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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Novak Djokovic Underlines His Supremacy in Paris

It was clear that the world No.1 had done his homework and learned from what happened in New York

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Credit: Roberto Dell'Olivo

Novak Djokovic came to France for the Rolex Paris Masters having been gone from the game for seven weeks. He had needed that time to recover from the rigors of a 2021 season that had stretched him to the edge of his physical, mental and emotional limits. He had been forced to endure one of the toughest setbacks of his career when he was beaten by Daniil Medvedev in the final of the U.S. Open, falling one match short of establishing himself as the first man to win the calendar Grand Slam since Rod Laver in 1969.

 

That was surely a soul searching time for the Serbian because he knows full well that he missed out on a once in a lifetime opportunity. Djokovic would have been entirely worthy of that lofty honor, but Medvedev had taken the top seed apart 6-4, 6-4, 6-4 in New York with a career defining performance, claiming his first major title in the process, exploiting a subpar Djokovic to the hilt.

But the 34-year-old icon clearly came to terms with what happened at the last Grand Slam tournament of 2021, figured out how to leave that devastating disappointment behind him, and then reached back with his all of his considerable resources and vowed to seal a record seventh year-end No. 1 ranking with the strongest possible showing in Paris. In the end, Djokovic might have even exceeded his own expectations by realizing his largest dream, winning his sixth Rolex Masters title and taking a record 37th Masters 1000 crown, eclipsing Medvedev in a stirring final 4-6, 6–3, 6-3.

Djokovic had already made certain he would conclude 2021 at the top of the rankings by overcoming Hubert Hurkacz in an exhilarating semifinal, and critics from all over the globe wondered if he could summon the energy or the inspiration to come back on court one day after such a towering achievement against a man who is fast emerging as his foremost rival. Djokovic had, after all, surpassed Pete Sampras for the most years finished at No. 1, although the estimable American secured his six in succession from 1993-98 while Djokovic has now done it seven times across the last eleven years.

Be that as it may, Djokovic was tested significantly from the beginning of his quest for another Paris triumph. After a first round bye, he collided with the capable Hungarian Marton Fucsovics, the same fellow the Serbian toppled in the quarterfinals of Wimbledon. Djokovic glided through the first set but dropped the second and had to fight hard in the third before prevailing 6-2, 4-6, 6-3. Due to meet Gael Monfils in the round of 16, Djokovic advanced with a default from the French player he has defeated seventeen times without a loss over the course of their careers.

That was not what he needed. The Serbian would have been much better off hitting a ton of balls and finding his groove rather than having a day off from the office; hard work was required. In the quarterfinals, he took on the surging American Taylor Fritz, a player who had knocked out Andrey Rublev and Cam Norrie earlier in the week after upsetting Matteo Berrettini and Sascha Zverev at Indian Wells. Fritz had followed up on that fine effort by reaching the final in St. Petersburg, Russia before losing a hard fought clash with Marin Cilic.

Photo by Roberto Dell’Olivo

So it was no wonder that the Californian was in such stellar form on his way to an appointment with Djokovic in Paris. But Djokovic halted Fritz comfortably 6-4, 6-3 despite losing his serve three times, breaking the American no fewer than five times to keep himself out of jeopardy. And so he had made it to the penultimate round for the showdown with Hurkacz. The Polish competitor had sealed his place in the eight player field at the ATP Championships for the first time by virtue of a hard fought triumph over James Duckworth in the previous round at Paris, and that meant Hurkacz was confronting Djokovic with absolutely nothing to lose.

Relaxed and confident with Djokovic almost palpably uptight, Hurkacz took the first set on one service break, attacking judiciously and fending off Djokovic from the backcourt with his long wingspan and impressive ball control. But then the 6’5” Hurkacz began misfiring frequently off the forehand and Djokovic found his range convincingly to win ten of the next eleven games. Djokovic took the second set by winning 25 of 36 points and then built a 4-1 final set lead.

