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.
COMMENT: Is A Happy Carlos Alcaraz Too Good To Be True?
Carlos Alcaraz has put fun back into professional tennis.
Even the stoic Novak Djokovic has been taken by the fun times. Instead of frowning when Alcaraz comes up with one of his amazing winners, Novak releases a broad smile that turns his bearded face into a fan-winning appeal.
Who would have thought that Novak would become such a fan favorite in his old age as he attracts even Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal fans, and maybe some Alcaraz lovers. That last one may be difficult to believe, considering the almost cult-like following of Alcaraz.
OPPONENTS EVEN JOIN CARLOS’ FUN
It’s the boyish smile that Carlos uses to so easily lure tennis fans into his fan base. Opponents even join the fun when Alcaraz puts on another amazing stunt on the court, or sometimes while sliding to hit a winner off what looked like a sure winner by his opponents.
Even British star Daniel Evans couldn’t ignore the exuberance of Alcaraz in their third-round match at the U.S. Open. Alcaraz comes up with another one of his amazing shots to win a point, and Evans breaks into an ear-to-ear smile. Everyone is happy.
Yes, Carlos Alcaraz is almost too good to be true.
ALCARAZ FILLS THE GAP LEFT BY FEDERER AND NADAL
Yes, the amazing 20-year-old Spaniard gives tennis the bump it needs in the new generation of players after the Federer, Nadal and Djokovic heydays. Of course, Djokovic is still trying to add to his record-setting number of Grand Slam titles.
Djokovic is still very dangerous. It could be a spectacular final if Novak and Alcaraz could work their way into another Grand Slam final as they did at Wimbledon.
Of course, even after taking much of the fire out of Alexander Zverev in straight sets in the quarterfinals, Alcaraz isn’t home free yet. Not with former champion Daniil Medvedev standing in his path in Friday’s semifinals before a possible showdown with Djokovic.
WHAT ABOUT THE WOMEN’S SIDE OF THINGS?
It’s anyone’s guess which semifinalist will walk off with the women’s crown on Saturday.
The only Grand Slam champion left, Australian Open champ and new world’s No. 1 Aryna Sabalenka, is in the bottom half of the draw, and must take on red-hot Madison Keys in Thursday’s semifinals.
Wimbledon titlist Marketa Vondrousova didn’t provide much of a test for 2017 U.S. Open finalist Keys in a 6-4, 6-1 loss in the quarterfinals. As good as Keys has been lately, Sabalenka will be difficult to handle.
That leaves young Coco Gauff or French runner-up Karolina Muchova as the other possible finalist. Sabalenka appears to be too strong and aggressive, not to mention talented, for the other three semifinalists.
Where’s French champion Iga Swiatek or high-ranked Jessica Pegula? Of course, both were wiped out in the round of 16, Pegula by Keys and Swiatek by unpredictable Jelena Ostapenko.
That leaves the gate wide open for Sabalenka’s fourth straight Grand Slam semifinal.
James Beck was the 2003 winner of the USTA National Media Award. A 1995 MBA graduate of The Citadel, he can be reached at Jamesbecktennis@gmail.com.
Lesson Failed: Never Take A Legend For Granted
Carlos Alcaraz should have learned at least one important lesson from his marathon loss to Novak Djokovic in the Cincinnati final.
Never take anything for granted against a legend such as Djokovic.
Alcaraz paid a big price for ignoring that lesson in Sunday afternoon’s scorching heat on a blistering hard court.
NOVAK APPEARED TO BE HEADED FOR DEFEAT
Djokovic appeared to be a beaten man when Alcaraz served with a 4-3 lead in the second set. He was virtually wiped out, or so it appeared.
But the match really was just beginning. Alcaraz won the first point of that eighth game of the set, and everything appeared to be in order for the young Spaniard.
Boy, did things change quickly as Alcaraz carelessly committed four consecutive unforced errors. Suddenly, it was a new game with Novak looking alive and well. Four games later, they were in a tiebreaker and Alcaraz held his only match point of the day.
Djokovic was on fire then and on his way to a 5-7, 7-6 (7), 7-6 (4) victory.
LOSS NOT THE END OF THE WORLD
Of course, this one really didn’t mean that much to either Djokovic or Alcaraz. They are after bigger goals.
The big one comes up in New York in almost three weeks, if both players can make it to the final of the U.S. Open.
Alcaraz can only get better. After all, he’s only 20 years old. He made a remarkable improvement over his performance in losing to Tommy Paul a week earlier in Toronto.
You wouldn’t think Djokovic can get much better than the game he played in the Cincinnati final. Yes, it should be steaming hot in Arthur Ashe Stadium, too.
FIVE SETS A TELLING STORY
This time it will be five sets, and there is no telling who will survive the heat best, if Alcaraz gets another shot at Djokovic. For both players to make it through two weeks in New York to the Sunday final would be a major achievement for Djokovic and defending champion Alcaraz.
