A new documentary, and the rekindling of Serena Williams' tryst with 2018 US Open destiny - UBITENNIS
Connect with us

Editorial

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

Avatar

Published

on

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.

Comments

It Isn’t Just Football Who Are Mourning The Loss Of Diego Maradona

The world of football has lost one of its icons and tennis has lost a loyal fan.

Avatar

Published

on

Diego Maradona (image via Sky Sports Tennis Twitter)

It was during the 2013 Dubai Tennis Championships when Diego Armando Maradona stated that tennis was his second favourite sport after his beloved football.

 

The Argentinian sporting icon was a passionate and enthusiastic follower for more than 30 years until his death on Wednesday due to a heart attack. Regularly he would be seen watching matches in crowds at various tournaments. One of the earliest anecdotes took place in 1984 when he turned up to watch the French Open final and cheered on John McEnroe, who was taking on Ivan Lendl. Swiss journalist Rene Stauffer was sitting next to him and remembers the iconic figure ‘cheering like crazy.

Of course it was his fellow countrymen and women who Maradona was most interested in supporting. One in particular was Juan Martin del Potro who won the 2009 US Open. He once joked ‘Next week I’ll be the one training del Potro myself. I will ask Franco Davin to step aside and Diego will train del Potro.‘ He appeared to have a great amount of respect for the former world No.3 who is one of thousands mourning his death.

I feel that you return to the place that belongs to you, HEAVEN. For me you will never die. Rest in peace,” Del Potro wrote on Twitter.

After retiring from professional football in 1997 Maradona encountered his own personal demons as he battled with health issues and drug addiction. Nevertheless, his passion for sport never suffered. Attending various Davis Cup ties, he was usually seen shouting and cheering for his countrymen. He even had his own VIP box sporting his country’s flag with the words ‘The Maradona family is here‘ during the 2017 final between Argentina and Croatia.

Despite his calibre, Maradona said that he was star struck to meet some of tennis’ top names. One of those was former world No.1 Caroline Wozniacki who got talking to him during the Dubai Tennis Championships seven years ago. At the time Maradona was an ambassador for the Dubai Sports Council (DSC).

“I had the pleasure to meet Caroline Wozniacki. She is one of the top players and she is very beautiful and a very nice girl,” he said. “Despite her ranking and all her achievements, she came to say hello to me, although I’m the one who wanted to get up and go and greet her.”

As for the three giants of men’s tennis, Maradona cheered them on and spoke to them on numerous occasions. Wheather that was in person or via video message.

For Rafael Nadal this year marks the 10th anniversary of when the two spoke with each other at the ATP World Tour Finals in London. When the news broke of Maradona’s death he was one of the first to pay tribute.

“One of the greatest sportsmen in history, Diego Maradona, has left us. What he did in football will remain. My deepest and most heartfelt condolences to his family, the world of football, and to all of Argentina.” He wrote on social media.

It was in the same tournament as Nadal when Novak Djokovic once said ‘to have him as a supporter is an incredible honour and a pleasure.‘ A few months on from that, the two briefly spent time together in Abu Dubai as the Serbian conducted his off-season training.

One of Maradona’s final interactions with tennis before his death took place last year when Roger Federer played an exhibition match in Buenos Aires. In a video message broadcasted on the screens of the stadium he said to the Swiss ‘you were, you are and will be the greatest. There’s no other like you.‘ Words that brought tears to the eye of the 20-time Grand Slam champion. Originally the two had planned to meet in person but were unable to due to Maradona’s health.

It was just three weeks ago when world No.9 Diego Schwartzman spoke out about the influence the footballing great has had on his country. The two never met in person but like many others, he was an idol for the tennis star.

“He’s been a sports idol since I was a kid. I’ve seen it on YouTube, not only, I’ve seen it on TV too. I’ve never seen him for real. He’s one of my soccer idols and I love soccer.” Schwartzman said.
“Wherever we go, everyone knows Argentina thanks to Maradona! This is the reason why I have the first name, Diego.”

Argentina has declared three days of national mourning following Maradona’s death.

