What is a uchronia? Wikipedia defines it as follows: “A genre of fiction based on the premise that the history of the world followed an alternative path with respect to the real one.” In literature, there are many famous examples of uchronic fiction: “The Swastika on the Sun” by Philip K. Dick and “The plot against America” by Philip Roth are among the first that come to mind.
Journalism should aim to report the facts as they unfold, as faithfully as possible, and is therefore impervious to uchronian scenarios. Frequently, however, while reading the recaps of hard-fought tennis matches that went to the wire, we have a feeling that, if not perhaps a uchronian narrative, at least science fiction had always been there, between the lines. How many times do the authors of these articles make explicit reference to what could have happened – and did not – if at a given moment of the match, a particular point won by one player had been won by his or her opponent instead…
The comments of our readers are often, in turn, short uchronic stories in which – perhaps because of a soft spot for one of the on-court protagonists – an alternative reality is described.
Partly for fun, and partly in order not to succumb to the boredom of these long days plagued by social distancing, we have chosen some points that – had they sported a different outcome – could have resulted in a different end-result in the last three matches of the ATP Finals which were played at the O2 in London a month ago. We called them… “sliding points” – let us proceed chronologically.
First semifinal: Thiem beats Djokovic 7-5 6-7 7-6
We are in the second set and Thiem is serving at 5-6, 15-40; he is therefore facing two consecutive set points, the first of which is our…
Thiem serves at 196 km/h, and Djokovic returns with a moderately deep shot. Thiem, with the forehand, tests again Djokovic’s backhand. It is a good drive, but at first sight not good enough to thwart a man blessed with the best two-handed backhand on tour and perhaps of all time… and yet, at that very moment the spirits of Jack Sock and Steve Johnson (respectively the worst backhand in the West and in the East) possess Djokovic’s body and make him hit an abysmal backhand that lands wide.
The unspoken message on the Serbian’s face, in a close-up, is very clear, as to say: “Today is not my day.”
Djokovic had a correct foreshadowing of the future, and history would confirm it shortly thereafter. But what if he won that point? Surely it would have removed a lot from the drama of the match, because what happened in the decisive game of the second set will remain in the memory of the fans for a long time, but we believe that Nole would have gladly given up all of that epic in order to avoid the physical and mental fatigue that came with those 20 minutes of the first tie-breaker in order to arrive with a little more gas left in the waning moments of the ensuing set.
Second semifinal: Medvedev beats Nadal 3-6 7-6 6-3.
Second set tie-breaker: Medvedev is serving at 4-3 in his favour, when, all of a sudden…
The Russian misses his first serve; on the second, Nadal takes over the rally and puts himself in a position to hit a forehand from just behind the net; the violent trajectory of the ball struck by the Spaniard meets the frame of Medvedev’s racquet, and is followed by a winning lob from the Russian.
Some comedians would probably have jokingly called it “the point of the week”. Nadal – whose features increasingly remind us of actor Wes Study in the film “Geronimo” – with admirable composure just returns to his seat, raising his eyes to the sky, perhaps to ask Manitou for help. And Manitou won’t help him.
We might state the obvious by saying that, during a tie-breaker, one thing is to be chasing at 3-5 and quite another is to be tied at 4-4. But we do it trusting in your understanding by adding that the psychological factor when a tennis player feels victimised by fate can be decisive, even if the player in question is as mentally tough as Nadal. It seems to us that he was the first to be aware of it when he said in the post-match press conference: “I wasted a great opportunity.”
Last but not least the final: Medvedev beats Thiem 4-6 7-6 6-3.
