Ashleigh Barty overcame Maria Sharapova 4-6 6-1 6-4 in a gripping match to advance to the first Grand Slam quarter-final of her career at the Australian Open.
The Australian, 22, has risen steadily up the rankings since she returned to tennis in 2016 following a spell away playing cricket for the Brisbane Heat.
And today she sent the home crowd on the Rod Laver Arena into raptures by beating one of the most famous players in the sport with a performance full of character.
“(Sharapova) is an absolute champion,” Barty said in her post-match interview. “I knew that I just had to keep chipping away and just trust the work we’ve done (to prepare).”
She continued, “I know that I can match it with the best when I execute (the way I want).”
In the first three games of the match, both players held serve easily. However, the games got tighter and tighter as the set wore on, and eventually Sharapova earned the first break point in the seventh game.
Barty saved it, and soon had a couple of chances to break the Russian. She was ultimately unable to take them, but it was clear by now that serving was no longer the dominant force in the match.
This was especially true in game nine, as Sharapova was fired up by her gutsy hold. She cut out the errors from her play, hit deeper and harder and earned two break points.
The Australian saved them both, but then made a double-fault to hand the Russian another chance. And she gifted the World No.30 the break with a loose backhand that went wide.
It proved crucial, as Sharapova held to love to close out the first set 6-4.
Barty turns it around in the second set
The five-time Grand Slam champion put Barty’s serve under pressure again in the first game of the second set, but the Australian held firm to fend her off.
The World No.15 started to use her variety more effectively in the next few games, and it eventually unsettled Sharapova so much that she played a succession of poor shots and dropped her serve in game four.
Barty backed up the break with a dominant service game to move 4-1 ahead. She then put a bit of pressure on the Russian’s serve and watched the World No.30 fall apart and lose the game to love.
To the delight of the home crowd, the Australian quickly wrapped up the second set 6-1 to level the match at one-set all.
Barty holds off Sharapova comeback to seal win
Sharapova took a lengthy bathroom break to compose herself, and she was greeted by a chorus of boos when she returned to the court.
Either that upset the Russian, or she was still thinking about the second set, because she played an awful first service game and dropped her serve for the second time in succession.
And things got worse for the World No.30 from then on, as Sharapova failed to take advantage of a 15-30 scoreline on Barty’s serve and then proceeded to lose her own serve again and fall 3-0 behind.
On the other side of the net, the Australian remained calm and continued to play sensible, calculated tennis to consolidate her lead at 4-1.
But there was another twist around the corner, as Barty made a couple of errors to hand the Russian two break points. Sharapova took the second to cut the deficit to 4-2.
In the next game, the World No.15 tried everything to restore the double break, but the five-time Grand Slam champion dug in and held onto her serve.
Remarkably, it looked like the Russian was about to draw level in game eight when she earned two break points. However, she failed to take her chances and Barty held on to lead 5-3.
Sharapova then held to make sure the Australian would have to serve for the match. And for a couple of minutes, it looked like she would do it easily when she raced into a 40-15 lead.
But the Russian slammed a huge forehand winner and then Barty double-faulted to make it deuce. The World No.15 wasted another match point with an error, but she eventually sealed the win at the fourth time of asking with an ace.
2019 US Open: A common road led by contrasting routes for Dominik Koepfer and Hyeon Chung
Amid the huddle of early-round exits and some scattered withdrawals, a couple of players made the most of opportunities they received at the 2019 US Open. Dominik Koepfer and Hyeon Chung came through the qualifying rounds to win their initial couple of rounds with conviction and make their way forward even as rest of the playing field blew open around them.
Being qualifiers is the denominator common to them this week. Yet, in a way, the 23-year-old Chung is trudging a familiar route as compared with the 25-year-old Koepfer who is a relative newer face to watch at the Slams.
In 2018, Chung had made it to his first semi-final at a Major – at the Australian Open – taking down then six-time champion Novak Djokovic in the fourth round. The 2017 Next Gen ATP Finals’ titlist reached a career-high of 19 in the world after his Australian Open jaunt in 2018. Koepfer, on the other hand, is yet to break into the top-100 – with a career-high of no. 113 attained in the second-week of August. His best result at the Majors – before his fourth-round appearance at the US Open – was reaching the second round at Wimbledon this year.
