While Serena detailed in a recent article for Harper’s Bazaar that there is no ill will between the two superstars, I’m sure the 23-time Major singles champion would love to avenge that painful loss of a year ago. And I’m sure Osaka would like to prove she can beat Serena without all the distractions their US Open final provided. There’s also much more on the line in this high-profile matchup, as Osaka is playing to regain the No.1 ranking. She’s already surpassed Ash Barty in the live WTA rankings, but a loss today would allow Karolina Pliskova to surpass Osaka if Pliskova reaches the final. There will be a lot to watch for throughout quarterfinal day in Toronto.
In Montreal, the top eight seeds held in three of today’s four singles quarterfinals, making for some blockbuster matches. Top seed Rafael Nadal is the favorite to defend his title, though as Chris Fowler of ESPN pointed out, Rafa has never successfully defended a hard court title in his career. And recent Masters 1,000 champions Dominic Thiem, Sascha Zverev, Karen Khachanov, and Fabio Fognini are all still alive in the draw.
Naomi Osaka (2) vs. Serena Williams (8)
Osaka is 2-0 against Serena. She first bested Serena last year in Miami, in just Serena’s second tournament after her complicated child birth. And then of course there’s last year’s US Open championship match, where unfortunately Serena Williams and chair umpire Carlos Ramos stole most of the headlines away from Naomi’s first Major title. But let there be no mistake: Osaka thoroughly out played and out competed Serena on that day, despite all the shenanigans. But can she make it 3-0 against her idol? Osaka experienced some troubling losses following her second straight Major win to start the year, but says she’s finally having fun again on the court for the first time since Australia. And Serena says she’s feeling as fit and healthy as she has in a few years. Despite winning both her previous matches this week in straight sets, Serena has fallen behind early in every set she’s played. She can ill afford to do that against Osaka, who plays great with a lead and is much less likely to drop her serve right back to Serena. But in a match with this much backstory, and so many emotions involved for both players, composure will be a key element here. I expect Serena will be determined to remain focused and maintain her composure today, and fight her way to her first win over Osaka. I just think this win will mean so much more to Serena than Osaka, as she’ll view a victory as a bit of redemption.
Sascha Zverev (3) vs. Karen Khachanov (6)
These men won the last two ATP tournaments of 2018, both of which were the biggest titles of their respective careers. Yet both have suffered from subpar 2019 seasons. Khachanov arrived in Montreal with an 18-17 record on the year. As Chris Fowler of ESPN highlighted, that includes 10 first round losses. Zverev has been admittedly distracted by legal issues with his former agent, and his coaching situation is also unsettled with Ivan Lendl recently departing from his coaching team. It’s no wonder Sascha was so emotional following yesterday’s win over Nikolaz Basilashvili. It was a rare scene for a third seed to collapse to the court after a third round win at a Masters 1,000 event. But it was a big victory for Sascha considering his struggles this year, and also considering he let match points go begging in a loss to Basilashvili just two weeks earlier in Hamburg. Like Zverev, Khachanov also needed nearly three hours yesterday to clinch victory, against hometown favorite Felix Auger Aliassime. Needless to say neither man will be well-rested coming into this match. Zverev has the 2-1 edge in their head-to-head, though Khachanov took their most recent meeting at last year’s Paris Indoors. As Brad Gilbert of ESPN pointed out yesterday, Khachanov’s severe forehand grip makes it tough to absorb pace from his opponents, which is why his coaching team is encouraging him to adjust that grip. However, as was fully evident towards the end of his match yesterday, Sascha has too frequentyly been hitting his groundstrokes without conviction. He benefitted from some critical Basilashvili errors in the third set tiebreak. I doubt Khachanov will be as kind today. Karen appears to be the player with more confidence at this time, and Zverev obviously exuded much more emotions after yesterday’s win. I like Khachanov to come through and reach his second consecutive Rogers Cup semifinal.
Other notable matches on Friday:
Rafael Nadal (1) vs. Fabio Fognini (7). Rafa is 11-4 against Fabio. Since Fognini’s shocking comeback win at the 2015 US Open, Nadal had defeated him six straight times before Fabio took their most recent meeting in Monte Carlo earlier this year.
Karolina Pliskova (3) vs. Bianca Andreescu. Does the Canadian teenager have another big upset in her? As per the WTA, she’s 3-0 against top five opposition this year, and has won her last nine three-set matches.
Dominic Thiem (2) vs. Daniil Medvedev (8). Thiem has won both their previous matches, both played within the past 12 months.
Elina Svitolina (6) vs. Sofia Kenin. Svitolina prevailed 6-4 in the third earlier this year at Indian Wells in their only previous meeting.
Roberto Bautista Agut (10) vs. Gael Monfils (16). Monfils owns a 3-1 record over the Spaniard, but Bautista Agut defeated the Frenchman here two years ago in a third set tiebreak.
Wimbledon champion Simona Halep (4) vs. Marie Bouzkova (Q), a 21-year-old from Prague who is yet to drop a set in either qualifying or main draw matches in this tournament. That includes victories over Sloane Stephens and Jelena Ostapenko.
A new documentary, and the rekindling of Serena Williams’ tryst with 2018 US Open destiny
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.
Janko Tipsarevic retires from tennis
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.
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.
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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