US Open, Medvedev Finds His Spot among the Greats, but Djokovic Is Not Done Winning Yet - UBITENNIS
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US Open, Medvedev Finds His Spot among the Greats, but Djokovic Is Not Done Winning Yet

The Russian can become a threat on every surface. The world N.1 couldn’t find his best game to clinch the Grand Slam, but won over the crowd like never before

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Daniil Medvedev - US Open 2021 (Garrett Ellwood/USTA)

The cognoscenti of tennis have been waiting for a couple of years for Daniil Medvedev to place his name among the game’s elite performers as a champion at a Grand Slam event. Medvedev has been on the verge of this accomplishment for quite some time. Through the summer of 2019 and on into the fall, he made immense strides as a player of the front rank. In that span, he made it to the final of all six tournaments he played. Most importantly, he moved agonizingly close to establishing himself as the U.S. Open champion. Confronting none other than Rafael Nadal, Medvedev was down two sets to love and trailing by a service break in the third set but, stupendously, he nearly won that match and claimed that title.

Medvedev pushed Nadal into a harrowing five setter that stretched from late afternoon well into the evening. He even battled back from two breaks down in the fifth set and saved two match points before Nadal held on from 30-40 in the last game of a compelling contest to win 7-5, 6-3, 5-7, 4-6, 6-4. Medvedev had concluded 2018 stationed at No. 16 in the world but his stirring surge in 2019 enabled this estimable individual to reach No. 5.

The 6’6” Russian continued along his ascendant path in a stellar 2020 campaign. He made another spirited run at the U.S. Open crown, sweeping into the semifinals without the loss of a set before losing to an inspired Dominic Thiem. Undismayed by that setback, Medvedev was invincible at the end of 2020, capturing back-to-back titles as the Masters 1000 event in Paris and the year-end ATP Finals at London, where he went undefeated in the round robin event. Moreover, he ousted the top three seeds in that tournament—Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Dominic Thiem—and that was an unprecedented feat.

In that spectacular span of two tournaments and ten match victories in a row, Medvedev accounted for no fewer than seven wins over top ten players. By the time Medvedev reached his second Grand Slam tournament final at the start of this season, he had raised his total to 20 matches in a row. Many authorities believed Medvedev would make his breakthrough on that Melbourne stage and take his place as a major champion, thus underlining his authenticity.

But Djokovic denied Medvedev that prestigious prize, playing a masterful strategic match and executing it to the hilt, winning a ninth Australian Open with a comprehensive 7-5, 6-2, 6-2 triumph.

That setback took more than a little wind out of Medvedev’s sails. He did make some amends that could be construed as positive steps. Arriving at Roland Garros with a career match record of 0-4, Medvedev found some confidence on the red clay and went to the quarterfinals but, much to his chagrin, he was soundly beaten by Stefanos Tsitsipas in the quarterfinals of the French Open. Medvedev had toppled Tsitsipas in six of the seven head-to-head battles they had fought up until Roland Garros, so that setback had to be stinging.

On to Wimbledon went Medvedev, and once more he reached the fourth round of a Major. But he let a two-sets-to-one lead against Hubert Hurkacz still from his grasp in a two day meeting, falling in five sets. And yet, Medvedev did recover his form over the summer when he won the Masters 1000 title in Canada.

And so he came into the U.S. Open as the No. 2 seed, quietly confident and cautiously optimistic, a man on a mission. Medvedev took advantage of a favorable draw. He did not drop a set prior to the quarterfinals, but did struggle slightly against the Dutch qualifier Botic Van de Zandschulp before winning 7-5 in the fourth set. But then he took apart No. 12 seed Felix Auger-Aliassime in straight sets.

That win over the athletic Canadian took Medvedev into his third major final and his second in New York. To most avid tennis observers, it was a fitting way to settle the outcome of the last major in 2021 when it all came down to Medvedev against a man on an ineffable historical quest named Novak Djokovic.

The world No. 1 was coping with the kind of pressure that only a fellow of his extraordinary stature could possibly understand. Once he had captured his second French Open in June to put himself half-way to a Grand Slam, Djokovic had his mind fixated on that lofty goal. He went to Wimbledon not simply to win the world’s premier tennis tournament but to garner a third major in a row and go to New York in search of the last piece in the puzzle. No one in men’s tennis since Rod Laver secured his second Grand Slam in 1969 had taken the first three majors of the season to land in such lofty territory—one tournament away from a Grand Slam.

Surely Djokovic was informed by media figures and fellow players that only five players had ever taken all four major tournaments in a single year to win the Grand Slam. The first time it was done was in 1938, when the Californian Don Budge—owner of perhaps the best backhand tennis has ever witnessed—pulled off the remarkable feat. Maureen Connolly was next on the list in 1953, succeeding largely because her ground strokes were the best in the women’s game and her footwork was exemplary. The left-handed Laver—an incomparable Australian shotmaker— took his first Grand Slam in 1962 as an amateur and his second as a professional seven years later.

Next up was another Australian stalwart. Margaret Smith Court—a magnificent attacking player— realized her dream of the Grand Slam in 1970. Eighteen years later, it was Steffi Graf’s turn. The German with fast feet and explosive forehand was unbeatable at the Grand Slam tournaments in 1988.