Either way, it probably is just a matter of time before Djokovic gives up the chase for more Grand Slam titles. It is worth it in the end of other majors for Djokovic only if he can prevail through the final shot.
But anything short of other major titles wouldn’t be worth what Djokovic went through Sunday in Cincinnati for 229 minutes. Of course, Alcaraz went through similar circumstances at the French Open.
But he’s 16 years younger than Djokovic.
All of the great ones eventually have to surrender to time.
COCO IS A STAR IN THE MAKING
Coco Gauff likely will become one of the great ones before she finishes. A Grand Slam title in New York would set her on her way to greatness.
The 19-year-old, much like Alcaraz, is loaded with weapons. First, she is a great athlete.
That was obvious to me as early as May 2019 when I spotted Gauff resting on a bench at courtside after a long workout at LTP Tennis in Charleston. She already had qualified for the $100K ITF tournament there.
I interviewed Coco for just a few minutes before she was called back to the court. A month later she was in the round of 16 at the French Open.
JUST A MATTER OF TIME FOR GAUFF
Just 15 years old, it was just a matter of time before Gauff would become a superstar.
She isn’t quite there yet, but after winning titles in Washington as well as her first Masters 1000 title in Cincinnati, Gauff is getting close. She still has two more chances to win a Grand Slam title as a teenager, and the next step could be New York. She already has the experience of a runner-up finish at last year’s French Open.
Gauff really didn’t have much trouble upending Karolina Muchova, 6-3, 6-4, at Cincinnati’s Western & Southern Open on Sunday.
But again, the draw for the U.S. Open will be filled with players capable of winning a Grand Slam title, even including the likes of Wimbledon champion Marketa Vondrousova, ranked just ninth in the world. As a left-hander, she already has the edge over most of the players in the field.
James Beck was the 2003 winner of the USTA National Media Award. 1995 MBA graduate of The Citadel, he can be reached at Jamesbecktennis@gmail.com.
WIMBLEDON: An immense Alcaraz, but the changing of the guard is yet to come…
Alcaraz’s merits compared with Djokovic’s demerits. Just a bad day among many so-so days for the Serbian, nonetheless No. 2 of the ATP ranking? Or is it the start of an inexorable decline? Farewell to the Grand Slam, but will he win more Majors?
NOTE: This article was written in Italian and has been Translated by Carla Montaruli
Carlitos Alcaraz triumphed, cheers for Carlitos Alcaraz. The feat he accomplished at only 20 years of age and in his fourth tournament on grass is remarkable, remarkable indeed. He is the third youngest champion ever after 17-year-old Becker and 20-year-old Borg, as well as the third Spaniard after Santana and Nadal to win the trophy. Being able to beat a player in the fifth set after 4 hours and 43 minutes who is the king of marathons, a seven-time champion and had won 45 straight matches over the last 10 years on Centre Court, can only be considered a great exploit.
Credit where credit is due. Alcaraz played beautiful tennis, complete in all aspects, bold forehands and backhands, powerful and hit on the rise, drop-shots, acrobatic and diving volleys, hanging smashes, aces and winning serves. All this with great mental solidity displayed throughout the entire match: after losing the first set badly, enduring the tension of a second set tiebreak which had not started well for him, then dominating the third set and finally closing the encounter as a consummate veteran in the fifth with a last service game played brilliantly after tenaciously defending very well the break he had secured in the third game of the final set.
A 20-year-old young man could not be asked for more. A well-deserved applause and congratulations also for defending that first place in the world rankings that he will hold for the twenty-ninth week, hoping to keep it as long as possible.
Staying at the top for 389 weeks like the extraordinary champion he beat on Sunday would mean dominating the world stage for over seven years. Over seven years! And…as I write this I wonder if we have paid enough attention to such a feat in all that time!
Yes, because you write 310 weeks, Federer’s weeks as world No.1, then you write 389, that is Djokovic’s weeks spent in the same spot: there and then they seem like just numbers…but only when you divide them by 52, the weeks in a year, do you realize the immensity of these extended dominances within a sport whose growing competitiveness and many booming young guns are emphasized almost every day.
Crazy in the case of both Federer and Djokovic with the ATP scepter in their hands, because each of them – as the fourth part of the Fab Four – had to confront at least with the other three. All four have been world number one. Still, for 699 weeks, almost 13 years and a half, Roger and Nole were number one, Nadal was king for 209 weeks and Murray for 41. Add them up and that’s another five years—eighteen years of reign for four kings. Written so many times off the top of my head…but upon reflection this is impressive stuff. It never remotely happened before.
So here it is… the idea that Carlitos Alcaraz could one day – but we are talking about seven years! – reach Djokovic’s 389-week reign today may seem unreal, absolutely far-fetched.
But…are there perhaps three more champions on the horizon who can recreate a quartet of phenomena like the Fab Four? I don’t see them at all. Will Alcaraz be alone in the driver’s seat for the next few years?
