US Open…As It Was

By Cheryl Jones and Mark Winters

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After a year with COVID-19 directed fan absence, the 141st version of the US Open was wild and crazy, perhaps from leftover energy that had been absent because of last year’s emptiness. The excitement fanned the cheering that was tumultuous for almost everything that occurred.

After all its New York where everything is pretty much mega-stupendous, Hurricane Ida visited and came close to bringing about a “two by two” ark lineup in order to escape from the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. The slanting rain torrent and building toppling wind in the area – not confined to merely the tennis center – resulted in record flooding and property destruction.

The torrential rain at Louis Armstrong Stadium US Open 2021
The torrential rain at Louis Armstrong Stadium caused play to be suspended.
Photo: Benno Schwinghammer

As one wag journalist reported, Armstrong Stadium, one of the two covered courts at the facility, proved to have a “breach-able dome”. Fans watching a match had to unfurl their umbrellas in the roofed arena. Records were set, but a magnificent attempt to amend a 52-year-old standard came up short. It was the US Open as only the Open could be – Boisterous, Obnoxious, Entertaining and Predictably Unpredictable.

Resilience Buoyed By Joy…
In our years of covering Grand Slam championships we have witnessed expected results and a wonderful collection of surprises. Rarely has a singles final been more startling and even more wondrous. Emma Raducanu and Leylah Fernandez took the Arthur Ashe Stadium stage on a memorable day, the 20th Anniversary of 9/11. A performer from Great Britain, whose father is Romanian and mother is Chinese, but was born in Toronto in 2002 (and still holds a passport from the country), against a Montreal native with an Ecuadorian father and a Canadian Filipina mother, who calls Boynton Beach, Florida home. It was a fairytale match with the No. 150th ranked player taking on the No. 73rd.

It was the first “Teen Final” since 17-year-old Serena Williams defeated Martina Hingis, who was 18, 6-3, 7-6 for the 1999 US Open Women’s title. Raducanu, a qualifier, was looking to become the first British women’s champion since Virginia Wade scored a 6-4, 6-2 victory over Billie Jean King, in the first “Open Era” Open in 1968 (and Raducanu was the youngest woman from Great Britain to reach a slam final since Christine Truman, who was 18, at Roland Garros in 1959). Fernandez wanted to match countrywomen Bianca Andreescu’s 2019 6-3, 7-5 stunner over Williams.

Emma Raducanu at Wimbledon in 2018
Emma Raducanu at The Championships in 2018. Photo: Getty Images

The only time they had played was in the Girls’ event at The Championships in 2018. Raducanu won the second round contest 6-2, 6-4. (Iga Świątek of Poland, who eventually won the junior title, destroyed Raducanu, 6-0, 6-1 in the quarterfinals in London.)

There was much more to the matchup than a righthander against a lefthander. Raducanu has flowing strokes that feature relaxed, punishing power. She makes hitting a tennis ball look easy and her feel for shots is almost otherworldly. What’s more at 5’9” she covers the court effortlessly – no doubt because of the ballet and multi-sport background of her youth. Astonishingly going into the final she had not lost a set in either the qualifying or the main draw. What’s more she had only been on court a bit over seven hours going into the final.

Leylah Fernandez US Open 2021
Leylah Fernandez powers a forehand. Photo: Adam Stoltman

Fernandez is a modern day lefthander. She doesn’t gently cup or roll strokes. Her approach is like she is…feisty, attacking, and blatant in an opponent’s face aggression. She has touch but she prefers to punish shots, particularly with her hands spread two-handed backhand. Occasionally she hit strokes from an improbable knee-on-the-ground position. Her pluck was visible in her three set wins against Naomi Osaka, the No. 3 seed and defending champion, in the third round, Anglique Kerber of Germany, the No. 16 seed, in the next match, No. 5 seed Elina Svitolina of Ukraine in the quarterfinals and Aryna Sabalenka, the No. 2 seed from Belarus, in the semifinals.

She harassed and frustrated the “names” until they finally lost their cool and  folded. Bolstered by a raucous, fervent crowd, she thrived because, of course, New York loves an underdog. Without the backing she could have lost any of the three setters she played. But Fernandez, who was on court almost 13 hours during her six matches prior to the final, (and here’s a new cliché) “out-headed” her opponents.

