Novak Djokovic Makes Bid To Move Into A Class Of His Own - UBITENNIS
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Novak Djokovic Makes Bid To Move Into A Class Of His Own

James Beck reflects on Novak Djokovic’s marathon win over Stefanos Tsitsipas in the final of the French Open.

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Novak Djokovic (image via https://twitter.com/rolandgarros)

And they kept playing . . .

 

Each with a shot at history of his own.

After maybe the most incredible first set in a Grand Slam singles final.

It was 72 minutes of thrill a second athleticism.

Stefanos Tsitsipas prevailed in that first set, but in the end Novak Djokovic made his shot at history a good one by completing  a second career Grand Slam with a 6-7 (6), 2-6, 6-3, 6-2, 6-4 victory over Tsitsipas in Sunday’s French Open men’s final.

A DOUBLE CAREER GRAND SLAM IS SPECIAL

A double lap of picking up titles at all four of tennis’ Grand Slam championships is something Djokovic’s fellow legends Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal have not accomplished during their storied careers. It’s a tribute to a player of the ages.

And all of a sudden, some observers are calling Djokovic the best player ever.

He didn’t look that way after losing the first two sets to Tsitsipas. But then the Greek standout appeared to start feeling the pressure of the situation and the presence of Djokovic on the other side of the court.

TSITSIPAS MISSES HIS FIRST SHOT AT GREATNESS

As for Tsitsipas, he missed his shot at becoming the first Greek player to win a Grand Slam singles title. But don’t count him out of the running for that honour. At 22 years old, he should have many more opportunities to win Grand Slam titles.

It would seem that Tsitsipas has a much better shot at becoming the first Greek Grand Slam champion than French Open women’s runner-up Maria Sakkari. Tsitsipas appears to be bound for superstar status.

Tsitsipas is talented enough to even spoil Djokovic’s chances to match the record 20 Grand Slam titles Federer and Nadal each have won. Tsitsipas has felt the pressure of a Grand Slam final for the first time. The next time may be his. No one can deny his potential, not even Djokovic.

DROP SHOT MAY NOT BE DECISIVE NEXT TIME

The next time these two meet the drop shot may not be that great of an option for Djokovic.

You might say that Novak’s drop shot was the real winner on the red clay.

But make no mistake about it, Djokovic has 19 Grand Slam singles titles and appears to be a cinch to deadlock Nadal and Federer at least by the end of next year’s Australian Open where he is practically unbeatable.

The task appears easy for Djokovic. But don’t tell that to Serena Williams or even Federer or Nadal, who lost to Tsitsipas after holding a two-set lead in the quarterfinals of this year’s Australian Open, and then also lost three straight sets to Djokovic in this French Open after winning the first five games and first set. In the Australian Open, Nadal was going for a tie-breaking 21st Grand Slam title and also a second career Grand Slam.

The last step in reaching immortality status is never easy for an athlete.

TSITSIPAS GOOD ON ALL SURFACES

Tsitsipas is an all-surface sensation, equally good on all three surfaces, clay, grass and hard courts. He will get a chance to prove his merits on grass and hard courts the next three months at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open.

Rest assured, the sometimes temperamental Greek is already in training for those opportunities. Obviously, his main goals in preparation will be to improve his conditioning, including building up his legs and back while working on his drop-shot defense and improving the accuracy and consistency of his serves.

DJOKOVIC MADE EVEN TSITSIPAS LOOK OLD

You might say Tsitsipas lost the drop-shot battle with Djokovic. By the second half of the match, Tsitsipas was content to concede drop shots to Novak.

Tsitsipas was worn out. Djokovic made him look old late in the match in much the same way Novak made Nadal look on Friday in the last set in a four-set loss by the Spanish left-hander.

Just as against Nadal in the first set, Djokovic looked totally out of it in the second set against Tsitsipas. The long, tight first set appeared to have compromised Djokovic’s physical capabilities in the second set.

NOVAK LOOKS LIKE SUPERMAN

At that point, the big and athletic Tsitsipas looked like a sure thing to fulfill his Greek Grand Slam dream. He had Novak on a string with his aggressive forehands and backhands, and load of aces.