So there you have it. No one since Graf has won the Grand Slam, proof of what a difficult task it is for both the men and the women. Keep in mind as well that some of the sport’s most luminous figures have never come close. To be sure, Roger Federer celebrated three seasons (2004, 2006 and 2007) when he was victorious at three of the four majors, but he never made it even half-way to a Grand Slam because he was unable to come through at Roland Garros in those years. The one year he won the French Open (2009) he had already lost to Nadal in the Australian Open final.

Nadal won the last three majors of 2010 in Paris, London and New York but he had been beaten at the Australian Open in the first one. The only time Nadal won the Australian Open in 2009, he suffered his first loss at Roland Garros against Robin Soderling and the Grand Slam chance was gone. Djokovic himself managed to sweep four majors in a row from Wimbledon of 2015 through Roland Garros of 2016. That meant he was actually half-way to a Grand Slam in 2016 but he lost in the third round of Wimbledon to Sam Querrey so that opportunity evaporated.

Meanwhile, a small cast of players has won the first three majors of the year to stand within striking distance of a Grand Slam. The first one was Jack Crawford of Australia in 1933. He took the first three and then was in the final of Forest Hills at the U.S. Championships. He was only one set away from the Grand Slam but lost to the gifted Englishman Fred Perry. Similarly, the Australian dynamo Lew Hoad was also one match away from a Grand Slam in 1956 but his countryman Ken Rosewall knocked off Hoad in the Forest Hills final. And then in 1984, Martina Navratilova was the champion at the French Open, Wimbledon and the U.S. Open. At that time the Australian Open was the last major fo the season, and Navratilova was beaten in Melbourne by Helena Sukova in the semifinals.

And so Djokovic was surrounded by all of these historical facts as he came to the U.S. Open this year. The 34-year-old was seeking to establish himself as the oldest player ever to win a Grand Slam, and he navigated his draw well across an arduous fortnight in New York. At the U.S. Open, his anxiety was evident all the way through the tournament but time and again Djokovic overcome his difficulties and raised his game when he needed to.

In the first round he went into a tailspin in the second set against Danish qualifier Holger Vitus Nodskov Rune but romped in the end 6-1, 6-7 (5), 6-2, 6-1 as the teenager suffered with cramps. The Dutchman Tallon Griekspoor faced Djokovic in the second round and the top seed granted his adversary only seven games across three sets. 2014 U.S Open finalist Kei Nishikori took the first set from Djokovic before the Serbian beat him for the 17th time in a row 6-7 (4), 6-3, 6-3, 6-2. In the round of 16, the young American wildcard Jack Brooksby came out with deep intensity and Djokovic was unsettled, but the 34-year-old found his range in the second set and never lost it, winning 1-6, 6-3, 6-2, 6-2.

Now in the quarterfinals Djokovic was pitted against the No. 7 seed Matteo Berrettini. The flamboyant Italian had lost to Djokovic in the quarterfinals at Roland Garros and again in the final at Wimbledon. Now Djokovic prevailed for the third time in a row against the big server 5-7, 6-2, 6-2, 6-3.

So the stage was set for Djokovic to play No. 4 seed Sascha Zverev, who was on a rampage. Zverev had won 16 matches in a row heading into his appointment with Djokovic, taking the gold medal at the Olympic Games in Tokyo and then winning the Masters 1000 tournament in Cincinnati. In Tokyo, Zverev rallied from a set and a break down at 6-1, 3-2 but swept eight games in a row and ten of the last eleven to win 1-6, 6-3, 6-1.

But in New York, Djokovic played his best match of the tournament, turning the tables on the German. Djokovic rallied ferociously again to gain a pulsating five set triumph over Zverev 4-6, 6-2, 6-4, 4-6, 6-2 in three hours and 34 minutes. In the fifth set of that scintillating encounter under the lights, Djokovic collected 24 of 30 points to open up a 5-0 lead. Although Zverev pridefully won the next two games, Djokovic finished it off with a third service break of the set in the eighth game.

Many of us expected Djokovic to repeat his Australian Open final round win over Medvedev in New York. No one was taking Medvedev lightly or assuming he would not put up the toughest possible fight. But Djokovic’s big match prowess and his vast experience on the premier stages was paramount in the minds of many experts. This was, after all, his 31st Major final, a record number he shares with Federer. Moreover, Djokovic has grown immeasurably across the years as a player who knows how to bring out his best on the biggest occasions.

He had won 12 of his previous 14 finals at the Grand Slam events heading into this U.S. Open.  Djokovic’s record was once 6-7 in the middle of 2014, but he then won 14 of 17 to put him at 20-10 in his career leading up to Flushing Meadows. That success rate made him the favorite at the Open to win a record 21st Major crown as well as realizing the most demanding goal of his career—a Grand Slam sweep of all four majors.

But it was apparent from the outset of his duel with the 25-year-old Russian that Djokovic was nowhere near the level he needed to be physically, mentally or emotionally. The first ominous sign was in the opening game of the match. Djokovic led 40-15 but he was coaxed into four consecutive errors and thus lost his serve immediately. Medvedev was clearly buoyed by that beginning, holding his serve at 15 for 2-0 with two aces. Djokovic then fell into a 15-40 hole by making his eighth unforced error of the young match. Although he won four points in a row and finished off that third game with two aces, Djokovic had not commenced this contest with the standard he needed to meet the moment.

Medvedev required only 47 seconds to hold for 3-1 by virtue of two aces, a service winner and a forehand winner. In his next three service games, Medvedev conceded only two points. Djokovic was not reading that serve at all and was slow to react whenever he did. Medvedev captured that set confidently, 6-4.

