Australian Open Break Points: 10 Topics Worth Further Discussion - UBITENNIS
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Australian Open Break Points: 10 Topics Worth Further Discussion

From Djokovic’s French Open chances to the campaign against on-court coaching – there is still a lot to be discussed.

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The first grand slam of 2019 has come to an end. Naomi Osaka followed up on her US Open triumph to claim the woman’s title. An achievement that has elevated her to becoming the first Asian player to reach No.1 in the world. Meanwhile, Novak Djokovic produced a masterful display against Rafael Nadal to empathize his dominance on the men’s tour.

Now that the tournament has reached its conclusion, here are 10 topics that require further discussion.

1) Novak Djokovic will win Roland Garros, completing his second “Nole Slam.”

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Predicting the winner of an event over four months away is a risky business, especially when that event is played on clay and you’re not picking Rafael Nadal. And hot takes such as this are popular to make after one dominating performance. But the way in which Djokovic destroyed Nadal in Sunday’s final is the kind of victory that has a lingering effect. It’s reminiscent of Nadal’s crushing win over Roger Federer at 2008’s Roland Garros, after which Rafa finally dethroned the king of grass a few weeks later. Novak’s victory over Nadal last year at Wimbledon is what propelled him back to the top of the sport, and reestablished Djokovic’s mental edge over Nadal. Beating Nadal on clay in best-of-five remains the sport’s biggest challenge. But I see Novak winning a few clay titles in the best-of-three format heading into the French Open, which will instill the necessary confidence come Paris. As we saw on Sunday, the patterns in this matchup play to Djokovic’s favor. His deep returns, superior backhand, and aggressive positioning on the baseline all take time away from Nadal. The terra baute will neutralize some of that, but not enough to derail Novak’s quest to again hold all four Majors.

2) The resolve of Petra Kvitova was only trumped by that of Naomi Osaka

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What the men’s final lacked in drama, the women’s certainly made up for. Kvitova’s fight back to save three championship points and level the match at one set all was awesome. Yet the way the 21-year-old Osaka still found a way to compose herself and close out the match was even more impressive. She seemingly matured as a competitor within the match itself. And it was poetic justice for Osaka to get to enjoy her triumph, after she was robbed of doing so in New York. Kudos to both of these great champions, and future Hall of Famers, for their perseverance.

3) Do the right thing and re-name Margeret Court Arena

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Having the Australian Open’s No.2 court named after a proud homophobe continues to be incredibly troubling. While delivering the keynote address in last week’s Australian Open Inspirational Series, Anna Wintour used the platform to address this topic. “It is inconsistent for the sport for Margaret Court’s name to be on a stadium that does so much to bring all people together across their differences,” said Wintour. I wish players would publicly refuse to be scheduled on Margaret Court Arena, but sadly that hasn’t materialized. Instead, a leader from the fashion world was the best advocate for change at this tennis event. The excuse Tennis Australia has provided, that this decision isn’t fully under their authority, is just that: an excuse. We need more officials, more players, and more members of the media to demand this change.

4) The new heat stress scale is an upgrade, but the standard for closing the roof is still way too high

This year the Australian Open replaced the ever-confusing “wet bulb” standard with the AO Heat Stress Scale. It measures a variety of weather-related factors, and requires the roof be closed if the scale reaches a 5.0. This is much easier to understand than the old rule, but 5.0 is too high of a standard. During the women’s semifinals, it was obviously extremely uncomfortable for everyone on Rod Laver Arena due to the heat. The ball kids weren’t even able to rest their hands on the court, but the roof remained open for most of the first set since the scale was still below 5.0. What is it going to take for officials to wake up and realize they’re endangering the health of players, officials, and fans? It’s time for common sense to prevail here before someone suffers from some serious medical issues.