In seven years, 10 or 18 – 18 years was the reign of the Fab Four — phenoms could sprout up almost like mushrooms! Speculating on what will happen in such a long and far away period is a mindless divertissement and I don’t know why it dawned on me…. Except perhaps Holger Rune today – though greatly downgraded by the last duel here at Wimbledon – there doesn’t seem to be a rival of Alcaraz’s caliber right now. Our compatriots may see our Sinner two steps below Alcaraz and one step below Rune, but neither do they see other “prospects” ahead of him. Djokovic called Sinner one of the leaders of the new generation. His fifth place in the Race, along with eighth in ATP ranking certify such status.
But then for a year or two, or maybe even three, if Rune and Sinner don’t make giant strides, or if a new rising star doesn’t emerge, Carlitos Alcaraz could easily add a hundred or more weeks to the 29 he has already earned as No. 1.
Or am I venturing into a wild prediction?
Just not to present you with a single scenario I want to say, however, that the most obvious commonplace one could come up with today, after this final that Djokovic shall not cease to regret for at least four reasons – three missed backhands in the tiebreak and a clumsy drive volley which squandered a hard-earned break point for a 2-0 lead in the decider – is that we have witnessed the changing of the guard.
It will make so many headlines, sure. I may have uttered it too, in one of the many videos I did for Ubi Instagram, for Ubitennis, and the IntesaSanPaolo website. But in my opinion, it’s not true yet.
Djokovic is not ready to retire. He is not going to quit, even if the dream of achieving a Grand Slam has vanished, maybe forever. Farewell to Grand Slam, but will he win more Majors? I think so. He is still world No. 2, isn’t he?
I had written throughout the tournament – you may check – that I didn’t think I had seen the best Djokovic. He had not been at his best against Hurkacz or even Rublev. And, as much as many readers disagreed, neither had he dominated Sinner as he had last year in the last three sets when he had been truly unplayable. Demerit to him and credit to Sinner, as often happens simultaneously.
I wrote that Hurkacz had thrown the first set out of the window and when leading 5-4 in the tiebreak of the second with two serves at disposal to put it away he had not been faultless but had shown a lack of personality. I also wrote that Rublev had been unlucky in the fourth set on the occasion of some break points he had failed to convert.
We did not see the best Djokovic, in my opinion, even in the final against Alcaraz. Otherwise, he would have been two sets up.
Oh yes, come on: the three backhand errors he made in the first tiebreak he lost after 15 won were not errors from Djokovic, the champion who has always played the crucial pointsbetter than anyone else, certainly better than Federer and Murray, perhaps equal to Nadal.. In particular, match points aside – what about that, dear Roger? – those tiebreaks that are said to be worth double.
Those three backhands, a drop shot at 3-2 when he was a minibreak ahead, the one at 6-5 and setpoint after he had deftly returned Carlitos’ serve, the one at 6-6 were errors worthy of a Hurkacz, a Norrie or a Shapovalov, not a Djokovic!
I recall – just quoting from memory because I haven’t time to engage in dutiful and thorough research – that Nole’s record in best-of-five matches after winning the first set is monstrous. Imagine after winning the first two sets.
Here, a Nole in ordinary form, even against that very inspired Alcaraz, would have started the third set with a two-set lead.
I know that with ifs and buts, you don’t go anywhere. But I’m pretty sure – and I think Nole is too – that if the two sets lead never came into being, it was more because of Nole’s demerit than Carlitos’ merit.
But is this a random demerit, due to a bad day and a series of bad days as it appeared to me throughout the tournament, or is it a sign of the slow inexorable decline of the Serbian who is beginning to come to terms with his age? That drive volley with which he dissipated the all-important break point and the chance to rise 2-0 in the fifth set was another topical moment. Yet, it was not Novak to succeed in a decisive breakthrough, but Carlos three minutes later.
The fury with which, at the changeover, Nole smashed his racket on the net post is revealing. Nole had missed the train to victory and, experienced as he is, he understood it.
I would say that this casual contingent demerit or signal of inexorable decline is the discriminating point of our debate.
Bravo, bravo to Alcaraz for taking advantage of it with precocious maturity, but did Djokovic stumble over a mediocre day by chance, because it can happen to everyone, even to younger tennis players, or because even he – an extraordinary phenomenon – is on that rickety path where age starts taking its toll?
If the most plausible answer we believe in is the first one – and that is the one I believe in – we cannot yet speak of a changing of the guard.
Djokovic can safely return to the throne of tennis, perhaps win the US Open and/or the next ATP Finals in Turin as well as an 11th Australian Open. Push the undoubtedly great Alcaraz back to second place.
If, on the other hand, the right answer is the second, this Wimbledon definitely enshrines the changing of the guard. But, even in this scenario, only the changing of the guard at the top and the handover between Djokovic and Alcaraz. Not a generational changing of the guard though, at least for now and the very near future, because even a subdued and slightly tarnished Djokovic is stronger than Rune, Sinner, and Tsitsipas on almost any surface. At worst he would be the second-best tennis player in the world. The others, Sinner included, would do anything to stand where he stands.
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