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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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Bubble, Bubble Toil & Probably Trouble 

Kristina Mladenovic (image via ubitennis.com)

Staging a tennis tournament during a pandemic was fraught with a great deal of worry. During a pre-event press conference on August 18, involving Michael Dowse, USTA CEO & Executive Director, USTA Chief Executive of Professional Tennis and Tournament Director Stacy Allaster, Dr. Bernard Camins, the Medical Director for Infection Prevention for the Mt. Sinai Health Systems, stated, “To clarify, if a player during competition were to test positive, under the New York State guidelines, that player would be withdrawn from the tournament, and we would begin isolation/quarantine protocols as outlined by the State of New York.

The press conference seemed to organize all of the virus related puzzle pieces. But, as proven to be the case throughout the US and around the world for that matter, Covid-19 plays by its own rules. Two days prior to the start of play, Benoît Paire of France tested positive and chaos ensued. Though he was out of the competition, he left an indelible mark. Electronic tracing found that Paire had spent time around countrymen Adrian Mannarino, Grégoire Barrère, Richard Gasquet and Édouard Roger-Vasselin, along with countrywoman, Kristina Mladenovic and two Belgium players, Kirsten Flipkens and Ysaline Bonaventure.

Due to that positive test, the “Paire Group” faced new restrictions including daily coronavirus testing and isolation from other players at their hotel and at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. (Initially, they were supposed to remain quarantined in their hotel until September 12th.)

As a result, some of the virus puzzle pieces had to be transformed. The change compelled the USTA to develop an entirely new set of procedures. Matters became even more confusing when Nassau County entered the fray. Dr. Camins had discussed following New York State guidelines, but the player hotels just happened to be in Nassau County. The location altered the protocol and made it essential for all of the players to sign yet another waiver. Unfortunately, the USTA had not worked with health care officials in that county which made it necessary to alter the rules for the players in the “Paire Group” once again. 

(As an aside, many wondered why two hotels so far from the National Tennis Center were used to house the players. Could it have been the result of the USTA negotiating a “good price” for the rooms needed? It was also pointed out there were instances when the “Bubble Hotels” were in fact, leaky bubbles. Some of the players, in residence, noted that assorted large group activities that weren’t related to tennis took place at the sites. The point – There were more open doors than everyone had been led to believe.)

The confusion surged when Mannarino and Alexander Zverev of Germany’s third round match was delayed for almost three hours while “can he play” negotiations took place. The contest finally took place, and Zverev triumphed in four sets.

Of all the players wrapped in the confusion’s netting, Mladenovic was the most thoroughly entwined. Leading 6-1, 5-1 in her second round match, she began to lose her poise, along with her confidence. She ended up dropping a 1-6, 7-6, 6-0 decision to Varvara Gracheva of Russian. Emotionally, following the contest, she said that the US Open was a nightmare of an experience and all she wanted to do was leave New York.

She probably should have started reading Shakespeare’s Macbeth interlude, “Song of the Witches” (“Double, double toil and trouble”) because her situation became worse. Seeded No. 1 in the Women’s Doubles with Timea Babos of Hungary, they had already scored a 6-2, 6-2 first round victory over Kaitlyn Christian of the US and Giuliana Olmos of Mexico. But, before their second round match, the duo was removed from the draw, thus losing an excellent opportunity to add another major to their collection of four.

The official statement said, “The USTA is obligated to adhere to government guidance at the State, City and County level. All persons who were identified as having had prolonged close contact with an infected player will quarantine in their rooms. Kristina Mladenovic was one of these individuals, and as the Women’s Doubles competition had begun, the women’s doubles team of Kristina Mladenovic and Timea Babos has been withdrawn from the US Open.”

It is important to note that after Paire’s initial positive test, all of his follow-up tests were negative. Everyone who had been exposed were tested daily and all of the results were negative. It is clear that Covid-19 is a virulent contagion. It is also clear that the USTA had not developed a realistic plan on how to fairly deal with those who were first exposed yet remained clean in all subsequent tests. L’Équipe , the legendary French daily sports newspaper, put the Bubble dealings in perspective with the  “US Open 2020: un tournoi amateur” headline.

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Wimbledon Daily Preview: Novak Djokovic Plays Carlos Alcaraz for the Gentlemen’s Singles Championship

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Carlos Alcaraz after winning his semifinal on Friday (twitter.com/wimbledon)

Day 14 at The Championships hosts the championship matches in gentlemen’s singles and mixed doubles.

One year ago, Novak Djokovic was on a 34 match Wimbledon win streak, playing for his fifth consecutive title, and had not lost a match on Centre Court in a full decade.  But in a spectacular five-hour five-setter, Carlos Alcaraz upset the all-time great to win his first Wimbledon title.  On Sunday, we get the rematch, as Djokovic looks to avenge that painful loss, and Alcaraz looks to defend a Major title, and win back-to-back Majors, for the first time.


