Wimbledon Throwback: Fairytale Triumph For Maria Sharapova - UBITENNIS
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Wimbledon Throwback: Fairytale Triumph For Maria Sharapova

Before Wimbledon 2004, Maria Sharapova was virtually unknown. Over the next two weeks, her life changed, and so did women’s tennis.

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Maria Sharapova (foto FABRIZIO MACCANI)

One day in June 2004, I came home from school, switched on the Wimbledon coverage and was transfixed by Maria Sharapova – a 17-year-old Russian who played tennis with an intensity I had never seen before.

 

Unfortunately I don’t remember which of her matches I saw first – her second-round win over Anne Keothavong or her third-round victory over Daniela Hantuchova – but I do remember that she blew away her opponent (and me) with her sublime ball-striking ability.

Sharapova’s serene progress continued until the quarter-final, when she faced her first real test against Ai Sugiyama. At the time, the Japanese player was a top-20 player. And she had plenty of experience to draw on after over a decade on tour.

Initially, Sugiyama’s maturity shone through as she won a tight opening set 7-5. However, her young Russian opponent gave many people their first glimpse of one of her defining qualities – fighting spirit. She clawed her way back into the match by coming out on top in an equally close second set. Having broken through the Japanese player’s resistance, Sharapova romped through the decider 6-2 to reach the semi-final.

Against All Odds

Despite her exceptional run to the last four, many observers believed it would come to an end when she faced Lindsay Davenport. It is clear from Sharapova’s autobiography that she agreed.

“I was a kid. Lindsay was a woman. I was weak. Lindsay was strong. I was stringy and narrow. Lindsay was powerful and solid. As I said, in many ways our games were alike. We went by power, played from the baseline, hit flat and low, without much spin, a style that both of us learned from Robert Lansdrop.

“She was twenty-eight years old, so far along there was talk of her retirement. She was not number one just then – that was Serena – but had been number one, off and on, for ninety-eight weeks. So she was one of the greatest tennis players in the world.

“In other words, I’d hung on and hung on till I’d advanced myself right out of my league. I mean, how was I supposed to beat Lindsay Davenport? She was just like me, only bigger, stronger, older, and more experienced. She was just like me, only way more.”

As if that was not already enough to make Sharapova’s task extremely difficult, she also found herself a bit overwhelmed by the occasion. She said she felt as though the crowd would see she was a kid “who did not belong there”, and that the first serve she hit “fluttered over the net like a butterfly”.

Rain Saves Sharapova

Maria Sharapova (foto ART SEITZ)

Just as the Russian expected, Davenport overwhelmed her to begin with. She won the first set 6-2 in just 26 minutes and then went up a break in the second. But just when it seemed like all hope was lost, fate intervened. Rain came pouring down and Sharapova retreated to the locker room to regroup.

Not that the Russian saw it that way. “In my mind, I was already on the plane, heading home,” she said. Thankfully, her father Yuri had other ideas. He told her he had seen it in a dream that she would turn this match around and go on to win the tournament.

And he seemed so certain that Sharapova believed him. It had a strong effect on her. She explained, “In that minute, I went from feeling like I had absolutely no chance, being beaten before I even went back out on the court, to believing I would have the prize if only I could summon the will to take it.”

To her immense credit, that is exactly what the Russian did. She came out after the delay and played exceptionally well. She returned well, drilled her trademark, flat groundstrokes into the corners for seemingly countless winners and even came to the net sometimes to finish points. It was a remarkable turnaround.

Showdown with Serena

I do not have many clear memories of Sharapova’s run to the championship match of Wimbledon 2004. But the final itself will stay in my mind forever.

I remember sitting down to watch it with my mother and thinking, I really hope this spirited Russian underdog can win, but I don’t really believe it. I mean, this is Serena Williams she is facing after all.

If Sharapova had any doubts, they did not show. She came out onto Centre Court and demolished the best female tennis player on the planet. She sent down ace after ace when she served and hit a thrilling succession of winners to finish rallies when they had scarcely begun. And the Russian attacked Serena’s serve in a way I had never seen before and remained calm and focused throughout.

