Italian Open Sunday Preview: The Men’s and Women’s Finals - UBITENNIS
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Italian Open Sunday Preview: The Men’s and Women’s Finals

The road to Roland Garros will come to an appropriate crescendo, as Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal will meet for the first time this year on clay.

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R5afael Nadal (photo by Roberto Dell'Olivo )

It was a year ago at this very tournament, and against this very opponent, when Djokovic finally began to resemble his old self.  Due to an elbow injury, Novak was just 6-6 when he arrived in Rome a year ago. But it was his semifinal match here, where he lost a tight match to Nadal, when the tennis world began to recognize the champion of yesteryear.  A year later, he arrived in Rome having won the last three Majors, as well as the Masters 1,000 event last week in Madrid.

 

Thus far, this clay season must be considered a significant disappoint for Nadal.  2015 is the only other year since 2005 when Nadal arrived in Rome without a clay title to his name.  That was also the only year Djokovic defeated Nadal at Roland Garros. Rafa though appears to be regaining confidence as this week progresses.  This match will be Nadal’s biggest clay court test this season, and will be a strong indicator of where exactly his game is heading into the French Open.

Also on Sunday, Karolina Pliskova and Johanna Konta play for one of the biggest titles of their careers on championship Sunday in Rome.

Novak Djokovic (1) vs. Rafael Nadal (2)

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This will be the 54th meeting in the most prolific men’s rivalry of the Open Era.  Overall Djokovic leads 28-25, though Nadal leads 16-7 on clay.  Novak is 16-11 at Masters 1,000 events, and 7-5 in Masters finals.  At this event, Rafa holds a 4-3 edge, and they’ve split the four finals they’ve played here.  Since they met one year ago in Rome, Djokovic has twice defeated Nadal. The first time was their over five-hour five-setter at last year’s Wimbledon, a pivotal match in tennis history.  The last time was the Australian Open final, when Novak destroyed Rafa, losing only eight games. Both of those matches will be forefront in the minds of both men today. Normally I would give Djokovic the decided edge considering their recent history, but Nadal will be the much fresher of the two on this day.  Djokovic required over five-and-a-half hours to overcome his Argentinian opposition in the last two rounds, in matches that went late into the night. Nadal meanwhile is yet to drop a set this week, and played during the day on both Thursday and Friday. With this final being played at 4:00pm local time, that’s a big advantage for Nadal.  Whoever wins today will re-take the lead for most Masters 1,000 titles, as both men currently hold 33. I like Nadal’s chances to make that 34 on Sunday.

Karolina Pliskova (4) vs. Johanna Konta

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After some disappointing results earlier last year, Pliskova has slowly but steadily built momentum since last summer.  She’s now 26-7 on the year, and into her third final. With a win today, she would pass Kiki Bertens and Simona Halep to become the new world No.2, which would be significant heading into the French Open draw.  Konta has similarly struggled since 2017, though she’s only more recently rediscovered her game. Historically a terrible clay court player, she’s now 10-2 in the surface this season. This is her second clay final in the last three weeks.  She’s already defeated two top 10 players in this tournament, while Pliskova is yet to face a seeded player. Karolina leads their head-to-head 5-1, with Johanna’s only victory coming in a third set tiebreak on a hart court in Beijing. But all their matches have been tight, with five of the six going to a third set.  In Pliskova’s last final, two months ago in Miami, she was shown up on the big stage by Ashleigh Barty. Is Pliskova ready to claim her second Premier 5 event, equaling her biggest career title? She’ll have to avoid getting down on herself, as she’s prone to do on the court. In a match that feels it could easily go either way, I’ll give Pliskova the slight edge.  She has a lot more recent experience in big matches, and has a history of winning third sets over Konta.

Other Notable Matches on Sunday in Rome:

  • In the women’s doubles final, singles champions Ashleigh Barty and Victoria Azarenka go for their first title as a team vs. Anna-Lena Groenefeld and Demi Shuurs (8).
  • In the men’s doubles final, Barcelona Champions Juan Sebastian Cabal and Robert Farah (3) vs. Wimbledon Finalists Raven Klaaasen and Michael Venus (6).

Editorial

A new documentary, and the rekindling of Serena Williams’ tryst with 2018 US Open destiny

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Serena Williams, 2019 US Open, Patrick Mouratoglou
Photo Credit: US Open/USTA

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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ATP

Janko Tipsarevic retires from tennis

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Janko Tipsarevic has announced that he will retire from professional tennis at the age of 35 next November. The Belgrade native enjoyed his best seasons in 2011, when he qualified for the ATP Finals, and in 2012, when he reached the quarter final at the US Open for the second consecutive year. In 2012 he reached the quarter final or better in 14 tournaments, including the semifinal at Masters 1000 tournaments in Madrid and Toronto.