It was early in the second set that Djokovic found some openings that might have altered the course of the match had he exploited them. He reached 0-40 on the Medvedev serve but steered a forehand retrieve of a drop shot and was passed down the line off the forehand by the Russian. Medvedev released an ace for 30-40 and then Djokovic botched a backhand slice, sending that shot into the net. He was infuriated. Medvedev held on crucially for 1-1 with an ace followed by a service winner.

Djokovic saved a break point on his way to a 2-1 lead and then had two more break points in the fourth game, but Medvedev produced a low forehand drop volley that drew an errant forehand pass from the Serbian, and then saved the second break point with a backhand down the line deep into the corner that Djokovic could not answer. Medvedev made it to 2-2, broke Djokovic in the fifth game as the top seed put only one of six first serves in play, and then the Russian conceded only two points in his last three service games to wrap up the set 6-4.

Djokovic was clearly despondent. He was not simply below par as he would say later; he was way off his game in every respect. Medvedev rolled to 4-0 in the third and soon moved to 5-1. The capacity crowd in Arthur Ashe Stadium was filled with Djokovic fans cheering him on vociferously, but they had little to shout about for most of the proceedings. Djokovic held on in the seventh game. Medvedev had a match point at 5-2 but served a double fault at 120 MPH into the net as the crowd callously applauded his mistake. He then served another double fault and Djokovic went on to break. When Djokovic held easily in the ninth game, the crowd’s applause for a man they had seldom supported was astonishing and much appreciated by the world’s best tennis player.

Djokovic shed tears into his towel at the changeover. Medvedev then served for the match a second time and released another double fault at 40-15. No one knew it then, but the Russian was fighting cramps, a fact he hid awfully well from his opponent and the audience. At 40-30 his first serve was good enough to force Djokovic to miss the return, and so Medvedev averted a potential crisis to defeat his rival for the fourth time in nine career clashes 6-4, 6-4, 6-4.

Medvedev had handled the occasion remarkably well and had tuned out the crowd with great discipline. For Djokovic the situation must have been both maddening and saddening. To have an audience so fervently behind him at one of the Majors is something he has rarely if ever experienced. But he struggled inordinately to find anything even resembling his best tennis. He approached the net 47 times in the three sets and won 31 of those points. He played serve-and-volley surprisingly well, taking advantage of Medvedev’s court positioning so far behind the baseline for his returns.

But Djokovic had neither the patience, the physicality or the inclination to stay back and grind with Medvedev the way he always has done. His legs were too weary, and his mind was cluttered. In the end he played into Medvedev’s hands. The Russian is among the most astute players in the sport to read the map of a match and adjust his strategy. Medvedevs’ shot selection, variation of speed and pace, and capacity to make Djokovic uncomfortable were first rate. Medvedev knew full well he was not playing the essential Djokovic, but he was performing in front of an antagonistic crowd and trying to pull off a first Major title. Those were not easy circumstances but Medvedev was able to deal with it ably. Medvedev did everything that was asked of him and more. He was thoroughly professional.

When it was over, Djokovic was very gracious and unwilling to drown himself in a sea of self pity. He lauded Medvedev and refused to make any excuses for his sixth defeat in nine U.S. Open finals against five different opponents.

There will never be another opportunity like this for Djokovic. He admirably put himself three sets away from the first men’s Grand Slam in 52 years. That can hardly be portrayed as a failure. Losing in New York will only make Djokovic more motivated for 2021 and the pursuit of a 21st Major title in Melbourne that would enable him to stand alone at the top of the list for most men’s majors and separate him from his co-leaders Federer and Nadal. He will turn 35 in May but Djokovic remains very young for his age. To be sure, he looked much older against Medvedev, but that was circumstantial. He has a lot of winning left to do.

As for Medvedev, this triumph at the U.S. Open should lead to many more landmark victories. Over the next seven years, he should be good for at least five or six more majors, and perhaps a larger number than that. The key to where he ends up will depend to a large extent on his adaptability. Medvedev has proven irrefutably that he is a prodigious hardcourt player and that will put him in good stead at both Melbourne and New York year after year. But can he demonstrate a larger self-belief on grass and clay courts?

To be sure, he did well this year with his quarterfinal appearances at Roland Garros. But he will need to prove that he can do more damage than that on the red clay of Paris and the lawns at the All England Club. Had he finished off Hurkacz this year in London, Medvedev would have almost surely made the final and played Djokovic there. Had he managed to overcome Tsitsipas in Paris, he might have gone to the final there.

The view here is that Medvedev will make inroads on the other surfaces and be a threat everywhere in the years ahead. The 2021 U.S. Open was a launching pad for a competitor with a wide range of goals and deep determination. He will often be going to other lofty destinations in 2021 and beyond.

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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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EXCLUSIVE: The Grand Slam Champion Who Didn’t Get A Trophy Until 37 Years After He Died

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This year’s French Open was headlined by Iga Swiatek and Novak Djokovic triumphing in the singles tournaments but at the same time, another trophy presentation took place.

Attended by only a handful of people which included Henri Leconte and Hungarian Olympic swimming champion Daniel Gyurta, the event was conducted in honor of József Asboth. A Hungarian tennis player who in 1947 became the first Eastern European player to win a Grand Slam title at the French Open. Asboth also reached the semi-finals of Wimbledon in 1948 which is remarkably still the best-ever performance by a Hungarian man at the event. 

