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US Open: Odds & Ends

Instead of traveling through the entire alphabet from A-Z looking back at the US Open fortnight at the USTA National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadow, New York, here is an “Odds & Ends” collection that glances at just what happened.

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Dominic Thiem - US Open 2020 (via Twitter, @usopen)
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Dominic Thiem of Austria dramatically downed Alexander Zverev of Germany, in five sets to take away his first major championship trophy in the Men’s US Open final. The day before, Naomi Osaka’s impressive comeback earned her a third Slam title in a three set match in the Women’s title round against a resurrected Victoria Azarenka. Ordinarily, these victories would have been the perfect beginning to this Grand Slam tournament summary. But, in a championship featuring the inexplicable, this year’s US Open showcased a variety of differences. All of this and more is the reason  “Odds & Ends” takes a look back at an event that was out of the ordinary. It will provide insights defining the unique happenings during the fortnight that took place in what was called a bubble, but the bubble was bound to leak, and in some cases – actually burst with a bang and not a fizzle. 

 

Novak Emulates An Earl  

image via ubitennis.com

Story after story has been written about Novak Djokovic, the No. 1 seeded Serbian and rightfully the odds on favorite to claim his 18th Grand Slam singles title, losing his direction mentally. It all began with Djokovic having just lost his serve to trail 5-6 in the first set of a fourth round match with Pablo Carreno Busta of Spain. As he was unhappily changing sides, he retrieved a tennis ball from his pocket and petulantly and blindly whacked it behind him. He was frustrated. But, instead of hitting the back fence at Arthur Ashe Stadium, the ball slammed into Laura Clark, a lineswoman, hitting her in the throat. She fell to the court gasping for air. 

Actually, the rules are very clear as to what should have happened. Djokovic had crossed the bad behavior line and he should have been defaulted immediately. That didn’t happen until after a ten plus minute United Nations-like debate took place. Soeren Friemel, US Open Tournament Referee, Andreas Egli, Grand Slam Supervisor and Aurelie Tourte, Chair Umpire, gathered at the net while Djokovic pleaded his defenseless case. 

Admitting he had lost his temper, he stressed that he didn’t hit the linesperson on purpose. Summarizing his comments, “You can give me a point penalty…or a game penalty…You have many options. You say you have no choice but you do have choices…She didn’t have to go to the hospital or anything…You have options, you don’t have to default me. This is the first time this has happened to me in a Grand Slam…happened to me on the big stage. I know it’s tough for you whatever call you make, but I shouldn’t be defaulted…” In reality there was no need for a confab. By rule, a default was the correct response. 

Maybe it’s the New York eclectic vibe, but over the years, there have been some genuinely atomic reactions at the tournament. Who can forget 1979 when Ilie Nastase, the rambunctious Romanian, interrupted his 6-4, 4-6, 6-3, 6-2 second round loss to John McEnroe with an almost twenty minute long tirade-stall that could never have led to much of anything, except perhaps Nastase’s last gasp.

This was certainly on the list of the Top 10 Most Memorable Eruptions, but No. 1 on The Most Unforgettable list took place in 1951 when the tournament was known as the US National Championships and was played on grass at Forest Hills. Coincidentally, the match between Gardnar Mulloy and Earl Cochell, was like the Djokovic – Carreno Busta affair, a fourth round contest. Mulloy, the No. 11 seed, defeated Cochell, 4-6, 6-2, 6-1, 6-2. 

The score turned out to be incidental due to Cochell’s behavior. Ranked in the US Top 10 from 1947-1950, he had “game” attached to an “explosive temper”. Renowned New York Times sportswriter Allison Danzig pointed out in his column that Cochell temperament was on “full display”. The highlights included hitting a ball out of the stadium, making a feeble attempt to return a Mulloy serve with the racquet in his left hand. (He was righthanded.) He added to his performance by serving underhanded. The crowd reacted vociferously and Cochell, ever the showman, climbed the umpire’s chair, trying to grab the microphone so he could address the unhappy fans. 

He failed. But, of course he wasn’t finished. In the locker room following the match Tournament Referee, S. Ellsworth Davenport, confronted him. Rather than seeking to make amends, he unleashed an obscenity-laced tirade. Two days later on August 31, 1951, he earned the distinction of being banned for life by the United States Lawn Tennis Association — now the USTA. The ban was eventually rescinded in 1962, but by then he was well past his prime. (Since he turned 98 in May, perhaps he could reach out and compare notes with Djokovic.)