But in the break between the second and third sets, it was as if Djokovic found his Superman cape. He was nearly invincible the last three sets, coming up with service breaks early in each set, fourth game in the third set, first and third games in the fourth set and third game in the fifth set. Tsitsipas had multiple ads in three of those four games in which he suffered service breaks during the last three sets.

AGE OF UNPREDICTABILITY FOR MEN’S TENNIS

Roland Garros was just the beginning of this new page of men’s tennis. There is no real assurance that Nadal or Federer will win a 21st or 22nd Grand Slam title. And Nadal is less than a year older than Djokovic.

It’s becoming the age of unpredictability in men’s tennis with so many young guns chasing the old-timers with big weapons. The next year will be very interesting.

See James Beck’s Charleston (S.C.) Post and Courier columns at postandcourier.com (search on James Beck column). James Beck can be reached at Jamesbecktennis@gmail.com. 

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Djokovic Isn’t Satisfied With The 20-20-20 Look

The world number one will be the overwhelming favourite at the US Open, but Berrettini is here to stay

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Now that Novak Djokovic has 20-20-20 vision, he says he’s not through.

 

He’s aiming to be the sole leader of the gang now that he has deadlocked Rafa Nadal and Roger Federer at 20 Grand Slam singles titles each.

But future Grand Slam titles might not come easy for any of the 20-20-20 gang, even  youngest member Djokovic. Italian muscleman Matteo showed on Sunday in his Wimbledon championship match loss to Djokovic that he has arrived as a legitimate Grand Slam tournament contender.

NOVAK BIDDING TO MATCH LAVER

Of course, Djokovic now has won three Grand Slams this year and has his eyes focused on winning all four Grand Slams in one year, matching something the great Rod Laver accomplished twice about half-a-century ago.

The U.S. Open awaits the challenge. Novak will be a huge favorite, although it would be great to see Rafa and Roger in New York again.

Who knows? These two legends hopefully are already out getting their games ready for the hard courts of Flushing Meadows.

MATTEO AGGRESSIVE, YET PASSIVE

Berrettini had his chances against Djokovic. But he was either too eager or too passive with his shots much of the afternoon. Unlike the 20-20-20 Gang, Matteo really doesn’t have great touch. But power? He has more than he needs.

Between the two traits, Berrettini didn’t take full advantage of his many opportunities. Had he cashed in on the majority of them, Wimbledon might have had a different champion, and Djokovic would still be looking up at Nadal and Federer.

But Novak was always there, ready to pounce on the smallest window of opportunity. He often turned opportunities for Berrettini into his own.

BERRETTINI: THE BIG MUSCULAR GUY

The preliminaries to the match were very English-like, much like the aftermath of the grueling 6-7 (4), 6-4, 6-4, 6-3 victory by Djokovic. Both players were somber as they made their way onto the court, each carrying green and white Head tennis bags and hand bags

Wearing his usual cap turned backward, the 25-year-old Berrettini looked like a movie star or a tight end with his 6-5, 209-pound figure, overshadowing the 6-2, 172-pound Djokovic, whose thin-man look enables the 34-year-old Serbian to be as nimble as an acrobat.

The first game lasted what seemed like a set as Djokovic survived two double faults and a break point to take a 1-0 lead. Novak broke in the fourth game and led 5-2 before Berrettini pulled his game together to survive the eight-deuce eighth game, then broke Novak and held service for 5-5.

TIEBREAKER BELONGS TO MATTEO

Berrettini surprisingly outplayed Djokovic in the tiebreaker and closed the door with an ace. But the Italian came down to earth and was broken early in each of the last three sets to allow Djokovic to take the title.

Grand Slam titles didn’t always come so often for Djokovic. After notching his first Grand Slam title at the 2008 Australian Open, he watched Rafa Nadal and Roger Federer win 10 of the 11 Grand Slams before Novak got in the winner’s circle again in 2011.

EVERYTHING GOING NOVAK’S WAY

But now as Nadal and Federer appear to be struggling with their age, Djokovic has won eight of the last 14 Grand Slams. Overall, he has won 20 of the last 54 Grand Slams.

While all of that has been happening, Djokovic has won five of the last seven Wimbledons, and six in all.

Everything appears to be going Novak’s way, but the young guns of the tour obviously are getting anxious to win Grand Slams. And Novak can’t look like Superman forever.


