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Roland Garros – Un Dernier Regard (A Last Look)

In ordinary times, Roland Garros, upon its completion, leaves a rich panorama of remembrances. This year’s tournament was like no other which is the reason Mark Winters waited to sort through what took place before taking “Un Dernier Regard (A Last Look)”…

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Usually, Roland Garros takes place the last week of May and ends the first week in June. This year, in truth “The Year of COVID-19”, usually doesn’t apply to very much of anything. Because of the pandemic, the key has been being adaptable and flexible. This was the impetus that forced the bold move made in mid-March by the Fédération Française de Tennis that postponed (not canceled) this year’s event. September 20th to October 4th were the dates first selected for the competition. Then showing a touch of French flair, it was decided to nudge the championships a bit further along in the calendar to September 27th until October 11th.

 

The result was a unique and fascinating tournament.  The fortnight in Paris was, in a word, memorable and deserves more after the Terre battue has settled back on the courts, “Un Dernier Regard” (A Last Look).

Firsts…

https://twitter.com/rolandgarros/status/1314949610352254976/photo/4

Each of the majors owns a standalone position for being distinct. Stade Roland Garros showcased an impressive array of “Firsts…”

Topping the list was Iga Świątek turning the Women’s singles into her tournament. The 19-year-old from Poland dominated Australian Open titlist, Sofia Kenin of the US, 6-4, 6-1 in the final to win her inaugural title. 

But, her record setting didn’t stop there. She was the youngest to win in Paris since Monica Seles, then from Yugoslavia, in 1992, and at No. 54, the lowest ranked performer to claim the championship since computer rankings were initially used in 1975. In seven matches, the most games she relinquished were five. (They were in the second and third rounds, to Hsieh Su-Wei of China, 6-1, 6-4 and Eugenie Bouchard of Canada, 6-3, 6-2, along with Kenin in the final).

After the match with Hsieh, Świątek delightfully shared the fact that ten years earlier at the Warsaw Open, she had been a ball person and had had a chance to hit with Hsieh. This, of course, is not just a fact, but an important reflection on the game as a whole. The same can be said of  Świątek becoming the first Polish player to win a Grand Slam tournament singles trophy.

Eighty-one years ago, countrywoman Jadwiga Jędrzejowska, known as “Jed” or “Ja Ja” was a Roland Garros finalist in 1939, losing to Simonne Mathieu, the legendary French player for whom the show court at the facility is named, 6-3, 8-6. (Though that year,  “Jed…Ja Ja”, won the doubles with Mathieu defeating Alice Florian and Hella Kovac from Yugoslavia, 7-5, 7-5.) Jedrzejowska is known to a few stalwart fans, but Agnieszka Radwanska has been acknowledged often. The Kraków native, who won 20 titles before retiring in 2018, was a quarterfinalist in 2013 in her favorite city – Paris.

The original stadium at Stade Roland Garros was built in 1928 so that France would have a suitable venue to host its first Davis Cup defense. Led by the fabled “Four Musketeers” (les Quatre Mousquetaires) – Jean Borotra, Jacques ‘Toto’ Brugnon Henri Cochet, René Lacoste – France retained the Cup and continued its dominance until 1933. Known as Court Central, the stadium was christened Court Philippe Chatrier in 2001 to honor the memory of the respected French tennis administrator. The facility has been refurbished numerous times over the years, but nothing can compare to the breathtaking changes that took place for 2020. For the first time in tournament history, a closeable roof covered the magnificent structure which has seating now for 15,000 spectators. Originally, there was a plan to add lighting to just the four show courts, but the pandemic brought about the tournament schedule changes and allowed for more construction. The result was twelve lighted courts. (In the past, lighting was dependent on the sun and a lengthy twilight. Obviously, there is much less light and twilight in autumn.)

Another of the “Firsts” was that Stefanos Tsitsipas became the first Greek player to reach the semifinals at Roland Garros. That was before he was edged out by the top seeded Serbian Novak Djokovic, 6-3, 6-2, 5-7, 4-6, 6-1.

The women’s qualifying had two “Firsts”. Renata Zarazúa played through the “Qualies” and put her name in the Mexican tennis history book. She became the first female from her country since Angélica Gavaldón in 1994 to reach the second round of singles where she pushed Elina Svitolina before the No. 3 seeded Ukrainian was finally able to gain a 6-3, 0-6, 6-2 victory. 