Sadly, he never received a trophy for his French Open triumph as the tournament didn’t start that tradition until 1981. However, this year the FFT made a silver plaque in his honour with the words ‘in memory of Jozsef Asboth, Vainqueur Simple Homme, Internationaux de France 1947.‘ The gesture occurred almost 40 years after he died in 1986. 

Accepting the award was Andras Ruszanov on behalf of the Asboth family. He acts as an ambassador for the tennis star and his sporting legacy. Speaking to Ubitennis, Ruszanov sheds light on Asboth’s story which he described as being marred by history, politics and bad luck. As a player, he was only allowed to leave Hungary on the condition he didn’t defect to another country. One extraordinary example was when King Gustav V of Sweden helped persuade the Hungarian regime to let him play at Wimbledon in one year. 

During the late 1940s and early 1950s, Asboth was restricted from travelling to Western countries and was also prohibited from going into business with Fred Perry who offered him a job. Instead, he was instructed to coach in the Soviet Union until the fall of his regime in 1956. Eventually, he went to Belgium to with work with the national tennis federation before going to Munich, Germany. He refused to return home until Soviet troops left his country which unfortunately didn’t happen until after he passed away at the age of 69. 

Here is the story of Hungary’s first and only Grand Slam champion in men’s tennis. 

UBITENNIS: How did the trophy ceremony in Paris come about this year? Was it triggered by a campaign? 

RUSZANOV: I have been representing the Asbóth family for about 10 years. From the very first moment, I was always guided by the goal of preserving for posterity the memory of Hungary’s first and so far only male singles Grand Slam champion. This could be the name of a tournament, street, stadium, award or even a website named after the legendary champion, such as asbothjozsef.hu, which we created in tribute to him with photos from the family archive. 

On the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the birth of József Asbóth (1917- 2017), Monika Seles presented the commemorative plaque of the Hungarian Tennis Federation and Hungarian Sports Journalist Association.

In 1947, the French Open winner received no recognition other than a congratulatory handshake. From 1981 the Musketeers’ Cup was awarded to the champions after the suggestion of the late Philippe Chatrier, the president of the French and International Tennis Federation. In 2017, the idea arose that some symbolic version of the Musketeers’ Cup could serve as an eternal memory for both the Asbóth family and the Hungarian sports society to nurture and preserve József Asbóth and his sports legacy.

Both the former and current leadership of the Hungarian Tennis Federation felt the weight and importance of this mission, and the request was heard by the leadership of the French Tennis Federation – led by President Gilles Moretton. Thus, at this year’s Roland Garros, during a private ceremony in the president’s box, in the presence of President Moretton and some French legendary players such as Henri Leconte, Patrick Proisy, and the showman Mansour Bahrami, I was able to receive the award on behalf of the Asbóth family from the two-time Grand Slam champion, Hall of Famer Amélie Mauresmo, who serves as the tournament director of French Open. The Hungarian sports diplomacy was represented by the Olympic champion Dániel Gyurta on behalf of the Hungarian Minister of Foreign Affairs, and the sports media was represented by György Szöllősi, vice president of AIPS Europe (European Sports Journalists Association). 

This current recognition was the ‘fruit’ of several years of work, and the silver plaque that has just been handed over has the Musketeer’s Cup for the men’s singles champion in engraved form. 

UBITENNIS: Was it true that Jozsef was only allowed to leave Hungary on a guarantee he would not defect to another country?

Yes, Asbóth’s entire career was cut in two by history, politics and bad luck. He played in a total of 10 Grand Slams, but 8 years passed between his 2nd and 3rd major. In his heyday – between the ages of 22 and 30 – he could not participate in a single Grand Slam, because of World War II and its consequences. Then he managed to win the 4th Grand Slam tournament of his life at the age of almost 30. Then the ordeals came again… 

In 1948, Asbóth was seeded number 2 in Paris (which is still a record for a Hungarian male player) in the main draw. However, he could not defend his title, as his mother passed away the day before the start of the tournament, so Asbóth withdrew and flew home to Hungary. 

His appearance at the next Slam, in Wimbledon, was also in jeopardy, as the communist leadership in his country did not look favourably on his performances in foreign tournaments. One of his great admirers, King Gustav V of Sweden had to give a personal guarantee to the Hungarian communist government that Asbóth would return to his country and not emigrate abroad. Thanks to the intervention of Sweden’s longest-reigning monarch, the Hungarian top player was able to attend Wimbledon and so far achieved the greatest success of a Hungarian male tennis player. 

He reached the semi-final for the first time in Wimbledon and according to the unanimous opinion of the experts, Asbóth played the most spectacular tennis of all the players. He even captivated the legendary Harry Hopman, who patted Asbóth on the shoulder and said: “Listen here, mate, grass is your element”. Unfortunately, in the quarter-final match, Asbóth’s ankle was injured in such a way that the next day it was so swollen that he could barely walk, nonetheless, he played with all the more heart and energy (he lost the 2nd set 14-12!). 

A healthy Asbóth would have had a real chance not only to reach the final but even to win the title. After his loss in the semi, despite the painful defeat and injury, he praised his opponent and did not make excuses! 

Then the Communist Party leadership did not allow him to travel to Paris until 1954, and never to Australia or the States.

