Novak Djokovic Is Out, And The Field At The US Open Has Never Been More… Open - UBITENNIS
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Novak Djokovic Is Out, And The Field At The US Open Has Never Been More… Open

Medvedev is my pick. Berrettini might be the toughest opponent for the Russian, but only if he squeezes past Rublev first. What needs to happen so that history doesn’t put an asterisk next to the winner’s name?

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There was really just one man who could legitimately be called the favourite to win the 2020 US Open’s title, at least until last night, when Novak Djokovic was ousted by none other than himself, after hitting a pinpoint forehand that will be remembered as the unluckiest of his career. The default was inevitable – any other decision would have frankly been unacceptable. Novak tried to talk himself out of it, as humanly understandable, but finally accepted the ruling. 

 

There might be some debate over the adequacy of the rule in all situations, as some instances of reckless behaviour are not as deserving of a punishment as hard as an immediate ban – the Italian Maria Vittoria Viviani, for example, was ridiculously banned at the 2017 Australian Open for hitting a harmless ball in the ground that ended up lightly striking a ballboy. However, it would have been just plain wrong not to apply the rule in this context, as the lineswoman was hit in the throat and fell to the ground in shock, while also struggling to breathe. An awful precedent would have been set, proving that some players are above the law.  

It must be said, additionally, that Djokovic is something of a repeat offender. It can happen, over 1,107 matches as a professional player, to lose one’s temper by smashing a racquet or by hitting a ball a little too aggressively, but this isn’t the first time that Nole crosses the line. He almost got disqualified at the 2016 French Open, when he threw his racquet on the ground and would have hit a linesman if the guy hadn’t shown Jedi-like reactions by ducking in time:

Furthermore, at the 2016 ATP Finals at the O2 Arena, a similar outburst had provoked a question from a pretty in-your-face colleague, and the Serbian had almost lost control:

Sure, it would have been just fine if last night’s trajectory had been even slightly more to the right or the left, or even if the lineswoman had seen it coming and managed to dodge it. He would have gotten a warning for ball abuse (a punishment he could have received a few minutes earlier for a similar gesture, arguably even angrier), maybe a post-match fine, but he could have kept on playing that set in which he had squandered three consecutive set points at 5-4. He was very unlucky, even though Federer and Nadal fans will say that he deserved it. But history isn’t made of what ifs.

I wasn’t surprised when Novak didn’t show up for his press conference. What was he supposed to say just a few minutes after what happened? It might have been the 2016 Finals all over again, although I have to say that, so far, my British colleagues from the tabloidS haven’t been particularly venomous during our Zoom Q&A’s. 

However, Nole apologized on Instagram as soon as he got back to the pricey house he had rented in Long Island, as he should have. During a regular press conference, he would have been bombarded with too many questions he wouldn’t have had much of an answer to. 

Our readers reacted in many ways, often ironically, quoting Nick Kyrgios’s inevitable tweet in response to the fiasco and digging for precedents, almost always resulting in the player getting disqualified, except for last week’s episode involving once-Brit Aljaz Bedene during the Western & Southern Open. The Slovenian hit a cameraman, one of the few people in the house, with a ball that had lost power after hitting the backwall first, but hadn’t been defaulted, given the aforementioned mitigating circumstances. Perhaps someone might argue that he should have been disqualified as well. 

But enough with Djokovic, although it must be highlighted that he also fell quite badly on his shoulder last night, something that might jeopardise his presence in Rome even more than in Paris. What we have now is a US Open whose field is a lot more open now. 

For starters, at the end of the 470th Major (starting with the 1877 Championships) we will finally get a new winner, the 150th in history. In addition, it will also be the first Slam title going to a player born in the 1990s, unless Auger-Aliassime wins it, and in that case we would step even further into a new era, since the Canadian was born on August 8, 2000. 

Djokovic, 33, was the oldest player still in the tournament, followed by the co-president of his new players’ union, the PTPA, i.e. Vasek Pospisil, who turned 30 in June, and by his vanquisher, Pablo Carreno Busta, born in 1991. Everybody else is much younger, with even a pair of Next Gen studs. 

Now that the world N.1 is out, many will be gunning for the trophy. Those who have preeminence rights are the ones right behind him – 2nd seed Dominic Thiem, 3rd seed Daniil Medvedev, 5th seed Sascha Zverev, and 6th seed Matteo Berrettini. The top half of the draw is wide open, since the spot that would have belonged to Djokovic is now Carreno’s, someone who would hardly be considered a potential winner of the event, even though he was playing a solid match last night, being on the verge of winning the opening set.  