Consequently, the match was over in about 70 minutes and Maria Sharapova – the 17-year-old Russian who most viewers barely knew before the tournament – was the Wimbledon champion. She had produced an extraordinary performance that stunned the sporting world and changed her life forever.

Grand Slam

Steve Flink: “Djokovic and Nadal will end up with more Slams than Federer”

A final word on the 2021 Australian Open. Thiem was the biggest letdown of the fortnight, but which was the best match or the biggest upset?

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The men’s singles at the Australian Open ended in the most predictable way, with Novak Djokovic clinching his ninth title. However, the road to victory was laden with difficulties, as Hall-of-Famer tennis writer Steve Flink highlights in his third video chat about the tournament with Ubitennis founder and CEO Ubaldo Scanagatta. How close is the Next Gen to pushing out the Big Three? Was this Karatsev’s one shining moment or will he keep shocking the tennis world? This and more in the following chat:

 

0:00 – The men’s final: “I wasn’t sure Djokovic would be able to pull this off after his injury against Fritz, but after he beat Zverev I knew he’d win again.” Was such a trouncing of Medvedev at all predictable though?

5:00 – The keys to the Serbian’s masterclass win.

8:10 – “Medvedev had won most of his last meetings with Djokovic, but a Major final is a different story…” Did Djokovic actually tear an abdominal muscle?

14:30 – How close is the Next Gen to actually taking over?

17:30 – What was the impact of the 2-week quarantine on the tournament? “Many players struggled with injuries throughout the fortnight, but others, like Nadal, were already ailing at the beginning of the event.”

20:40 – Can Federer make another comeback? “His serve is so good that he can win many quick points, that will help him even if his fitness level isn’t up to par.”

24:30 – The best match of the tournament was…

29:45 – Who was the outbreak star? This is an easy one…

32:20 – What about the biggest letdown?

37:20 – A look into the future: will Djokovic end up surpassing Federer and Nadal’s 20-Slam tally?  

41:30 – The Serbian is also about to break the record for the most weeks spent at the top of the rankings – will he remain the world N.1 for much longer?

Transcript by Antonio Flagiello; edited by Tommaso Villa

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Grand Slam

The Most Emotional Moments From The 2021 Australian Open

With everything going on in the world, and the 14 days of quarantine players went through before playing this event, it’s no surprise there were so many emotional moments during this past fortnight.

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Alexei Popyrin provided a refreshing dose of excitement with a loud Aussie crowd in attendance (ausopen.com)

The first Grand Slam of 2021 provided the tennis world with plenty of tears and jubilation throughout it’s two-week period. There was epic match comebacks, injury misfortunes and victories for those who has been absent from the game in recent months due to a variety of issues. UbiTennis looks back at those emotional moments that took place during the Australian Open.

 

Gael Monfils in tears after his first round loss

Prior to the pandemic, Monfils had won two consecutive titles in Montpellier and Rotterdam.  But since the tour restart, he’s now 0-6, and lost in five sets in the opening round to Emil Ruusuvuori.  His comments are in French, but he was asking for “mercy” during his press conference.

“I don’t have any confidence. I would like to get out of this nightmare but I can’t,” Monfils said.
“I don’t know when it’s going to end. It’s hard. Every time I get here I feel judged, I’ve lost again. I can’t serve, I’m playing badly. I’m being honest and it’s going to take time.”

Bianca Andreescu wins her first match in 16 months

The 2019 US Open champion didn’t play at all in 2020, due to injuries and pandemic restrictions.  She’s described many low moments she experienced during that time.  And after going through 14 days of hard quarantine upon arrival in Melbourne, with her coach testing positive for COVID-19, the Canadian was holding back tears after winning her opening round in three sets.

“I feel pretty damn good,” Andreescu said afterwards in an on-court interview. “I mean the match wasn’t easy at all and I’m super, super happy with how I fought it out, especially towards the end.”

