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.
Modern Tennis: Evolution Of A Game
It’s a well-known fact that every single thing goes into renovation and re-shaping as we move on, sports are, certainly, included in this category that undergoes usually, from time to time, new adjustments and modifications that are probably attributed to two main reasons; to cope with the contemporary trend, particularly, among young people and other commercial aspects like promoting it to a broader population of fans. Tennis is one of a few sports that has retained most of its rules and traditions until the moment, however, introducing some little changes in the game could serve the sport better, make it more interesting for people got already bored of it, even more appealing for new audience, and most importantly more optimum and safer for the players.
We will get through some of the new technological and technical innovations that have been introduced into the Next Generation ATP Finals over the three editions of the tournament and expose its pros and cons.
The format of the tournament, since its emerging in 2017, has been quite different with the objective of attracting more fans by making matches quicker and have more exciting moments in less amount of time.
The most fundamental part of the new format has been the number of games per set, which became four games a set instead of 6 with a Tie-Break at 3-All, and No-Ad scoring. The shorter set has been compensated for with the matches being best-of-five sets so that a player needs to win 12 games to win a match. The introduction of such a new format has obviously increased the intensity of the matches by speeding up the pace of every rally, so that after every changeover you will definitely not witness more than 14 points thanks to the No-Ad scoring role, which means also more break points.
The No-Ad scoring role, similar to that in doubles competition in the standards ATP tour, means that when it’s tied at deuce (40-All), the next point is considered the deciding point and regarding serving either in the deuce or advantage courts, in 2018 edition it was the receiver’s choice, while in 2019 it’s up to the server player.
I think that these modifications on the traditional format have brought much dynamics and speed, as you can see that everything is pretty quick that needs the players to exert little physical efforts on each point which eventually helps them comply much easier to the shot clock and most probably that would impress a lots of fans amongst young ones, and would be appreciated as well by most people having a real busy schedule.
However, players have to adapt to this new format in terms of mental alertness and tactics, because everything is going very fast and if one player lost his concentration for a moment or two on his service game, with the No-Ad scoring rule, that could cost him the set which would ruin his whole match even with considering that it’s a best-of-five sets match.
The innovations, at the Next Generation ATP Finals, haven’t been only technical but also included new cutting-edge technological services that would not only help ease the calls on points but also give the players and their chosen coaches reliable data and physical measures about their own performance and workload after each match that would assist them on evaluating their plans and training strategies.
The usage of the very innovative Live Electronic Line Calling system has so many remarkable merits, as it really helps eliminating human’s errors, yet not absolutely eliminating errors as sometimes the machine doesn’t work in very rare cases, that’s why in close callings players have the right to watch a video review to get assured of the call. In addition, this contributes a lot to shorten the average time taken between points as the calls are usually clear and need no more evaluation from the umpire or the players. Another major advantage for such system installation is that now players don’t have to challenge calls they are having doubts over, for instance a player could’ve used all their challenges and they can no longer challenge the call despite having the call wrong, that would never be encountered with this innovative system.
The third edition of the Next Generation ATP Finals also features an unprecedented technology available on ATP, in which players are allowed to use wearable devices that would measure velocity and direction, acceleration and force, rotation, body orientation, and will quantify internal load (through heart rate). The data collected would be available after matches for the players and their coaches for further assessing the key elements of their game.
All these previous innovations and rule modifications cannot be seen, generally, to be compromising the core of the traditions of tennis, however, there is a one rule introduced at the Next Gen ATP Finals that shows a lot of controversy over if it’s affecting the core of the game or not, it’s the In-Match Player Coaching via head-sets. According to this rule, a player can communicate with his coach during a match at certain points, similar to what’s happening in the WTA, however the coaches aren’t permitted to come on court.
Some top players have had their say about that topic. While some backed the very new feature, others thought it doesn’t belong to the world of tennis.
“I’m not all for it, I find it kind of cool that in tennis, you know, you’re sort of on your own out there. Not everybody has the same amount of resources for coaching, as well. So I’m not sure if it’s that beneficial.” Argued 20-time Grand Slam Champion Roger Federer.
Federer’s long term rival Novak Djokovic had another thought about the In-Match Coaching, thinking that tennis should be like most of the other sports in this aspect of the game.
“When the WTA introduced on-court coaching, many ATP players were not really positive about it. I thought it was a good move for the sport. I mean, we’re probably one of the only, maybe [the] only global sport that doesn’t use coaching during the play. Even golf, individual sport, you have caddies that you communicate with throughout the entire course.” Said Djokovic.