Continue Reading

ATP

The ATP Finals Exceeded Expectations But There Was No Changing Of The Guard

Daniil Medvedev has shown how a player outside of the Big Three can shine at one of the most significant tournaments in men’s tennis but it is wrong to read too much into this achievement.

Avatar

Published

on

Daniil Medvedev with the Nitto ATP Finals trophy (image via https://twitter.com/DaniilMedwed)

On Sunday afternoon the 2020 tennis season ended with a pulsating showdown between two of the biggest names outside of the formidable Big Three.

 

Daniil Medvedev held his nerve to fight back and edge out Dominic Thiem in an enthralling roller-coaster encounter that lasted almost three hours. Besides claiming the biggest title of his career to date, the Russian has become only the fourth player in history to defeat the world’s top three players at the same tournament, following in the footsteps of Boris Becker, Novak Djokovic and David Nalbandian.

In the aftermath of Medvedev’s victory came the inevitable question – is this the start of a new era in men’s tennis? For over the last decade the Tour has been dominated by Djokovic, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. Between them they have won 57 Grand Slam titles and shared the No.1 position continuously since August 2017. In fact, since February 2nd 2004, Andy Murray is the only other player outside of the trio to have held the top position.

“Hopefully all of us young guys will keep pushing and will have some great rivalries,” Medvedev told reporters on Sunday.
“Hopefully we can be there for a long time, maybe pushing the other generations back because that’s how we can be close to the Top 3.”

Medvedev’s emphatic performance at the end-of-season event showed that he has what it takes to scale the top of the game but recent history suggests that too much shouldn’t be read into it. Remarkably no member of the Big Three has won the event since Djokovic in 2015. Instead there have been five different champions most recently with each of those years raising hopes that there could be a changing of the guard on the Tour.

However, those hopes have never fully materialised. Prior to Medvedev, the four most recent ATP Finals champions have failed to win multiple titles the following year. In the case of 2017 winner Grigor Dimitrov, he hasn’t won a trophy of any sort since.

ATP Finals championTitles won over the next 12 monthsBest Grand Slam run over next 12 monthsYear-end ranking 12 months later
Andy Murray (2016)1French Open SF16 (down 15)
Grigor Dimitrov (2017)0Australian Open QF19 (down 16)
Alexander Zverev (2018)1French Open QF 7 (down 4)
Stefanos Tsitsipas (2019)1French Open SF 6 (no change)


It can be argued that the numbers above fail to tell the full story. For example Andy Murray’s injury woes started to hinder him the year after he won the tournament and Tsitsipas’ season has been marred by the COVID-19 pandemic. Although it does illustrate that staying at the very top of the game on a consistent basis without beng a member of the Big Three is a tough ask, raising questions about if the landscape of men’s tennis will ever change before Djokovic and co retire?

“There is going to be a time when they are not around anymore, then it’s going to be so important to keep all the tennis fans and to keep them with this great sport,” world No.3 Thiem explains.
“I think that’s our challenge, that we perform well and play great in big tournaments to become huge stars ourselves.
“It’s super important for tennis in general because they (the Big Three) gave so much to the sport. That’s our challenge to keep all those people with tennis and to maybe continue their story.”

Thiem boasts the honour of having at least five wins over every member of the trio, something  that has only ever been achieved by Murray. In London he defeated both Nadal and Djokovic which was something Medvedev also managed to achieve during the same week.

Veteran journalist Steve Flink perhaps is one of the most knowledgeable figures when it comes to the evolution of men’s tennis in the Open Era. His work in the sport dates back to 1972 when he was a statistician covering the US Open for CBS and working alongside the iconic Bud Collins. In a video chat with UbiTennis, Flink notes the recent shortcomings by ATP Finals champions but is hopeful that 2021 could be different.

“I don’t think we should put too much stock on this. On the other hand, Medvedev has ended the year strong and Thiem has now finally won a major at the US Open. You have to believe that these two guys will be threatening (for titles) next year with Thiem challenging for his second major and Medvedev to maybe win his first. So maybe there will be some more equity in men’s tennis,” he said.