But—perhaps preoccupied with the knowledge that the No. 1 ranking for the year was his for the taking—Djokovic played an abysmal game at 4-2 on his serve with two glaring errors off the ground and one double fault. Hurkacz broke back and made his way to 4-4. Although Djokovic reached match point with Hurkacz serving in the tenth game, the poise and perspicacity of the Polish star was evident once again as he came forward unhesitatingly and forced Djokovic to miss a backhand passing shot. Hurkacz held on for 5-5 with sheer persistence.

Fittingly it was all settled in a tie-break, with Hurkacz drawing first blood and opening up a mini-break lead at 3-2. But Djokovic then coaxed his adversary into a forehand mistake on the following point. The tie-break proceeded to 5-5 with both players standing two points away from victory. On the next two points, however, only one player blinked. First, Hurkacz tried to get in off a short low forehand from Djokovic, but his crosscourt approach found the net. Then, at match point down, Hurkacz came forward again, but punched a backhand volley down the line with sidespin inches wide. Djokovic escaped 3-6, 6-0, 7–6 (5), coming through largely with willpower against an opponent who was giving him no pace and serving prodigiously in the final set.

Medvedev had struggled to some degree in all of his matches prior to the penultimate round, but then he accounted for Zverev with surprising ease 6-2, 6-2. To be sure, this was his fourth win in a row over the 6’6” German but it was by far his most one-sided victory ever against Zverev. In the early stages, Zverev had a few chances, wasting two break points with the Russian serving at 1-2, squandering another opportunity two games later.  But this was his worst performance in a long while. Zverev had won 28 of his previous 30 matches starting with his gold medal run at the Olympics in Tokyo, and he had been convincing while taking the title in Vienna the week before Paris.

Perhaps the wear and tear of two debilitating weeks in a row caught up with the German at the worst possible time in an important duel with Medvedev. Medvedev was almost letter perfect off the ground and his serve was remarkably potent and precise, but the fact remains that Zverev was not the same demonstrably competitive performer we have witnessed so regularly since the summer. To be sure, the court in Paris is classified as “medium” speed but it was much slower than a year ago. Zverev was unable to win many free points on serve and his game plan was haphazard. He did not know whether to come in or stay back, to go for the lines or play the percentages, to try for outright winners or attempt to outlast Medvedev in long exchanges. Making matters worse, Medvedev made a mere eight unforced errors across sixteen games, galloping to a 6-2, 6-2 win.

Photo by Roberto Dell’Olivo

Having been so polished in that performance—not to mention his straight sets dissection of Djokovic at the U.S. Open—Medvedev was the slight favorite in the final according to many experts. He was the defending champion in Paris and some authorities believed Djokovic might have a letdown after his demanding skirmish with Hurkacz the day before, which had consequences transcending the match itself.

But Djokovic had his family assembled in court-side seats, with his children joining his wife Jelena to cheer him on unabashedly. The presence of his kids seemed to inspire Djokovic and to put him in the right frame of mind to play hard but, above all, enjoy himself out on the court despite the seriousness of the occasion and the significance of the eventual outcome.

It was a fascinating final in so many ways. At the outset, Djokovic made aggressive errors and Medvedev refused to miss. That combination lifted the Russian into a 2-0 lead. Medvedev collected eight of eleven points in creating that cushion for himself. Djokovic made six unforced errors in those two games, but the difference this time was his physical freshness and a vastly more positive outlook.

Djokovic—signaling a strategy he would employ to great gains throughout the fierce battle—went to the serve-and-volley twice in the third game and won both points. He held at love, then broke Medvedev in the fourth game with crackling forehands and a double fault from the Russian. Djokovic followed with another confident hold for 3-2. He had not only won three games in a row but had taken 12 of 14 points in that span.

Had Djokovic managed to break Medvedev in the sixth game to take a 4-2 lead, he might well have won the opening set. A sizzling forehand crosscourt return that Medvedev could not answer gave Djokovic a break point, but the Russian erased it emphatically with his favorite first serve out wide in the ad court, setting up a swing volley winner. No one in the world can create angles with that first serve better than Medvedev. He held on for 3-3 with an ace and a well placed first serve down the T.

