US Open 2020: Fourth time's the charm for Dominic Thiem, Naomi Osaka builds on and off the court, and more talking points
US Open 2020 crowned a first-time champion in Dominic Thiem and a third Grand Slam winner in Naomi Osaka in the bubble in New York.
A couple of months ago, the resumption of tennis seemed to be a daunting task. The cavalry that goes with organising tournaments makes tennis a challenging sport to buckle down to one continent, let alone one country. And yet, here we are after US Open, the second Grand Slam of the year with Roland Garros to come. Here we are after the crowning of more champions in men's, women's and wheelchair events. Let's recap the events of the last two or three weeks.
- Usually we start by focusing on the newly crowned champions but let's start with someone who was an overwhelming favourite, someone who is unbeaten this year (technically, not anymore) and yet goes away as the loser from New York. Novak Djokovic. The Serb was defaulted after hitting a line judge and the decision was taken as per the rules - just as it was at the 2018 US Open women's final.
There were many errors by Djokovic: hitting the line judge (albeit unintentionally), debating the obvious outcome with the referee, skipping the mandatory press conference, and the language of his statement was more about him than about the official. The official had come in to do her job but left with physical and mental trauma. The trauma didn't end on the court either. She was subjected to abuse online needing Djokovic to ask his fans to be "supportive and caring to her during this time."
For Djokovic, it is important to address his anger. As former pro Daniela Hantuchova, who is good friends with Novak, his wife Jelena, his long-time coach Marian Vajda, said on Amazon Prime in UK, "It feels like sometimes the anger comes out of control".
- Now to the champions. First up: Naomi Osaka. The 2018 title was shrouded in controversy and the glory of her first Grand Slam success was more or less taken away from her. Not this time. This time she had to come from behind, thereby creating history, to get the job done in the final. If you had the same thoughts as Pam Shriver early on in that final, here's a timely reminder: Osaka is 3-0 in Grand Slam finals, Osaka of 2018 is not Osaka of 2020, she's more mature but equally talented on the court. She needed to pull her visor down in 2018. Now? She's answering questions on police brutality. If she could maintain her focus then, she could very well do it now. And props to her for doing it exceptionally.
- Sticking with Osaka for just one more moment. This time to focus on what she's done off-court. She came in with seven masks, seven different names of Black Americans killed in police brutality, unfortunately no paucity of options in that department, and goes out having used all seven. She's helped continue the conversation - including a sharp response on-court in the final - and is definitely making a mark the way Arthur Ashe did.
"The quarantine definitely gave me a chance to think a lot about things - what I want to accomplish, what I want people to remember me by. I came into this tournament, or these two tournaments, with that mindset." Sidenote: Glad that she won or there'd be no end to "stick to tennis" comments. But then again, as she said, "What gives you more right to speak than me? By that logic if you work at IKEA you are only allowed to talk about the “GRÖNLID”?"
Naomi Osaka's message reached around the world.
We give this fan-inspired artwork a 12/10 🖌 pic.twitter.com/p7FogMU8yX
— US Open Tennis (@usopen) September 13, 2020
- Moving to the finalist: Victoria Azarenka. A month ago, as she lost to Venus Williams, who would have thought this would be possible? She talked about "belief" in practice and not just with the results. But, Vika, who couldn't string wins together, now has a Premier title and deep run in a Grand Slam to show for her last three weeks. She may have thought "third time is the charm" but as Sunday showed, fourth time is pretty special.
- Dominic Thiem had run into Rafael Nadal twice at Roland Garros and Novak Djokovic once at Australian Open in his three Slam finals. Of all players you'd want to face in the summit clash of said Slams, he met the absolute 'worst'. And on Sunday, as he made another deep run, this time against Alexander Zverev (more on him in a minute), he trailed by two sets and a break. He suffered from cramps late on. He saw Zverev serve for the title. He endured two match points come and go. And then he got the job done.
- For long, Zverev has been criticised for not making himself count at Slams. Just 23, his biggest title, arguably, had been ATP Finals. This year he made the move. He reached the semis in Melbourne and final here in New York. He may have not been at his best in the quarters and semis, but he was on point in the title match. And yet it will sting. It was there for him to take. It showed that it mattered with his body language at the end and the speech. Chin up, Sascha, there'd be more in the future.
- A rather useless observation but maybe telling of how narratives are woven based on form. The women's final featured a repeat of the immediately preceding Western & Southern Open. Meanwhile, the men's featured two players who lost in the opening round despite playing quite a few matches during lockdown.
- Plenty of credit to the USTA and US Open organisers. This was always going to be a challenge, a bold move, even a financially poor one, but they've successfully held two high quality events inside the bubble. Maybe something for Roland Garros to emulate?
