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?
‘He Needs To Bulk Up’ – Tennis Great Cast Doubt On Alex De Minaur’s French Open Chances
John Newcombe believes it will be a few more years before the world No.27 reaches his peak.
One of Australia’s most decorated Grand Slam champions of all time believes compatriot Alex de Minaur still has a way to go before he poses a threat at the French Open.
Former world No.1 John Newcombe believes the 21-year-old needs to improve on his physicality before reaching his peak on the surface. De Minaur comes into the Grand Slam high in confidence after reaching the quarter-finals of the US Open in what was his best performance at a major so far in his career. He was knocked out of the tournament by eventual winner Dominic Thiem.
Although De Minaur’s preparations for the clay took a blow last week after he lost the first round of the Italian Open to German qualifier Dominik Koepfer. The world No.27 had a set and 3-0 lead over Koepfer before losing. He is not playing in any tournament this week leading up to Roland Garros.
“I’d have to see the draw, how it comes out, but it will be hard work for him,” Newcombe told the Australian Associated Press about de Minaur’s chances in Paris.
“He’s going to have to do a hell of a lot of work. If he got to the quarters, it would be a terrific effort.
“He’s not going to be physically where he needs to be, just bulking up a bit, until he’s 25, 26.
“But he’s got a good all-court game and he understands the game well, so there’s no reason he can’t be a pretty good late maturer (on clay).”
This year’s clay-court major will be the fourth time the Australian has played in the main draw. In his three previous appearances, de Minaur has only won one match which was against Bradley Klahn last year.
During a recent interview with atptour.com, the Next Gen star gave little away about his expectations for the clay this year given the revised schedule. The French Open is taking place just two weeks after New York due to the COVID-19 pandemic which brought the sport to a five-month standstill earlier this year.
“Realistically, you never know until you step out and play matches. It’s a very quick turnaround, something that has never happened to play such an important event after a slam. I’m taking it all in, doing as best as I can and we will have to see,” he said.
De Minaur has won three ATP titles and has scored four wins over top 10 players so far in his career. He is currently the only player from his country ranked in the world’s top 40 on the ATP Tour.
Novak Djokovic claims his 36th Masters 1000 title in Rome
Novak Djokovic came back from 0-3 down in the first set to beat Diego Schwartzman 7-5 6-3 after 1 hour and 53 minutes in the final of the Internazionali BNL d’Italia at the Foro Italico in Rome. Djokovic claimed his fifth title in the Eternal City and his 36th Masters 1000 trophy and his 81st career title. Djokovic has become the oldest Rome champion.
The World number 1 player extended his record in 2020 to an impressive record of 31 wins in 32 matches, including four titles at the Australian Open, Dubai, the Western and Southern Open in New York and Rome.
Djokovic dropped his serve three times and earned five breaks of serve.
Djokovic wasted a game point and dropped his serve, when he netted his backhand. Schwartzman hit four service winners in the second game to consolidate the break for 2-0.
Djokovic made a backhand error to face a break point in the third game. Schwartzman earned his second break to open up a 3-0 after 18 minutes, as Djokovic netted another backhand. Djokovic earned a break point chance and conveted it after a double fault from Schwartzman.
Djokovic held serve at 15 with an ace in the fifth game to claw his way back to 2-3. The Serbian star forced an error from Schwarzman to earn a breka point in the sixth game and got the break, when the Argentine netted a forehand. Djokovic held serve at 15 to take a 4-3 in the seventh game. Schwartzman hit a forehand down the line winner at 30-15 in the eighth game and held serve with a service winner to draw level to 4-4.
Djokovic saved a break point in the ninth game with a volley winner and held serve to take a 5-4 lead. Schwartzman saved a set point with a forehand winner and drew level to 5-5 after two deuces with a backhand the line winner.
Djokovic held serve after a deuce to take a 6-5 lead forcing Schwartzman to serve to stay in the set for the second time. Djokovic converted his third set point to win the opening set 7-5 after 70 minutes.
Schwartzman earned an early break at the start of the second set. Djokovic got the break back to draw level to 1-1 when Schwartzman sent a forehand wide.
Djokovic hit a winner at the net to hold serve in the third game. Schwartzman hit four winners in the fourth game to draw level to 2-2.
Djokovic saved two break points in the fifth game and held serve with a service winner to take a 3-2 lead. Schwartman held serve with a drop shot. Djokovic won his service game at love to take a 4-3 lead and broke serve at love in the eighth game with a backhand down the line winner. Djokovic held serve at love to close out the final.
“”It was a great week. A very challenging week. I don’t think I played my best tennis throughout the entire week, but I think I found my best tennis when I needed it the most in the decisive moments today, yesterday and in every match. That definitely makes me very satisfied and proud that I managed to find that fifth gear when it was most needed. Turning to Paris, I could not ask for a better tournament here in Rome. Another big title and i super pleased with it”, said Djokovic.
Stan Wawrinka Parts Way With Long-Time Coach Norman
Stan the man is on the look out for a new coach for the first time in almost a decade.
It is the end of an era for three-time Grand Slam champion Stan Wawrinka after he announced his split from coach Magnus Norman.
The former world No.3 confirmed on Monday that the two have decided to end their collaboration with ‘mutual consent’ following eight years working together on the Tour. Norman was last with Wawrinka at the Italian Open last week where the Swiss player lost his opening match to rising star Lorenzo Musetti. It is unclear as to exactly when the decision was made.
“After 8 great years together Magnus Norman and I have decided to part ways by mutual consent. We have had an amazingly strong, enjoyable and hugely successful partnership. We reached the height of this sport together and I want to thank him for helping me win everything that I could ever dream of winning,” Wawrinka said in a statement posted on Instagram.
44-year-old Norman is a former world No.2 player himself who reached the final of the French Open back in 2000. During his coaching career, he guided Wawrinka to various milestones in his career that includes 13 ATP titles with three of those being at Grand Slam level. The Swede has also been recognized by the ATP for his work with Wawrinka after winning the inaugural Coach of the Year award back in 2016.
“He’s been a great coach, friend and mentor and will always be a dear friend,” Wawrinka said in a tribute.
“I want to publicly thank him for all his hard work, dedication and commitment in making me a better player over the years. Winning three grand slams have been a life changing experience for me and I could not have done that without him. I wish him all the best in his next chapter in his life.”
The announcement from the world No.17 comes a week before the French Open starts. Wawrinka has been training on the clay for the past few weeks after deciding against travelling to North America to play in the US Open. Instead, he played in a couple Challenger events and won a trophy in Prague last month. Overall, he has achieved a win-loss record of 15-3 so far in 2020.
It is unclear as to who will be replacing Norman in Wawrinka’s team.
Roberto Bautista Agut overcomes Dominik Koepfer in three sets in Hamburg
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Elina Svitolina secures her spot in the quarter finals in Strasbourg
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