Medvedev had wrestled the momentum away from Djokovic at a critical moment, preventing the Serbian from winning four games in a row and perhaps moving inexorably toward a first set triumph. Instead, Djokovic played tenuously in the seventh game. He pulled a forehand wide to conclude a bruising 20 stroke rally, double faulted for 0-30 and then sent a two-hander up the line that landed long for an unprovoked mistake. Although he made it back from 0-40 to 30-40, Djokovic was broken when Medvedev answered a backhand crosscourt drop shot with one of his own that was better. 4-3 for Medvedev. 

Nonetheless, Djokovic was not unduly dismayed. Striving to break back for 4-4, he had 15-30 on the Medvedev serve but was met with misfortune as a wobbly backhand down the line from the Russian landed on the sideline and caused an error from  the surprised Serbian. Medvedev eventually held on from deuce. Two games later, serving for the set at 5-4, Medvedev missed only one first serve and held at 15. He was up a set but Djokovic was not downcast, realizing the set could have gone his way.

Djokovic opened the second set unequivocally, holding at love with four first serves in a row, sending a forehand into the corner that was unanswerable, serving-and-volleying successfully, rifling a forehand into the clear and closing that game with a service winner down the T. He reached 0-30 in the following game and did not break, but it was strikingly apparent that the world No. 1 wanted to validate his label once more.

After another excellent service game featuring three winners and supreme execution, Djokovic went to work unswervingly. With Medvedev serving at 1-2, the 25-year-old Russian started with a double fault but after releasing three consecutive aces for 40-15 he seemed certain to hold. But Djokovic kept plugging away, got back to deuce, and then played his most masterful defensive point of the match, making one impossible save after another off the forehand until Medvedev finally erred. It was a rally that only Djokovic could have salvaged. That took him to break point. He then went backhand to backhand and became the beneficiary of an unforced error from a tentative adversary.

Photo by Roberto Dell’Olivo

It was 3-1 for Djokovic. He proceeded to hold for 4-1 at 15 with an ace down the T and then secured another solid hold for 5-2. Serving to stay in the set, Medvedev fell behind 0-30 but swept four points in a row. The Russian was making a substantial push to deny Djokovic at this crucial juncture and somehow turn the set back in his favor.

When Djokovic served for the second set at 5-3, it was the high water moment of the contest, and almost a match within a match. It brought both players out in the brightest light as they battled so ferociously for a game both men wanted wholeheartedly. It gave Djokovic and Medvedev a chance to sparkle simultaneously, to keep countering each other with their intuition, creativity and athletic brilliance, to provide the fans with a smorgasbord of spectacular shotmaking. It was a treat to watch and proved to be the pivotal moment of the afternoon. There were five deuces in that game. Medvedev had three break points. Djokovic needed three set points. And every bit of it was enthralling. Djokovic kept traveling to the net while Medvedev refused to waver. In the end, Djokovic, who had commenced that game with an ace, sealed it with another untouchable delivery down the T to make it one set all.

That was surely a crushing blow to Medvedev, who realized that Djokovic was gathering steam, gaining confidence and raising his game while making the match immensely physical. Under those circumstances, with Djokovic attacking and defending stupendously and using every inch of the court, Medvedev recognized precisely what he was up against. They went to 2-2 in the third on serve as Djokovic held in the fourth game with another outstanding serve-volley package, punching a backhand first volley magnificently crosscourt for a winner.