As Sabalenka, who mixed 45 winners with 52 unforced errors in her 6-7, 6-4, 4-6 loss to Fernandez, said, “This is pressure…” She added, “I wouldn’t say that she did something…I destroyed myself…She’s like a Top 10 player…We’ll see how good she will be in the future”.

Aryna Sabalenka playing Leylah Fernandez at Flushing Meadows 2021
Aryna Sabalenka playing Leylah Fernandez at Flushing Meadows.
Photo: Jo Becktold

Against, Raducanu her formula didn’t prove to be successful. The 18-year-old had all the answers. Perhaps it was because, after playing sparingly during an 18 month academic sabbatical, she achieved an A in maths and A+ in economics in her A-level results this spring. (In ordinary circumstances she would be looking forward to “Freshers” her first year at university.)

Once her studies were completed she began working with established coach Nigel Sears, Andy Murray’s father-in-law. Sears had to beg The Championships for a wild card so she could enter the Ladies’ draw. The risk turned out to be well taken. She was enchanting, captivating actually, playing her way into the fourth round at the All England Lawn Tennis Club. While facing Ajla Tomljanović of Australia after losing the first set 4-6 and trailing 0-3 in the second, she began having trouble breathing and felt dizzy (she had a panic attack) and was forced to retire.

Emma Raducanu 2021 Wimbledon
Raducanu struggles to breathe in her match against Ajla Tomljanovic on Day 7 of The Championships. Photo: John Walton

Andrew Richardson, the 6’7” lefthanded former touring pro whose career was remarkably ordinary, is now her coach. With his direction she defeated Fernandez, along with a supportive crowd, which included a row of fans who were wearing the letters L-E-Y-L-A-H on the front of their T-shirts, 6-4, 6-3. It was “Pinch Me…Is She Real?” listening to Raducanu’s interview responses throughout the tournament. She was “little sister” joyous explaining how she had to change her reservation home on a daily basis as she kept winning. She was “wrap a smile around it” delightful in explaining how she dashed around the locker room three minutes before her first qualifying match searching for her AirPods then realizing if she won, she could afford to buy a new set. She mentioned that visiting Wall Street was on her New York bucket list because of her interest in having a backup plan in case she didn’t make it as a tennis player.

In New York, she proved that her future is very bright after becoming the first qualifier to ever win a Slam singles title and the first to become the champion without losing a set since Serena Williams did that in 2014. At the same time, she became the youngest major champion since Maria Sharapova won The Championships title in 2004 at 17 and the youngest Brit to ever secure a big four title.

Queen Elizabeth II's congratulatory message to Emma Raducanu
The congratulatory message from Her Majesty Elizabeth II to Emma Raducanu. Source:

“Radumania” launched as she received “A remarkable achievement at such a young age” acknowledgement from Queen Elizabeth II. Prime Minister “Brexit” Boris Johnson Tweeted, “What a sensational match! Huge congratulations to Emma Raducanu. You showed extraordinary skill, poise and guts and we are all hugely proud of you.” (And to top that, she appears in the October issue of British Vogue which has already been released.)

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson tweets his congratulations to Emma Raducanu
An avid tennis player and fan, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson tweets his congratulations to Emma Raducanu. Source: Twitter

Raducanu finished the pounding tussle with 22 winners and 25 unforced errors. Fernandez’s numbers were 18 and 26. As far as gesturing and imploring the crowd for support, the Canadian was the frontrunner…Though after losing a breakpoint on Fernandez’s serve Raducanu was “Emma True”, smiling radiantly and giving the crowd a “Come On” raising her arms.

Things got testy when Raducanu, serving at 5-3 for the match, racing along the baseline to hit a backhand skidded her left knee on the court. She lost the point, giving Fernandez a break opportunity. But chair umpire Marijana Veljovic, as rules dictate, stopped the match because of the blood rolling down Raducanu’s leg. A trainer was called and administered to Raducanu while she sat in a side change chair. Fernandez became furious, expressing her unhappiness to the umpire and to the court official who attempted to explain why play had to stop. She, then, stalked back and forth in front of her opponent during the five minute pause that it took to patch up the knee. (It was disappointing to see such an uncalled for reaction to something that had certainly not been engineered by Raducanu nor the umpire.)

