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.
COMMENT: Was Carlos Alcaraz Flying Above His Real Game?
Over the weekend Carlos Alcaraz reached yet another milestone in his young career. However, the win needs to be put into some perspective too.
Young Carlos Alcaraz was brutal in his conquest of Rafa Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Alexander Zverev on three consecutive days.
But it wasn’t all Alcaraz on Friday, Saturday and Sunday in Madrid. He had help.
Nadal wasn’t ready to play yet, certainly not against someone as talented as Alcaraz appears to be. Nadal lacked training and confidence in his comeback from a rib injury suffered just a few weeks ago at the Indian Wells tournament.
RAFA WASN’T THE REAL RAFA
Nadal wasn’t the true Rafa. He missed simple shots and couldn’t find the handle on many other unforced errors.
And Djokovic? He kept making the same mistakes over and over. It was side-to-side, or nothing for the Serbian Wonder. Of course that style of play has been good enough to win 20 Grand Slam titles for Novak.
But Alcaraz is a cross-court magician, backhand or forehand. Alcaraz just looked like he was a faster mover than Nadal, Djokovic and Zverev. Alcaraz is a rugged mover, much like a football player. He isn’t in the class of smooth and fluid movers such as Nadal and Djokovic.
Alcaraz has an unpredictable backhand otherwise, like from the middle of the court where his over-hit backhands find the middle of the net quite often. That is, if his opponent makes him hit more backhands from the middle of the court.
ZVEREV TOTALLY UNFOCUSED
Then there was Zverev, trying to win his third Madrid Open. He was terrible. He was worst than Nadal and Djokovic put together. Zverev seemed to be sleep-walking or wishing he had skipped Madrid. He was that unfocused.
Alcaraz made the trio of top five players look like satellite circuit players. The 19-year-old Spaniard was viciously good. Obviously, his victims weren’t prepared for much of anything Alcaraz released on them.
Alcaraz may really be as good as he looked. But he can’t get much better than that.
Yes, he is too good to be true.
But Nadal, Djokovic and Zverev can play better.
PARIS, LONDON AND NEW YORK FANS DIFFERENT
The ATP Tour season isn’t over yet. There are still three Grand Slam singles trophies to be won.
And Spain is history for another year of hosting big ATP men’s tennis tournaments.
The fans in Paris, London and New York won’t be quiet as appreciative of the Spanish teen-ager’s every point.
But unless Nadal, Djokovic and Zverev change their game plans, it could be a long year for the trio and a joy ride the rest of the year for the kid.
ALCARAZ PLAYS TOTAL-ATTACK TENNIS
Alcaraz reminds me of Pete Sampras in a way. Like Sampras, Alcaraz plays total-attack tennis. Big forehands. Big serves. He just goes for the winner, regardless of the circumstances.
Throw the Alcaraz drop shot into the equation, and anything might happen. The drop shot may have been the real difference maker, especially against Nadal and Djokovic. They never figured it out or when it was coming.
The Alcaraz drop shot was that good.
Zverev never got into the match enough for the Alcaraz drop shots to make much difference.
This debate really might come down to the age differential between Alcaraz, and Nadal and Djokovic.
It’s almost unimaginable to think that a 19-year-old could maintain the level of play and health for about two decades in the likeness of Nadal and Djokovic. Or even Roger Federer. No one knows what the future holds, or when another drop-shot artist might take over the game.
James Beck was the 2003 winner of the USTA National Media Award as a tennis columnist in Charleston, S.C.. A 1995 MBA graduate of The Citadel, he can be reached at Jamesbecktennis@gmail.com.
A Renaissance of American Tennis
Like a steadily rising tide, fresh generations are taking the reins of US tennis
by Kingsley Elliot Kaye
The all-American final in Houston caps the positive trend of American Tennis in the last months. The pinnacle was Taylor Fritz’s triumph at Indian Wells, but a fresh generation of young American players has been making the headlines day after day with their results and performances. Is it too hasty to speak about a resurgence?
The US has always shaped the history of Lawn Tennis. From its outset, with champions like Bill Tilden, Donald Budge, Jack Kramer, to the open era: players like Connors, McEnroe, Sampras and Agassi still stand out as icons of our sport.