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Australian Open Daily Preview: Opportunities Abound in the Bottom Halves of the Draws

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Felix Auger-Alisassime earlier this week in Melbourne (twitter.com/AustralianOpen)

In the bottom half of the women’s singles draw, only nine of the 16 seeded players have survived the first two rounds.  And of the players remaining, only two have won a Major (Halep, Swiatek).  In the bottom half of the men’s draw, 10 seeds remain, and again only two Slam champs (Medvedev, Cilic).  There is plenty of room for new names to make extended runs into the second week of this Major.

 

Each day, this preview will highlight the most intriguing matchups, while outlining the other notable matches on the schedule.  Saturday’s play will begin at 11:00am local time.


Aryna Sabalenka (2) vs. Marketa Vondrousova (31) – Second on Margaret Court Arena

It would usually sound ridiculous to say it’s quite shocking to see the second seed reach the third round, but that’s the case with Sabalenka, who has persevered despite the embarrassing service issues she’s currently enduring.  However, Vondrousova will be a considerable step up in competition, as Aryna’s first two opponents were ranked 100th or lower.  And Marketa arrives with a lot of confidence.  The 2019 Roland Garros runner-up was the Olympic Silver Medalist six months ago in Tokyo, and followed that up by achieving three semifinals between September and October.  She’s yet to drop a set this week, which includes a victory over one of the WTA’ fastest rising players, Ludmilla Samsonova.  While Sabalenka leads their head-to-head 2-1, which includes a straightforward win last March in Miami, that was well before her serving woes.  Through four matches in 2022, Aryna has averaged nearly 18 double faults per match.  If that continues on Saturday, Vondrousova will surely take advantage and advance.


Felix Auger-Aliassime (9) vs. Dan Evans (24) – Not Before 5:00pm on John Cain Arena

This is a rematch of the championship match from a warm-up event on these same grounds a year ago.  On that day, both men were vying for their first ATP title.  Evans met the moment, comfortably winning 6-2, 6-3.  For Auger-Aliassime, that’s one of eight finals he’s reached in his career, and he’s yet to even win a set.  However, Felix is the much more accomplished player at Majors, having achieved his first quarterfinal in July at Wimbledon, and his first semifinal in September at the US Open.  Dan is yet to advance that far at a Slam.  The Canadian has complicated matters for himself this week, playing two grueling matches, averaging four hours on court each day.  By contrast, Evans received a walkover in the last round, and spent less than two hours winning his opening round in straights.  Despite all that, I expect Felix to recover fairly well, and be able to dictate play against the British No.2. 


Iga Swiatek (7) vs. Daria Kasatkina (25) – 7:00pm on Margaret Court Arena

This should be a compelling matchup between two aggressive players with plenty of variety and high tennis IQ’s.  And they are both in excellent form.  They have combined to allow their opponents only 16 games through eight sets thus far.  And both accumulated some solid wins heading into this event: Swiatek defeated Leylah Fernandez and Victoria Azarenka, while Kasatkina beat Sofia Kenin and Garbine Muguruza.  Their only previous meeting occurred last June on the grass of Eastbourne, with Kasatkina prevailing in three.  That was part of a resurgent season for the 24-year-old Russian, who started the year ranked 72nd, but ended it ranked 26th.  Yet Daria has not advanced beyond this round of a Major since Wimbledon 2018, while Iga was the only WTA player to reach the fourth round at every Slam last year.  And when Swiatek starts dominating as she has this week, it’s extremely challenging to deter her.


Andrey Rublev (5) vs. Marin Cilic (27) – Last on Margaret Court Arena

After competing in an exhibition event last month in Abu Dhabi, Rublev was one of many players to test positive for COVID-19.  After quarantining and recovering, he has described how physically spent he was after practicing in the days leading up to this fortnight.  But he has been dominant through two rounds, dropping only 13 games across six sets.  And the Russian has recently owned his rivalry with Cilic.  While Marin claimed their first meeting, which was seven years ago on clay while Andrey was ranked outside the top 200, Rublev has taken the last four.  All of them have been on hard courts, and three of them were decided in straight sets.  However, since last June, Cilic has been playing his best tennis in years.  He won Stuttgart, and reached back-to-back finals in Russia.  I expect the 2014 US Open champion to make this a highly competitive affair, yet Rublev’s fire power should enable him to prevail.  On what is forecast be another scorching day in Melbourne, his groundstrokes will be even more punishing.


Other Notable Matches on Saturday:

Stefanos Tsitsipas (4) vs. Benoit Paire – Tsitsipas overcame an impressive challenge from Sebastian Baez on Thursday night, while Paire upset Grigor Dimitrov earlier in the day.  The Greek is 3-1 against the Frenchman, and has only lost seven games in their last five sets.