None of these differences in the respective roads they have travelled on the Tour mattered as they tried to make it to the main draw. Chung’s injuries that kept him away from the circuit (for almost five months this year) meant he had to start from scratch, at the Challenger level. Koepfer’s being a mainstay on the Challenger circuit – for now – meant he, too, would start from the same position.
In doing so, the sport has made levellers out of them. Their past results do not matter. It is how they do against the opponent of the day that matters. Three qualifying rounds followed by the sterner main-draw test that also comes by way of lengthier matches. In this regard, Chung has already faced two such difficult matches in his first two rounds this week against Ernesto Escobedo and Fernando Verdasco in which he had to play five-setters to extricate himself.
The draw’s narrowing has also meant the task ahead of them has gotten harder. This is also where their paths diverge once again. If Tulane University alumnus in Koepfer is the equivalent of a dark horse, Chung’s previous experience makes him a dangerous floater.
If the two end up being truthful to this tag of theirs, the chaos component at this year’s US Open will be the accentuation separating itself from the monotonous.
2019 US Open, And The Growth In The Divide Between Players And Officials
The 2019 US Open has barely begun but off-court news surrounding the sport’s refereeing officials have reverberated more than the on-court results.
Argentinian chair umpire Damian Steiner was removed by the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) for giving interviews without consulting the ATP about accepting those. Among the players, Nick Kyrgios and Serena Williams continued with their less-than-respectful behaviour. Kyrgios towards the ATP which docked him $113,000 in fines for his rants against Fergus Murphy in Cincinnati. And, Williams towards Carlos Ramos, who umpired her 2018 US Open final against Naomi Osaka.
These incidents are revealing of the dichotomy spanning the players and the officials’ positions. Let us look at the players’ side of this chasm first. Kyrgios’ had no remorse about his behaviour against Murphy. Neither was he upset about being fined. Nonetheless, he attempted to duck from his mistakes by blaming the ATP for the penalty.
“Not at all. The ATP is pretty corrupt anyway, so I’m not fussed about it at all,” Kyrgios replied to a question about the fine in his post-match press conference. He, then, turned into a quasi-interrogator as if perplexed by the question, and the fine. His rhetorical question was, “I got fined 113K for what? Why are we talking about something that happened three weeks ago when I just chopped up someone first round?”
Kyrgios’ lackadaisical approach towards rectifying his errors was infuriating. But perhaps not to the same level as the exasperation evoked by Williams’ words, in her press conference.
After her first-round win over Maria Sharapova, Williams, in response to a question about Ramos not umpiring her matches at the event this year, chose to be snarky instead of giving a straight answer. “Yeah, I don’t know who that is,” she stated impassively as though the person and the events of the previous year did not concern or involve her.
Now, imagine a scenario in which either Murphy or Ramos, or both wanted to speak up and finally decide to share their vexations about receiving such attitude from the players in an interview. They cannot even do that without seeking permission from the sport’s governing authorities. Moreover, a message was sent in making an example out of Steiner that umpires did not have the backing of their job if they decided to forgo the rules.
The game’s viewers may take it as in indication that tennis’ rules belonged to the “never to be broken” category. However, this move will only embolden the players to be more abrasive and impolite to the umpires. Instead of looking at them as maintainers of the game for the duration of the match.
Case in point: Stefanos Tsitsipas’ ranting at Damien Dumussois when the Frenchman asked him to quicken his time at change of ends. “You have something against me. You’re French, probably. … You’re all weirdos,” he went on, insulting not only the umpire but also his nationality, and his countrymen.
Undoubtedly, it was said in momentary anger because of how the match was turning against him. Yet, if the rules are to be so correctly enforced – and they were in this instance, in Dumussois asking the eighth-seed to speed up – players ought not to complain.
However, grievances – actual and perceived – are bound to come up. As such, sanctioning players with fines (and even suspension) for raging at the umpires is a stop-gap remedy. Players will not – and did not – hesitate to fulfil the terms of their punishment. They will also continue with their tirades, as and when things do not go their way in a match.