Resumé-wise, the obvious contender for a spot in Sunday’s final is Alexander Zverev. After a few years of wayward (and underwhelming) performances in the Slams, the German is the only player in the top half who has proven able to win big, banking three Masters 1000 titles and the 2018 ATP Finals. 

The fourth round of the bottom half of the draw still needs to be played, and is scheduled for today, featuring serious contenders such as Medvedev and Thiem plus an anticipated showdown between Berrettini and Rublev. In an upcoming video preview with friend and colleague Steve Flink, we convened that last year’s finalist, Daniil Medvedev, is the leading candidate to claim that title he lost in 2019, just barely, to Rafa Nadal.

The Russian is in front of Thiem in the pecking order. The Dominator will probably have his hands full with Auger-Aliassime, while I believe that Medvedev will dismiss Tiafoe pretty easily. After the match-up with the American, he would probably risk losing a little more against a great serving performance by Berrettini than against his fellow countryman Rublev, whom he has known since the age of 11 and whom he’s beaten twice as a pro without dropping a set nor relinquishing control of the match, although duels between friends can be tricky. 

Berrettini, as mentioned, can be more dangerous for him, but the Italian needs to beat Rublev first, and that’s easier said than done. The younger Russian poses a much greater threat to him than any of the opponents he’s faced so far, as someone who returns better and who can dictate with both groundstrokes. Rublev is stronger on the forehand side, but it’s on the other diagonal trajectory that he will try to suffocate the Roman, whose inside-out TNT-fueled forehand will need to be particularly on form to fetch him the same plethora of quick points it did against inferior opponents like Soeda, Humbert, and Ruud.

Leaning into my nationalist bias, I have reason to believe that Rublev will give Berrettini a run for his money, even though the Italian has beaten him three out of five times (three out of four as professionals, since the first win of the Russian happened at Boys’ Wimbledon), in Gstaad, in Vienna, and here at Flushing Meadows a year ago. Berrettini has grown a lot as a player, but the same can be said about his ginger foe. 

If Medvedev beats the winner of the Berrettini-Rublev match, I believe he is a surefire finalist, because I don’t see anybody capable of beating him in the semis out of the Labor Day quartet of Pospisil, De Minaur, Auger-Aliassime, and Thiem. 

One final question, and an important one: given the nature of Nole’s elimination (and the concomitant absence, the first of the century, of Federer and Nadal), will the winner of the 2020 US Open get an asterisk next to his title? This theory had only been ventilated for the women’s tournament up until now, since six Top Tenners were missing and Serena Williams didn’t look at her best, and perhaps still doesn’t. 

I’ve said this to Steve Flink as well, but my thought on the matter is: the asterisk will be permanent if and only if the winner should remain a one-Slam wonder, i.e. if he won’t be able to rack up a few more titles in the next few years. If he will win some, then there won’t be any historical justification for keeping the asterisk in place. In the end, how many people do still remember the year when John McEnroe got disqualified, and not just where it happened?  

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Curtain Comes Down On Nitto ATP Finals In London

The Nitto ATP Finals brought an unusual year to a conclusion at the O2 Arena in London. In his story, Mark Winters looks at the uniqueness of the fifty-year old competition.

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The O2 Arena, venue of the ATP World Tour Finals (photo by Alberto Pezzali)

In a year of Covid-19 turbulence, the men’s tennis season has come to an end. The Nitto ATP Finals at the O2 Arena in London closed out 2020. Daniil Medvedev edged Dominic Thiem 4-6, 7-6, 6-4. With the title, he gave Russia its second tournament championship. Nikolay Davydenko won the first in 2009 defeating Juan Martin del Potro of Argentina, 6-3, 6-4. US Open titlist Thiem is now “0” for “2” in London having come up 6-7, 6-2, 7-6 short last year against Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece.

 

In a feel good conclusion, Wesley Koolhof of the Netherlands and Nikola Mektić of Croatia defeated Jürgen Melzer of Austria and Édouard Roger-Vasselin of France, 6-2, 3-6, 10-5 for their first win as a doubles team.

The first ATP final was called the Grand Prix Masters Cup and it took place fifty years ago in Tokyo. In 1970, both the singles and doubles were round-robin competitions (and the same format was used the next year). Giving due credit, the initial event should have been called the Smith Cup, since Stan Smith was the singles winner and shared the doubles title with US compatriot Arthur Ashe.   