Fernandez discusses Raducanu's injury time out with the deputy referee. Us Open 2021
Fernandez discusses Raducanu’s bloody knee treatment with the Deputy Referee. Credit: Susan Mullane

Later Fernandez explained that she wanted to play adding, “It happened in the heat of the moment. It was just too bad that it happened when I had the momentum…”

With the score now 30-30, Raducanu won the next exchange giving her a third match point. She closed things out with a thunderous ace. (Smiling later she said, “I had been trying to go out there the entire match but missed…and I didn’t want to double fault”.)

After their “In the Zone” tournament performances, they both seem to have brilliant (and no this isn’t a dig at Great Britain’s overuse of the adjective) potential. At home, the country is starved for a glamorous individual who is personable and appealing, someone who could be turned into a cult figure. But the British media and press outlets can be brutal. In Canada coverage is slightly less ravenous.

Belinda Bencic, the Swiss player who was the Olympic Gold Medalist and No. 11 seed in New York, after her 3-6, 4-6 quarterfinal loss to Raducanu, cautioned, “It’s great story…I really hope that everyone will protect them…not put so much pressure on them…so they can just develop in peace…”

From Raducanu’s perspective the US Open, “Was an absolute dream”. Fernandez believed “…it’s magical”.

Leylah Fernandez speaking US Open 2021
Fernandez spoke of her thoughts being with New Yorkers on the anniversary of 9/11. Photo: Susan Mullane

During the trophy presentation the Canadian reached out to those in attendance saying, “I just want to say that I hope I can be as strong and as resilient as New York has been the last 20 years. Thank you for always having my back. Thank you for cheering for me.”

(Her social awareness brought to mind how fortunate I am. Unbeknownst to most who know me, my dear Cheryl changed my flight home in September 2001. I was supposed to leave New York from Newark on September 11th and fly to San Francisco then Los Angeles. Thanks to her “having my back” I returned home on September 10th and wasn’t on the plane that flew into the Pentagon.)

A Double Triple…
Rajeev Ram and Joe Salisbury, seeded No. 4,  were the first US Open trophy winners easing past Jamie Murray of Great Britain and Bruno Soares of Brazil, seeded No. 7,  3-6, 6-2, 6-2 in the Men’s Doubles final. It was the second major championship for the US and Great Britain pair who was the 2020 Australian Open titlists.

In addition, Salisbury matched Bob Bryan’s rare double. The lefthanded half of the game’s all-time doubles combination teamed with twin brother Mike to take the 2010 Men’s Doubles and then with fellow American Liezel Huber for Mixed Doubles honors.

The London resident, Salisbury, earned his second major of the year with Desirae Krawczyk. This spring, they were victorious at Roland Garros. In New York, they defeated Marcelo Arévalo of El Salvador and Giuliana Olmos of Mexico 7-5, 6-2. The triumph was even more momentous for Krawczyk. The “reunion” with Salisbury, after she had won The Championships Mixed Doubles with Neal Skupski, also from Great Britain, was her third Slam of 2021. The “three in one year” mixed success made her a member of a select group that includes: Leander Paes of India and Martina Hingis of Switzerland – 2015; Martina Navratilova – 1985; Bob Hewitt – 1979 and Marty Riessen and Margaret Court – 1969.

Desirae Krawczyk and Joe Salisbury US Open 2021
Desirae Krawczyk and Joe Salisbury won the Mixed Doubles final.
Photo: Susan Mullane

Aussie, Aussie, Aussie, Oi, Oi, Oi
Samantha Stosur is no stranger to the US Open. In 2005, she won her first Grand Slam title teaming with American Lisa Raymond for a 6-2, 5-7, 6-3 victory over Elena Dementieva of Russia and Flavia Pennetta of Italy in the Women’s Doubles final. Three years later, the duo wasn’t as successful. Cara Black of Zimbabwe and Liezel Huber were 6-3, 7-6 better in the trophy round. In 2011, Stosur shocked Serena Williams, and the tennis world, winning the Women’s Singles title 6-2, 6-3.

Ten years after the epic triumph she was back in the winner’s circle. This time Zhang Shuai of China was her partner. Together they ran the table with “3s” slipping past US youngsters Coco Gauff, who is 17, and Caty McNally, the grand old lady of the team at 19, 6-3, 3-6, 6-3, (Team McCoco had never lost a doubles final as pros).

During the on-court trophy presentation, Gauff mentioned that the first autograph she got from a professional player was Stosur’s. The 37-year-old, after smiling and saying, “That’s a bit scary” added, “They just play fearless…I think they’re a really great team. Again, no doubt they’re going to be back in situations like this, challenging for titles.”

