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?
Andy Murray Surging In Confidence After Reaching First ATP Quarter-Final Since 2019
The 34-year-old believes he is getting better with every match played on the Tour as he eyes a spot in the final later this week.
Former world No.1 Andy Murray says he is starting to gain more belief in his game after reaching the quarter-finals of the Moselle Open on Wednesday.
The three-time Grand Slam champion rallied to a 6-3, 6-3, win over Canada’s Vasek Pospisil in the French city. Murray dropped serve only once at the start of the second set but broke his opponent four times en route to the victory. It is the first time he has registered back-to-back wins on the ATP Tour since Wimbledon and it is the first time he has reached a quarter-final since winning the 2019 Antwerp Open.
Murray showed glimmers of his best tennis recently at the US Open where he took Stefanos Tsitsipas to five sets in the first round before losing. However, in his following tournament on the Challenger circuit he lost in the second round to world No.154 Roman Safiullin. Despite the mixed performances, the Brit says his fitness continues to improve and he believes he is heading in the right direction.
“For me, this period of the last few years has been the most I have played really,” Murray said following his win over Pospisil.
“My body feels good and I am starting to gain just a little bit of confidence with each match, starting to see the points and how I want to play them, which is great.
“There have been times in the past year where I have been a little bit confused and not seeing how the points are developing which was always a strong part of my game.
“It made me feel quite uncomfortable on court when I was feeling that way, so I am starting to get that back and the results are coming, my tennis is getting better.”
The 34-year-old, who now plays on the Tour with a metal hip after undergoing two operations, is targeting a return back into the world’s top 100 for the first time since 2018. He came agonisingly close in July when he reached 102. At present, he is currently ranked 113 but will climb at least four places following his run in Metz this week.
In the next round Murray will play either top seed Hubert Hurkacz or former top 10 player Lucas Pouille. Both players are likely to be a stern challenge for the three-time Grand Slam champion who is hoping to reach the final for the first time since 2007.
“I would love to get another opportunity to play here in the final, but there is a lot of tennis to be played before then potentially against the number one seed in the next round,” he reflected.
“It is not going to be easy if I want to reach the final, but I am playing well and have an opportunity.”
Murray has won 42 ATP titles and has earned more than $62M in prize money so far in his career.
Diego Schwartzman Receives Threats On Social Media Following Shock Davis Cup Defeat
The world No.15 is the latest player to speak out about recieving abusive messages on social media.
The weekend has been an emotional rollercoaster for Diego Schwartzman, who suffered ‘one of the worst’ losses of his career before helping secure victory for his country in their Davis Cup tie against Belarus.
On Saturday the world No.15 was stunned by unranked 18-year-old Daniil Ostapenkov who is yet to play a professional match on the pro Tour. Ostapenkov is currently ranked 63 in the world on the junior circuit. The comprehensive victory shocked the Argentinian team who was hosting the tie at the Buenos Aires Lawn Tennis Club.
Despite the shock upset, Schwartman managed to redeem himself the following day when he defeated Alexander Zgirovsky 6-1, 6-2. That victory handed his country an unassailable 3-1 lead in their tie and secured their place in the 2022 Davis Cup qualifiers which will take place next March.
“Not only playing Davis, but in Buenos Aires, with a lot of people you don’t see, it’s not easy. My level can be and has to be much better. After the game on Saturday I had a difficult day in the spirit of being able to get up and enjoy with the group,” La Nacion quoted Schwartzman as saying.
“The most normal thing was that we won the series. It’s what everyone expected. But when you have a very difficult day at work like it was on Saturday and then you win, it excites you because you have some internal things withheld.”
Between those two matches, Schwartzman revealed that he was trolled on social media by some people unhappy about his loss in the tie. The 2020 French Open semi-finalist said he received criticism and even threats from some asking him to leave his home country. Something he admits affected him at times.
“It was one of the worst days of my career,” Schwartzman commented on his loss to Zgirovsky. “I lost to an unranked, inexperienced player. All that already affects (me) a lot. Although 80 or 90 percent of the people are always encouraging (me), there was a minority who criticized me with bad intentions.’
“I received threats, insults and requests not to return to Argentina. More or less, it affects (me)”.
Schwartzman is not the first player to speak out about online abuse. During the US Open Shelby Rogers said she was expecting to receive ‘death threats’ following her loss to Emma Raducanu who went on to win the title. Sloane Stephens has also previously spoken out about being the victim of racism online.
The 29-year-old says he has previously tried to interact with those who have trolled him on social media to find out why they are doing so.
“Sometimes I start to answer some messages and I ask those people if they realize what they are sending,” Schwartzman said during his press conference. “The vast majority apologize and say they had not realized it. But at the moment it hurts. That very ill-intentioned criticism is the only bad thing about social networks.”
Schwartzman has won four ATP titles and earned more than $10M in prize money so far in his career.
Spanish Veteran Feliciano Lopez Addresses Future On The Tour
23 years after he played his first main draw match on the ATP Tour, Lopez says his longevity in the sport has been achieved with the help of of some luck.
Feliciano Lopez has dismissed any speculation that he could retire in the coming weeks after saying he is taking life on the Tour in his stride.
The 39-year-old Spaniard is currently the second oldest player in the world’s top 200 after Roger Federer, who is a year older than him. Lopez made his ATP Tour debut at the 1998 Barcelona Open which was before the birth of Jannik Sinner and Carlos Alcaraz. In June he became the 10th active player to record his 500th win on the Tour.
Currently ranked 111th in the world, some are starting to wonder how much longer Lopez will continue playing. So far this season he has achieved a win-loss record of 9-19 with his best performance being a run to the quarter-finals of the Mallorca Open which was held on the grass. It was in Mallorca where he defeated Karen Khachanov who is the only top 30 player he has beaten so far in 2021.
“I play year-by-year, the last 6-7 years have been like this, a tennis player at that age cannot think about extending his career. After turning 30 I have been lucky, I have obtained the best results of my career,” Lopez told reporters on Friday.
“It is not very common for players my age, at (almost) 40 years to continue playing in the best tournaments.” He added.
Throughout his career, Lopez has impressively played in a record 78 consecutive Grand Slam tournaments dating back to the 2002 French Open. During that period he has reached the quarter-finals of a major tournament on four occasions.
“I don’t play to break records, what makes me most excited is to continue playing Grand Slams. For me, maintaining that record (78 consecutive Grand Slams played) is very nice, but more to follow. Being competitive,” he commented on the milestone.
“It is difficult for someone to overcome it because it is 20 years in a row without missing a great one. I have had continuity and enormous luck. Those of my generation are practically all retired.”
Away from the court, the former world No.12 is the current tournament director of the Madrid Open. Making him one of a few players historically to both be playing on the Tour and managing a tournament at the same time. Recently it was confirmed that Madrid will continue hosting it’s combined event until at least 2030 following a renewed agreement between the city council and the Madrid trophy promotion.
Lopez has won a total of seven ATP titles so far in his career and has earned more than $18M in prize money.
Hubert Hurkacz and Pablo Carreno Busta reach the final at the Moselle Open in Metz
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Novak Djokovic ‘All In’ For History After Outlasting Zverev In US Open Semis
ATP Moves Closer To Staging Five More 12-Day Masters 1000 Events After Board Approval
Boris Becker Hits Out At ‘Unacceptable’ Treatment Of Novak Djokovic
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US Open, Steve Flink: “Djokovic’s loss had more to do with fatigue than pressure”
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(VIDEO) Dominic Thiem, Juan Martin Del Potro Gathering Momentum In Comeback Bids
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