5) The electronic net machine doesn’t work. If better technology is not available, bring back the judge that sits at the net

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There were many instances during this fortnight of lets being called when the serve clearly didn’t touch the net, but the worst example was during the women’s semifinals. As Danielle Collins served to Petra Kvitova, the electronic net machine beeped before she even struck her serve. She subsequently missed the serve and was not awarded a first serve, as Chair Umpire Carlos Ramos incorrectly asserted the beep came after her serve. For years now, players have complained about “phantom lets,” where the ball clearly doesn’t hit the net, but the machine beeps anyway. We should not only eliminate that machine, but we should allow players to challenge let calls. The technology to do so exists, so why not utilize it? Better to wait a few extra moments to get the call right.

6) Let’s introduce the first-to-10 final set tiebreak at all events

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This is one of many innovations where Tennis Australia is ahead of the other Grand Slam governing bodies. The first-to-10 tiebreak was utilized at 6-6 in the final sets at this tournament, and created some great drama. It also served as a reasonable ending to prolonged matches. This is an enhancement over the US Open’s first-to-seven final set tiebreak, which has been used for a long time now. Wimbledon has announced they’ll begin using a best-to-seven tiebreak as 12-12 in the final set, but that’s still allowing for a full extra set of play, when a more prompt conclusion would be best. And as usual, Roland Garros lags behind the other three Majors, as they continue to let final sets play out without a tiebreak. The scoring system in tennis is hard enough for a casual fan to follow. Having four different ways to decide matches at four different Majors is unnecessary. Let’s make the scoring system uniform at all events, including non-Majors, and use a first-to-10 final set tiebreak everywhere.

7) If this was Andy Murray’s last singles match at a Major, what a fitting way to conclude his career

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His over four-hour match with Roberto Bautista Agut, where he somehow summoned the will to comeback from two sets down despite the tremendous pain he was suffering from, was a remarkable feat despite the loss. Murray was never the most naturally-gifted athlete on tour, but worked extremely hard and got everything he could out of his talent and his body. Hopefully Murray finds a way to relieve the pain in his hip, even if it doesn’t yield a return to professional tennis. More important is his quality of life outside of tennis.

8) Good on the fans for booing Maria Sharapova’s ridiculous seven-minute bathroom break

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During her fourth round match against Ashleigh Barty, Sharapova played a terrible second set, losing it 6-1. Then in a lack of sportsmanship, she spent a full seven minutes off-court, in a clear attempt to disrupt her opponent’s momentum. The Aussie crowd reigned boos down upon Sharapova as she walked back onto court, as the sporting crowd is not fond of such dirty tactics. A rule limiting the amount of time a player is allowed to leave the court is long overdue.

9) Starting matches after midnight is unfair to players, tournament employees, and fans alike

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Garbine Muguruza’s near three-hour battle with Johanna Konta in the second round was one of the tournament’s best matches. Unfortunately, almost no fans witnessed it live, and it deserved a much better atmosphere. The MCA schedule ran extremely late, as two men’s matches went five sets (I’ll save the “men’s matches are too damn long” argument for another time). So these two former top 10 players didn’t start their match until after midnight, and didn’t finish until after 3:00am. It’s completely unfair for the winning player to be on court until such an ungodly hour, having to face an opponent in the next round that completed their match at a reasonable time. If we’re not going to speed up play in the men’s tournament (sorry, can’t help myself), at least move this match to a different court at an earlier time, or hold the match over until the next day.

10) One last plea to keep sacred what makes the sport so special. Please don’t allow mid-match coaching

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There’s talk that Tennis Australia is considering allowing coaching from the stands during matches at next year’s Australian Open. Please, Tennis Australia, think better of this. One of the things I love most about this sport is how players are forced to problem solve on the court, and on their own. It’s revealing of character, just as it also builds character. Limit the mid-match coaching to team events where it belongs.