Thiem won the first set by closing it with a net-favoured shot that left many observers – and perhaps even himself – with the feeling that the gods of tennis were with him. The second set is going by rather quickly, and the two players find themselves tied on the score of 3-3, 30-40, with Medvedev serving to save a break point that feels like a match point, and which is our last…
… SLIDING POINT
Medvedev’s first serve goes out; the second one is a sluggish and central serve that travels as fast as 133 km/h which the Russian rushes towards the net as an ideal bull’s eye for Thiem’s forehand; the Austrian seizes the opportunity immediately, and hits a violent stroke that forces Medvedev to make a purely defensive diving volley which by pure chance spins slightly backwards once it has barely crossed the net with an insidious, unpredictable effect. Thiem, however, starts running towards the ball as soon as it makes contact with Medvedev’s racquet and reaches it with enough time to place an apparently simple shot even for the standards of someone who – like him – hasn’t been gifted with great touch; Medvdedev’s fate seems sealed but Thiem puts the ball wide and subsequently stays standing there, petrified, with his eyes turned to his coach, who was at the moment no less aghast than him. An error that reminded us the infamous one backhand miss by Nadal in the fifth set of the final of the 2012 Australian Open against Djokovic.
If Thiem had sealed that point, he would have potentially found himself two service games away from victory. We cannot know what would have happened next, but the doubt that he lost this game more than Medvedev won it will be with us for a long time.
We would like to end this article with the words written by late writer and poet Vittorio Sereni. This great Lombard loved sport, and he wrote many essays and articles that have recently been collected in an anthology titled “Il verde è sommesso in nerazzurri” (Green is subdued in blacks and in blues).
In an article on soccer, he writes: “I don’t think there is another sporting spectacle like this one, offering validation to the truth of existence, mirroring it or rather representing it in its up and downs, in its unexpected events, in its setbacks; and even in its stasis and repetitions; and in its monotony too… ” Mutatis mutandis, we believe that these thoughts can be applied to tennis as well. Do you agree?
Article by Roberto Ferri; translated by Michele Brusadelli; edited by Tommaso Villa
Alexander Zverev Secures Place In ATP Finals With Indian Wells Win
Zverev will be seeking to win the season-ending extravaganza for the second time in his career.
Germany’s Alexander Zverev has become the fourth player to officially qualify for the ATP Finals after reaching the third round of the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells.
The world No.4 defeated America’s Jenson Brooksby 6-4, 3-6, 6-1, in his second round match on Sunday which pushed him over the points threshold to secure his spot in the end-of-season event. It is the fifth year in a row he has qualified for the ATP Finals which he won back in 2018. He is one of only three German players to ever win the title after Boris Becker and Michael Stich.
This year’s tournament will take place in Turin, Italy for the first time in history after being held at The O2 Arena in London for more than a decade. Only the eight highest ranked players are eligible to play in the round-robin tournament which has on offer up to 1500 rankings points for an undefeated champion.
“My first time in Turin. I’ve been to London four times before. London is obviously very special to me because I won there, as well. I think the stadium is incredible, one of the most special events that we had,” Zverev told reporters on Sunday.
“But I also love playing in Italy. I had great success in Italy. I won my first Masters in Rome. I’m looking forward to being there. I’m looking forward to playing in front of the Italian fans. It’s going to be a great week.”
The 24-year-old approaches the final quarter of this season with four titles already won this year. He has won two Masters 1000 trophies, an ATP 500 event in Mexico and a gold medal in singles at the Tokyo Olympic Games. Zverev, who has recorded seven wins over top 10 players, also reached the semi-finals at both the French Open and US Open.
Zverev joins Novak Djokovic, Daniil Medvedev and Stefanos Tsitsipas as the players who have qualified for the ATP Finals so far. It is the third straight season the quartet has qualified for the event.
This year’s ATP Finals will get underway on November 14th. Medvedev is the defending champion.
Denis Shapovalov Advances After Pospisil Retires In Indian Wells
The battle of the two Canadians didn’t go as planned…
Vasek Pospisil faced off against his fellow Canadian Denis Shapovalov in the second round of the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells and it was the world number 13 who got the win after the Vernon native pulled out due to an injury whilst trailing 0-3.
