From Serena's Meltdown To Kyrgios' Pep Talk - 10 US Open Break Points - UBITENNIS
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From Serena’s Meltdown To Kyrgios’ Pep Talk – 10 US Open Break Points

These are the topics worth further discussion following the 2018 tournament.

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The past two weeks of the US Open will forever be remembered, but not all of it will be for a good reason. Arguments over shirt changes, umpire rulings and tournament rules at times overshadowed the brilliant performance by some players. Now the tournament has concluded with Novak Djokovic winning the men’s trophy, there remains a series of issues that needs to be addressed. 

 

1) In a surreal women’s final, Serena Williams and Chair Umpire Carlos Ramos both handled the situation remarkably poorly

Nowadays, it’s commonplace for people to choose one side in a debate, vehemently defend it, and refuse to look for common ground. But in most situations, many shades of grey exist, which is certainly true in the debacle that was the women’s singles championship match. Let’s begin with the code violation for illegal coaching, which was completely valid. Patrick Mouratoglou admitted he was coaching to ESPN’s Pam Shriver after the match. His excuse was that “everybody does it” and nobody gets called for it. But as Jon Wertheim pointed out on Tennis Channel in the US, the “everybody does it” excuse is never a good one. Patrick cited Toni Nadal not being called for his constant illegal coaching of Rafa over the years, but actually Nadal has received code violations for illegal coaching in the past. As Ben Rothenberg of the New York Times pointed out, even Carlos Ramos himself has made this call against Nadal before.

Serena completely overreacted to this, launching into multiple diatribes throughout the rest of the second set about how she’s not a cheater. But this violation was called on her coach, not on her. And while it doesn’t matter if she saw the hand signals from Mouratoglou for the sake of the violation, I don’t buy the argument that she didn’t see it. How would she know to excuse the hand signals as a thumbs up if she didn’t see him? Serena’s had to overcome more sexism and racism during her career than I could ever begin to grasp, so her offensive-minded defense is understandable. But in the context of the match, all it did was escalate the situation, which served to distract herself and take away from Naomi Osaka’s victory.

The third code violation is where the match really spiraled into utter chaos, which the chair umpire cannot allow to occur. Yes, Serena was verbally abusive towards Ramos. Calling him a liar and a thief does qualify as verbal abuse accordingly to the rulebook. And I’m all for chair umpires taking less abuse from players, and asserting more authority. But this was not the time to make that point. This was a situation that called for more discretion from Carlos Ramos. Awarding a game to Osaka in such an important match, with history on the line, was unnecessary. He should have given her further warnings or involved the tournament officials to help diffuse the situation before resorting to a game penalty. After this third code violation was called, I kept waiting to see a replay of Serena saying something worse to Ramos, but such audio never surfaced.

Was sexism at play? That’s a fair claim, as there’s certainly still plenty of double standards in tennis. And as Patrick McEnroe of ESPN highlighted, a male player likely would have been treated differently in this situation. But Serena fully lost her composure, as we’ve seen many times before on the same court. She was more concerned with voicing how unfairly she felt she was being treated than winning a tennis match. Those complaints should have been curtailed and continued after the match. Serena repeatedly demanded an apology from Ramos for damaging her character. I suggest both Ramos and Serena owe Osaka an apology for ruining what should have been her moment.

2) Full credit to Serena for saving the trophy presentation

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When the fans began to boo at the mere announcement of the trophy presentation, I cringed for what was ahead. Thankfully, Serena stepped up and told the crowd to stop booing, and that Naomi is a deserving champion. The crowd followed Serena’s lead, and cheered the awarding of the trophy to Osaka. That could not have been an easy speech for Serena to give, but her gracious words here were spot on.

3) Naomi Osaka is an incredibly deserving and likeable champion

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What a delight Naomi has been this year, especially with her endearing honesty during her post-match words at Indian Wells and during this fortnight. It’s a shame we’ll never know if she would have finished off Serena in the final without all the hoopla. However, she was thoroughly in control of the biggest match of her career before the mayhem erupted, and against the greatest women’s singles player of all-time. Luckily, she likely has many more Major titles in her future where she’ll be able to thoroughly enjoy her triumphs.

4) This unfortunate situation should not be used to change the coaching rules

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On-court and mid-match coaching have been creeping their way into tennis in recent years. Following Saturday’s incident, some are now calling for the coaching ban to be done away with. Billie Jean King tweeted, “Coaching on every point should be allowed in tennis.” In a press release, WTA CEO Steve Simon also called for coaching to be allowed during a match at all tournaments. I vehemently disagree: please don’t let this happen. The lack of coaching during a match is what makes tennis unique. You’re out there without teammates and without a coach, and need to figure things out on your own. It’s revealing of character, and adds to the drama of the sport. Instead of eliminating the coaching rule, let’s more heavily and equally enforce it. Yes, it happens often without being called, and some umpires call it out more than others. But it’s also impossible for chair umpires to keep their eyes on both players’ coaching boxes at all times with everything else they have to watch on the court. Let’s have an official watch both players’ boxes to monitor illegal coaching. I’m sure electronic line calling is just a few years away, so this could be a good use of line judges who will be otherwise out of a job. And overall, this entire situation should lead to a review of how we can make the rules in tennis less ambiguous and simpler for all to understand.