UBITENNIS: During the time of his playing career Hungary was going through oppression from the soviet union communist regime. How did he manage to cope with this? 

RUSZANOV: Politics had an impact on his entire career, this is especially true for the years following World War II, to the beginning of communist rule, where they governed according to Stalinist practice. The economy was nationalized, and the communist rule serving the interests of the Soviet empire began in political life.

Asbóth and some of his fellow tennis players also took part in the post-war debris clean-up, and from the 1948s onwards, his travels to the West were restricted by the communist dictatorship. Instead of foreign tournaments, he was sent to Moscow to train and instruct Soviet coaches. But it also happened that the president of neighbouring Romania had to stand as the doubles partner of Petru Groza on the tennis court of the president’s private mansion, on a party order. And it happened that the president’s bodyguard was sitting in the chair umpire’s seat with a rifle in his hand. 

Fred Perry, with whom he maintained an excellent friendship and whose clothing bearing his name appeared in 1952, offered Asbóth to join his company, but the Hungarian Communist Party did not agree to this. 

After the defeat of the 1956 revolution, Asbóth retired from active play and accepted the invitation of the Belgian federation, or better said he could have accepted, since this also had to be approved by the party leadership. In Belgium, he became the head of the youth development program, and later he was asked to become head coach by the Iphitos tennis club in Munich.

He made a promise that he would not return to his country as long as Soviet troops were stationed in Hungary. Unfortunately, he could not live to see them leave, as he died on September 11, 1986, in Germany.

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UBITENNIS: How is his legacy viewed back home? Do many Hungarian players nowadays speak about him?

RUSZANOV: In Hungary, soccer is considered a national sport, and the legendary Ferenc Puskás, the captain of the national team known as the ‘Golden Magyar’ (unbeaten for 4 years in the 50s and beat England in the match of the century in 1953), is the best-known Hungarian athlete in the world and the FIFA Goal of the Year award also bears his name. The other fact is that in Hungary, the Olympic and World Championships are incredibly respected, so the names of the Olympic and World Champion athletes are almost always classified in the category of Hall of Fame in the country.

Unfortunately, József Asbóth was successful in an era when tennis did not enjoy such support, even though from the end of the 1940s the matches were played in front of a sold-out crowd. Largely thanks to József Asbóth, and Zsuzsa Körmöczy (1958 Roland Garros champion). 

At the beginning of the 21st century, Asbóth’s successes have faded a bit, but on the one hand, with the appearance of the new Hungarian tennis generation, his name is being heard more and more. As the manager of the Asbóth sports legacy, I will do everything in my power to make his name known to as many Hungarians as possible. 

Asbóth’s name inevitably always comes up, even in connection with Roland Garros or Wimbledon, because to this day he achieved the greatest individual success in Hungarian men’s tennis at these two Grand Slam events! I hope that this current recognition will also promote the renaissance of the Asbóth cult!

UBITENNIS: Are there any other stories of interest about him that you can share? 

RUSZANOV: On July 6, 1938, in Budapest, after winning Wimbledon, Don Budge, who was on the European tour, and the then unknown 20-year-old Hungarian talent, József Asbóth, faced each other in an exhibition match. Asbóth played brilliantly and so well that American world number one gave up the match in the 3rd set with Asbóth’s lead, claiming that he had to catch the train to Prague. (At that time, Budge already won his 5th Grand Slam in a row, and a few weeks later he also triumphed at the US Open.)

József Asbóth has also a 1-0 H2H record against Roy Emerson, the male tennis player who has won the most Grand Slam titles of all time (16 singles and 12 doubles). Emerson played for the first time at Roland Garros at the age of 17, and in the first round, he faced the then almost 37-year-old Asbóth. Being a rookie from Australia, he did not know the former champion, ran into the dressing room and asked Ken Rosewall what he knew about Asbóth. Rosewall just said “I’m sorry” and held out his right hand and said “five fingers, that’s about how many games you’re going to win in three sets.” 

When Emerson went out on the court before the match, he met an elegant gentleman in long pants. He thought he was the referee, so he introduced himself to him, to which he replied, “I’m József Asbóth”. During the warm-up, Asbóth did not foul a single ball and he played with so much feeling that his strokes almost spoke. Emerson sensed that he was in great trouble. The match began, and Asbóth toyed with the Australian as he wanted. He drove it from one side to the other, Emerson ran around like a chased wild animal. He was covered in sweat and grimy from head to toe, and Asbóth’s long pants didn’t even show a crease. Rosewall laughed himself to death in the stands. Emerson was in good shape, but after two sets he started to get very tired after Asbóth constantly controlled the game. 

After the lost match Emerson asked who the hell is this guy? And Rosewall said, “Well, go out and look at the list of champions on the wall of the stadium”. Seeing that Asbóth won in 1947, Emerson didn’t feel so bad anymore.

UBITENNIS: Finally, what other tennis achievements did he produce outside of the Grand Slams?

RUSZANOV: Between April 1 and September 16, 1940, Asbóth participated in 11 tournaments, of which he won 9 (Genoa, Taormina, Palermo, Budapest, Wiesbaden, Gödöllő, Budapest, Milan and Merano).

In 1947, Asbóh participated in 12 tournaments, 3 domestic and 9 international best tournaments, of which he played in the final 8 times, of which he won 5 times (San Remo, Nice, Paris and twice in Budapest).