See James Beck’s Charleston (S.C.) Post and Courier columns at postandcourier.com (search on James Beck column). James Beck can be reached at Jamesbecktennis@gmail.com

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Why Are So Many Tennis Players Skipping The Olympics?

It isn’t just the COVID-19 pandemic which are putting players playing off going.

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On Monday Canada’s Dennis Shapovalov joined the growing number of tennis stars who have decided not to play in this year’s Olympics Games.

 

In a statement issued on social media, the world No.12 said his decision was due to the COVID-19 pandemic and doing what he believes was best for the safety of his team. Japan, which is where the Games are being held, has been dealing with a surge in cases in recent weeks with a low number of the population to be fully vaccinated. Whilst the country has banned international spectators from attending amid fears of the virus being spread, organisers say up to 10,000 domestic fans will be allowed to attend the Olympic venues.

“After careful consideration I wanted to let you know that I will not be participating in the Olympics this year. Representing Canada means the world to me, but due to the current situation my team and I have decided this is the best decision for everyone’s safety,” Shapovalov wrote on twitter.

Shapovalov’s concerns related to the pandemic aren’t the only thing which is deterring tennis players from attending the Olympics. Over the past week, two top 10 players from the men’s Tour also confirmed that they will not be participating. Rafael Nadal is missing the event in order to take a break from the sport following what was a demanding clay court swing. Meanwhile, Dominic Thiem says he doesn’t want to travel to Tokyo and instead wants to focus on his title defence at the US Open.

This year’s tennis calendar doesn’t favour the Olympics. The Wimbledon Championships concludes two weeks before it begins and the US Open starts five weeks after. Two of the biggest events in the sport which offer the highest amount of prize money and ranking points per round. At the same time as the Olympics two ATP 250 events are taking place in Austria and America.

So much has to depend on where a player is in their career. Have they won an Olympic medal before? How important is it to them? Do they want to travel to Asia in the middle of the summer? For every player I think it is very individual how seriously they take the Olympics,” former Olympic champion Lindsey Davenport told The Tennis Channel in 2020.

Tennis was officially reintroduced into the Games back in 1988 after being showcased as a demonstration sport four years prior. It is different to Tour events with no official prize money on offer. However, some countries such as Russia have previously issued financial rewards for athletes who win medals.

Another sticking point is there being no ranking points available for players participating. Back in 2019 the International Tennis Federation told UbiTennis they were ‘open’ to allowing points being awarded but no progress has been made. Perhaps due to the complex governance of the sport with the Olympic event being run by the ITF. Meaning they will have to form an agreement with both the ATP and WTA for such an incentive to happen.

“Currently, the WTA and ATP do not award points for the Olympic Qualification Pathway. We (the ITF) are always open to discussion on the matter.” The ITF said.

Another issue concerns the location. Players face having to travel from Europe to Asia and then North America within a month. A journey made substantially more difficult than usual due to restrictions related to the pandemic.

Chile’s Christian Garin says his decision not to go to Tokyo is because he feels athletes will not be able to get the full experience due to the current restrictions in place.

“Due to the instability of this year and added to the fact that the established conditions will not allow me to live the real experience of what the Olympic Games mean, that is why I have made this decision,” he wrote on Instagram.

When it comes to other Olympic absentees, a contingent of Spanish players will not be attending due to what newspaper Marca describes as ‘calendar issues and a logistically difficult trip to Tokyo.’ Those skipping the event are Roberto Bautista Agut, Albert Ramos, Feliciano López, Jaume Munar and Carlos Alcaraz. Norway’s Caper Ruud, Serbia’s Dusan Lajovic and Bulgaria’s Grigor Dimitrov will also not be playing.

Despite the surge in withdrawals which will most likely increase in the coming weeks, other top names have committed to playing. Novak Djokovic, Naomi Osaka, Daniil Medvedev, Victoria Azarenka, Aryna Sabalenka and Andy Murray have all confirmed they will play.

“It’s going to be my first Olympic Games. We have a great team so we can do some doubles, mixed doubles, everything,” Medvedev said about playing.
“Going to be amazing experience. Of course, with COVID maybe it’s not going to be the same like every year.”

The Olympic tennis event will be held at the Ariake Coliseum and get underway on July 24th.