American players have often left a technical legacy, bringing innovation to the game. Just to mention a few: Big Bill Tilden was the first to employ perfectly executed dropshots and to lay special focus on tactics and even psychology. In the 50s Jack Kramer brought in power, a key asset of the game.
Connors with his aggressive anticipation can be considered as the forerunner of a gameplay which later was implemented by Agassi and has become a feature of contemporary tennis. Jim Courier proved how powerful and incessant groundstroke drilling can lead to the very top. McEnroe stands out as an unprecedented genius.
A Tennis movement is not just defined by its most glittering stars. Its consistency and durability rely on a plurality of players who constitute the bearing frame. They may not be regulars in the top 10, or even top 20, but will enjoy a career on the tour reaping consistent results and occasional breakthroughs to the highest.
Swedish tennis, for instance, inspired by Borg, in a few years was able to deploy a manifold cluster of young and eager players, not only following in the footsteps of their father, with his revolutionary double-handed topspin backhand and a rock-solid mental, but also venturing out in the serve and volley area. Names like Stefan Edberg and Anders Jarryd ring a bell for many.
German champions Boris Becker and Michael Stich were joined by a vivacious bunch, whose ranking ranged between top 20 and top 50: Steeb. Jelen, Kuhnen. In their wake came the Kiefer and Haas and Schuettler generation.
Instead, a world No. 1 from Brazil, Guga Kuerten, who enlightened the passage to the new millennium with his charismatic and joyful personality, remained a lone runner.
In the seventies American tennis averaged 30 players in the top 100, which often meant 3 in the top ten and 8 in the top twenty. The decade which followed witnessed a staggering peak of 45 in 1982, with 10 players in the top 20, and 25 in the top 50. Ivan Lendl is included in the count, but this does not cast a shadow on such figures.
The nineties were marked by the Courier/Chang/Agassi/Sampras generation, but showed some signs of decline beneath the golden surface, with a decreasing number of players in the top 100.
Andy Roddick was a valiant flag bearer of Stars and Stripes tennis in the first decade of the New Millennium, with his US Open victory in 2002, three Wimbledon finals and one US Open final, 5 ATP Master Series and 13 weeks at the top spot of the ranking. Yet US tennis definitively started dropping behind its history. The last ATP Ranking in 2005 featured Roddick (No.3), Agassi (No. 7) and Ginepri (No. 15) in the top 20, and only five other players in the top 100.
After Roddick retired in 2012, now and then American players succeeded in coming up with spotlight performances. Long John Isner for instance with his Miami triumph in 2018 and, in the same year, his unforgettable Wimbledon semi-final in which after 6 hours and 36 minutes, he eventually surrendered to South African Kevin Anderson 26-24 in an epic fifth set.
Jason Sock won the 2017 Paris Bercy Open, which allowed him to reach his best ranking, No. 8.
Sam Querry reached a Wimbledon semi-final in 2017 shattering British hopes for glory when he stunned Murray in quarterfinals, a notch above his 2016 run when he had knocked out Djokovic in the round of 16.
However exciting these results could be, they still had a somewhat sporadic flavour. Rankings are a truthteller, if not on sheer talent, on consistency: those years only Isner and Sock broke into the top ten and there was a low point in 2013, with no American in the top 20, worsened in 2021, when at times no US player was ranked in the top 30.
In spite of a still disappointing 2021 US Open, during the months which followed there was something in the air, something rising. Isner, Opelka and Fritz back in the top 30. Tiafoe, Korda, Paul in the 50; Brooksby, McDonald, Giron, Nakashima closely chasing. In fact, the last 2022 ATP ranking featured 12 American flags in the top 100.
And then this array of results in 2022, with Tiafoe’s final in Vienna in October 2021 as a prelude. Fritz triumphed at Indian Wells Open, Opelka in Dallas and Houston. Brooksby was runner up in Dallas and best Tsitsipas in Indian Wells. Cressy too made the final of the Melbourne Summer Set as Isner did in Houston yesterday. Speaking about performances, Korda was one point away from defeating Nadal in the second round at Indian Wells.
Often a tennis movement embodies a style. When we think of the Swedes, our memories rush back to beautifully geometrically conceived groundstrokes. Or the Spanish, traditionally born on clay courts, formidable baseline players determined to scurry and retrieve any ball, gradually evolving and adapting to the times.
American tennis, indeed, has always been characterised by variety, which is not surprising, considering the amplitude of the nation and its heterogeneity. And now it is just the case.