Congratulations to the USTA for a spectacular effort in running the 2020 US Open to perfection under the most difficult circumstances. Both finals were magnificent and for the TV viewer it was very special. Should help our sport immensely. #usta
— Vijay Amritraj (@Vijay_Amritraj) September 14, 2020
- Speaking of France, the bubble didn't work out the way many French players would have hoped. With Benoit Paire testing positive, multiple others who came in contact were isolated, put in "bubble in a bubble" and only allowed to play their matches. That decision didn't please them. "Paire 11" as they came to be known included Kristina Mladenovic, Adrian Mannarino, Edouard Roger-Vasselin, Richard Gasquet, Gregoire Barrere, Ysaline Bonaventure and Kirsten Flipkens (four more not identified).
Mannarino was almost denied from taking court against Zverev (it did start after two and a half hours delay) but no such luck for Mladenovic (and Timea Babos) who was pulled from the women's doubles draw.
Bear in mind, USTA and US Open had no say in this as the rules were being imposed by county, city and state officials. And somewhat absurdly, none of these players were pulled from the tournament - as was the initial rule - a decision that did not go down well with Guido Pella.
- The wait for number 24 continues. Once again Serena entered, played, but couldn't lift the trophy. This time, however, Azarenka looked to be in good touch to end her losing record against the American at Slams. Williams took the foot off the gas against Azarenka and paid for it. On the flipside, a 39-year-old reached the last-four of an individual sport at the top level. Let's enjoy that while it lasts.
- There have been quite a few unexpected players making a mark in the last two weeks but none better than Jennifer Brady. What a forehand! OOF! She played quite possibly the match of the tournament with Osaka in the semi-finals and it's a real pity that fans weren't there to lap it all up.
- Story of the tournament? There have been quite a few heartwarming ones but Tsvetana Pironkova, a mom, playing her first tournament in over three years and reaching the quarters is up there. Fact that she faced Serena, who was a big factor in WTA changing the maternity leave policy, makes it even better.
- The theme of the US Open may well have been moms on tour. Nine entered the singles draw, one reached the final, and one of those nine won the doubles title. Vera Zvonareva, partnering Laura Siegemund, won the doubles championship.
- Sticking with doubles. What a loss for tennis world that Bob and Mike Bryan have retired. It is not a surprise that the most accomplished team walked into the sunset, what is more surprising, even sad, is that they go out without a farewell at the US Open. Their last event? World TeamTennis. After all the achievements, just doesn't sit right.
- Picking up from what Hantuchova went on to say in the US Open coverage, “There’s no problem with running an exhibition tour (Adria Tour) like that, just not when the whole world stops. Same with the ATP stuff. Sure things need to change, but not right now.” The ATP stuff in question? Formation of the Professional Tennis Players Association (PTPA) which is headed by Djokovic and Vasek Pospisil. A necessary move to fight for player rights, chief being more $$$ at Slams, but it fell short on multiple levels. The timing, not including women (even if, for now), lack of clarity on agenda and missing support of voices like Federer, Nadal and Murray are clear missteps.
- Back to the court. How do you assess yourself when you are still unable to go deep in a tournament that is devoid of 'Big 3' and large portion of the women's top-10? The question applies to quite a few but maybe can be pointed to Stefanos Tsitsipas (who lost in the third round) and Karolina Pliskova (who lost in the second round).
- Lack of fans was less obvious on the outside, smaller courts but became extremely evident on the show courts. The last two days notwithstanding, tennis without fans, or US Open without fans, is not as enjoyable. To echo Thiem's thoughts, hope the 2021 edition has fans in attendance.
- 'How did that happen' of the tournament? Two contenders. Tsitsipas squandering six match points, having led 7-6, 4-6, 6-4, 5-1, against Borna Coric to lose. Mladenovic led Varvara Gracheva 6-1, 5-1 and was cruising along. Only she would end up losing 6-1, 6-7, 0-6!
- US Open implemented Hawk-Eye Live on all courts except the two main courts which had line judges calling the shots. With a fairly successful experiment of technology running things, are we set for tennis being played without officials? It may avoid controversy, even though not entirely accurate, but it would lead to jobs lost for numerous people. Something to ponder.
- It's disappointing that year-on-year, Star Sports/Hotstar's coverage of the US Open doesn't improve. They continue to focus on the two main courts and none of the others where surprise results happen for the most part. Despite repeated requests and queries on social media, Sumit Nagal's first round match, played on Court 12, wasn't aired live. Intriguingly, Rohan Bopanna's Round of 16 doubles match, on Court 11, found space.
- Comment of the tournament? Quite a lot of strong and eyebrow-raising quotes. There is Mladenovic's “We’re living a nightmare here. I have only one desire and that is to regain my freedom. It’s absolutely abominable how they are treating us." And the entirety of Azarenka's interview after beating Serena. But maybe the most surprising words came from Sofia Kenin. When asked how the 2020 Australian Open champion blow off steam, she said, “Crying. That’s what I did. I mean, I had to let it out. That’s not the answer that people would like to hear. But everyone knows in Aussie I was crying every day before my match. It’s fine. It worked." Wow.
- Shot of the tournament? Matteo Berrettini without a doubt.
- We close with a mellow and heartwarming set of images. That allegedly of one of the members of the hospitality team at the event. He wore pineapple, roses, polka dots and a classy pink among other eye catching suits.
— US Open Tennis (@usopen) September 8, 2020
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