In 1948, he started in 11 competitions, and we find his name in 7 finals, of which he won the trophy 5 times. After Beaulieu, Cannes and Nice, he did not find a winner in Monte-Carlo (the predecessor of today’s Monte-Carlo Masters).

He won 24 matches in the Davis Cup and in 1949 he was able to play in the semifinals with the Hungarian team.

Among Asbóth’s mentors, we also find a name who is a defining figure in the history of tennis, one of the (perhaps the best) musketeers, the legendary Henri Cochet. The Hungarian player’s entire career was influenced by the French champion, which is why, like Cochet, he always wore a short-sleeved white shirt and long white pants throughout his career.

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The Story Of Indian Wells 2023

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At this same time of the year in 2022, Carlos Alcaraz announced to the tennis community that he was ready to propel himself into the forefront of the sport. He reached the semifinals of the BNP Paribas Open at Indian Wells before losing to countryman Rafael Nadal amidst almost impossibly windy conditions in the California dessert. Although Alcaraz had already reached the quarterfinals of the 2021 U.S. Open, the stellar Indian Wells showing last year propelled him to another level.

In short order, Alcaraz won his first Masters 1000 title in Miami, captured another of those elite crowns in Madrid, and, at the end of last summer, took the U.S. Open title in New York. With that breakthrough triumph at a major, Alcaraz went to No. 1 in the world, and he concluded the season still stationed at the very top of tennis. He has been hobbled by injuries too often since last November and consequentially missed the Australian Open, but now this 19-year-old sensation is back on top of the world at No. 1 following a 6-3, 6-2 final round victory over Daniil Medvedev in the final at Indian Wells.

That was no mean feat for this strikingly mature champion. He is the youngest man ever to secure both the Miami and Indian Wells titles. Not since Roger Federer in 2017 had a male player taken this prestigious crown without losing a set. Medvedev was enjoying the second longest winning streak of his career of 19 match victories in a row. He was striving for a fourth consecutive ATP Tour title in a debilitating five-week span. He had seemingly almost forgotten how to lose after finding his form in Rotterdam in mid-February. He won there by toppling Jannik Sinner in the final. On he went to Doha, where he stopped Andy Murray in the final. The following week in Dubai, Medvedev ended a four match losing streak against Novak Djokovic with a 6-4, 6-4 semifinal win and then obliterated countryman Andrey Rublev 6-2, 6-2 in the title round.

Medvedev’s form fluctuated at Indian Wells but he seemed to be progressing as he headed into the final. But he had faced Alcaraz only once before. That was in 2021 at Wimbledon and Medvedev came through easily when Alcaraz was not the same player. So this collision at Indian Wells in the final was going to be revealing one way or another for two great players who figure to meet many more times on big occasions in the years ahead.

Some authorities believed Medvedev would exploit his experience, maintain his winning streak, and add another title to his collection. Of the 18 tournaments Medvedev has amassed starting in 2018, all but one have been on hard courts. But seldom has he been beaten as soundly as was by Alcaraz at Indian Wells. The Spaniard put 76% of his first serves in play compared to 65% for Medvedev. Alcaraz won 81% of his first serves points while Medvedev finished 20% behind his opponent in that department. Meanwhile, Alcaraz secured 58% of his second serve points and Medvedev finished well below that mark at 41%. Not once did Medvedev even reach break point. That is a rarity.

The humiliation for Medvedev transcended those facts. Time and again, Alcaraz set the tactical agenda. He caught Medvedev off guard with selective serve-and-volley combinations. He used the drop shot magnificently. He went for his shots freely and stayed away from the rhythmic long rallies on which Medvedev feasts. He kept Medvedev guessing for 70 painful minutes. For his part, Medvedev inexplicably attempted to match or surpass the Spaniard’s backcourt pace. He pressed off both sides. His forehand was well below par. And when Medvedev had the chance to prolong rallies and play more on his own terms, he impatiently went for bigger shots which backfired almost completely. His mind was muddled. Essentially and surprisingly, Medvedev was not ready to fight with his usual ferocity. He collapsed against an unrelenting Alcaraz.

Photo by Ubitennis

Alcaraz was primed from the outset. He raced to 3-0 in the opening set, sweeping 12 of 15 points on the process. Medvedev professionally started imposing himself and held serve three times after falling behind. In his last two service games he conceded only one point as he located his delivery more accurately. But Alcaraz was unswerving on his own delivery, winning 20 of 26 points in five service games. Serving for the set at 5-3, he held comfortably at 15, closing out that game by serve-volleying on the last two points.

Medvedev had seemingly found his bearings after a slow start, but Alcaraz pounced in the opening game of the second set and broke his dispirited opponent at love. Medvedev gave that game away with two unforced errors off the ground, an errant backhand volley and a double fault. Alcaraz swiftly held at love and moved ahead 0-30 on Medvedev’s serve in the third game. He had won ten points in a row.

Alcaraz went on to break Medvedev again for 3-0 and surged to 4-0 with another routine hold. It had taken him only 17 minutes to build that second set lead. The rest was a formality. Alcaraz closed out the account without stress despite being taken to deuce when he served for the match at 5-2.

That it all came down to a duel between Alcaraz and Medvedev— the last two U.S. Open champions—for the first Masters 1000 crown of 2023 made perfect sense.  As an unvaccinated player, Novak Djokovic was not permitted to enter the United States to compete at Indian Wells and Miami. Rafael Nadal—three time champion at Indian Wells and runner-up to Taylor Fritz a year ago—was not ready to return to the ATP Tour after his latest injury that led to a second round loss at the Australian Open.

