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

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Laver Cup: As Europe’s blue reign, myriad hues peek out in event’s latest iteration

The 2019 Laver Cup showed all over again why it was an opportunity for tennis to be diverse in its offering.

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2019 Laver Cup, Team Europe, Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal
Photo Credit: Laver Cup

Twelve matches spread over a three-day weekend later, Laver Cup has modified the proverbial face and scope of men’s tennis. It is still viewed sceptically as a disruptor to routine, individual-focused tennis matches in certain pockets. Yet, the singularity it has brought into the midst of the prevalent concept of individuality is irrevocable.

 

In the third year of the event’s emergence, these aspects are repetitive. However, Laver Cup’s display re-lit the theme of a team before a player. It also elevated it to heights not seen in its previous two editions. This showed in the players’ camaraderie with each other. As it did in the numerous coaching tips that came from the bench from Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer, and even Nick Kyrgios towards their fellow squad members.

Broadly, it was laid out in how the Laver Cup changed the subject from who would win the most Slams to which part of the globe would be victorious. For once, the conversation did not focus on 20 Slams versus 19, as it had come to be after Nadal’s win at the US Open. It was riveted on how two sportsmen with 39 Slams between them could set aside their competitiveness towards a common goal for a still-mushrooming tourney.

“Winning (as) teams is just amazing because you celebrate together. It’s a very special thing. Honestly, I really hope that this new and young generation keeps supporting this event because this event is special,” Nadal said after Team Europe’s three-peat on Sunday. “We need to make this event stronger and stronger because the atmosphere that we leave here is difficult to find in other places.”

The 33-year-old’s statements, aside from setting aside any cynicism about his involvement in the event this year, emphasised the growth Laver Cup has had in its three years. Nadal’s participation in Laver Cup’s inaugural year was seen as a novelty, a continuation of his and Federer’s triumphant return to the Tour after an injury-troubled 2016. Novak Djokovic’s inclusion in Europe’s 2018 squad was viewed as a reiteration that the event was a fad, where top-ranked players would make a one-off appearance, before stepping away.

In 2019, the 12-time French Open champion’s return contradicted this previously-held supposition. This shifting of perceptions is why Laver Cup has turned problematic to the Tour’s other mainstay events.

If Laver Cup were to be regarded as merely an exhibition, a tournament with no relevance to how the ATP tour progressed year-on-year with its usual clanking schedule, all of the players’ emotiveness and reactions would have been on par with the idea of livening it up for its sake.

https://twitter.com/rogerfederer/status/1176258686269952000

On the other hand, when two former world no. 1s were heard sternly telling their touted successor not to be negative for the rest of his match, it was hard to convince that the whole atmosphere was made-up.

Though, it does bear noting that not being put-on and the ease with which it has been assimilated in tennis’ mainstay have been the catalysts for Laver Cup’s disparaging mooting in certain circles.

The past weekend it coincided with a couple of ATP tournaments, in St. Petersburg and Metz. Both events had several interesting match-ups of their own. Followers deeply vested in the sport knew the happenings across all tournaments held last week. But for casual viewers, it would have come down to picking one event over the rest.

The factoring in of this unnecessary chasm added to the enervation around tennis by making one take sides in a sport that is already at crossroads, without Laver Cup even being mentioned.

Yet, if it were about inclusivity, selectivity in audiences’ preferences is the other side of tennis’ coin. These choices cannot always remain aligned, even in accepting or discarding the tri-day tournament as a consequential pursuit. As Nadal opined, when asked to compare between his other title wins and his Laver Cup team win, “…every single thing is different and is important by itself.”

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Novak Djokovic Doesn’t Need Love, Just Respect

He will never win a popularity battle with Federer, but does that really matter?

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As a world No.1 with 16 grand slam titles, Novak Djokovic has proven himself to be one of the best players in the world. Yet, amid the outburst of boos following his retirement from the US Open last week, the debate surrounding his popularity in the sport was reignited once again.