Mayar Sherif, who played intercollegiate tennis at Pepperdine University in Malibu, California, became the first Egyptian woman to qualify for a major. A 2020 Grand Slam Development Fund grant recipient, the No. 171 ranked player at the start of the tournament, proved to be formidable as she forced Karolína Plíšková, the No. 2 seeded Czech, to work overtime, in the first round, to secure a 6-7, 6-2, 6-4 win. 

Ons Jabeur of Tunisia earned applause by becoming the first Arab woman to reach the Roland Garros last 16 when she defeated No. 9 seed Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus, 7-6, 2-6, 6-3 in the third round.  She was eliminated by Danielle Collins of the US, 6-4, 4-6, 6-4, in her next encounter.

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Grand Slam

Steve Flink: “Djokovic and Nadal will end up with more Slams than Federer”

A final word on the 2021 Australian Open. Thiem was the biggest letdown of the fortnight, but which was the best match or the biggest upset?

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The men’s singles at the Australian Open ended in the most predictable way, with Novak Djokovic clinching his ninth title. However, the road to victory was laden with difficulties, as Hall-of-Famer tennis writer Steve Flink highlights in his third video chat about the tournament with Ubitennis founder and CEO Ubaldo Scanagatta. How close is the Next Gen to pushing out the Big Three? Was this Karatsev’s one shining moment or will he keep shocking the tennis world? This and more in the following chat:

 

0:00 – The men’s final: “I wasn’t sure Djokovic would be able to pull this off after his injury against Fritz, but after he beat Zverev I knew he’d win again.” Was such a trouncing of Medvedev at all predictable though?

5:00 – The keys to the Serbian’s masterclass win.

8:10 – “Medvedev had won most of his last meetings with Djokovic, but a Major final is a different story…” Did Djokovic actually tear an abdominal muscle?

14:30 – How close is the Next Gen to actually taking over?

17:30 – What was the impact of the 2-week quarantine on the tournament? “Many players struggled with injuries throughout the fortnight, but others, like Nadal, were already ailing at the beginning of the event.”

20:40 – Can Federer make another comeback? “His serve is so good that he can win many quick points, that will help him even if his fitness level isn’t up to par.”

24:30 – The best match of the tournament was…

29:45 – Who was the outbreak star? This is an easy one…

32:20 – What about the biggest letdown?

37:20 – A look into the future: will Djokovic end up surpassing Federer and Nadal’s 20-Slam tally?  

41:30 – The Serbian is also about to break the record for the most weeks spent at the top of the rankings – will he remain the world N.1 for much longer?

Transcript by Antonio Flagiello; edited by Tommaso Villa

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Grand Slam

The Most Emotional Moments From The 2021 Australian Open

With everything going on in the world, and the 14 days of quarantine players went through before playing this event, it’s no surprise there were so many emotional moments during this past fortnight.

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Alexei Popyrin provided a refreshing dose of excitement with a loud Aussie crowd in attendance (ausopen.com)

The first Grand Slam of 2021 provided the tennis world with plenty of tears and jubilation throughout it’s two-week period. There was epic match comebacks, injury misfortunes and victories for those who has been absent from the game in recent months due to a variety of issues. UbiTennis looks back at those emotional moments that took place during the Australian Open.

 

Gael Monfils in tears after his first round loss

Prior to the pandemic, Monfils had won two consecutive titles in Montpellier and Rotterdam.  But since the tour restart, he’s now 0-6, and lost in five sets in the opening round to Emil Ruusuvuori.  His comments are in French, but he was asking for “mercy” during his press conference.

“I don’t have any confidence. I would like to get out of this nightmare but I can’t,” Monfils said.
“I don’t know when it’s going to end. It’s hard. Every time I get here I feel judged, I’ve lost again. I can’t serve, I’m playing badly. I’m being honest and it’s going to take time.”

Bianca Andreescu wins her first match in 16 months

The 2019 US Open champion didn’t play at all in 2020, due to injuries and pandemic restrictions.  She’s described many low moments she experienced during that time.  And after going through 14 days of hard quarantine upon arrival in Melbourne, with her coach testing positive for COVID-19, the Canadian was holding back tears after winning her opening round in three sets.