5) Mohamed Lahyani crossed the line in encouraging Nick Kyrgios to compete

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In another case of good umpires making bad decisions, Lahyani stepped down from his chair to motivate Nick Kyrgios during his second round match against Pierre-Hugues Herbert. Kyrgios was down a set and a break to the Frenchman, and was again displaying a lack of effort on-court. But it is not the chair umpire’s place to impel a player to try their best. Following this inappropriate pep talk, the match completely turned around, with Kyrgios winning in four sets. By all accounts, Lahyana is an extremely well-liked and respected umpire. I myself enjoy seeing him in the chair, as I enjoy his signature score and line calls. But this simply cannot happen. And no matter how much goodwill a chair umpire has earned, an infraction like this is deserving of punishment in some form.

6) Alize Cornet should be allowed to change her shirt on-court

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Geez, it was a rough tournament for the chair umpires. Alize Cornet returned to the court from a heat break only to realize she had put her shirt on backwards. Instead of asking to return to the bathroom to turn it around, she quickly took it off on-court and put it on the right way. Chair Umpire Christian Rask cited Cornet for a code violation, as the USTA rulebook states this is not allowed. The double standard here was quickly highlighted by many, as male players take their shirt off on the court all the time. And in the year 2018, we really can’t be offended by seeing a woman in a sports bra, can we? Fortunately common sense prevailed here, and this rule will be expunged.

7) Rafael Nadal will not win another hard court Major

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Some will consider this opinion too bold, but hear me out. Over the past 12 months, Nadal has retired or withdrawn from nine of the 12 hard court tournaments he’s entered. And with his knees acting up again at this tournament, I doubt we’ll see him play much during the rest of 2018, with all remaining tournaments played on hard courts. I realize he won the US Open just one year ago, but he really wasn’t tested in that event, and only had one match early in the tournament that lasted more than three hours. And yes, he won the Rogers Cup earlier this summer, but that’s a best-of-three set event. Nadal’s knee pain on hard courts has become a troubling pattern, to the point where I expect he’ll soon pull a reverse-Federer in managing his schedule. If this pattern continues, he may focus the majority of his efforts on the clay court season, and perhaps the short grass court season, where his knees take less punishment.

8) For goodness sake, use the roofs for more than just protection from the rain

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As someone who attended the Open this year, I can attest to how brutal the heat and humidity were on many days. Even sitting still while watching a match in the evening was terribly uncomfortable, especially in Arthur Ashe Stadium where there was almost no air circulation. And beyond the discomfort of the fans, the quality of tennis on the hottest days suffered significantly. The US Open has two courts with roofs now, and those roofs should be closed on severely hot days. As Jon Wertheim pointed out on Tennis Channel, these rising temperatures are the new normal, and not a one-time fluke. For the sake of the players, for the sake of the officials, and for the sake of the fans, let’s make the sensible decision here before someone’s health is seriously jeopardized.

9) The serve clock is not speeding up play. Actually, it’s slowing play down

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As I feared, the 25-second serve clock that’s been utilized during the US Open Series has not fully served its purpose. I applaud the effort to be transparent in calling time violations, but the result of the visible on-court clock has been many players watching the clock count down and not serving until it almost expires. In the past, these players wouldn’t be aware of how much time they had left, and wouldn’t have the luxury of waiting the full 25 seconds to hit their serve. The worst offenders of this during this tournament were Rafael Nadal and Marin Cilic, who consistently kept their eyes on the winding-down clock. Now I’m not suggesting the removal of the serve clock, but rather some adjustments to this new innovation. The clock should be started with 20 seconds rather than 25 in an effort to further expedite matters. And while chair umpires have exercised good discretion in most cases as to when to start and pause the serve clock, there’s still too much discretion to be exercised here. Let’s make more specific rules as to when the clock should begin, and when the clock should be paused, to align enforcement amongst umpires.

10) The bathroom breaks have gotten entirely out of control

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I lost count of how many times during this fortnight the player who lost a set initiated a bathroom break in between sets. This amounts to a self-imposed timeout, and is being used as gamesmanship to disrupt the flow of a match that’s not going their way. And apparently there’s no enforced limit as to the length of these bathroom timeouts, as they can easily last up to 10 minutes. Both men and women are utilizing this tactic, and it needs to stop. Let’s make use of the new serve clock, and use it for bathroom breaks. Give players three minutes to leave the court and return ready to play. If they go over the time limit, start with a warning, and then deduct a point for every 30 seconds thereafter. I assure you the prolonged bathroom breaks will quickly become a thing of the past.

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Why Celebrating LGBT+ Pride Month In Tennis Matters

Besides the fancy rainbow-coloured clothing that is worn, there is a far more important reason.