Women's doubles. US Open 2021
Coco Gauff and Caty McNally, Shuai Zhang,and Samantha Stosur.
Photo: Susan Mullane

Having won the Western & Southern Open Women’s Doubles before the Open, Stosur and Zhang, the 2019 Australian Open Women’s Doubles champions, have now won 11 matches in a row. For the 32-year-old Zhang the victory held special significance because she was the only player from her country in New York. (Shang Juncheng was a US Open Junior Boys’ competitor but all the rest of the Chinese pros remained at home playing the National Games tournament.) Following their Cincinnati triumph Zhang pointed out that they are such good friends winning or losing doesn’t matter. They are happy on court and, “We will for sure play together more”.

Throughout tennis history, Australia has had an almost uncountable number of tennis stars. With all that the legions have accomplished; few can rival Dylan Alcott. He defeated Niels Vink of the Netherlands 7-5, 6-2 in the US Open Quad Wheelchair Singles final. With the victory, he established another Alcott first. (Vink gained revenge teaming with Sam Schröder of the Netherlands to score a 6-3, 6-2 win over Alcott and countryman Heath Davidson in the Quad Wheelchair Doubles final.)

Alcott told the media, “No male has ever won a Golden Slam (Australian Open, Roland Garros, Wimbledon, US Open and Paralympic Quad Gold Medal). No one’s ever had the opportunity to either. I had that opportunity. What a special moment. I trained my whole life for that. So I really enjoyed the experience.”

He celebrated his success by cracking open a “brewsky”, while television cameras recorded the Alcott Tradition, one in which he always drinks a beer out of his latest trophy. (This was his 15th major.)

Golden Slam winners Diede de Groot and Dylan Alcott
Golden Slam winners Diede de Groot and Dylan Alcott acknowledged by crowd at the Men’s Singles Final. Photo: AP

After his accomplishment he admitted having thought a good deal about a Golden Slam. The 30-year-old conceded that after the Paralympics in Tokyo he was exhausted. Traveling to New York, less than a week after being in Japan, and earning a third US Open Quad Singles trophy, was just another test for a man who has succeeded so many times throughout his life. He did it, in typical Alcott fashion, but the accomplishment left him haggard. “I can’t wait to get back to quarantine in Melbourne,” he said.

Going into the US Open, Ashleigh Barty already had what would have been a career year for many players winning five tournaments including the Ladies’ Singles at The Championships. She was seeded No. 1 and had been No. 1 in the WTA rankings since early 2019. She faced Shelby Rogers, the lone American woman remaining in the singles event. On the tour, Barty was 5-0 against Rogers, who had just spent 13 months rehabbing from surgery for a 2018 cartilage tear in her left knee.

The 28-year-old from Mount Pleasant, South Carolina earned a dramatic 6-2, 1-6, 7-6 third round victory playing un-Rogers like tennis. Normally she is aggressive off the ground but changed tactics mixing up the speed and depth of her shots against the Australian. Admitting, that “It’s not the way I like to play…” but knew that it was what she needed to do to win. She also brought out that she had channeled the late Vitas Gerulaitis, who in 1980 said, “Nobody beats Vitas Gerulaitis 17 times in a row” after winning his first match against Jimmy Connors. The quote is actually off by one since Gerulaitis had 16 straight defeats but Rogers used the nobody beats Shelby Rogers six times in a row as her mantra. (She noted that every time she had lost to Barty she couldn’t get mad because she is so nice.)

Shelley Rogers Us Open 2021
Shelby Rogers playing Ash Barty. Photo: John Angelillo

For Barty, who had not been home since February, it was an exotic defeat. After losing the first set, she became machine like. She milled a 6-1 set in the blink of an eye and continued to stamp out games going up 5-2 in the third set. Then she disappeared, making a basketful of unforced errors. Taking advantage of the gifts that were coming her way, Rogers was inspired. Reenergized she raced through the remainder of the match.

Following the encounter Barty said, “You can’t win every single tennis match that you play…I’m proud of myself and my team for all the efforts we’ve put in in the last six months. “…There’s a winner and loser every single day but sometimes you don’t mind losing to certain people…Shelby because of her personality and character is certainly one of those for me…”

de Groot Joins Graf…
Probably the most suitable word to use to describe Diede de Groot’s career since she was 19 is – Unbeatable. The 24-year-old from the Netherlands defeated Yui Kamiji of Japan, 6-3, 6-2 to win the US Open Women’s Wheelchair Singles title. With that she became only the second woman in history, (Stefanie Graf was the first in 1988), to win each of the major single titles and the Olympic Gold Medal, (for de Groot it was the Paralympic Gold Medal).