Only time will tell about what may happen next year and if Medvedev’s ATP Finals triumph will have any impact at all. The only certainty is that more people are starting to talk about the other guys and that is a victory in itself for the future of the sport.

Continue Reading

ATP

Eight Reasons Why Daniil Medvedev Is The Rightful Master Of The ATP Finals

The final three matches could have gone either way, but the young Russian was the most complete player and deserved to win. Thiem stuck too much to his guns – it worked initially, but Medvedev was smarter and kept giving him different looks, prevailing in the end.

Avatar

Published

on

Daniil Medvedev (image via https://twitter.com/atptour)

The 12-edition-long O2 residency of the ATP Finals ended as it began, with a Russian winner. Daniil Medvedev didn’t even know this was the case, but it was Davydenko himself, now a pundit for a Russian TV channel, who informed him during the post-match interview. Davydenko beat Del Potro 6-3 6-4 in the final after vanquishing his worst nightmare Federer 7-5 in the decider; in the round robin, he lost (7-5 in the decider as well) against Djokovic while defeating Nadal (6-1 7-6) and Soderling (7-6 4-6 6-3). While his victory was quite the surprise at the time, Medvedev’s really wasn’t, because he had already played lights-out tennis in Paris. Now 24 years old, Daniil is no doubt worthy of this title for several reasons.

 

1) He was undefeated in November, winning 10 matches in a row between Bercy and London, including seven against five different Top 10 opponents (he beat Zverev and Schwartzman twice). He ended up notching 2,500 points and winning the ATP Finals without a single defeat, and put in the effort even against Schwartzman, an adversary he played after already securing the top spot in his group – the Argentine was the weakest player in the draw, but Medvedev could have still decided to save some energies for his semifinal encounter with Nadal.

2) The fact that he won the crown as an undefeated champion gains even more significance when we look at the history of the event: the winner lost one match throughout the competition a whopping 25 times (out of 47, because the tournament has taken place 51 times but four of these had no round robin, so the champion had to be undefeated by definition). That’s more than 50 percent of the time, including nine out of ten in the 1990s – Sampras won the tournament five times and always lost a bout.

3) Medvedev is the first ever to win the ATP Finals while defeating the best three players in the world (Djokovic in the group stage, Nadal in the semis and Thiem in the final) on route to success.

4) As for other events, only three times in history had a player ousted the Top 3 in the same tournament – Becker in Stockholm in 1994, Djokovic in Montreal in 2007, and Nalbandian in Madrid later the same year. However, none of them had done it in a tournament as important as the ATP Finals, and no one has ever done it in a Major.

5) Medvedev didn’t lose a set in the group stage, but came from behind in both his knockout matches, another feat that speaks volumes of the value of his success. Nadal even served for the match against him at 5-4 in the second set, but the Russian broke him to love and never let up from then on. Against Thiem, he saved three break points in the second set, but was always on the front foot in the decider. He led 0-30 in the opening game, had three break points in the third and two more in the fifth before finally breaking through on the eighth total occasion – he had wasted a chance in each of the previous sets.  

6) He proved how complete his game is. Despite not being very graceful, he has an effortless style, and moves amazingly well for a 6-foot-6 guy: he has outstanding knee flexibility and can run for hours without wearing himself out, never losing the ability to push those unorthodox groundstrokes (especially the forehand, with a very wide backswing and quite frankly unappealing to watch) deep down the court. Medvedev outlasted both Nadal and Thiem in the respective deciders, and while the advanced age of the Spaniard is an understandable factor in such situations, Thiem’s struggles probably owe to the grueling match he played against Djokovic – he faced the Serbian before Medvedev beat Nadal, but in all likelihood wasted more resources.

7) He led the eight participants in most serving stats, netting more aces, putting more first serves in play and winning more points than anybody else with his second serve. It’s quite the headstart to be able to win so many free points when your main competition has to toil far more to get on the scoreboard. When I say that Medvedev is a complete player (despite his clay-court limitations), I think of the variety of his shots. He can approach the net, often sneaking in the most unexpected situations, such as behind a second serve. He can trade sliced backhands with Nadal and Thiem – he actually outperformed Rafa with the shot, and, while less successful against the US Open champion, he still held his own. He can mix up the speed and net clearance of his groundstrokes like Mecir and Murray did, and he can flatten his shots either crosscourt or down the line.