With the two icons absent, the cognoscenti of tennis hoped for an enticing final round confrontation between Alcaraz and Medvedev. The match did not come even close to delivering on its considerable promise, but the fact remained that they both deserved to be there. The beguiling Spaniard took apart the Australian Thanasi Kokkinakis 6-2, 6-3 in the second round, ousted the tall Dutchman Tallon Griekspoor 7-6 (4), 6-3 in the third round, and then needed less than 47 minutes to defeat an ailing Jack Draper of Great Britain. Alcaraz led 6-2, 2-0 in that clash when the left-hander was forced to retire.

Alcaraz was rolling now. He had lost all three of his previous appointments against the charismatic Felix Auger-Aliassime, who had improbably erased six match points against him in a round of 16 win over Tommy Paul. But this time around against FAA, Alcaraz was exhilarated under the lights and he came through comfortably 6-4, 6-4. The serving statistics from this encounter are telling. Alcaraz won 81% of his first serve points, which was 11% better than the Canadian. The Spaniard took a respectable 59% of his second serve points, while Auger-Aliassime stood far below at 42%.

Alcaraz was the superior performer across the board during this quarterfinal encounter. He was sounder and cagier, quicker and sprightlier. His return was first rate across the two sets, and he backed up his own delivery with uncanny efficiency. It was a confidence building triumph in every respect, and just what he needed as he headed into the semifinals to take on Jannik Sinner.

The Italian had overcome the defending champion Fritz in a sparkling quarterfinal skirmish lasting three absorbing sets. Sinner blasted away spectacularly against the Californian and he had the upper hand in the vast majority of long rallies contested on an exceedingly windy night.

Sinner is industrious, unwavering and often enterprising. He had been victorious in two of his four showdowns with Alcaraz, prevailing in a memorable four set, round of 16 clash on the Centre Court at Wimbledon last year before losing what may well have been the best tennis match in all of 2022 at the U.S. Open. In that quarterfinal confrontation under the lights in Arthur Ashe Stadium, Sinner had a match point in the fourth set of a pendulum swinging contest before Alcaraz rallied again from a break down to take the fifth set and prevail 6-3, 6-7 (7), 6-7 (0), 7-5, 6-3 in five hours and fifteen minutes of spellbinding tennis.

Photo by Ubitennis

No wonder so many learned observers were looking forward to the fifth career collision between two players who will surely be taking prestigious prizes away from each other for the next decade. Alcaraz moved out in front 4-2 before Sinner took eleven points in a row (and 12 of 14) on his way to a 5-4 lead. Sinner needed that first set more than Alcaraz. The Italian reached 15-30 in the tenth game but narrowly missed a return. Alcaraz held on for 5-5 but soon faced a set point in the twelfth game. Sinner was right where he wanted to be, on the edge of a first set victory.

But Alcaraz is frequently at his best when faced with the sternest of challenges. He took a short blocked return from Sinner and released one of his patented drop shots. Sinner chased it down, but his passing shot was much too high. Alcaraz moved easily to his right and punched a forehand volley winner into the open court. The set would be settled in a tie-break, and Alcaraz was too good, breaking a 4-4 deadlock by sweeping three points in a row, sealing that sequence 7-4 with a scorching flat backhand winner crosscourt. Alcaraz made one break count in the second set and succeeded 7-6 (4), 6-3. It was a remarkable performance highlighting Alcaraz’s match playing acumen.

As for Medvedev, making it to the final was a much tougher task. He handled Brandon Nakashima 6-4, 6-3 in the second round, although the match was more competitive than the score would indicate. Then he overcame Ilya Ivashka 6-2, 3-6, 6-1 to reach the round of 16 and an eagerly awaited clash with Sascha Zverev.

Zverev has had a difficult time rediscovering the heights of his game after missing the second half of 2022 following the abysmal ankle injury he suffered against Nadal in the semifinals of Roland Garros. But he had started playing better tennis in Dubai a few weeks back before losing a semifinal to Andrey Rublev. Zverev largely outplayed Medvedev at Indian Wells but, three times over the course of the match, he squandered 0-40 openings. He also missed out on 15 of 17 break point opportunities.

On top of all that, Medvedev rolled his ankle in the middle of the second set and needed the trainer. Somehow he survived despite the injury, winning 6-7 (5), 7-6 (5), 7-5 despite getting broken at 5-4 in the final set when he served for the match the first time. Zverev then played horrendously at 5-5, double faulting on break point. Medvedev escaped.

Photo by Ubitennis

He remained concerned about the ankle in the quarterfinals against Alejandro Davidovich Fokina, and fell again, cutting his thumb in the process. Nevertheless, he got the win 7-5, 6-3. Two days off helped his cause considerably, and Medvedev looked fine physically on all fronts during his semifinal against Frances Tiafoe.

In fact, Medvedev was near the top of his game in establishing a 7-5, 5-3 lead. Seldom if ever has he produced so many breathtaking forehand passing shots, and, in turn, he was hardly missing from the baseline. But Tiafoe is doubly dangerous when he is behind, as he demonstrated so boldly last year in the U.S. Open semifinals against Alcaraz when he got up off the canvas after looking down and out to force a fifth set.

