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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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ATP

Novak Djokovic Confident Of Peaking At French Open As 14-Time Champ Nadal Ponders One Last Hurrah

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Credit Francesca Micheli/Ubitennis

Novak Djokovic believes he is on the right track to reaching his best form at the French Open despite missing two out of the last three Masters events.

The world No.1 returns to action this week in Rome at the Italian Open which he is seeking to win for the seventh time in his career. Djokovic last played on the Tour on April 13th when he lost in the semi-finals of the Monte Carlo Open to Casper Ruud. So far this season he has won 11 out of 15 matches played.

After opting to skip Madrid to rest his body, the revitalised Serbian told reporters on Wednesday that he is raring to go ahead of what will be a packed summer. Besides two Grand Slam events, he will also be chasing after his first-ever Olympic gold medal in Paris. 

“I had plenty of time to also rest and train. Had a good training block.” Said Djokovic.
“I think I’m on a good route to peak at Roland Garros in Paris. Hopefully, in Rome, I can play better than I did in Monte Carlo. The wish is always to go far. But let’s see. 
“It’s a different concept now. It’s the first time that Rome and Madrid are almost two-week events, like Indian Wells and Miami. It gives you more time to recover between matches if you keep going in the tournament, which I think is useful for me.”

In recent weeks Djokovic has also seen changes in his team following the departure of coach Goran Ivanisevic. More recently, he stopped working with fitness coach Marco Panichi and has now rehired his former longtime trainer Gebhard Gritsch.

“I am working currently with a fitness coach that I worked with for many years. It didn’t take much time to adapt to his program and approach,” Djokovic explained.
“We know each other really well. That’s why I feel like we’re synchronized from the very beginning in terms of what we want to do, how we want to approach the program of training on and off the court. 
“I’m pleased with the way the last 10 days, 14 days went in terms of training, in terms of preparation and looking ahead to this tournament, but particularly Roland Garros, Wimbledon and Olympic Games. That’s the block for which we are preparing the most.”

Nadal continues goodbye Tour

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Whilst 24-time major winner Djokovic is already planning for the next major, one of his nemesis is yet to commit to playing.

Rafael Nadal will continue what many view as a farewell Tour in Rome where he will be unseeded in the draw. At his most recent tournament in Madrid, the Spaniard beat top 10 player Alex de Minaur en route to the third round. Shortly after his run, the 37-year-old confirmed that it would be the last time he played there. 

“I can’t have a clear answer,” Nadal replied when asked how he feels about potentially playing his last French Open in 2024. 
“First of all, I want to play Rome. I don’t think after that. If after that I feel ready to play Roland Garros, I cannot predict what kind of emotions I going to have there.
“I just want to enjoy every day. I am enjoying playing tennis. It always depends on my body how far I can keep going in terms of timing. I am happy doing what I’m doing. 
“When I’m talking about retirement it is not because I’m not happy anymore playing tennis or I’m not feeling myself competitive enough. That’s not the case. It’s about the body was not able to play weeks in a row and was not able to allow me to practice on a daily basis.”
“Now is my third week on the tour almost in a row, so… It’s a good moment, even if the results are not what used to be. But I am increasing my level. I want to keep going.”

Unlike Djokovic, Nadal doesn’t have a first round bye in Italy and will begin his campaign against qualifier Zizou Bergs. Compared to previous years he will be more of an underdog in the draw. A role he is taking in his stride.

“All the matches are tough for me today and more unpredictable than what the matches used to be for me, especially on clay.” He said.
“I accept that role. I accept that challenge. I am excited about the way that I can be able to play if I keep working the proper way and my body allows me.”

Djokovic and Nadal are currently ranked in the top two on the all-time list when it comes to most Masters titles won. Djokovic leads with 40 trophies ahead of his opponent who is on 36. 

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Grand Slam

Australian Open Considering Switching Women’s Final To Sunday In Future

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The Australian Open could become the first Grand Slam to break away from the tradition of women playing their singles final first. 

According to a report from the Australian Associated Press, tournament chief Craig Tiley is open to making such a move which wouldn’t require any approval from either the WTA or ATP. However, they would likely need to consult with players first and no changes are set to be made in 2025. 