Now Medvedev began to feel the commanding presence of Djokovic once more. Leading 40-15 in the fifth game, he lost four points in a row to an unrelenting and willful Djokovic. On break point, Djokovic sent a backhand down the line to lure Medvedev into an error. Djokovic promptly held at love for 4-2 on a cluster of mistakes from a beleaguered adversary. Medvedev was broken again in the seventh game by a resolute Djokovic. The Russian’s spirit had been sorely broken. Although Djokovic did not serve out the match at 5-2– missing all five first serves and double faulting once—it did not matter. With Medvedev serving to stay in the final at 3-5, he reached 30-30 but then Djokovic blocked a backhand return deep down the middle as only he can and Medvedev missed off the forehand. Now, at match point, Djokovic and Medvedev kept shifting from offense to defense before the Serbian drove a penetrating backhand down the line to set up a pinpoint forehand down the line winner. 

After that scintillating 26 stroke exchange, Djokovic had prevailed 4-6, 6-3, 6-3 for his single most important victory of 2021 outside of the four majors. It was also his fourteenth win of the year from a set down, which is no mean feat. Djokovic’s match record is 48-6 on the season so he has battled back after the loss of the first set nearly 30% of the time. It marked his fifth title run of 2021; in ten years across his sterling career, Djokovic has collected at least that many titles. Most impressively, he won 79% of his first serve points compared to Medvedev’s 59%. And nothing mattered more than his timely attacking as Djokovic won 27 of 36 points when approaching the net. Seldom if ever has he come in more, especially in a three set match. He outthought Medvedev as well as outplaying the determined Russian, demonstrating irrefutably that he can overcome formidable opponents in a variety of ways. He is indeed a multi-faceted player and individual.

Strangely, it was Djokovic’s first Masters 1000 tournament triumph of 2021. He had put so much emphasis on the four majors this year that he only played two clay court ATP 1000’s and skipped all the rest. That is the only reason he did not secure the year-end No. 1 ranking sooner. But the fact remained that he had to treat his Medvedev Paris encounter as a must-win situation. He had lost four of his last six meetings with the Russian. 

They had split their two Grand Slam tournament finals this season, with Djokovic routing Medvedev 7-5, 6-2, 6-2 at the Australian Open before losing to his keynote rival at the U.S. Open. A loss in Paris might have left the Serbian with lingering doubts about himself in that rivalry. They would have been locked at 5-5 in their career series with everything moving in Medvedev’s direction; instead, Djokovic has extended his lead over the tenacious Russian to 6-4. This was among his most crucial victories in recent years.

image via witter.com/RolexMasters

Djokovic felt the burden of pressure had been lifted from his shoulders after his semifinal win and the securing of No. 1 for the season. As he said after the final, “I felt a huge relief knowing that I had achieved the biggest goal of the week for me. When I did that yesterday, I just kind of felt more relaxed today. Even though there is always pressure playing against No. 2 of the world and probably my biggest rival in tennis at the moment in this season, I wanted to finish the tournament with a trophy. There is no doubt about it. But I didn’t want to lock myself in mentally and emotionally into this stressful mode where I’m unable to swing freely. So it’s not like I didn’t care. I just felt a little more relaxed and that things will come together. I just had to work myself into the match a bit more.”

Djokovic did just that, and found his finest tennis when it counted the most. One of the critical reasons he triumphed was the intelligence and unpredictability of his aggression. He won 27 of 36 points when he approached the net (taking 14 of 17 in the second set), primarily because he kept Medvedev guessing about his intentions. Medvedev had difficulty anticipating when Djokovic would serve-and-volley and when he would stay back on his delivery. Moreover, the Russian was dumbfounded with Djokovic’s accuracy on wide serves in both the deuce and ad courts. That pattern of going “wide and wide” set up Djokovic for clusters of open court first volley winners. And when he would sense that Medvedev might be ready for that tactic, Djokovic would serve, stay back, and take control from there.

Clearly, Djokovic had done his homework and learned from what happened in New York. His performance in the Paris contest was similarly high to what he produced in Melbourne. He broke Medvedev five times altogether, and no less than three times in the final set. Djokovic was a prisoner of his own substantial ambitions in New York, but not so in Paris. The essential Djokovic was back, playing the game much more on his own terms, delighted to be taking on another challenge so late in the season, performing at the end with both gusto and gumption.