Carlos Alcaraz (3) vs. Novak Djokovic (2) – 2:00pm on Centre Court

They followed up last year’s championship match here with another fantastic final just a month later in Cincinnati, where Djokovic saved championship point to eventually win in a third-set tiebreak, and after nearly four hours of play.  Novak would go on three weeks later to win the US Open, while Carlitos was not the same player for some time.  Alcaraz would not reach another final at any event for over six months, until this past March in Indian Wells. 

Despite a few surprising losses, and an injury that disrupted his season, Alcaraz is now a strong 32-6 on the year, and a superb 17-1 at Majors.  Carlitos has been able to quickly rebound from upsets at smaller events, like his loss to Jack Draper a few weeks ago at Queen’s Club, and up his level for the big events.  He’s dropped five sets through six matches, most of which have contained some sloppy play at times, yet Carlitos has played his best when it mattered most to reach his fourth Major final.  And he’s 3-0 thus far in Major finals.

2024 has been a surprisingly subpar season in the illustrious career of Djokovic.  Not only has he not won a title to date, he hadn’t advanced to a final until now.  Playing a more limited schedule, he’s just 23-6 this season.  And it was just a month ago that he was forced to withdraw from the Roland Garros quarterfinals after suffering a knee injury, which required surgery and put his Wimbledon status in doubt.  Yet Novak has recovered almost miraculously, dropping only two sets to this stage, though he did receive a quarterfinal walkover of his own from an injured Alex de Minaur.

Overall Djokovic is 3-2 against Alcaraz, and they’ve split two meetings at Majors, both of which took place a year ago.  In the 2023 Roland Garros semifinals, Carlitos started cramping after just two sets of play, and provided little resistance in sets three and four.  That made his five-set victory in this final a month later all the more surprising.

Novak has not appeared to be significantly hampered by his surgically-repaired knee, though there’s no way it can be 100%.  So if another five-setter takes place on Sunday, that has to favor Carlitos, especially since he is an amazing 12-1 when pushed to five sets in his young career.

But the Djokovic CV at this tournament, and at this stage of Majors, is beyond formidable.  Since the start of The Championships in 2014, he is 59-3 at SW19.  And during the same span at all Majors, he is 42-8 in semifinals and finals.  Novak just very rarely loses matches like this, especially on Centre Court.

On a that surface usually favors the aggressor, Djokovic has been able to change that narrative with his stifling defense and court coverage.  However, Alcaraz is one of the only players Djokovic has ever faced who can match him defensively, and at times dictate play against him with his risk-taking style.  We saw here a year ago just how frustrated Novak became by Carlitos’ game, damaging the net post by breaking his racket against it after getting broken in the fifth set.

Yet as many have mentioned these last two weeks, Djokovic “has that look about him,” meaning the steely determination and confidence that he was lacking during the first six months of this year appear to be back.  He is extremely motivated to reassert himself atop the game, in a season where the new generation of Alcaraz and Sinner won the first two Majors. 

If Carlitos gets off to another slow start on Sunday (he’s lost the first set in three of his six matches thus far), or suffer lapses in his level again, Novak will take advantage of that better than any of the defending champion’s previous opponents.  And while he’ll surely do so at some point in his career, until Alcaraz defends a Major title, or wins back-to-back Majors, it’s hard to favor him to do so.  I’m backing Djokovic to win his eighth Wimbledon title, and his historical 25th Major singles title, the most of all-time.


Other Notable Matches on Sunday:

Santiago Gonzalez and Giuliana Olmos vs. Jan Zielinski Su-wei Hsieh (7) – The Mexican team of Gonzalez and Olmos are playing for their first Major title, as Olmos is 0-1 in Major finals, while 41-year-old Gonzalez is 0-4.  Zielinski and Su-wei won this year’s Australian Open as a team, the first Major title of Zielinski’s career, while Su-wei has now won eight between women’s doubles and mixed, and is 8-1 in Major finals.


Sunday’s full Order of Play is here.

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Wimbledon Daily Preview: Jasmine Paolini Plays Barbora Krejcikova for the Ladies’ Singles Championship

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Jasmine Paolini after winning her semifinal on Thursday (twitter.com/wimbledon)

Day 13 at The Championships hosts the championship matches in ladies’ singles, ladies’ doubles, and gentlemen’s doubles.

It’s cliché, and usually untrue, to say “No one expected these two finalists.”  But in this case, it is absolutely true.  Prior to this fortnight, Jasmine Paolini had never won a match at The Championships.  And Barbora Krejcikova arrived at SW19 with a losing record on the year.  Yet both will play in their second Major singles final on Saturday, after inspired play during this tournament.


Barbora Krejcikova (31) vs. Jasmine Paolini (7) – 2:00pm on Centre Court

After failing to advance beyond the second round in her first 16 appearances at Majors, Paolini is now 15-2 in her last three, and is the first WTA player to reach the final of both Roland Garros and Wimbledon since Serena Williams in 2016.  Jasmine is 30-12 on the year, and has won 14 of her last 16 matches.  She has been taken to three sets twice during this event, most recently outlasting Donna Vekic in a third-set tiebreak during Thursday’s semifinals.