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Is A Players’ Union Needed? – An Update Look

Following the 2018 Australian Open I wrote a story titled “Players’ Union – Is It Needed?” which examined how tennis professionals, contrary to popular assumptions, really didn’t have effective representation, along with the necessary protection needed to participate in such a grueling sport. Following this year’s championship Down Under, I have updated the feature…

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At the annual mandatory 2018 ATP players meeting in Melbourne prior to the start of the Australian Open, Novak Djokovic, the president of the Players Council, discussed creating a “real” players’ union. The idea involved forming an organization that was solely focused on improving the wellbeing of its members. Unfortunately, the day after that idea was put forth, Djokovic back-peddled. Borrowing, perhaps, from the “Fake News” pillorying that has become a part of  today’s political news cycle, he claimed his message was taken out of context. Somehow, he overlooked the fact that he had a lawyer with union expertise on hand to discuss some of the details involved in creating a legitimate union. He claimed that all he was interested in seeing was that the players earned more from the game’s behemoths, the fortune making Grand Slam tournaments.

While the prize money has increased and the slams, along with many other tour events have added a collection of player amenities, the point is clear. The union concept didn’t gain traction. The alphabet leaders – particularly the ATP and ITF – joined by organizations representing players, the tournaments themselves and other assorted tennis business interests, made sure it remained a “decent idea” and nothing more. Bottom line, there is no way this group was going to lose its almost ironclad control of the game.  (For whatever reason, the WTA has been sidetracked and become a meaningless anacronym with next to no grasp of comprehensive player representation. As a result, it is not part of the discussion.)

Maintaining the status quo, albeit with occasional new touch-ups to cover the surface chipping, seemed entrenched until Chris Kermode’s leadership was put in the spotlight this year in Melbourne. Vasek Pospisil, who is on the Player Council representing those ranked between 50 and 100, e-mailed fellow players saying that the group should begin to act like it was involved in running a major business. What’s more, members should not be afraid to voice opinions. The Canadian pointed out that the current ATP operation clearly favors tournaments and the individuals/companies that own them, (meaning that the players are secondary at best, even though they are the ones the throngs of fans pay the big bucks to see). He suggested that Kermode’s contract should be terminated and a CEO, who focuses on players’ genuine interests, should be found.

As is often the case when there is administrative turmoil in tennis, an all-star cast of current and former players have been waving their Kermode flags in support. The steal-strong backing was offered despite the facts Pospisil put forth, including the point that the prize money offered by the majors was still less than ten percent of their annual revenue. In the end, he became an outlier.

In “A Tennis Wish List for 2019” , which appeared in the January 12th edition of the New York Times, the esteemed tennis journalist Christopher Clarey admitted that his No. 1 wish was for tennis unity. He wrote, “That would require each of tennis’s seven governing bodies to cede some of its authority, a situation that would probably require an existential threat to the game’s viability or profitability.

“In an imperfect but still better world, unity could also mean a genuine players’ union — why not men and women together while we’re wishing? — That could make for more meaningful progress on tennis’s now-intractable issues through tough negotiations with those who own and operate the tournaments.

“In the current system, the players and regular tour events are in partnership, an unusual arrangement in professional sports that can make consensus and change difficult.

“Novak Djokovic, back at No. 1 and president of the ATP Player Council, has explored the concept. But for now, a union appears to be wishful thinking: too many legal and logistical hurdles.”

Perhaps insight, along with “how to do it” direction,  could be gained from what took place in New York during the first week of January, this year. A collection of major banks and brokers decided to set up a new stock market in the US. The Members Exchange idea was driven by the unhappiness resulting from a number of issues. Foremost was the fees exchanges charged for transferring money. The back story is clear – Those involved want to control their own destiny.

Time will tell if the players will ever be able to have anything more than pseudo control. Time is also a component in Kermode’s case. His position will be the major issue discussed at the ATP players meeting at BNP Paribas Open in March at Indian Wells, California.

It is important to note that Pospisil has had the courage to draw a line in the sand saying, “Our system is broken … it’s time for a change.”

Perhaps there will be others who, once the “politicking” is side-stepped,  find the gumption to step up. Imagine if a standalone organization, a player collective sans tournaments, agents and organizations, was decided upon? In 1973, the concept resulted in the original ATP being brought to life. In 1990, a bad knock-off version II originated. Will ATP members have the fortitude to cross the line with Pospisil and initiate a process that will lead to actual player representation in the world of tennis?