“I feel pretty damn good,” Andreescu said afterwards in an on-court interview. “I mean the match wasn’t easy at all and I’m super, super happy with how I fought it out, especially towards the end.”

Alexei Popyrin saves match points to stun David Goffin

This was the first exciting match to take place in front of a full audience in nearly a year, as Aussies packed Court 3 to cheer on the comeback win of the 21-year-old Australian.  Popyrin saved four match points in the fourth set tiebreak, and the crowd reaction to his victory sounded amazing.

“I think it just shows that the work I did in pre-season, the mentality that I’ve taken on this year is all paying off, and my game is improving, and I can feel that,” Popryin commented on his victory.

Thanasi Kokkinakis wins his first match since 2019

Kokkinakis’ struggles with injuries over the years are well-documented, so it’s understandable the 24-year-old Aussie was brought to tears in picking up his first tour-level win in 18 months, especially at his home Slam.

“At 5-0 (in the third set) I felt this massive roar and cheer from the crowd and I started tearing up,” Kokkinakis said.
“It was a bit of a soft moment but there was just so much stuff behind the scenes to get back to that point that not a lot of people realise.
I definitely got a bit emotional.
“I had a lot of friends and family there watching. They probably made up about 90 per cent of the stands, so I’m appreciative of that.
“Just playing with that energy and crowd and being able to win – there was so much work behind the scenes and so much pain – it’s just a massive relief.”

In the second round Kokkinakis took Stefanos Tsitsipas to five sets before getting knocked out of the tournament.

 Venus Williams suffers a nasty ankle injury

This was hard to watch.  Venus screamed out in pain and hobbled around the court after injuring her ankle.  And she had arrived on court with an injured knee.  After a long timeout to address both injuries, with a despondent Venus in tears, she showed her grit by finding a way to finish out the match in the event’s most inspiring moment.

You can’t always prepare for the triumph of the disaster in sports or in life. “You can’t control it all. What you can control is how you handle the ups and the downs,” Williams later wrote on Instagram.
“No matter the outcome I always hold my head high and I leave everything I have on the court.
“I never look back in regrets because no matter the odds I give it all.
“You don’t have to look back when you leave it all out there. Always look forward, the deepest dream you could be…”

Nick Kyrgios saved two match points in a five-set epic

In another emotional moment involving an Australian, Kyrgios’ epic 5-7, 6-4, 3-6, 7-6(2), 6-4 win over Ugo Humbert was a thrilling affair on Nick’s favorite court, John Cain Area.

If you were in my head, I was just thinking about all the s*** I was going to cop if I lost that match,” Kyrgios told the Nine Network after the match.
“I don’t know how I did that, honestly, it’s one of the craziest matches I’ve ever played.”

Kyrgios lost in the third round to Dominic Thiem.

Donna Vekic in tears after ousting Kaia Kanepi

Vekic was immediately in tears after converting her own match point, advancing to the second week of the tournament despite losing six straight matches coming into this event.

Matteo Berrettini battles through pain to defeat Khachanov

The Italian suffered an abdominal injury during the third set, and was teary-eyed after closing out the match in straights.  He would have to withdraw from his fourth round match against Stefanos Tsitsipas due to the injury.

““I felt something on my ab. I thought that [it] wasn’t something really big, but the next day when I woke up I felt it was big. So I spoke to the doctors and they told me, ‘Look, it can get [much] worse’. So it’s not worth trying. I’m not 100 per cent. To beat these guys, you have to be 100 per cent. I think it’s not really professional to step [onto court] when you’re not the best.” Berrettini commented on his injury.

Stefanos Tsitsipas fights back to defeat Rafael Nadal

Tsitsipas became only the second man to ever do so at a Grand Slam event, and described himself as “speechless” when interviewed after the match.

Serena Williams’ wave goodbye after her semifinal loss

https://twitter.com/AustralianOpen/status/1362260576446132226

This felt like more than simply “See you next year, Melbourne.” Serena stopped her stride as she exited the court, waving and placing a hand to her heart. After being asked about the moment in press, she broke down and quickly exited the room.

