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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Nadal survives three-set marathon with Shapovalov in Rome

Rafael Nadal saved match points to edge out Denis Shapovalov in Rome.

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Rafael Nadal (@atptour - Twitter)

The King of Clay needed three sets and over three hours to claim the win and avoid an upset.

 

Rafael Nadal needed three hours and 27 minutes to beat the Canadian Denis Shapovalov 3-6, 6-4, 7-6 at the Italian Open in Rome hitting 29 winners while his counterpart hit 46 unforced errors in the loss.

To everyone’s surprise it was the world number 14 who came out with the faster start earning two breakpoints in the first service game of the match with a stunning forehand winner.

He would break to take an early 1-0 lead and continued to have momentum earning another break and the Spaniard found himself staring at 3-0 defecit.

At 4-1 the world number three would get one of the breaks back but it wasn’t enough as the Toronto native would break one more time at 5-3 on his fourth breakpoint of the game to take the first set.

Once again we saw some really strong play from the Canadian in the beginning of the second set we saw history repeat itself when the world number 14 held serve and get the early break this time with his powerful forehand.

Nadal was fighting to stay in the set and the match and managed to earn a breakpoint but it was quickly saved with a big ace from Shapovalov. The very next game the Canadian had a chance to get another break but this time the Spaniard would deny him the opportunity.

After the world number three held serve he went on the attack looking to go back on serve and after three chances would get the break back. He would end up winning five games in a row and would take the second set to send it to a decider.

The third set remained on serve until 2-1 when the Canadian had a chance to break and he would take to jump out to a 3-1 lead. The break didn’t hold as Nadal came storming back the very next game breaking the world number 14 to love and equaling the set at 3-3.

The set and the match would ultimately be decided by a tiebreaker and in that breaker is when the Spaniard would take over winning it 7-3 to book his spot in the quarterfinals.

He will next face either Alexander Zverev or Kei Nishikori on Friday for a spot in the semifinals.

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Novak Djokovic Moving Into A ‘Good Trajectory’ After Reaching Rome Quarter-Finals

Novak Djokovic admitted that he is on a good trajectory after reaching the last eight in Rome.

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Novak Djokovic (@atptour - Twitter)

Novak Djokovic has said that he is on a ‘good trajectory’ after moving into the Rome Quarter-Finals.

 

The world number one moved into the last eight in the Italian capital with a comfortable 6-2 6-1 victory over Alejandro Davidovich Fokina.

Despite being broken in the first game, Djokovic rallied back to break on five occasions as he cruised past the Erratic Spaniard.

After 1 hour and 11 minutes, Djokovic’s overall game was too much for Davidovich Fokina as the Serb progressed to his 15th quarter-final in Rome.

After the match in his on-court interview the top seed admitted he is on a good trajectory as he builds momentum towards Roland Garros, “I thought I played well,” Djokovic told the ATP website.

“He started well and broke my serve in the first game. I made some errors, but I managed to break back right away and establish the control and consistency on the court. I think from the back of the court I was just a bit more solid than him.

“He made some unforced errors and double faults in key moments, which obviously helped me get that necessary break forward. I thought I played better, at least 20 or 30 per cent better, than I did against Fritz a few days ago. I am on a good trajectory and hopefully tomorrow will be even better.”

The real test for Djokovic will come tomorrow when he faces top 10 opposition in the last eight.

It will either be Monte-Carlo champion Stefanos Tsitsipas or Madrid finalist and home favourite Matteo Berrettini next up for the world number one.

Djokovic was well aware of the form either of his possible opponents are in heading into tomorrow’s showdown, “My next match will be against a Top 10 player, so it is going to be a battle,” Djokovic explained.

“Both of these guys are in great form. Tsitsipas won Monte-Carlo and Berrettini is just coming off the final in Madrid. I am obviously going to do my best to win that match, whoever I play against.”

In the other result in Rome today, Reilly Opelka reached the quarter-finals with a 7-6(6) 6-4 win over Aslan Karatsev.

The American hit 18 aces as he will now face Felix Auger-Aliassime or Federico Delbonis on Friday.

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Stefanos Tsitsipas sets up blockbuster third round match against Matteo Berrettini in Rome

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Stefanos Tsitsipas edged past Marin Cilic 7-5 6-2 to advance to third round at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia in Rome. 

 

Tsitsipas has improved his win-loss record to 28-7 this season, equalling Andrey Rublev for most match wins after Rublev beat Jan-Lennard Struff 6-7 (7-9) 6-1 6-4 earlier today. 

Tsitsipas had to save two break points in the ninth game to hold serve after four deuces. The 2021 Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters winner earned his crucial break in the 12th game to win a hard-fought first set 7-5. 

Tsitsipas was in control of the match and cruised to a 6-2 win in the second set with two breaks in the second and eighth games. 

“Sometimes I need to adjust my game and Marin is someone I respect a lot. I knew he was going to come out here and play his best tennis. He made move a lot. It was quite tricky to adjust to that at the beginning, but towards the very end of the first set I stayed calm and stayed calm and resilient. I had to play deep on the returns and find solutions from the baseline rallies. That worked well for me from 6-5”, said Tsitsipas. 

Tsitsipas set up a blockbuster third round match against last week’s Madrid Mutua Open finalist Matteo Berrettini, who beat John Millman 6-4 6-2 in front of fans, who will return on Thursday. Tsitsipas enjoyed the atmosphere on the Pietrangeli Stadium. 

“The Pietrangeli Stadium is very beautiful. It’s one of the best courts on tour. I feel like the Pietrangeli here is great. We are surrounded by trees in the city and it’s very quiet which is very important for tennis. Honestly, I can’t wait for the fans to come and fill in the stadium”, said Tsitsipas. 

Berrettini missed three consecutive break points in the third game of the opening set and earned his first break in the ninth game to take a 5-4 lead. The Rome-native star served out the first set at 15. Berrettini earned two consecutive breaks to race out to 4-0 lead. Millman saved a break point to hold serve in the fifth game, but Berrettini never looked back in his next two service games to claim the second set 6-2. 

Berrettini has improved with his each appearance in the Rome tournament, reaching the second round in 2018, the third round in 2019 and the quarter final in 2020. 

Tsitsipas beat Berrettini in their only head-to-head match at the 2019 Australian Open. 

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