Krejcikova has also required three sets in two of her six matches to this stage, upsetting 2022 champion Elena Rybakina in the semis.  That was the third win in a row for Barbora over a higher-seed, after ousting two other big hitters, Danielle Collins and Jelena Ostapenko.  She’s accomplished all this despite being just 7-9 this season before this tournament began.  Injuries have plagued her career since her 2021 Roland Garros singles title, including a back injury earlier this year. 

Paolini is 2-4 lifetime in singles finals at WTA level, while Krejcikova is 7-5.  However, when you consider their appearances in Major finals between singles and doubles, Paolini is 0-2, having lost both the women’s singles and doubles finals last month in Paris, while Krejcikova is an amazing 11-1.  That’s a huge contrast in success at Grand Slam level.

These players also possess contrasting styles.  Paolini has been crushing her forehand, using it to come forward and show off her great hands at the net.  Krejcikova has a good serve, as well as both power and guile on her groundstrokes.  She loves using her slice to keep her opponents off-balance.  However, that will be more difficult to do against such a great mover like Jasmine.  And Barbora’s forehand has become unreliable in some crucial moments during this fortnight, which the Italian can target.

But on this surface, and considering her history in Major finals, I give the edge to Krejcikova to win her second Major singles title.  Plus, Barbora has already won two ladies’ doubles titles on this same court.  And she would surely cherish the chance to honor her late coach and mentor Jana Novotna by holding the Venus Rosewater Dish aloft on Centre Court, just as Jana did in 1998.


Other Notable Matches on Saturday:

Max Purcell and Jordan Thompson (15) vs. Harri Heliovaara and Henry Patten – This is a fourth Major final in men’s doubles for Purcell, who won this title two years ago alongside another Aussie, Matthew Ebden.  Thompson had never advanced beyond the fourth round of a Major in either men’s singles or doubles until this run.  Patten is also a Major final debutante, while Heliovaara won last year’s US Open in mixed doubles.

Katerina Siniakova and Taylor Townsend (4) vs. Gabriela Dabrowski and Erin Routliffe (2) – Siniakova is playing for the ninth Major title in women’s doubles, while Townsend is playing for her first, after going 0-2 in previous finals.  Dabrowski and Routliffe are the reigning US Open champions, and Routliffe will become the new World No.1 in women’s doubles on Monday, regardless of Saturday’s result.


Saturday’s full Order of Play is here.

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England’s Euros Final Clash With Spain Will Not Be Shown At Wimbledon

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Crowds of spectators watch live action on the Big Screen on the Hill at The Championships 2023. Held at The All England Lawn Tennis Club, Wimbledon. Day 7 Sunday 09/07/2023. Photo credit: AELTC/Adam Warner.

Football might be coming home on Sunday but those attending Wimbledon will have to leave the site if they want to watch the game. 

Gareth Southgate’s side takes on Spain for the chance to win their first major trophy since the 1966 World Cup, as well as their first of any sort on international territory. Their semi-final win over the Netherlands was the most-watched TV programme this year so far in the UK with a peak audience of 20.3 million on ITV. This figure doesn’t include those who watch the game online via ITVX or in public places. Broadcasters are hopeful that the final, which will be shown on both the BBC and ITV, could break the 30 million mark for viewers. 

Despite the highly-anticipated sporting event, the communications department of the All England Lawn Tennis Club (AELTC) has confirmed to Ubitennis that they will not be showing the Euros match on their large screen, even if the matches finish by 8 pm. The men’s final is scheduled to begin six hours earlier at 2 pm local time. 

The AELTC explains that part of their reasons for doing so is due to the huge cleanup operation that will be taking place immediately after the event. Some of the equipment used at the Grand Slam needs to be packed and moved elsewhere to be used for the Paris Olympic Games. 

Whilst some football fans attending Wimbledon might be disappointed, the AELTC has always stated from day one that they don’t intend to show football matches with their sole focus being on tennis. 

We’re very much focused on the tennis, this has been the case in the past,” AELTC Chief executive Sally Bolton said on the first day of this year’s tournament.
“We won’t be showing the football on any of the screens here. We’re confident that everyone who’s coming here will want to watch the tennis. 
There will be no special arrangements.”

It remains to be seen if there will be a big exodus of fans from Wimbledon on Sunday evening before England’s tie with Spain. However, this depends on the length of the men’s final which last year lasted almost five hours. It is roughly a 30-minute walk to Wimbledon train station where many pubs nearby will be showing the football.  

Across the UK some schools are allowing children to start at a later time on Monday due to the Euros. Businesses such as Tesco and Lidl are making changes to their opening times. Meanwhile, the Wireless Festival is ending early and World Matchplay Darts has also moved to an earlier time.

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