Daniil Medvedev (2) vs. Botic van de Zandschulp – This is a rematch from the US Open quarterfinals, where Medvedev downed the Dutch qualifier in four.  Medvedev was not pleased with how certain members of the Aussie crowd treated him on Thursday while facing Nick Kyrgios, and I’m curious to see if they continue to bother him on Saturday.

Simona Halep (14) vs. Danka Kovinic – Halep’s set scores thus far have been 6-4, 6-3, 6-2, and 6-0.  The 2018 finalist is looking fully healthy after injuries sidetracked her last season.  Kovinic upset another Major champion, Emma Raducanu, on Thursday. 

Roberto Bautista Agut (15) vs. Taylor Fritz (20) – Bautista Agut lost only four games in the second round.  Fritz is yet to lose a set, and soundly defeated fellow American Frances Tiafoe on Thursday.  Roberto is 5-1 against Taylor, and has claimed their last three encounters in straight sets.


Saturday’s full Order of Play is here.

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Australian Open Daily Preview: Friday Provides Many Excellent Third Round Matchups

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Ash Barty on Wednesday in Melbourne (twitter.com/AustralianOpen)

Seeded players begin to collide in the draws on Friday, making for some stellar contests throughout the day.  Major champions Rafael Nadal, Naomi Osaka, Ash Barty, and Victoria Azarenka all face significant opposition, while some of the ATP’s most impressive young stars will square off to secure their spots in the round of 16.

 

Normally this preview will highlight the five most intriguing matchups, while outlining the other notable matches on the schedule.   But with so many great matchups on Day 5, that number has been expanded to six.  Friday’s play will begin at 11:00am local time.


Elina Svitolina (15) vs. Victoria Azarenka (24) – 11:00am on Rod Laver Arena

Azarenka has been dominant through two rounds, losing only seven games.  She’s keeping her momentum going after her great run at Indian Wells in October.  By contrast, Svitolina came into this tournament on a four-match losing streak, dating back to a dismal 6-1, 6-1 loss at the hands of Jessica Pegula at Indian Wells.  And this rivalry has been completely one-sided to date.  Azarenka leads 4-0, and that includes a straight-set victory last March in Doha.  With warm temperatures forecast for Friday, conditions will be quick, which should reward the dictating style of Azarenka.  I like Vika’s chances to reach the fourth round of the Australian Open for the first time in six years.


Matteo Berrettini (7) vs. Carlos Alcaraz (31) – Third on Rod Laver Arena

This should be a lot of fun, with two of the ATP’s heaviest hitters trading blows.  They first played just a few months ago in Vienna, in an extremely tight match which Alcaraz claimed in a third set tiebreak.  Berrettini is yet to play his best tennis this month.  Coming off an oblique injury that forced him out of the ATP Finals, Matteo went only 1-2 at the ATP Cup, and needed four sets to prevail in both of his first two rounds.  Meanwhile, Alcaraz has looked phenomenal, not dropping a set at the next Major after his thrilling Grand Slam breakthrough in New York.  Berrettini will need a high percentage of first serves, and a high number of winners off his blistering forehand.  But over the course of five sets, a fully-fit Alcaraz should be able to wear down the Italian and advance.


Denis Shapovalov (14) vs. Reilly Opelka (23) – Third on Margaret Court Arena

Shapovalov has struggled his way through two rounds, playing a total of nine sets.  On Wednesday, he spent nearly four-and-a-half hours on court against Soon Woo Kwon.  Opelka has required three less sets, and four less hours, to reach the third round.  This will be the first main draw meeting between the left-handed Canadian and the big-serving American.  Reilly seems primed for a deep run at a Major.  Last season, he reached two Masters 1000 semifinals, and made his first appearance in the fourth round of a Slam in New York.  If he can push several sets to a tiebreak, he has a strong chance to prevail, especially if Denis is feeling physically drained.  But considering Shapovalov’s returning prowess, Denis remains the favorite.  He’s a great shot-maker, and enjoys having a target to aim for.  Opelka will likely provide him with plenty of targets, as he came to net 30 times during his three-set win on Wednesday.


Ash Barty (1) vs. Camila Giorgi (30) – 7:00pm on Rod Laver Arena

Barty’s victories thus far have been comprehensive, allowing her opposition a total of three games through four sets, and spending less than an hour on court in each match.  Giorgi has been impressive as well, having yet to drop a set.  And it was only five months ago, on this same surface, when Camila earned the biggest title of her career, at the WTA 1000 event in Canada.  She has made great strides in better controlling her aggression, and choosing when to go for a winner.  But she is 0-3 against Barty, with their most recent encounter occurring four years ago at this event.  Giorgi is capable of beating almost anyone on almost any day, but Ash’s well-rounded game makes her a significant favorite.