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The Other Side of Press Conferences

American author and journalist Mike Mewshaw gives his take on the controversy that surfaced at this year’s French Open

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After Naomi Osaka’s withdrawal from the French Open, the debate about press conferences keeps cropping up.  Pressers have been analyzed from more angles than Rafa’s forehand or Serena’s backhand.  Players, both active and retired, have weighed in with their opinions, along with coaches and sports therapists.  The consensus is that tennis reporters are insensitive, disrespectful, sexist, racist, and eager to provoke controversy.

 

The constant threat of illness, the absence of fans, the isolation, and loss of income has certainly added to impatience with reporters.  Venus Williams tartly suggested she maintained her composure during interviews by realizing she could beat any hack in the room; none of them could hold a candle to her. 

But this sort of disrespect runs in both directions.  While players view reporters as pesky publicity machines, at best, or gossip-hounds at worst, some journalists regard players as spoiled high school dropouts who couldn’t write a grammatically correct paragraph if their endorsement contracts depended on it. With all due deference to Naomi Osaka, I would urge her and her colleagues on the ATP and WTA tours to view things from a different perspective.  The coronavirus has wreaked havoc on the press just as it has on them.  Plenty of tennis reporters have lost their jobs.  Almost all of them earn less income.  They face the same risks of infection and submit to enough Covid tests to leave them as red-nosed as Rudolph.

Under the circumstances, reporters who travel the tour, along with those covering matches remotely from their basements, have done a creditable job.  Sure, they sometimes sound testy, just as the players do.  Of course their questions can be repetitious, just as the players answers can be. 

Over the past four decades, I’ve covered more press conferences than I now have white hairs on my head.  I’ve heard racist comments, sexist remarks and massively insulting accusations.  But more often than not, the putdowns were aimed at reporters or at other players.  In the old days, these seldom made it into newspapers, and the really offensive quotes and admissions of rule breaking were deleted from press conference transcripts.  In that politically incorrect era, Arthur Ashe, for instance, came in for a raft of prejudice.  Ilie Nastase openly referred to him as negroni.

Although it’s now largely forgotten, Billie Jean King’s sexuality was accepted by the press long before many on the women’s tour spoke up in her defense.  While male journalists can be appallingly insensitive—Italian Hall of Fame journalist Gianni Clerici used to print Steffi Graf’s menstrual cycle in La Repubblica—it would be difficult to find anything less “woke” than Martina Hingis’ description of Amélie Mauresmo as a “half-man” who “travels with her girlfriend.”  Or Lindsay Davenport’s comment after Mauresmo beat her, “I thought I was playing a guy.”

Predictably, both women walked back these quotes, accusing the press of taking their words out of context.  That’s an ancient canard on the circuit—shoot off your mouth, then claim you were misquoted.  I remember Buster Mottram, then the British Number One, complaining about rowdy fans in Rome, accusing Italians of being animals.  At his next press conference he carefully parsed the remark.  Suddenly the voice of reason, he observed that human beings were all, anthropologically speaking, animals. 

If Buster had won a few majors, his quotes might have been immortalized, like Andre Agassi’s wisecrack at the French Open, “I’m happy as a faggot in a submarine.”  That line made the list of Esquire Magazine’s annual Dubious Achievement Awards. 

John McEnroe’s infamously objectionable conference quotes could only be contained on a wall as vast as the Vietnam War Memorial.  Even if one had the space and energy to chisel them in stone, many would have to be bowdlerized.  One that barely passes the censor’s blue pencil is his barbarous backhand at a female reporter who had the impertinence to question him.  “Lady, you need to get laid.”

In some cases actions speak louder and more loathsome than words.  After a match in Milan, a local female journalist asked Jimmy Connors, “Why do you always touch yourself in a particular place?”  Jimmy shoved a hand down his shorts and gave his genitals a good shake.  “It feels good.  You should try it.”

To repeat, I empathize with Naomi Osaka’s aversion to press conferences.  More than she might imagine I agree that they can be frustrating, stress producing, depressing, and borderline transgressive.  I accept the sage advice of deep-think editorials and socially conscious scribes that reporters need to raise the level of their game.  But so do players who could profit from sensitivity training, anger management, and basic etiquette lessons.  With mutual respect for all those who share a rough road toward an uncertain future, the tour could become a better place for everybody.


Michael Mewshaw is the author of 22 books, among them AD IN AD OUT, a collection of his tennis articles, now available as an e-book.

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