FLUSHING MEADOWS – The 2018 US Open has been a strange tournament so far. All four semifinals were extremely one-sided and produced very little entertainment, nevertheless the tournament offered plenty of interesting storylines.
All of the top women’s seeds fell like dominoes during the entire fortnight, almost replicating the same dreadful scenario as the Wimbledon tournament, where no top ten seeds survived the first week of competition. In New York, five seeds – Halep, Muguruza, Wozniaki, Kerber and Kvitova – were upset on the new Louis Armstrong Stadium, which is now growing a reputation of being the “Graveyard of Champions.”
Only three of the top ten seeds emerged from week one unscathed: No.7-seed Elina Svitolina lost in the round of 16, while defending champion and No. 3-seed Sloane Stephens lost in the quarterfinals along with No. 8-seed Karolina Pliskova. These surprising results paved the way for a final between No.17-seed Serena Williams – who is far from being an outsider – and No.20-seed Naomi Osaka. Serena is climbing back to the top of the game after risking her life while giving birth to her daughter in September last year. After a C-section was necessary to deliver her baby, Serena underwent four surgeries to prevent an embolism.
Williams returned to competition in March this year and faced Osaka in Miami in only her second tournament back, a few days after the Japanese rising star captured the biggest trophy of her career in Indian Wells. Due to her pregnancy and consequent 13-month absence from the tour, Serena was ranked No. 491 and fell to Osaka in straight sets. That match was clearly irrelevant in terms of preparation for today’s final, even if psychologically it might help Osaka, who grew up idolizing Serena and might not be fazed by the aura of her opponent since they have already played once. The overall atmosphere that surrounds a Grand Slam final will probably be a more intimidating factor for the young Japanese.
One of the biggest storylines of this year’s tournament was the heat that forced the players to compete in brutal conditions and prompted the organizers to implement a new heat policy. The extreme conditions disrupted the quality of many matches and the most notable victim was 37-year-old Roger Federer, who was certainly affected by the heat and humidity in his shocking fourth-round defeat to John Millman of Australia.
Millman came back down to Earth in his quarterfinal match against Novak Djokovic, with the Serb convincingly winning in straight sets. Djokovic, who was also affected by the heat in his early four-set wins against Fucsovics and Sandgren, started to elevate his game in his easy round of 16 victory against Gasquet and yesterday absolutely dominated Nishikori in the semifinals.
The heat certainly affected the entertainment as many players couldn’t perform at their best. The most memorable matches were Cilic-De Minaur with the Croat coming back from two sets down to win 7-5 in the fifth, Nadal-Khachanov with the Russian failing to capitalizing on a lead that would have given him a two-set advantage and finally Nadal-Thiem, which was decided by a fifth set tie-breaker.
We had even fewer high quality matches among the women, with most of the seeds shockingly falling in very one-sided matches. Quite frankly, I can’t quite remember a tournament with so many poor performances from the players who are supposed to be the best in the world. The two most interesting matches were the battle of 20-year-olds won by Osaka against Sabalenka 6-4 in the third and the round of 16 three-setter between Serena and Kanepi.
It is interesting to mention the variety of nations that were represented in the latter stages of the tournament. In the round of 16, we had players from an astonishing 12 countries: Williams, Stephens and Keys from the United States, Pliskova and Vondrousova from the Czech Republic, Svitolina and Tsurenko from Ukraine, Kanepi from Estonia, Barty from Australia, Mertens from Belgium, Sevastova from Latvia, Suarez Navarro from Spain, Sharapova from Russia, Cibulkova from Slovakia, Sabalenka from Belarus and Osaka from Japan.
In the men’s tournament, the eight quarterfinalists were all from different countries: Nadal from Spain, Thiem from Austria, del Potro from Argentina, Isner from the United States, Cilic from Croatia, Nishikori from Japan, Djokovic from Serbia and Millman from Australia.
Japan’s story at this year’s tournament is truly remarkable. For the first time in history, two Japanese players – a man and a woman – simultaneously reached the semifinals in a Grand Slam event. In 1995, Kimiko Date and Shuzo Matsuoka both reached the quarters at Wimbledon but didn’t manage to go any further. With Nishikori reaching the semifinals and Osaka being the first Japanese woman to reach a Grand Slam final, I have never seen so many Japanese reporters in my long history at Flushing Meadows.
I hope that two high quality finals will save this year’s tournament. Tonight, Serena will play to equal Margaret Court’s all-time record of 24 Grand Slam titles. Truth be told, Serena’s record is already much more relevant than Court’s as the Australian captured 11 titles in her home country between the 1960s and 1970s when many top players were not able to travel down under by sea. Serena is the clear favorite of tonight’s final, but Osaka could give her a close match by serving extremely well. If Osaka doesn’t serve at her best and take control of the rallies, it will be a blow-out in Serena’s favor.
Tomorrow, Novak Djokovic will compete in his eighth US Open final chasing a third title in New York. By winning this year’s US Open, Djokovic would also tie Pete Sampras with 14 Grand Slam titles.
Novak has a convincing 14-4 lead in the head-to-head against del Potro, but one of those four losses was extremely painful for the Serb: 76 76 in del Potro’s favor at the 2016 Rio Olympics with Novak leaving the court in tears.
(Article translation provided by T&L Global – Translation & Language Solutions – www.t-lglobal.com )
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?
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.
Andy Murray, Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic’s Big Four reunion in Cincy
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.
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.
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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