Unfortunately, other than a smattering of vocal support, things haven’t changed much. Players at the top of the rankings are busy training, traveling then competing. Competitors, who are more lowly ranked,  have tunnel vision when it comes to finding tournaments where they can build their rankings and collect decent prize money. Collectively, players don’t seem to have enough hours in the day to do all that is needed to even get the ball rolling to launch a union.

Pospisil’s effort could be a start. But, realistically, as was pointed out in the conclusion of “Players’ Union – Is It Needed?”, the inference is still the same in this update, which means the answer to “Will a union come about?” is – Not Likely…

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COMMENT: Novak Djokovic’s Perfection Stole Nadal’s Magic

Tennis columnist James Beck reflects on Djokovic’s latest win and what the future lies for him on the European clay.

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Novak Djokovic wasn’t ruthless. He was perfect.

There were few grind-it-out points.

When Rafa Nadal called on his magic, it wasn’t there.

Djokovic stole it.

As John McEnroe said, “He is having a bad day so far.” And nothing changed for Nadal.

It wasn’t Rafa’s day on Sunday in the Australian Open final. Djokovic gave the Spanish left-hander one of his worst beatings, a simple 6-3, 6-2, 6-3 victory for a record seventh Australian Open title.

A SIMPLE, BUT PERFECT DAY FOR NOVAK

It was simple for Djokovic. He played nearly perfect tennis and Rafa was hardly a shadow of the player who had been so superb in this tournament without dropping a set in his first six matches.

Yes, this one came easy for Djokovic. He didn’t drop a point on his serve until he served for the first set.

Novak simply didn’t give Nadal a chance to get into the match, partly because Nadal couldn’t find the court on big points.

Nadal started without his usual passion and tenacity. He apparently was just trying to get into the match slowly, rather than all at once. He obviously thought he would be able to make a run at some point in the match. He didn’t. Djokovic wouldn’t let him.

A PRICE TO PAY FOR LACK OF EARLY PASSION

Rafa paid a price for not pushing himself to a fast start.

Djokovic came out on fire and never let up, never giving Nadal a chance to become the Rafa that the crowd had seen for two weeks.

Twenty-one straight Grand Slam tournament wins and three consecutive Grand Slam titles put  Djokovic in a class all of his own right now. He wasn’t spectacular against Nadal. But he did almost nothing wrong. He dominated the rallies with his quickness and consistency, and his serve was almost perfect.

It was a clinic that Nadal had no answer for. He probably will stay awake at night, asking himself, “Why didn’t I come out ready to play?”

NO ANSWER FOR DJOKOVIC’S STYLE OF PLAY

Rafa went to Melbourne ready to play, ready to claim a victory that would make him only the third player to complete a double career Grand Slam.

Perhaps it was that sense of immortality that got to Nadal, as well as the fact Djokovic was on the other side of the court.

Novak may be the only player in the game who has Rafa’s number.

All of that was enough to take Rafa’s usual passion away.

WHAT HAPPENS IN PARIS?

Nadal simply has no answer for Novak’s court coverage and ability to turn Rafa’s best shots into winners of his own. But is that just on hard courts? Maybe.

What will happen in Paris in a few months? Surely, it will be more of a grind, and Djokovic isn’t likely to be as perfect as he was Down Under.

Nevertheless, there has to be worry in the Nadal camp, just as there is concern in Roger Federer’s camp after a surprising quarterfinal exit. Just remember, Federer is 37 years old, five years older than Nadal.

The big question is what happened to Nadal’s tenacity and movement, and inability to put the ball into play on big points.

But there’s a long way between January and September. And Nadal doesn’t seem to feel the pressure in other majors that he feels in Australia. Maybe because he already has his two titles in every other major.

The world could look completely different by the time the U.S. Open ends.