One way of thinking is that tennis is based on playing individually in the first place, of course, players do put strategies and tactics with their coaching teams but when they get to the court, it’s all theirs, not only physically but also mentally, that’s why some players hire psychotherapist. On the other hand, some players might have some mental weaknesses and such an opportunity could deal with this problem during the match, and at the same time the other player would be offered the same opportunity so it’s fair after all.
I think people should keep watching closely this controversial very new rule being introduced to the world of tennis at the editions of the Next Gen ATP Finals and its effect on the players, then they can conclude whether it would affect the game in a positive or negative manner.
To conclude, every single sport has to keep up to date with the advancements taking place and the common tends, yet never to change its roots that it’s already been built upon. With most of the innovations that have been introduced to the Next Gen tournament, I think there is a great combination between cutting-edge technology represented on facilitate officiating and giving useful information for the players about their game, and optimizing some rules that wouldn’t necessarily compromise the origin of tennis.
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.
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.
— Laver Cup (@LaverCup) September 22, 2019
“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.
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.”
Nothing Tops Star Power At U.S. Open
Charleston Post and Courier columnist James Beck reflects on this year’s US Open.
NEW YORK — Tennis is still all about who’s playing the game.
Parents watch their kids grow up through their junior tennis days. Then maybe college tennis.
But when it comes to watching big-time tennis such as at the U.S. Open, nothing tops star power. That was never more evident than Friday and Saturday in Arthur Ashe Stadium.
NEW YORK CROWD UNSURE ABOUT MEDVEDEV
Russia’s Daniil Medvedev is red hot this summer, first on the U.S. Open series where he lost in two finals before winning in Cincinnati. And then he made the U.S. Open final.
But the New York crowd doesn’t get very excited about the 6’6″ wonder. Empty seats were plentiful Friday afternoon when Medvedev knocked off Grigor Dimitrov in the first men’s semifinal. Even if the crowds weren’t excited about Medvedev, they should have been thrilled to see Dimitrov. Obviously, the fans weren’t too happy that Dimitrov had taken down Roger Federer in the quarterfinals.
But, suddenly, when Rafa Nadal took center court for the second semifinal, fans were everywhere. That was for a match against a relative newcomer to big-time tennis. Matteo Berrettini could play, but he was no equal for Nadal.
NADAL MAKES EMPTY SEATS DISAPPEAR
Yet, it was time to be sure you were in the correct seat. The empty seats had disappeared.
The U.S. Open had switched gears. It had gone from the frenzied atmosphere of young
Americans Coco Gaulf, Caty McNally and Taylor Townsend to a different reality.
The old-timers, better known as all-timers, might be nearing the end of the road in big-time tennis. Yes, the list includes even Serena Williams.
Nadal took care of his end of the bargain with the fans by turning away Berrettini in sraight sets to secure his day, and a spot in the final against Medvedev.
Serena couldn’t save her day in Saturday’s women’s final, despite the efforts of a packed stadium of wildly cheering supporters. Nineteen-year-old Canadian Bianca Andreescu simply was better on this day.
ANDREESCU MIGHT BE FOR REAL
Of course, Andreescu has plenty of time to set records and win fans. Serena rallied from 5-1 down in the second set, and appeared headed for another possible magical win when she tied the set at 5-5.
In the end, Serena failed again in her attempt to win a record-tying 24th Grand Slam title in a 6-3, 7-5 loss to Andreescu.
Serena might have made 2018 champion Naomi Osaka’s career a year earlier when Serena couldn’t notch Grand Slam title No. 24 then, either. Now, Andreescu may be ready to make her mark on the game. Getting by Serena was a big step. Andreescu might join the all-timers one day.
When another Grand Slam season gets underway in January in Australia, the tennis world really might be turned upside down. Novak Djokovic’s early departure along with the 38-year-old Federer’s and Stan Wawrinka’s losses in the next round were shocking, along with the early collapse of all of the super women’s stars except Serena.
SERENA, FEDERER AND NADAL IN A DIFFERENT WORLD
The young women’s stars such as Osaka, Sloane Stephens, Madison Keys, Simona Halep and Ashleigh Barty, along with Medvedev, Berrettini, Dominic Thiem, Stefanos Tsitsipas and Felix Auger-Aliassime among the men aren’t likely to evolve into all-time stars the way Serena, Federer and Nadal have.
That’s just the reality of big-time tennis. Serena, Federer and Nadal are players for the ages, just like Rod Laver was. Their fan bases are in for a major change, or they can switch to the sometimes unpredictability of this new group.
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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