Smith then returned to lose back-to-back finals in 1971 and ’72. Ivan Lendl of Czechoslovakia became a back-to-backer in 1983 and ’84. Boris Becker of Germany joined the all-star group in 1985 and ’86. Jim Courier of the US followed in 1991 and ’92. Roger Federer of Switzerland was the last to earn the back-to-back distinction in 2014 and ’15. Relative newcomer, Thiem has now become a member of an exclusive club.

(As it turns out, Austria is still waiting for a win in year-end title rounds. Thiem has two losses in the singles’ finals. Melzer added to his country’s losses with his doubles’ defeat.  Actually in 2007, Julian Knowle became the first Austrian to be on the losing end of a trophy battle when he was a finalist with Simon Aspelin of Sweden.)

Smith remained the only double title winner until 1978 when John McEnroe claimed the singles and the doubles with US countryman Peter Fleming. The duo did it again in 1983 and ’84. Even more extraordinary, Fleming and McEnroe owned the doubles trophy from 1978 until 1984, winning seven straight titles.

Last year, Medvedev, who now has nine career titles including three Masters 1000s,  didn’t win a match in group play. This time, he was magic, claiming his most significant trophy. Looking back, and this is completely subjective, others have had “Magic Moments” at the year-ender. Alex Corretja outlasted fellow-Spaniard Carlos Moya 3–6, 3–6, 7–5, 6–3, 7–5 in 1998. I vividly remember the championship. Nightly, after the matches finished, journalists waited outside the arena in Hanover for tournament transportation to return us to our hotel. Often snow was falling and it was so cold that walking back and forth did nothing to create warmth. During these frigid times Gianni Clerici and Rino Tommasi, the two legendary Italian journalists, regularly entertained us by singing Italian arias. Their voices matched their award winning writing skills as they entertained a collection of individuals who were about to become “snowmen”.

As unlikely as the Hanover trophy clash between two clay courters was, nothing could match the 1974 title round in Melbourne. In the meeting, Guillermo Vilas of Argentina escaped with a 7-6, 6-2, 3-6, 3-6,6-4 decision over Ilie Năstase of Romania. It was Vilas’ eleventh title of the year, but what was more astounding was that the tournament was contested on grass, (and Vilas was the first “Nadal” on Terre Battue before the present day Spaniard dominated on the surface). 

One of the most fitting results took place in Lisbon. In 2000, the Tennis Masters Cup was held in an arena near the “old city” famous for its pastel colored buildings. There was nothing pastel about Gustavo Kuerten performance. The dynamic Brazilian, spurred on by the cheers of fellow Portuguese speakers, defeated Andre Agassi of the US, in a best of five straight sets, 6-4, 6-4, 6-4 for the title. But there was much more to the story. The victory was truly momentous because Kuerten finished the year No. 1 in the rankings, becoming the first South American to do so.

More often than not, the expected happens at the year-end championships. Still, there have been surprises. In 1976, Manuel Orantes of Spain outlasted Wojtek Fibak of Poland in a bizarre 5-7, 6-2, 0-6, 7-6, 6-1 score final in Houston. Five set survival told the tale of David Nalbandian’s 2005 triumph. The Argentine overcame Roger Federer of Switzerland, 6-7, 6-7, 6-2, 6-1, 7-6 to win the first year-end final held in  Shanghai.

Many hoped the last stand in London would be a No.1 Novak Djokovic of Serbia against No. 2 Rafael Nadal of Spain feature. But the semifinals resulted in the future actually being “now”. Medvedev downed Nadal 3-6, 7-6, 6-3 and Thiem sideswiped Djokovic 7-5, 6-7, 7-6. 

After eleven years, the O2 Arena is passing the year-end baton to Turin, Italy.  Pala Alpitour, the largest indoor sports arena in the country, will be the site for the 2021 ATP Finals and after the 2020 championships, the “la promessa per il futuro è brillante…” (The promise for the future is brilliant.)

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‘Tell Them Your Considering Working With A Dog’ – Andy Murray Says He Was Mocked For Hiring Female Coach

The former world No.1 believes former mentor Amelie Mauresmo was treated differently because of her gender.

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Andy Murray says he was ridiculed by some when rumours started to emerge that he was going to appoint a woman as his head coach.

 

The three-time Grand Slam champion was mentored by Amelie Mauresmo between 2014-2016 who herself is a former world No.1 on the women’s tour. Although Murray admits that his decision was one that was treated somewhat differently by both the media and those on the Tour. It still remains rare that a top player on the ATP Tour is coached by a female.