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Guido Pella during a Men's Singles match at the 2021 US Open, Wednesday, Sep. 1, 2021 in Flushing, NY. (Manuela Davies/USTA)

June is when players switch their focus from the clay to grass in order to tune up their preparations ahead of the prestigious Wimbledon Championships. But for some linked to the sport this month is also significant for another reason.

 

It is LGBT pride month which is an initiative that was originally created as a way to mark the Stonewall Riots which began on June 28th 1969 in New York. A series of protests took place in response to a police raid on the Stonewall Inn which was the catalyst in the fight for equal rights among the LGBT community. In the UK the first pride March was held in 1972 and today there are more than 100 events in the country annually.

Today Pride is about promoting equality in the world with various organizations taking part, including tennis. The British Lawn Tennis Association has gotten more involved this year by hosting a series of Pride Days at their ATP and WTA events. They have taken place on the Friday of tournaments in Nottingham, Birmingham and Queen’s. The final one is taking place this Friday in Eastbourne.

“We still live in a time when people don’t always feel like they can be open about their sexual orientation or gender identity, so the more we can do to show support and let them know everything is ok the better,’ British player Liam Broady recently said.

https://twitter.com/the_LTA/status/1537788274890121216

Some may wonder as to if Pride events such as these are necessary in tennis considering it is 2022 and lives for LGBT people have improved considerably over the years. However, there is still work to be done. One study called OUTSPORT found that 90% of LGBT+ respondents believe that homophobia and transphobia is a problem in sport and 33% remain closeted in their own sporting context. Another study conducted in recent years is Out On The Fields which found almost eight out of 10 respondents felt that an openly gay person would not be very safe as a spectator at a sporting event. Obviously, these findings vary depending on the sport and the country, but it still illustrates the seriousness of the subject.

In tennis, the WTA Tour has seen various LGBT role models triumph at the very top. Both Billie Jean King and Martina Navratilova were some of the very first professional athletes to come out publicly during the 1980s which was a decade when misinformation about the Aids crises lead to the stigmation of the gay community. King said she lost all of her endorsements within 24 hours after being outed in 1981 and that was before the Aids crisis erupted. Navratilova also experienced similar misfortunes.

The WTA was founded on the principles of equality and opportunity, along with positivity and progress, and wholeheartedly supports and encourages players, tournaments, partners and fans’ commitment to LGBT+ initiatives,” the WTA told UbiTennis last week.
“The WTA supports LGBT+ projects across the tennis family, such as amplifying our athletes’ voices on this topic through the Tour’s global platforms, increasing awareness by incorporating the LGBT+ spirit into our wider corporate identity, among many other initiatives.”

The International Tennis Federation (ITF) tells UbiTennis the sport has a ‘proud history of advocating social change.’ The organization oversees the running of all junior events, Davis Cup, Billie Jean King Club and the Olympic tennis events.

“Inclusion is one of the ITF’s core values and a pillar of the ITF 2024 strategy. Tennis as a sport has a proud history of advocating social justice and instigating change. Within the tennis community, we embrace the LGBTQ community and full support any initiative, such as the celebration of Pride Month, that continues the conversation and furthers progress in ensuring sport and society are free from bias and discrimination in any form. There is always more that can be done, and we will continue to make every effort to ensure that all our participants, our employees and fans feel welcome, included, and respected day in, day out.” The ITF said in a statement.

Whilst the women’s Tour has had plenty of LGBT role models, it is different on the men’s circuit. At present there is no openly gay player in men’s tennis where around 2000 people have an ATP ranking. In recent months the governing body has looked into making the Tour more inclusive. Last year they reached out to Lou Englefield, the director of Pride Sports, a UK organisation that focuses on LGBTQ+phobia in sport and aims to improve access to sport for all LGBTQ+ people. Through their connection, they contacted Eric Denison, a behavioural science researcher at Monash University’s School of Social Sciences. Monash University supplied the ATP with a series of scientifically validated questions, which they used to ‘look under the hood’ at the factors which supports a culture where gay or bisexual players feel they are not welcome.

It has been over nine months since news of the survey taking place emerged but the findings are still to be published. In an email to Ubitennis, the ATP confirmed that they are ‘finalizing their next steps’ and will be making an announcement shortly. They acknowledge that the survey process has taken longer than expected but it is unclear as to why.

As for those who may be experiencing difficulty in their personal lives regarding their sexuality, Brian Vahaly has his own advice which he shared with Ubitennis last year. Vahaly is a former top 100 player who came out as gay after retiring from the sport.

“Find somebody to talk to, somebody you trust. Know that people like us are there if you have questions. It’s just nice to have somebody to talk to who can help you learn about yourself,” he said.
“What I try to do is in terms of putting my family forward is that we live a pretty ‘normal life.’ I have two kids, I have a house and I walked my kids to preschool this morning. It doesn’t have to be such a defining characteristic of who you are. In the sports world, it feels that it is magnified, but what I want to show is that you can have a great athletic career, meet somebody and have a family no matter your sexuality.”

Pride is as much about making sports such as tennis an open environment for everyone as it is about marking a series of historic protests which took place in America more than 40 years ago.

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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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