 

Taking on the formidable Stan Wawrinka in the fourth round, a player known to play his best on the biggest stages of the tour, Djokovic called it quits during the early stages of the third set. Citing a shoulder problem as the reason. Something that had bothered him during the earlier rounds. On the Arthur Ashe stadium, the crowd was less than pleased with his decision to stop.

“I’m not being offended or mistreated by anybody. I don’t really pay too much attention on that.” Djokovic said of the crowd. “I like to respect others. I hope that others can respect me and my decision.’
“I’m sorry for the crowd. Obviously they came to see a full match, and just wasn’t to be. That’s all it is.’
“I mean, a lot of people didn’t know what’s happening, so you cannot blame them. It is what it is.”

The New York crowd are certainly unique when it comes to other grand slams. When you go to Wimbledon there is a guard at every gate to direct you to your seat. Talking during points is frowned upon and misbehaviour is certainly not tolerated. In Flushing Meadows, there is no such thing with people casually walking around the stadium during points. Highlighted by one journalist during the women’s semi-final who tweeted ‘Why are people just strolling around in the Arthur Ashe Stadium? Get to your f***ing seats.’

“Well, no, I really believe that he doesn’t deserve of course,’ Rafael Nadal commented about his rival. “I believe that he’s a super athlete. If he had to go is because he was not able to continue at all.
“For him is much more painful than for anyone on that Arthur Ashe Stadium.”

At a glance all of this could be put down to the sometimes rowdy New York contingent at Flushing Meadows. However, this isn’t the first time Djokovic has been in this situation.

Taking to the Wimbledon final back in July it was more than evident that he wasn’t the crowd favourite. It was rival Roger Federer, who won the event seven times. Chants of ‘Federer’ erupted around Centre Court. Prompting the Serbian to mentally transmute those calls into one of his own name.

It is clear that Djokovic is a powerhouse and an icon in the world of tennis given his achievements, but for some reason he isn’t able to generate as much popularity as his two rivals. Illustrated by their social media accounts.

PLAYER

*TWITTER FOLLOWERS

*FACEBOOK LIKES

Rafael Nadal

15.7M

14.4M

Roger Federer

12.6M

14.878M

Novak Djokovic

8.7M

7.063M

*numbers as of 10/9/2019

Whilst the 32-year-old may not be the most popular man in the world of tennis, that isn’t to say that he doesn’t have a loyal fan base. On social media that are groups of die-hard ‘Nole’ fans ready to defend their man from any potential criticism he receive. From first hand knowledge, some of them are very feisty to say the least.

The debate surrounding the popularity of the Big Three is one that will likely continue beyond their retirement, but that doesn’t mean that the focus should be taken away from their outstanding achievements. For Djokovic, he is the first player to earn more than $100 million in prize money, the first to win four consecutive ATP Finals, the oldest-ever year-end No.1 and the only man to win every Masters 1000 title.

Many have said his reception in the world of sport triggers memories of Ivan Lendl. In 1987 he graced the front cover of Sports Illustrated with the caption ‘the champion that nobody cares about.’ A reserved Lendl struggled to struck a special connection with the crowd in North America compared to what some of his opponents managed to do. Fortunately, he was later recognized and appreciated more for his contribution to the sport.

As for Djokovic, he is somewhat on the same ground as Lendl, but not to such an extent. It would be quite inconceivable for a magazine to place him on their front cover using the same caption as what was used for Lendl. Nevertheless, there are undoubtedly similarities.

It is likely that Djokovic will not be as popular as Federer, but that isn’t a problem. An all-time great is measured by their records in the sport and not how many are cheering them on. He shouldn’t be loved by everybody in the world, no player has the right to that entitlement. However, what he does deserve is a degree of respect. Something that is sometimes forgotten by the public attending the world’s biggest tennis events.

Maybe Djokovic’s true impact on the sport will not be recognized until he walks away for good. Whenever that will be.

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Nadal, Djokovic And Federer Excelled On Manic Monday And That Isn’t A Good Thing

Why the dominance of the trio at Wimbledon should be admired, but not celebrated.

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WIMBLEDON: On a day where all the fourth round matches took place at The All England Club there was an inevitability in the men’s draw.