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Novak Djokovic Captures Record Ninth Australian Open Title With Clinical Win over Medvedev

The world No.1 toppled his lacklustre opponent who produced a series of costly unforced errors to seal his 18th major title at Melbourne Park.

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Novak Djokovic has extended his dominance at the Australian Open by comprehensively beating Daniil Medvedev 7-5, 6-2, 6-2, to clinch an historic ninth title in Melbourne Park.

 

The showdown on the Rod Laver Arena was between two giants of the current game. Djokovic is the most decorated male player in Australian Open history and has recorded 11 consecutive wins over top 10 players in the tournament prior to the final. Meanwhile, Medvedev was on a 20-match winning streak with 12 of those victories being against a member of the top 10. However, a large majority of the encounter was dominated by the top seed who produced a total of 20 winners as he broke seven times en route to victory.

“I really like him as a person off the court. On the court, he’s definitely one of the toughest players I ever faced in my life,” Djokovic said of his rival during the trophy ceremony.
“It’s a matter of time that you will hold a Grand Slam for sure – if you don’t mind waiting a few more years…”

For the first time in the Open Era the men’s final was being contested by the first and fourth seeds in what was a battle from the onset. Playing on what he describes as his ‘home court’ Djokovic was the quicker of the two to settle into the match after a forehand down the line from the Serbian triggered a Medvedev error to give him a break en route to a 3-0 lead. Eventually Medvedev regained his footing as he gave his rival a dose of his own medicine by winning three games in a row to draw level. Both illustrated glimpses of their best tennis with sublime defensive play but it was the world No.1 who has the edge in the opener. Leading 6-5 a blistering Djokovic backhand passing shot handed him a trio of break points to clinch the set. He failed in his first two attempts, but it was third time lucky after the Russian fired a forehand shot into the net.

The thunderous hitting continued into the second frame as players started to contend with an increasingly animated crowd who had to be told repeatedly to stay quiet during points. One of the disturbances was a refugee protest which involved the removal of two people. On the court Djokovic once again traded breaks with his rival early on before pulling away with the help of some costly Medvedev mistakes. Prompting the world No.4 to smash one of his rackets out of anger and received a code violation for doing so as he fell behind 2-5. Medvedev’s mood deteriorated further in the next game as the top seed returned a serve deep to the baseline to clinch a two-set lead.

source – AusOpen Twitter

Winning all the mini battles that were fought, Djokovic’s offensive was one that drew his rival to despair who continuously made glimpses towards his camp in the crowd. Mentally Medvedev was done as Djokovic masterfully manoeuvred his way to the trophy once again. A three-game winning streak at the start of the third set placed him within touching distance of the win. Enough of a margin to see him over the finish live as he clinched victory on his first championship point after hitting an overhead volley. Prompting Djokovic to fall to the floor.

“I would like to thank my team,” said the nine-time champion. “It has been a roller-coaster ride for me, especially in the last couple of weeks but always a special thanks to you. You have dedicated so much time making sure I’m able to play and I am grateful to you. Thank you guys, I love you.’
“Last but not least, I would like to thank this court and the Rod Laver Arena. It’s a love affair that keeps going.”

It is the second time that 25-year-old Medvedev has lost in a major final after doing so to Nadal at the 2019 US Open. Although he remains one of the most likely candidates to take over the reign of the Big Three in the years to come. Since the start of 2020 he has won 38 Tour matches which is the third highest on the ATP after Djokovic and Andrey Rublev.

“(It’s) Never easy to speak when you just lost a Grand Slam final, but I’ll do my best!” said Medvedev.
“Congrats to Novak. Nine Slams in Australia is amazing and this won’t be your last one. Just to tell you a small story, I first met Novak when I was 500 or 600 in the world. I thought OK, he’s not going to speak to me, because he was world number one.’
“I was really shy. He was talking to me like I was a friend. He’s never changed – he’s always been a great sport and a great friend.”

The triumph has given Djokovic his 18th Grand Slam title which is just two away from the all-time record currently held by both Nadal and Roger Federer. He has now won a record nine titles in Melbourne Park which makes him only the second male player in history to have won the same major title that amount of times. Nadal has 13 French Open titles to his name. It is also the fifth time in his career Djokovic has successfully defended his title at the Australian Open.

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