It was a rough start for Pospisil who seemed to struggle with his serve in the opening game of the match and double-faulted twice in a row to give the early break and Shapovalov had no issues consolidating the break.
Shapovalov continued to apply pressure on the Pospisil serve and after saving two breakpoints the world number 68 pulled up after a serve and stopped play, calling for the trainer. He ended up taking a medical timeout off the court and a couple of minutes later returned to court. Pospisil was broken once again and the following game after a couple of returns decided to call it quits.
” It was pretty awful…and if I’m being honest I am shaking a bit…It really sucks I hope it’s nothing serious…He’s a great guy he’s a real warrior he’s fought back from some injuries surgeries to such a great level.” Shapovalov said of his compatriot.
Shapovalov will face 19th seed Aslan Karatsev in the next round after the Russian thrashed Salvatore Caruso 6-2, 6-0.
In the other results of the day sixth seeed Casper Ruud dominated Roberto Carballes Baena 6-1, 6-2, Roberto Bautista Agut beat the Argentine Guido Pella 7-5, 6-3 and Sebastien Korda won an all American battle with Frances Tiafoe 6-0, 6-4.
Finally, Diego Schwartzman needed three sets to beat another American in Maxime Cressy winning 6-2, 3-6, 7-5.
Stefanos Tsitsipas Sidesteps Question Over Vaccination Status
The Greek also jokes that he will be having less bathroom breaks in Indian Wells due to one particular reason.
Stefanos Tsitsipas has declined to confirm if he has received a COVID-19 vaccination despite previously saying he planned to do so later this year.
The world No.3 was questioned about the vaccination during his pre-tournament press conference at Indian Wells on Wednesday. Earlier this year Tsitsipas came under fire after saying he doesn’t see a reason why somebody his age needs to be vaccinated and expressed concerns over the potential side effects. He also added that young people catching COVID-19 is a good thing as it helps build up their immunity. Prompting criticism from various people, including a spokesperson for the Greek government.
However, in recent weeks Tsitsipas has changed his stance on the issue and recently told Antenna TV that he will have his first dose by the end of this year. When asked by a reporter in Indian Wells if he has had it yet, the French Open finalist declined to answer.
“I’m sorry but I’m not able to provide any of my medical records,” he said.
Player vaccination rates in tennis are becoming a growing issue amid reports that the Australian Open may only allow fully vaccinated players to participate due to a health mandate which has been implemented by the local government. There is yet to be a formal announcement by Tennis Australia regarding their entry requirements. However, The Age newspaper reports that there is a ‘strong likelihood’ that only vaccinated players will be allowed entry by Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton.
Tsitsipas’ immediate focus is on this week’s BNP Paribas Open where he is the second seed behind Daniil Medvedev. Speaking about the conditions, the 23-year-old joked it was ‘very dry’ and therefore he will be having less bathroom breaks during matches. Referring to the recent criticism he has received from some of his peers over the timing of breaks he takes.
“It’s very dry here,” Tsitsipas said.
“That is good for me because I sweat less, which makes for less bathroom breaks, which makes for less complaints. So a very good sign so far,” he added with a smile.
The hope for Tsitsipas is that he will be able to build on his recent experience at the Laver Cup where he helped Europe secure their fourth consecutive title. The event provides players with the opportunity to work alongside each other in a team format. Something Tsitsipas relished but he is ready to get back to singles duty.
“I think team competitions are necessary for our sport and we don’t get to be united a lot,” he said. “We always kind of focus on ourselves and our things and environment and that is what you usually see on Tour. Players doing their own thing. Not much socialising.
“At the Laver Cup, we all get to have dinners together and all get to hang out with each other. Of course, though, we all have our competitiveness and if we get stuck around we might share too much with one another, that is the mentality behind it.”
Tsitsipas is yet to win a main draw match in Indian Wells. He will start his 2021 bid against either qualifier Roberto Marcora or Spain’s Pedro Martinez.
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