 

Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer, and Novak Djokovic all proved why they are the top three seeds. Producing a display that overwhelmed and frustrated their opponents. The trio along with Andy Murray have won the past 16 Wimbledon titles. A true testament to their dominance in the sport. On the other hand, it is also a somewhat mixed situation for the world of men’s tennis.

“I wasn’t feeling so good about my strokes, my serve, my forehand, backhand, everything. I wasn’t feeling so good, I didn’t expect to be tight, to be maybe not ready, but not like this.” Matteo Berrettini said following his loss to Federer.
“I was saying to myself that it was normal, for me, it was my first time on Centre Court against him.”

The brick wall put up by the Big Three at The All England Club can only be compared with the Great Wall of China. A gigantic structure that requires a huge effort to conquer it. Yet it is possible to scale it and people have done before. So there is one question that arises. Is the Big Three too good or are their challengers on the court not good enough?

World No.1 Novak Djokovic shed some light on the situation shortly after his straight-sets win over Ugo Humbert. The only member of the Next Generation to reach the last 16 of the tournament. Djokovic has been a giant in the world of grand slam tennis within the past 12 months. Winning three titles and reaching the semi-finals at Roland Garros.

“I think we are working as hard as anybody really to be there. I think the experience we have helps confidence, everything that we have achieved in our careers obviously we carry onto the court, then most of the players feel that, feel the pressure.” He said.
“For us, it’s another match on the center stage that we’ve experienced so many times. I think that’s one of the reasons why we, I guess, feel comfortable being there and managing to play our best consistently.”

Experience certainly pays it part. 14 out of the 16 players to reach the fourth round are over the age of 27 and eight of those are over the age of 30. However, when the older guys of the tour has had a shot on Manic Monday in the past against the Big Three they fell short. What is it that they are doing wrong?

“I think the best guys now are fully engaged, they know exactly what to expect from the court and the conditions. That helps us to play better.” Explains Federer.
“I think with experience, that’s good. We haven’t dropped much energy in any way. It’s not like we’re coming in with an empty tank into the second week.’
“All these little things help us to then really thrive in these conditions. I don’t know what else it is.”

Fortunately, Federer and Co are human. Even if it is hard to believe when they illustrate such breathtaking tennis at times. Serena Williams describes Federer’s play as that similar to an elegant Ballerina. The way he moves around the court effortlessly and dictates the points.

One people aiming to rain on the parade of the big guns is Sam Querrey. A 31-year-old American who reached the semi-finals of the major back in 2017. Against Tennys Sandgren on Monday, he produced 25 aces and won 83% of his first service points on route to victory. Setting up a clash with Nadal. Somebody who he beat in their last meeting back in 2017, but trails their overall head-to-head 1-5.

“In order to kind of break that streak, it’s most likely beating Rafa, Federer, Djokovic. The mountain gets very steep from here to break that trend, but I’m going to do the best I can.” Said Querrey.
“I like playing here (at Wimbledon). I’m comfortable here. This seems to be the slam where you’ve got odd results, if you want to call them, over the, you know, last 25 years.”

In an era that is dominated by a selected group of players, there are both admiration and frustration among both players and fans. Their achievements have been incredible, but when will a fresh face live up to the hype on a consistent basis? Dominic Thiem, Alexander Zverev and Stefanos Tsitsipas are all huge threats. Just not on a regular enough basis.

“I am not thinking about sending a message about the next generation, how they are coming or not. I know they’re good.” Nadal stated.
“I know there is going to be a day where they are going to be in front of us because they will play better than us or because we are leaving (the sport), we are not kids anymore. That’s all.”
“It is special what we achieved in the last 15 years. Something special, difficult to repeat I think, so many titles between three players. But sometimes these kinds of things happen.”

Men’s tennis is undoubtedly in the midst of a unique period with some of the greatest ever players taking to the court’s. However, is their dominance too much of a good thing?

Only time will tell when the trio retires and men’s tennis are left facing the prospect of trying to fill in their shoes. A task that is as exciting as it is terrifying for the next contingent of players.

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