Naomi Osaka (4) vs. Amanda Anisimova – 7:00pm on Margaret Court Arena

Both women are undefeated to start off 2022.  Osaka won three matches in a tune-up event on these same grounds before withdrawing, while Anisimova won a tune-up event at Melbourne Park.  With Darren Cahill added to her coaching team, Amanda has rediscovered the form that made her a French Open semifinalist in 2019.  Her backhand is formidable, yet overall her groundstrokes and serve don’t quite compare to that of Osaka’s.  Naomi has appeared rather confident on court despite taking a near-four-month break from competition to end 2021.  But a matchup against an in-form player of Amanda’s caliber is a dangerous draw for Osaka, who has only played five matches since early September.


Rafael Nadal (6) vs. Karen Khachanov (28) – Last on Rod Laver Arena

Nadal has also only played five matches since last summer, when he underwent a procedure on his foot.  And he’s often been tested by Khachanov, most notably at the 2018 US Open, when they played a high-quality four-setter which lasted well over four hours.  Out of their last 10 sets played, six of those sets have been decided by tiebreaks, and two of the others ended with a score of 7-5.  Yet, Rafa has managed to prevail all seven times they’ve met, with five of those occasions coming on hard courts.  The big-swinging Russian possesses a style which has often flustered Nadal throughout his career, but is yet to maintain a high enough level to secure more than one set in a match.  And all six of those aforementioned tiebreaks have gone the way of Rafa.  Despite Nadal not being fully match tough, there’s not much evidence to support a probable outcome other than an eighth victory for the 20-time Major champion.


Other Notable Matches on Friday:

Barbora Krejcikova (4) vs. Jelena Ostapenko (26) – It’s a matchup of surprising Roland Garros champions.  In Dubai last March, Krejcikova allowed Ostapenko only four games.

Paula Badosa (8) vs. Marta Kostyuk – When asked about facing Kostyuk after her second round win, Badosa stated “When they ask me who can be the next star, I always say Marta.”  Kostyuk took out Sara Sorribes Tormo on Wednesday, while Badosa has lost only seven games through four sets.

Maria Sakkari (5) vs. Veronika Kudermetova (28) – Neither woman has lost a set yet.  Last summer in Canada, they participated in an extended contest, with Sakkari prevailing 6-4 in the third.

Cristian Garin (16) vs. Gael Monfils (17) – Through two rounds, Garin has played 10 sets and spent over nine hours on court, while Monfils has easily claimed all six sets he’s played, and spent only three hours on court.  Two years ago at the inaugural ATP CUP, Monfils defeated Garin in straight sets.

Pablo Carreno Busta (19) vs. Sebastian Korda – Both men prevailed after grueling five-set battles on Wednesday.  After testing positive for COVID-19 upon arrival in Australia, and barely practicing leading into this event, what will Korda have left after a nearly five-hour second round match? 

Sascha Zverev (3) vs. Radu Albot (Q) – Zverev is yet to drop a set, and Albot is yet to face a player ranked inside the top 100.  Though three years ago at the US Open, Radu pushed Sascha to five sets.


Friday’s full Order of Play is here.

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Australian Open Daily Preview: Daniil Medvedev Plays Nick Kyrgios in the Second Round

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Daniil Medvedev at the ATP Cup (twitter.com/AustralianOpen)

Two players who have been labeled as tennis’ bad boys will meet on Thursday in Melbourne.  But it is unfair to lump them together.  One is the reigning US Open champion and on the brink of becoming the No.1 player in the world.  The other hasn’t reached a Major quarterfinal in seven years, and is currently ranked outside the top 100.  However, Nick Kyrgios often plays his best tennis at his home country’s biggest tournament.  And he has a history of upsetting top players like Daniil Medvedev.

 

Each day this preview will highlight the five most intriguing matchups, while outlining the other notable matches on the schedule.   Thursday’s play will begin at 11:00am local time.


Garbine Muguruza (3) vs. Alize Cornet – 11:00am on Rod Laver Arena

Nearly five years after her last Major title, is Muguruza ready to win another?  She’s coming off the third biggest title of her career at the WTA Finals, and was the runner-up in Melbourne two years ago.  But Cornet is far from an easy out.  The Frenchwoman has scored many upsets over top players throughout her career, most notably over Serena Williams at Wimbledon in 2014.  And last June on grass in Berlin, Cornet defeated Muguruza in a third set tiebreak.  However, Muguruza’s dictating power should allow her to avenge that loss on Thursday.