This new wave of US tennis is currently captained by Taylor Fritz, a solid all-round player, whose self-confidence surely will be boosted by his win in Indian Wells. Big serve (with some volley) is represented by Reilly Opelka. Sebastian Korda is an emblem of variety (his father’s genes may have had their say!), just as Jenson Brooksby, who is a strategy master too. Frances Tiafoe represents an all-offensive tennis. Tommy Paul, McKenzie McDonald and Brandon Nakashima are endowed with strong groundstrokes, excellent footwork and propension to attack. Maxime Cressy has revived pure serve and volley. Experienced players Isner, Giron and Kudla contribute to the team’s overall strength and consistency.
Some still may say that this cluster of American players may not appear as overpowering as in the past. It may be conceded. But times are different as well.
From 2005 to 2022 the cake of Majors was divided for the most part among Federer, Nadal and Djokovic, with Murray and Wawrinka getting their fair share (3 each) and outsiders Del Potro and Cilic, and more recently Thiem and Medvedev getting one bite.
Over the next few years the tennis scenario could be quite different and resemble the 1995-2003 period, with 17 different winners in the Majors. If competition gets as tight once more, with several top players standing a chance of winning a Major, these fresh US players will be in the number.
The clay season is about to get underway. The last American triumph at Roland Garros dates back to 1992, and Chang reached the final in 1995 proving that his win in 1989 was no stroke of luck. Despite meagre harvests in the recent years a few breakthroughs do stand out: Isner’s quarter-final in Madrid 2021, Opelka semi-final Rome 2021. At Roland Garros in 2020 Korda lost to his idol Rafa Nadal in the 4th round and Isner reached the same stage in 2018.
This time the feeling is that a new cycle has started, and this Renaissance is capable of breaking many boundaries.
Will Grigor Dimitrov continue good form at the Miami Open?
Grigor Dimitrov is looking to continue his good form into the Miami Open.
Grigor Dimitrov hasn’t had it easy on the ATP Tour in recent times but does his quarter-final appearance at Indian Wells bode well for the future?
In California, the Bulgarian scored impressive straight sets wins against the likes of Australian Jordan Thompson, Kazakhstan’s Alexander Bublik (Andy Murray’s conqueror) and American John Isner.
There he came unstuck in straight sets himself to a more superior and polished Andrey Rublev.
However, this was a much better tournament than anticipated for Dimitrov, after he crashed out in poor fashion just last month at Acapulco in the opening round to American Stefan Kozlov.
The turnaround is remarkable.
This is a former world number three we are talking about. A man who stood at the pinnacle of his career in 2017 after winning the ATP Tour Finals.
Now there is fresh hope and optimism from Dimitrov’s faithful that he can again mount a serious challenge this season.
The top of men’s tennis appears to possess a power vacuum, with so many of the sport’s stars out of form, injured or absent.
Roger Federer, and now Rafa Nadal, after his cracked rib injury in the final of Indian Wells, are on the sidelines.
Novak Djokovic’s refusal to get the COVID-19 vaccine means that he was barred from entry to the United States and thus unable to compete in some of his favourite tournaments, such as Indian Wells and Miami, where he has previously enjoyed a lot of success.
World number one for three weeks, Daniil Medvedev has experienced a huge dip in form after surprisingly losing at the round of 32 stage, to Frenchman Gaël Monfils,in the Californian desert.
Stefanos Tsitsipas and Alexander Zverev are both yet to win a title this season, and suffered recent shocks in the opening Masters 1000 of the year, losing to American’s Jenson Brooksby and Tommy Paul, respectively.
Matteo Berrettini continues to be plagued by injury issues and was upset by Miomir Kecmanović in California.
All of which has given Dimitrov a fabulous opportunity to go far at the Miami Open and take full advantage of his rivals’ recent slip ups and drop in confidence.
He opens his campaign on Friday against Mackenzie McDonald of the United States.
The world number 54 beat Germany’s Dominik Koepfer 6-7 (8-10), 6-4, 6-4 to set up the round of 64 meeting with Dimitrov.
At 30 years old, nearly 31 in May, the sun might soon be setting on the Bulgarian’s career.
But with a possible meeting with Zverev or Borna Coric on the horizon, is the Miami Masters the stage where Dimitrov will finally come of age.
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