 

He reached his best ranking of world number 8 in April 2012 after qualifying for the quarter final in Miami. He won four titles in his career and reached the fourth round at Roland Garros, Wimbledon and Australian Open.

He returned to action at the Australian Open last January after a long absence of 16 months following two harmstring surgeries. The Serbian player lost to Grigor Dimitrov in the first round at the Australian Open. Later this year he reached the quarter final in Houston.

Tipsarevic is planning after the Davis Cup finals in Madrid next November.

“It has been a great 16 years. After a lot of sour searching and thinking what is important to me in this stage of my life and what does make make me happy, I have decided to retire from professional tennis. My last competition will be the Davis Cup in Madrid. In the following years my focus will be my family, franchising our Tennis Academy and International coaching for several weeks per year. Thank you for your ongoing support”, announced Tipsarevic via social media.

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Cincinnati Open Final Preview: Will Kuznetsova And Medvedev Achieve Double Glory For Russia?

It’s Championship Sunday in Cincy, with two unlikely yet intriguing singles finals.

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Svetlana Kuznetsova – Western & Southern Open (foto via Twitter @CincyTennis)

Both world No.1’s were upset on Saturday by Russian opposition, opening up a golden opportunity for today’s singles finalists.  For three of the four, it’s a chance to win the biggest titles of their careers to date. And for the fourth, it’s a chance to win their biggest title in a decade.

 

Madison Keys (16) vs. Svetlana Kuznetsova (WC)

15 years ago, Kuznetsova was a teenage who shocked the tennis world by winning the US Open.  Five years and three Major finals later, she’d win a second Grand Slam title at Roland Garros.  But recent times haven’t been as kind to Svetlana, who has struggled with injuries, coaching changes, and visa issues.  As per the WTA’s Courtney Nguyen, Sveta missed the beginning of the US hard court swing due to those visa issues, and contemplated retirement with her ranking at risk of dropping outside the top 200 due to her inability to travel.  But just a few weeks later, she’s into her biggest final in over two years, thanks to four victories this week over players ranked 11th or higher.  But in today’s final, she faces a competitor she’s never beaten.  Keys owns a 3-0 record in their head-to-head, with all three of those matches played on hard courts.  Madison is yet to drop a set to Svetlana. And just like Kuznetsova, Keys has looked really strong this week.  She’s been just clubbing the ball, and taking the match completely out of her opponents’ hands. But as a player who has choked in big matches before, can Madison maintain her form in this final?  Based on how well she’s fought this week and made slight adjustments when needed, and with a boisterous American crowd behind her, I think Keys will be ready for this moment.

Daniil Medvedev (9) v. David Goffin (16)

After a set-and-a-half against Novak Djokovic yesterday, it appeared the world No.1 would be cruising to a straight set victory.  Novak had been dominating opponents all week, and Daniil was receiving treatment on his right arm, which looked quite painful. But it seemed the 23-year-old Russian decided if he was going down, he was going down swinging.  Medvedev started going for his second serves, striking some just as hard if not harder than his first serves. He’d hit a total of 16 aces in the match. That, combined with his strong ground game which suddenly wouldn’t miss, infuriated Djokovic to the point where it seemed the world No.1 just wanted off the court before the final game had even been decided.  Danill is now into his third final in as many weeks, but lost in the final of his last two tournaments. His opponent today capitalized on an extremely open half of the draw. But the tennis gods definitely owe Goffin some luck after the bizarre injuries that have recently sidetracked his career. He injured his eye when a ball glanced off his racket, and injured his ankle when he slipped on the tarp at the back of the court at the French Open.  These two have met twice before, with both matches occurring earlier this year. Medvedev prevailed in straight sets at the Australian Open, while Goffin outlasted Daniil 7-5 in the fifth at Wimbledon. This will be Medvedev’s 16th singles match within the past 20 days, which is a ton of tennis no matter your age or your level of fitness.  And coming back less than 24 hours after a thrilling victory over the world No.1 is never easy. But against an opponent that hasn’t been playing with much confidence, and who is also vying for the biggest title of their career, I suspect Daniil will power his way to the winner’s circle again today.

Other notable matches on Sunday:

In the men’s doubles final, Wimbledon champions Juan Sebastian Cabal and Robert Farah (1) vs. Ivan Dodig and Filip Polasek, who were Wimbledon semifinalists.

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