had leapt to put his physical frailties behind and re-join the singles Tour. And, the Briton’s determination to do so is reminiscent of 2016, all over again. It’s the completion of the circle of how Murray had pushed hard to become the world’s best player and now, he is trying just as much to regain his footing back.

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ATP

Nick Kyrgios’ Washington win is about good vs bad: Of situations and opinions

The Australian’s Citi Open win brought forth a wave of positiveness about him. But its enduring or lack thereof is a test for his viewers, hereon.

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Nick Kyrgios
Photo Credit: Citi Open

Nick Kyrgios picked up two titles in 2019 – in Acapulco and Washington – in the time it took opinion to swing between “He is not good for tennis” to “Tennis needs him”. And, in the days after his win at the 2019 Citi Open in the latter city, the subject continues to be a favoured topic of editorial conversation vis-à-vis his importance to the sport.

 

The player in question though does not care for any of these. Yes, after his win in the Washington final against Daniil Medvedev, Kyrgios admitted, “I’ve just been working really hard, on and off the court, to try and be better as a person and as a tennis player. And as I said, I wasn’t exaggerating. This has been one of the best weeks of my life, not just on the court but in general. I feel like I’ve made major strides.” But this came with an addendum of sorts. “And I’m just going to take it one day at a time and hopefully, I can continue on this new path.”

As Kyrgios heads into the Rogers Cup in Montreal, these words need to be stamped onto onlookers’ minds, with their significance getting highlighted each time he steps on to the court, hereafter. Especially, when describing his antics that often tend to be over-the-top.

This past week in Washington, Kyrgios came up with some idiosyncratic behaviour. He shimmied, he put himself in the shoes of the prince while conjuring up an image of Stefanos Tsitsipas as Cinderella, and he asked fans for their opinions about which way to serve on match points, following that with heartfelt hugs after winning the match. All of these were endearing gestures with their enjoyableness magnified by his run of triumph thereby leading to thoughts of why Kyrgios was so important to tennis.

Had these same actions come before a result – in any round – that had not gone in his favour? It is not hard to say, after observing past trends that the reactions would have been about how Kyrgios had disrespected the sport and how he did not do much with the potential he has been gifted. The opinions would have changed that quickly.

It is because of these that the Washington result comes as a timely reality-check monitor. That instead of analysing Kyrgios’ every move, both tactical and non-tactical, the world at large needs to just view him as part of the whole of tennisdom. He is like the others who have taken up tennis professionally. But if his route on the Tour is to be measured by others’ straight-line standards, then, he is not the guy to follow that precedent.

And, why should he? Kyrgios is the way he wants to be, not the way people think he should be. Moreover, if it is that easy to accept him as he is when he wins not being able to accept Kyrgios for who he is when he loses is not his lookout. It’s the viewers who need to pore over their preferences.

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