Alexei Popyrin saves match points to stun David Goffin

This was the first exciting match to take place in front of a full audience in nearly a year, as Aussies packed Court 3 to cheer on the comeback win of the 21-year-old Australian.  Popyrin saved four match points in the fourth set tiebreak, and the crowd reaction to his victory sounded amazing.

“I think it just shows that the work I did in pre-season, the mentality that I’ve taken on this year is all paying off, and my game is improving, and I can feel that,” Popryin commented on his victory.

Thanasi Kokkinakis wins his first match since 2019

Kokkinakis’ struggles with injuries over the years are well-documented, so it’s understandable the 24-year-old Aussie was brought to tears in picking up his first tour-level win in 18 months, especially at his home Slam.

“At 5-0 (in the third set) I felt this massive roar and cheer from the crowd and I started tearing up,” Kokkinakis said.
“It was a bit of a soft moment but there was just so much stuff behind the scenes to get back to that point that not a lot of people realise.
I definitely got a bit emotional.
“I had a lot of friends and family there watching. They probably made up about 90 per cent of the stands, so I’m appreciative of that.
“Just playing with that energy and crowd and being able to win – there was so much work behind the scenes and so much pain – it’s just a massive relief.”

In the second round Kokkinakis took Stefanos Tsitsipas to five sets before getting knocked out of the tournament.

 Venus Williams suffers a nasty ankle injury

This was hard to watch.  Venus screamed out in pain and hobbled around the court after injuring her ankle.  And she had arrived on court with an injured knee.  After a long timeout to address both injuries, with a despondent Venus in tears, she showed her grit by finding a way to finish out the match in the event’s most inspiring moment.

You can’t always prepare for the triumph of the disaster in sports or in life. “You can’t control it all. What you can control is how you handle the ups and the downs,” Williams later wrote on Instagram.
“No matter the outcome I always hold my head high and I leave everything I have on the court.
“I never look back in regrets because no matter the odds I give it all.
“You don’t have to look back when you leave it all out there. Always look forward, the deepest dream you could be…”

Nick Kyrgios saved two match points in a five-set epic

In another emotional moment involving an Australian, Kyrgios’ epic 5-7, 6-4, 3-6, 7-6(2), 6-4 win over Ugo Humbert was a thrilling affair on Nick’s favorite court, John Cain Area.

If you were in my head, I was just thinking about all the s*** I was going to cop if I lost that match,” Kyrgios told the Nine Network after the match.
“I don’t know how I did that, honestly, it’s one of the craziest matches I’ve ever played.”

Kyrgios lost in the third round to Dominic Thiem.

Donna Vekic in tears after ousting Kaia Kanepi

Vekic was immediately in tears after converting her own match point, advancing to the second week of the tournament despite losing six straight matches coming into this event.

Matteo Berrettini battles through pain to defeat Khachanov

The Italian suffered an abdominal injury during the third set, and was teary-eyed after closing out the match in straights.  He would have to withdraw from his fourth round match against Stefanos Tsitsipas due to the injury.

““I felt something on my ab. I thought that [it] wasn’t something really big, but the next day when I woke up I felt it was big. So I spoke to the doctors and they told me, ‘Look, it can get [much] worse’. So it’s not worth trying. I’m not 100 per cent. To beat these guys, you have to be 100 per cent. I think it’s not really professional to step [onto court] when you’re not the best.” Berrettini commented on his injury.

Stefanos Tsitsipas fights back to defeat Rafael Nadal

Tsitsipas became only the second man to ever do so at a Grand Slam event, and described himself as “speechless” when interviewed after the match.

Serena Williams’ wave goodbye after her semifinal loss

https://twitter.com/AustralianOpen/status/1362260576446132226

This felt like more than simply “See you next year, Melbourne.” Serena stopped her stride as she exited the court, waving and placing a hand to her heart. After being asked about the moment in press, she broke down and quickly exited the room.

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Novak Djokovic Captures Record Ninth Australian Open Title With Clinical Win over Medvedev

The world No.1 toppled his lacklustre opponent who produced a series of costly unforced errors to seal his 18th major title at Melbourne Park.