8) He is most certainly a clever player, both on the court and outside of it.

The Austrian shanked three break points in the second set, and one in particular must have stuck in his memory: Medvedev serve-and-volleyed and barely put a drop volley over the net, but Thiem, despite getting on the ball with ease, put wide a forehand that he could have made. Thiem tried to play with a clear strategy but didn’t have the acumen to change it when things started to go south, something that is never easy to do. I asked this question to the world No.3 in the post-match press conference, although I’m aware that he is more powerful than Medvedev but not as eclectic.

My question was: “Do you regret playing so many sliced backhands?” He didn’t think that was a mistake, though: “I will do the same thing in our next encounter, it’s what I did in all of our previous matches.” Of course, that was a decision he had taken together with his coach, Nicolas Massù, and it seemed to work in the opening two sets, but I think that he should have tried something different at the tail-end of the match, because that particular shot had become very predictable and wasn’t fetching him any more points. It’s the same thing that happened to Nadal on Saturday, a tactical choice that didn’t seem to bother Medvedev: “Nadal probably won just a couple of points with the slice, it didn’t really affect me.”

There is no proof that things would have turned out differently with a different game-plan. However, my impression is that Medvedev realised that Thiem was trying to break his rhythm and adjusted by patiently slicing the ball as well and waiting for the best time to sneak to the net, where he won 28 points out of 37. In the end, Thiem went against his own nature, retreating into a conservative tactic in lieu of detonating one-handers like the one that gave him a double match point in the third set’s tie-breaker against Djokovic. Overthinking is a demanding process and can become costly when a match goes the distance.    

Former Top 15 player Paolo Bertolucci kept calling for greater tactical variety when Medvedev had clearly adapted to the Austrian’s game, but he forgot to add how hard it is to alternate between slice and topspin backhands. After hitting five, six sliced shots, it is very hard to suddenly switch grips for a flat or topspin winner without losing control – as a matter of fact, Thiem tried to do so and the unforced error tally started to grow, and not just on that wing, but also on the forehand side, perhaps because the alternance between grips and ball distances was making him uncomfortable.

The fact is that Thiem was glued to the baseline, while Medvedev did it all, standing far behind the baseline, slicing and flattening his shots, following his serve to the net and even throwing in some chip-and-charge on his opponent’s serve. When he comes to the net, it’s not easy to pass him, because he’s really tall, and his touch is good. While it’s true that Thiem’s tactics worked in the past against the Russian, this line of reasoning doesn’t take into consideration the improvements that Medvedev might have undergone. I’ll stop here, because I don’t want to be thought of as an arrogant journalist who thinks he knows more than an Olympic champion like Massù, who evidently told his player to stick to his guns no matter what.

I’d like to add that I’m happy about the level of play in the knockout phase. Nadal vs Thiem in the group stage was also a good match, but the semis and the final were more vibrant and more open till the end. The three matches were decided by very fine details and circumstances, and they could have gone either way. This is why I think that Nadal, Thiem and Djokovic should be lauded as much as the champion, although this is something that seldom happens in sports. I wish I was there, but I enjoyed myself even though I had to watch on TV, and I hope that our readers can say the same thing. 

During these wretched times, those who could afford it could watch some pretty good tennis in New York (where the final, while not beautiful by any means, was still a nail-biter), Rome, Paris and London. Let’s not forget that, up until three weeks before the Cincinnati-New York tournament began, we still had no certainty whether the season would have resumed in 2020 or not.

I don’t know what will happen with the Australian Open, nobody does, but I hope that the Covid nightmare will be over by the time of the first Turin ATP Finals at the latest, although there is really no way to know how long we will have to keep wearing masks. 

NOTE: Article translated by Tommaso Villa

Continue Reading
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

Trending