Medvedev lauded his revered rival, saying, “I gave everything I had. I was playing one of the best players in history, and you could feel that he really, really wanted to win. It was a huge battle.”

Now they will move on to Turin for the Nitto ATP Finals. Medvedev is the defending champion. Djokovic will go full force after a sixth title. The feeling grows that we may well be watching them again in the final of that prestigious year-ending event, which would be fitting. Meanwhile, Djokovic should be very proud of capturing his 86th career singles titles on the ATP Tour in Paris. The French Open champion has won two titles in that city during the same year for the first time in his career, and no one could argue that he did not thoroughly deserve his latest high honor.

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Steve Flink has been reporting full time on tennis since 1974, when he went to work for World Tennis Magazine. He stayed at that publication until 1991. He wrote for Tennis Week Magazine from 1992-2007, and has been a columnist for tennis.com and tennischannel.com for the past 14 years. Flink has written four books on tennis including “Dennis Ralston’s Tennis Workbook” in 1987; “The Greatest Tennis Matches of the Twentieth Century” in 1999; “The Greatest Tennis Matches of All Time” in 2012; and “Pete Sampras: Greatness Revisited”. The Sampras book was released in September of 2020 and can be purchased on Amazon.com. Flink was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 2017.

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Laver Back In the Conversation For Greatest Player?

Daniil Medvedev thwarted Djokovic’s Calendar Year Grand Slam ambitions and is ready to take over as the best in the game.

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Who’s the greatest player ever?

 

How about Rod Laver, the owner of two Calendar Grand Slams?

Or what about Rafa Nadal, the owner of 21 major singles titles (including Olympic Gold)?

Or what about 20-20-20-Laver?

HOW DOES 20-20-20-LAVER SOUND?

Since Novak Djokovic failed in his bid to win a Calendar Grand Slam on Sunday, I nominate the last of the three possibilities. 20-20-20-Laver sounds like a winner.

For Djokovic just to enter the conversation was a major achievement, and that was spurred by the Serbian’s bid for a Calendar Grand Slam.

Daniil Medvedev ended that conversation on Sunday, at least for now, with his straight-set 4-4-4 dismantling of Djokovic in the U.S. Open final.

DISAPPOINTING YEAR FOR NOVAK

As 2021 turned out, it was a really disappointing year for Djokovic, even though he won the year’s first three Grand Slam events. Most players would be out celebrating if they won three Grand Slams in one year.

The loss to Alexander Zverev in the Tokyo Olympics ended Novak’s Golden Grand Slam. And then Medvedev took care of the Calendar Grand Slam talk and the possibility of Djokovic breaking a 20-20-20 deadlock with Nadal and Roger Federer.

So, what’s next? I doubt that Novak is planning to skip the Australian Open in January. Even that one won’t be easy for Djokovic as a result of what has happened in late summer.

NO PICNIC DOWN UNDER FOR NOVAK

Djokovic has practically owned the Australian Open with nine titles in Melbourne, and eight of the last 11. But Medvedev and Zverev will be major obstacles for Djokovic in Melbourne, along with Stefanos Tsitsipas.

The Australian Open isn’t likely to be a picnic for Novak, even if Federer and Nadal skip the trip. If so, Federer and Nadal will be leaving the Australian Open in capable hands.

Things should start heating up by the quarterfinals Down Under.

By the way, Djokovic is 34 years old. That’s about the age Nadal started having trouble winning Grand Slams.

A DOMINANT VICTORY FOR THE RUSSIAN

Medvedev beat Djokovic at just about everything he tried on Sunday. Djokovic was never in the game on serving competition or powerful forehands.

Those areas belonged to the 25-year-old Russian.

And movement? On this day, Medvedev had a picnic. The 6-6 first-time Grand Slam winner was everywhere with his amazing quickness. Djokovic couldn’t put a dent in his baseline defense.