Anett Kontaveit (6) vs. Clara Tauson – 11:00am on Margaret Court Arena

Since hiring Dmitry Tursonov as her coach, Kontaveit has accumulated an astounding record of 33-5.  During that span, she’s earned four titles, reached the championship match at the WTA Finals, and nearly won another event last week in Sydney, losing to Barbora Krejcikova 14-12 in a third set tiebreak.  But Tauson could provide some legitimate resistance.  The 19-year-old from Denmark has been lauded by many as a future top player, and she advanced to three finals at multiple levels to close out 2021.  Three years ago, Clara was a junior champion in Melbourne.  Their first career meeting could be a tight one, though Kontaveit remains the favorite with her punishing groundstrokes and recent form.


Taylor Fritz (20) vs. Frances Tiafoe – Not Before 1:00pm on John Cain Arena

This is a tough second round draw for both Americans, who are not only close friends, but have also been playing some good tennis over the last few months.  Fritz reached the semifinals in Indian Wells, the final in St. Petersburg, and the quarters in Bercy.  And to start off 2022, he scored upset wins over Cam Norrie and Felix Auger-Aliassime at the ATP Cup.  Tiafoe scored a thrilling victory over Andrey Rublev at the US Open, and reached the final in Vienna.  However, Frances went 0-2 to begin the year, and required five sets to advance beyond the 198th-ranked player in the world on Tuesday.  With Fritz taking their last two encounters, I like his chances of making it three in a row.


Felix Auger-Aliassime (9) vs. Alejandro Davidovich Fokina – Third on Kia Arena

Based on his ATP Cup triumph, and reaching new heights at the last two Majors, much is expected of the 21-year-old Canadian.  But after securing the first set in his opening round, Felix would promptly drop seven straight games, complicating matters to where he was forced to come back from a two-sets-to-one deficit.  Falling behind against the 22-year-old Spaniard would be even more dangerous.  Alejandro easily advanced in straight sets on Tuesday, and debuted inside the top 32 last year thanks to some strong results on both clay and hard courts.  In their first career meeting, Auger-Aliassime should still be favored to advance, but not without an extended battle with a player who can often exhaust his opponents with his consistency and endurance.


Daniil Medvedev (2) vs. Nick Kyrgios – 7:00pm on Rod Laver Arena

No one has been playing better on hard courts than Medvedev, who has won 83 of his last 92 matches on this surface.  Meanwhile, Kyrgios has only played 16 singles matches in nearly two years, with an 8-8 record.  Yet Nick has remained a reliable source of dramatic matches at the Australian Open.  A year ago, he overcame Ugo Humbert 6-4 in the fifth.  And two years ago, he outlasted Karen Khachanov in fifth-set tiebreak.  However, those compelling victories occurred in his favorite slot: the night session on John Cain Arena.  This match will be on Rod Laver Arena, where he has not won a match since 2018.  And while Kyrgios is 2-0 lifetime against Medvedev, neither of those matches were best-of-five.  While I expect Nick will keep this competitive, with thorough inspiration fromd the Australian crowd, Medvedev’s defensive skills will likely prove to be too much.


Other Notable Matches on Thursday:

Aryna Sabalenka (2) vs. Xinyu Wang – Sabalenka overcame her recent service woes to win in three on Tuesday, and thanked Mark Philippoussis for his advice on her serve.  Xinyu is a 20-year-old from China who won her first main draw match at a Slam in the first round.

Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova (10) vs. Sam Stosur (WC) – In her last singles event, Stosur delighted the Melbourne crowd on Tuesday by coming back from a set down to earn only her second win at this event since 2015.  Pavlyuchenkova has reached the quarterfinals here in three of the last five years, and won her opening round decisively, dropping only three games.  Stosur leads their head-to-head 5-4, though they haven’t played in nearly four years.

Stefanos Tsitsipas (4) vs. Sebastian Baez – Tsitsipas appeared unhampered by his recent elbow surgery on Tuesday, easily prevailing in straight sets.  Baez is a 21-year-old from Argentina who won a five-setter on the same day.

Andy Murray (WC) vs. Taro Daniel (Q) – What will Murray have left in the tank after his latest grueling contest at a Major?  He played for five sets and nearly four hours in the first round.  Daniel has won nine straight sets since qualifying began last week, and recently hired Sven Groeneveld as his coach.

Emma Raducanu (17) vs. Danka Kovinic – In the opening round, Raducanu rediscovered some of her magic from New York, taking out Sloane Stephens in three.  Kovinic is a 27-year-old from Montenegro who has never been beyond the second round at a Major.


Thursday’s full Order of Play is here.

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