The reasoning for making such a change is due to the women’s final usually being shorter than the men’s best with it being a best-of-three set match. Compared to the men who play the best-of-five. Their thinking is that due to the length of men’s matches increasing in recent years, staging it on a Saturday would enable more people to watch the entire match compred to a Sunday when many are consious about staying up late due to the working week starting on Monday. 

This year’s Australian Open saw Jannik Sinner bounce back from two sets down to beat Daniil Medvedev in a epic encounter that lasted three hours and 46 minuites. Meanwhile, Aryna Sabalenka required an hour and 17 mnuites to beat China’s Qinwen Zheng and capture the title. 

Should such a switch take place, it is estimated that the Sunday finale would end at around 10:30pm local time instead of after midnight, which would make it more appealing to fans. Furthermore, it could throw the women’s final more into the spotlight. 

However, there will be obstacles that need to be addressed. The most significant for the Australian Open will be trying to ensure that their 48-hour recovery period between best-of-five-set men’s matches will still be followed. 

This year was the first time in history that the Melbourne major took place over 15 days with play starting on a Sunday. Organisers claimed that the move was done in order to prevent the number of late-night finishes. However, it has little effect on any matches that took place after the first round. 

It is throught that now the event is held over 15 days, it gives more room for organisers to schedule the men’s final for a Saturday. The proposal was discussed during this year’s Australian Open’s official debrief. 

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Grand Slam

It Wasn’t The Same Old Story On Sunday Down Under

Jannik Sinner won his first Grand Slam title on Sunday.

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(@janniksin - Twitter)

It’s been the same old story at the Australian Open for a long time in the men’s game.

One of the greats almost always would take the top prize Down Under. Either Novak Djokovic, Rafa Nadal, Roger Federer or even Stan Wawrinka always prevailed since 2006 at Melbourne.

And then came Jannik Sinner in 2024.

None of the other superstars were still around for Sunday’s final.

A DIFFERENT AUSTRALIAN OPEN

Yes, this time it was a different Australian Open.

But actually Sinner may have written his own story when he upended Djokovic in the semifinals. Without that experience, the slender Italian may not have been able to handle the pressure that Daniil Medvedev sent his way in the final.

Sinner was ready for the finish line after shocking Djokovic in the semifinals. It just took time to get there.

Sinner played within himself most of the last three sets of the final. A first-time Grand Slam finalist, Sinner played as if he belonged there in those three sets.

But, oh, those first two sets when Medvedev dominated play with his backhand from the middle of the court. Backhands usually are reserved for the backhand side of the court, but not with the tall Russian on the court.

SINNER DIDN’T PLAY HIS GAME AT FIRST

In a similar manner as women’s champion Aryna Sabalenka, Sinner followed up a big semifinal win with his own Australian Open title. Only, Sinner had to fight for five sets to accomplish his dream Down Under with a 3-6, 3-6, 6-4, 6-4, 6-3 victory over Medvedev.

Sinner appeared to play far differently from his victory over Djokovic when he controlled the court with his aggressive play and power.

This time, Sinner started things conservatively with few aggressive winners, repeatedly leaving the corners wide open for Medvedev’s crafty, but hard hit strokes. Medvedev made Sinner  pay a price with a style of play that was just the opposite.

Medvedev played close to the baseline and aggressively hopped on balls with his backhand in whip-lash fashion. He hardly had to move as he conserved energy.

THE STRATEGY ALMOST WORKED TO PERFECTION

Medvedev’s strategy worked like a charm until Sinner served the ninth game of the third set as Medvedev once needed only six points for a possible Grand Slam title. Sinner managed to overcome a deuce score to win that game.

Medvedev fell behind 30-0 serving the 10th game of the set and then Sinner got his first set point. Sinner made it stand up and it was a new game after that.

Sinner didn’t appear to be ready for Medvedev’s game the first two sets, but the Italian then came alive. He became prepared for Medvedev, even after losing the first two sets.

Of course, Sabalenka got her boost from a surprising, but solid win over talented Coco Graff in the women’s semifinals. Sabalenka then was never really challenged by Qinwen Zheng in the final.

Sinner’s final was much different.  He was somewhat lucky to escape with  a win.

Medvedev almost wrapped up the title in the ninth game, but it didn’t happen. As a result, Sinner may have started his own success story in Grand Slam finals.

James Beck was the 2003 winner of the USTA National Media Award  for print media. A 1995 MBA graduate of The Citadel, he can be reached at Jamesbecktennis@gmail.com.

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