Medvedev even out-did Djokovic in the Serbian’s usually solid drop shot department, pinning  even more disappointment on Novak.

Novak even caused a ball girl to change directions during the match as he swung his racket near the surface in  frustration after losing a point. Later, he punished his racket by smashing it into the court and destroying it.

MEDVEDEV’S SERVE MADE THE DIFFERENCE

The key to the relatively easy win for Medvedev was his serve. He was a perfect 15-for-15 on first-serve points in the opening set.

Medvedev obviously had little trouble with his serve until he was ready to end the match. With Medvedev owning a match point at 5-2 in the third set, the crowd tried to help Djokovic. Only then when the crowd got into the act of trying to break Medvedev’s attention did he double-fault twice in a row before netting a forehand to give Djokovic the game.

But in the final game of the match, Medvedev was ready for the crowd attack, although he double-faulted another match point away before ending the match with a big serve out wide for a 6-4, 6-4, 6-4 victory. Djokovic managed only to hit the bottom of the net with his backhand return.

And suddenly, the tall Russian looks like the best player in the game.


James Beck was the 2003 winner of the USTA National Media Award as the tennis columnist for the Charleston (S.C.) Post and Courier newspapers. A 1995 MBA graduate of The Citadel, he can be reached at Jamesbecktennis@gmail.com

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Raducanu Proved She’s The Better Player

The British sensation shocked the tennis world – can she keep it up in the coming years?

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They played in the largest tennis stadium in the world.

 

They were teenagers. They achieved a dream early in their careers.

It just as easily could have been a junior championship a year earlier in their careers.

Only a few people would have been watching then. Such an event might not even have drawn newspaper coverage.

REAL LIFE NOW SETS IN

This meeting was much bigger and more important. The two participants would be $2.7 million richer between them before the day ended. They would become famous the world over, at least for now.

But this was Saturday, 9/11/21.

Real life now sets in. There probably are at least 100 other players in the world who are just as outstanding as Emma Raducanu and Leylah Fernandez. Yet, most of them will never be involved in a Grand Slam singles final.

NEVER TO BE FORGOTTEN

What Raducanu and Fernandez accomplished will never be forgotten, always listed in tennis annals.

England will always be proud of its new Grand Slam champion. At long last, Virginia Wade has company.

And Canada will never forget its feisty Grand Slam runner-up.

They stood the test while other more touted and talented players buckled at the knees. High-ranked players crumbled at the thought of losing to a mere teenager.

Next time, that advantage probably won’t exist.

BRITISH 18-YEAR-OLD WAS THE STRONGER PLAYER

Raducanu and Fernandez played the final like the teenagers they are.

Raducanu came close to making it a one-sided result when she held match point twice with a 5-2 lead in the second set. But Fernandez did not give up on her left-handed game that Raducanu had conquered before in the junior ranks.

After losing both points and the game to make the match closer, Raducanu fought off a pair of break points in the next game before making good on her third match point for a 6-4, 6-3 victory.

The British 18-year-old generally outplayed the 19-year-old Fernandez most of the 111-minute final. Raducanu had more firepower on her serve and ground strokes.

RADUCANU A PERFECT 10

Raducanu played like a tour veteran, even if it was only her fourth tour-level event. It was her 10th straight win without dropping a set, counting her three wins in qualifying just to get into the main draw. No women’s qualifier before even had advanced to a Grand Slam final.

She has the game to win consistently on the tour, but probably not strong enough to challenge the Top 10 players and Grand Slam titlists right away. She’s now no longer under the radar. Everyone wants to beat a Grand Slam champion.

This may have been just a one-shot opening that Raducanu took full advantage of to win a Grand Slam title.  Just in case the road ahead gets bumpy, she might want to be thrifty with the $1.8 million payday.


James Beck was the 2003 winner of the USTA National Media Award as the tennis columnist for the Charleston (S.C.) Post and Courier newspapers. A 1995 MBA graduate of The Citadel, he can be reached at Jamesbecktennis@gmail.com

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