On the other hand, for the umpires, this is like a repetitive cycle of viciousness. Tennis’ managerial authorities need to incorporate a system in which the umpires get to openly communicate about the players’ misconduct without being isolated, and treated as the sport’s second-rung members.
A new documentary, and the rekindling of Serena Williams’ tryst with 2018 US Open destiny
It’s almost a year since Serena Williams got embroiled in a war of words with chair umpire Carlos Ramos in the 2018 US Open final. The subject is yet to ebb entirely from memory though. The first episode of ESPN’s new documentary series Backstory – featured on the incident involving the 23-time Grand Slam champion – does its bit to ensure that on the eve of the 2019 US Open, attention is centred on what occurred a year ago.
Titled Serena vs the Umpire, the episode is an extrapolation of the match’s progression and what transpired within it. It presents facts through the pros and cons of Williams and Ramos’, and also of Patrick Mouratoglou’s actions that charted the match. Yet, in spite of this, the program makes Williams out as the wronged one.
First, by her coach, Mouratoglou, who displayed his commitment as a mentor by using hand signals to try and guide her. Then, by Ramos who penalised her for the Frenchman’s infraction. Without heeding her vehemence that she was not a party to her coach’s decision-making. The narrative of the program puts it out that regardless of Williams’ behaviour that saw her scream and rant at the umpire and call him a liar and thief, she did not deserve to be termed as the pariah of the match.
The program’s one-sided leaning does not change the problematic aspects of Williams’ and Mouratoglou’s behaviours. Williams, in protesting her innocence about receiving (and accepting) coaching, did cross the line with her aggressiveness. There was – and is – no denying her disrespect towards the authority on the chair officiating the match. And, rationales like the momentousness of the occasion getting to her do not justify her stance at all. Rather, they hinted at her being ill-equipped to handle the scenario in what turned out be the proverbial repeating of history, at the same tournament.
Mouratoglou’s near-immediate (after the end of the match) admission that he tried to help her – and his maintaining to do so, even now – also debilitates Williams’ position. The 49-year-old’s statements about what he thought was Ramos’ inability in letting the match spiral out of bands, is a bemusing segue as well.
“Ramos’ job is also to keep the match under control. He totally lost control of the match, completely, because he reacted with emotions. And he’s not supposed to — he’s a chair umpire, he’s not a player,” Mouratoglou said. Ironically, had Ramos lashed out emotionally instead of abiding the rules, the repercussions would have been far serious for Williams for name-calling him and for continuously challenging his authority.
Mouratoglou’s comments are revealing of how the program does not consider the ramifications of that fracas for Ramos.
Since the International Tennis Federation’s (ITF) rules do not permit Ramos from speaking to the media – including to ESPN for this program – the 48-year-old has been short-changed as he cannot present his point-of-view countering the acclaimed coach. Also, in the year that has almost gone by, the veteran official’s on-court calls have been scrutinised and compared with his umpiring of that match. Moreover, Ramos will not be umpiring any of Williams’ matches at Flushing Meadows in 2019. All of these are indicative of how Ramos’ professionalism has been denigrated.
Players have the right to request to not have certain umpires officiate their matches and many have done so for reasons of their own. The avoidance of the tension between such a player and umpire is undeniably a positive to come out of the move. Yet, what does it leave the umpire with, since, irrespective of how a player behaves with the official, the latter does not have the same means to put forth his officiating preference.
Speaking of preferences, proffering his concluding thoughts on the match, Mouratoglou opined, “It was horrible for us. It was horrible for Serena. It’s fantastic for tennis. It was unbelievable, that was the best moment in tennis of the past 10 years. Tennis was everywhere. You don’t have any drama in tennis. We have drama in all the other sports, but not tennis. People should be allowed to be herself and show emotion. You want passion, that’s why people watch sport. They want things to happen. They want to feel emotion, they want to root for someone, they want to be shocked, they want to be happy, they want to be sad. That’s what they want and everybody felt something that day.”
Indeed, the match prompted reactions from everybody who watched it. Nonetheless, its proceedings overshadowed the game of tennis so much so that the bigger picture was not that of the sport but that of egoism.
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