James Beck is the long-time tennis columnist for the Charleston (S.C.) Post and Courier newspaper. He can be reached at Jamesbecktennis@gmail.com. See his Post and Courier columns at

http://www.postandcourier.com/search/?l=25&sd=desc&s=start_time&f=html&t=article%2Cvideo%2Cyoutube%2Ccollection&app=editorial&q=james+beck&nsa=eedition

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COMMENT: It Won’t Be Easy To Take The Top Ranking Away From Naomi Osaka

Charleston Post and Courier columnist James Beck reflects on Naomi Osaka’s Historic win at the Australian Open!

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Naomi Osaka! What a surprise this last year!

Two straight Grand Slam titles and the world’s No. 1 ranking.

Even Serena Williams might have a difficult time regaining the top ranking from Osaka. If the powerful 21-year-old Japanese stays healthy and keeps her head, she is likely to be No. 1 as long as she wants.

A year from now, Osaka may own four or five Grand Slam titles.

A SMALLER VERSION OF SERENA

Osaka is just a smaller model of Serena. Maybe she’s not quite as strong as Williams, but Osaka appears to be better than Serena in several areas.

I believe Osaka may actually be faster than Serena, and for sure quicker and more mobile.

Osaka’s serve may not be quite as strong as Serena’s. Osaka’s serve is in the same league, not the single smooth brute strength motion as Serena’s, but Osaka’s power comes from the added acceleration on the downswing.

Even if it’s not Serena’s serve, Osaka’s serve is outstanding. It should carry her to a bunch of Grand Slam titles.

OSAKA PROVES HOW GOOD SHE IS

Obviously, there doesn’t appear to be anyone out there at the moment capable of surpassing Osaka’s ability. Osaka is a terrific athlete.

Osaka’s upset of Serena in last year’s U.S. Open final obviously wasn’t an accident.

Neither was Osaka’s win over Petra Kvitova in Saturday’s Australian Open final.

Kvitova played excellent tennis most of the match with her incredibly low ground strokes from both sides and almost unreturnable out-wide serves on the ad side. Of course, Kvitova is a left-hander, and such serves are her bread-and-butter shots.

WAIT UNTIL WIMBLEDON?

Who could forget that Kvitova is a two-time Wimbledon champion? And she has overcome career-threatening injuries to reach her current level of tennis. She is not someone that Osaka or anyone can overlook in the future, especially in a few months at Wimbledon.

There was no denying that Osaka was the better player in this one match, other than when she had triple match point in the second set. One of those “I don’t want to be here” emotions must have overcome Osaka for a brief time.

I can’t forget what I saw happen last April at the Volvo Car Open, way out on the club court with a crowd of a less than 2,000 watching. There was Osaka walking to her bench in the midday heat during a round of 16 match against Julia Goerges. Osaka was sending a verbal message to her coach that she didn’t want to be there.

And sure enough, Osaka soon was walking off the court in defeat.

A CAUTION FLAG

Osaka’s revelation at the Volvo Car Open brought out a caution flag about a player who only a few weeks earlier had earned a huge  payday at Indian Wells.

What was she thinking? To be playing in a big tournament on the WTA Tour would have been almost any tennis player’s dream. But not Osaka’s.

She has won a couple of much larger paychecks since then. But you almost have to wonder what might happen when she wins a few more of these big paychecks the size of her two Grand Slam paydays and everything isn’t going her way. Will she really toss in the towel?

Or will she have the never-say-quit drive of a Serena Williams?

Few players have Serena’s level of mental toughness.

But right now, Naomi Osaka is the face of women’s tennis.

James Beck is the long-time tennis columnist for the Charleston (S.C.) Post and Courier newspaper. He can be reached at Jamesbecktennis@gmail.com. See his Post and Courier columns at

http://www.postandcourier.com/search/?l=25&sd=desc&s=start_time&f=html&t=article%2Cvideo%2Cyoutube%2Ccollection&app=editorial&q=james+beck&nsa=eedition

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