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Novak Djokovic has extended his dominance at the Australian Open by comprehensively beating Daniil Medvedev 7-5, 6-2, 6-2, to clinch an historic ninth title in Melbourne Park.

 

The showdown on the Rod Laver Arena was between two giants of the current game. Djokovic is the most decorated male player in Australian Open history and has recorded 11 consecutive wins over top 10 players in the tournament prior to the final. Meanwhile, Medvedev was on a 20-match winning streak with 12 of those victories being against a member of the top 10. However, a large majority of the encounter was dominated by the top seed who produced a total of 20 winners as he broke seven times en route to victory.

“I really like him as a person off the court. On the court, he’s definitely one of the toughest players I ever faced in my life,” Djokovic said of his rival during the trophy ceremony.
“It’s a matter of time that you will hold a Grand Slam for sure – if you don’t mind waiting a few more years…”

For the first time in the Open Era the men’s final was being contested by the first and fourth seeds in what was a battle from the onset. Playing on what he describes as his ‘home court’ Djokovic was the quicker of the two to settle into the match after a forehand down the line from the Serbian triggered a Medvedev error to give him a break en route to a 3-0 lead. Eventually Medvedev regained his footing as he gave his rival a dose of his own medicine by winning three games in a row to draw level. Both illustrated glimpses of their best tennis with sublime defensive play but it was the world No.1 who has the edge in the opener. Leading 6-5 a blistering Djokovic backhand passing shot handed him a trio of break points to clinch the set. He failed in his first two attempts, but it was third time lucky after the Russian fired a forehand shot into the net.

The thunderous hitting continued into the second frame as players started to contend with an increasingly animated crowd who had to be told repeatedly to stay quiet during points. One of the disturbances was a refugee protest which involved the removal of two people. On the court Djokovic once again traded breaks with his rival early on before pulling away with the help of some costly Medvedev mistakes. Prompting the world No.4 to smash one of his rackets out of anger and received a code violation for doing so as he fell behind 2-5. Medvedev’s mood deteriorated further in the next game as the top seed returned a serve deep to the baseline to clinch a two-set lead.

source – AusOpen Twitter

Winning all the mini battles that were fought, Djokovic’s offensive was one that drew his rival to despair who continuously made glimpses towards his camp in the crowd. Mentally Medvedev was done as Djokovic masterfully manoeuvred his way to the trophy once again. A three-game winning streak at the start of the third set placed him within touching distance of the win. Enough of a margin to see him over the finish live as he clinched victory on his first championship point after hitting an overhead volley. Prompting Djokovic to fall to the floor.

“I would like to thank my team,” said the nine-time champion. “It has been a roller-coaster ride for me, especially in the last couple of weeks but always a special thanks to you. You have dedicated so much time making sure I’m able to play and I am grateful to you. Thank you guys, I love you.’
“Last but not least, I would like to thank this court and the Rod Laver Arena. It’s a love affair that keeps going.”

It is the second time that 25-year-old Medvedev has lost in a major final after doing so to Nadal at the 2019 US Open. Although he remains one of the most likely candidates to take over the reign of the Big Three in the years to come. Since the start of 2020 he has won 38 Tour matches which is the third highest on the ATP after Djokovic and Andrey Rublev.

“(It’s) Never easy to speak when you just lost a Grand Slam final, but I’ll do my best!” said Medvedev.
“Congrats to Novak. Nine Slams in Australia is amazing and this won’t be your last one. Just to tell you a small story, I first met Novak when I was 500 or 600 in the world. I thought OK, he’s not going to speak to me, because he was world number one.’
“I was really shy. He was talking to me like I was a friend. He’s never changed – he’s always been a great sport and a great friend.”

The triumph has given Djokovic his 18th Grand Slam title which is just two away from the all-time record currently held by both Nadal and Roger Federer. He has now won a record nine titles in Melbourne Park which makes him only the second male player in history to have won the same major title that amount of times. Nadal has 13 French Open titles to his name. It is also the fifth time in his career Djokovic has successfully defended his title at the Australian Open.

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