In this case, Tiafoe serve-volleyed his way out of two match points in the ninth game of the second set, and saved a third by provoking a forehand error on the stretch from Medvedev. Medvedev could not serve out the match at 5-4 but he broke right back at love in the eleventh game and served for the match a second time at 6-5. He reached 40-0 but Tiafoe erased four more match points in that astounding game. On they went to a tie-break, but an unruffled Medvedev did not fret. He took that sequence seven points to four, concluding the contest with a service winner and an ace. Medvedev was deservedly victorious 7-5, 7-6 (4). Not until he captured that match was his head cleared and his outlook altered. In the middle of the tournament, the 27-year-old was complaining vocally about the conditions, claiming that the slow conditions were not really hard court tennis as he knew it. That was a simple case of Medvedev irrationality.

A day later, Medvedev was trounced by a top of the line Alcaraz. He took the defeat graciously, recognizing that he had hit a physical and emotional wall after so much success in recent weeks. He also realized that Alcaraz had played a magnificent match. The Spaniard will be buoyed by the victory and confident that he has all the tools to confront Medvedev in the years to come. But Medvedev is a very studious fellow who will go back to the drawing board and examine what it will take to unsettle a surging Alcaraz the next time they meet.

Despite the setback, Medvedev has moved back to No. 5 in the world. It won’t be long before he finds himself in the top three, right up there with the pace setters Alcaraz and Djokovic. They are clearly the three best players in the world right now. It will be fascinating to follow their exploits. Djokovic, of course, was easily the best in the game across the second half of 2022 from Wimbledon on. He then opened his 2023 campaign by winning a tenth Australian Open and a 22nd major in the process. After his loss to Medvedev in the Dubai semifinals, the Serbian has been unable to play. That clearly contributed to Alcaraz regaining the top spot in the ATP Rankings, although the Spaniard must hold onto his crown in Miami to prevent Djokovic from taking back the No. 1 ranking.

A revitalized Djokovic will surely return at full force on the clay starting in Monte Carlo and perform purposefully as he chases a third French Open crown. Medvedev will need to prove that he can raise his clay court standards from years gone by. Alcaraz is riding high right now and will be tough to beat as he defends his crown in Miami. I expect him to realize that feat.

All signs point to some gripping battles between Djokovic and Alcaraz on the clay in Europe. If Nadal is healthy, he will be right there with them vying for the titles on the dirt. He will be determined to play his typical brand of unimaginably effective and inspiring clay court tennis. We are in for some astonishing matches in the coming weeks among these top players. 

But, for a few days at least, Carlos Alcaraz should celebrate one of the best weeks of his young career at Indian Wells, and try to appreciate how well he is playing before he shifts his attention to winning again in Miami and pursing other primary targets. He owes it to himself to briefly but completely enjoy his latest triumph as much as possible. I suspect he will do just that.

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United Cup Daily Preview: The United States Plays Italy in the Final

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Jessica Pegula on Friday in Sydney (unitedcup.com)

On Sunday in Sydney, the champions of the inaugural United Cup will be decided. 

In the semifinals, the United States completed a clean sweep of Poland on Saturday, while Italy defeated Greece 4-1 despite Matteo Berrettini’s loss to Stefanos Tsitsipas in an excellent three-setter.  Sunday’s play will feature four singles matches and a mixed doubles contest, with the first nation to win three matches to be crowned the United Cup champions.

Each day, this preview will analyze the two most prominent matches on the schedule.  Sunday’s play gets underway at 1:00pm local time.


Jessica Pegula [USA] vs. Martina Trevisan [ITA] – Starts at 1:00pm

This will be the first match of the day.  Pegula has gone 3-1 at this event, losing to Petra Kvitova in her first match, but defeating World No.1 Iga Swiatek on Friday.  Trevisan is 2-2, though she helped propel Italy into this final with an epic victory over Maria Sakkari on Friday.

In their first career meeting, Jessica is a significant favorite.  Pegula was 42-21 last season, reaching a career-high of ranking of No.3 thanks to her consistency at big events.  And the fast-playing hard courts strongly favor her game, as they helped her reverse her lopsided rivalry with Swiatek in dominating fashion.  By contrast, Trevisan had a losing record on hard courts last season, claiming just six tour-level matches in main draws on this surface.


The second match of the day will feature Frances Tiafoe taking on Lorenzo Musetti.  Both men are 4-0 to this stage, and this matchup feels like it could easily go either way.


Taylor Fritz [USA] vs. Matteo Berrettini [ITA] – Not Before 5:30pm

This will be the third match of the day.  Both players are 3-1 thus far at this event.  Fritz’s loss came to Cam Norrie in the city finals, while Berrettini’s loss came in Saturday evening’s semifinals to Stefanos Tsitsipas.  Notably, Matteo spent about an hour longer on court Saturday than Taylor, with the Italian’s match ending much later in the day.

Fritz is 2-0 against Berrettini.  His victories came four years ago in Davis Cup on an indoor hard court, and two years ago at Indian Wells on in outdoor hard court.  Taylor should be the fresher player on Sunday, and with the decided edge in their head-to-head, the American is the favorite to prevail.


The fourth match of the day sees Madison Keys take on Lucia Bronzetti, with Keys heavily favored.  And the mixed doubles at the end of the day is scheduled to feature Pegula and Fritz against Trevisan and Berrettini.  Overall, the United States is the favorite to win the first-ever United Cup.

The United Cup daily schedule is here.

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