Speaking on Sky Sports’ Driving Force programme, Murray recounted the reception he received when news started to emerge that he was thinking about appointing a female member to his team. At the time he had just parted ways with Ivan Lendl, who guided him to two Grand Slam titles as well as a gold medal at the 2012 Olympic Games.

‘It was in the press that I was considering working with a female coach,’ Murray said.
‘I started getting messages from other players, from their coaches, saying “I can’t believe you’re playing this game with the media. You should tell them tomorrow you’re considering working with a dog.”

The 33-year-old believes Mauresmo was scrutinized more than any of his other coaches by the media. During their time together he won seven titles, including his first two on the clay. However, he failed to win Grand Slam trophies. The two ended their partnership with a ‘mutual agreement.’

“I never had experienced that before because I’d never worked with a female coach on the tour. And then it’s kind of spiralled from there that when I started working with her, yeah, there was negative press towards her,” he explains.
‘Every time I lost the match, which was never the case kind of, when I lost matches previously in my career, nobody questioned my coach. In tennis generally, it’s the individual that gets questioned. And that wasn’t the case when I was working with Amelie.
‘It’s one of my regrets that I didn’t win a Grand Slam when I was working with her. And for people, a lot of people, that was considered a failure because I didn’t do that.”

The experience failed to deter Mauresmo from continuing her work in men’s tennis. After Murray she coached fellow Frenchman Lucas Pouille until October this year when she stepped down from the role due to family-related issues. Mauresmo has also previously been selected to captain the French Davis Cup team but didn’t take the role because she wanted to work with Pouille instead.

“I feel like she was harshly judged by a lot of people just purely because she was a woman,” Murray concluded.

According to the ATP, only one member of the year-end top 20 have listed a female as part of their primary coaching team. Denis Shapovalov is coached by his mother Tessa, as well as Mikhail Youzhny.

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Daniil Medvedev’s ATP Finals Breakthrough Praised By Idol Davydenko

The former world No.3 speaks out about Medvedev’s Grand Slam title chances.

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One of Daniil Medvedev’s childhood idols believes the world No.4 is physically ready to contest for a Grand Slam title in the future.

 

Nikolay Davydenko has praised Medvedev’s tactical approach to the Nitto ATP Finals which saw him become the first Russian player to win the title since 2009. The year when Davydenko won it himself. In Sunday’s final, the 24-year-old battled back from a set down to edge out Dominic Thiem. He is the first player in the history of the year-end event to have defeated the top three players in the world en route to the title.

“Medvedev was tactically flexible. With his coaches, they used different Medvedev was tactically flexible. He and his coaches used different tactical approaches in different matches. The semifinal against Nadal had one tactic decision. The other things worked in the final against Thiem, Davydenko told news agency TASS.
Medvedev was in the optimal condition and did everything right, he added.

During the trophy ceremony, the world No.4 paid tribute to his compatriot by describing him as one of his ‘idols.’ The two men are the first and last players to have won the ATP Finals during the time it was staged in London. Next year the event will be moved to Italy. To Medvedev’s surprise, he got the chance to speak with Davydenko shortly after his win.

“I didn’t know but Nikolay Davydenko commented on my match on Russian TV and I managed to talk to him just after,” he said.
“I was so surprised and so happy because he was one of my idols when I was growing up when I was actually already starting to play tennis not so bad, he was there and he was playing unbelievable.’

The victory caps off what has been a remarkable month for Medvedev. Between November 2019 and October 2020 he didn’t claim a single win over a top 10 player. However, this month he has managed to record a total of seven victories and also won his second Masters 1000 title in Paris. Overall, he has defeated 16 top 10 players on the ATP Tour in his entire career.

After winning his biggest title yet, some are starting to wonder if Medvedev has what it takes to claim a Grand Slam trophy in 2021. In recent years the majors have mostly been dominated by the Big Three contingent but Davydenko believes the 2019 US Open finalist is physically ready to challenge for the biggest titles in the sport.

“In five-set matches, it’s harder to keep your concentration. Both psychologically and physically it is more difficult to hold oneself for a longer time. But it seems to me that Medvedev is now ready for this. Physically he is ready, but I don’t know if he has enough mental strength to withstand such concentration,” he said.

Medvedev ends his year with a win-loss record of 28-10 and is one of two Russian men to end the season in the world’s top 10. The other is Andrey Rublev, who won a record five singles title on the Tour this year.

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