Her stay in New York was made more remarkable by the triumph she shared with countrywoman Aniek van Koot. They won the Women’s Wheelchair Doubles 6-1, 6-2 overKamiji and Jordanne Whiley of Great Britain. (These were her 23rd and 24th major titles and in 2021, she defeated Kamiji in three of the four Slam finals.)

Diede de Groot Tokyo 2020
Diede de Groot in Toyko where she won Gold in the Doubles and Singles.
Photo: Tim Goode

A weary de Groot, who followed pretty much the same travel schedule as Dylan Alcott, told US Open media officials, “Coming from Tokyo, where it was such a big event, so much pressure, so much excitement, and then coming here [after] seeing a lot of athletes going home to their families, it was a little bit strange. It’s almost like eating dessert and then having something else after. But now I’m here, I’m training and I feel good. Just to be out here and to be playing again, you really get into the rhythm and get into the feeling of, ‘Oh, yeah, you know what? We’re back again and we’re going to play again.'”

Following her New York singles success she stated the obvious, “…I don’t think I will ever forget that…(the Golden Slam)”. 

De Groot, who became the No. 1 ranked Women’s Wheelchair competitor in March 2018, was anxious to return home after her extensive summer travels. It must be mentioned that she is the latest of a collection of wheelchair players from her country that includes International Tennis Hall of Fame members Chantal Vandierendonck (2014) and Monique Kalkman-van den Bosch (2017). (It is startling to see that the storied Esther Vergeer, who was the best wheelchair competitor in the world from 1998 until she retired in 2013, has yet to be recognized by the Hall of Fame. It seems that the interpretation of the new Hall of Fame induction rules has stimmed her election. For some reason the august organization hasn’t found a way to include the premier wheelchair performer, who at one time, had a 401-match win streak.)

Montgomery’s Grand Finale
Robin Montgomery matched a US Open Junior Girls’ record that was set 17 years ago. The 17-year-old from Washington, D.C., won the US Open Junior Girls’ Singles downing Kristina Dmitruk of Belarus, 6-2, 6-4. Then she joined Ashlyn Krueger, a 17-year-old from Highland Village, Texas to defeat Reese Brantmeier, 16, of Whitewater, Wisconsin,  and Elvina Kalieva, 18, of Staten Island, New York, 5-7, 6-4, 10-4.

Montgomery, who developed her game at the Junior Tennis Champions Center, in College Park, Maryland, (the home of Frances Tiafoe), duplicated Michaëlla Krajicek’s 2004 double. The Netherlands native defeated Jessica Kirkland of the US 6-1, 6-1 in the Girls’ title round then joined Marina Erakovic of New Zealand to roust Mădălina Gojnea and Monica Niculescu of Romania, 7-5, 6-0 for doubles honors.

Robin Montgomery US Open 2021
Robin Montgomery after winning the Girls’ Singles title. Source: Instagram

Lindsay Davenport was the last American junior to achieve the rare US Open Girls’ final combination. The Palos Verdes, California resident defeated Julie Steven of Wichita, Kansas 6-2, 6-2 for the singles trophy. Then in another All-American tussle, she and Rolling Hills Estates neighbor Nicole London slipped past Katie Schlukebir of Kalamazoo, Michigan and Steven, 7-5, 6-7, 6-4 for the doubles crown. Though she turned 17 on September 5th,  she decided before the championships that the US Open would be her last junior tournament. Based on the result, Robin Montgomery staged a “Grand Finale”.

The following earned US Open “Standing Ovations:

– Boys’ Singles – Daniel Rincón of Spain defeated Shang Juncheng of China 6-2, 7-6

– Boys’ Doubles – Max Westphal of France and Coleman Wong of Hong Kong defeated Viacheslav Bielinskyi of Ukraine and Petr Nesterov of Bulgaria 6-3, 5-7, 10-1

– Men’s Wheelchair Doubles – Alfie Hewett and Gordon Reid of Great Britain defeatedGustavo Fernández of Argentina and Shingo Kunieda of Japan, 6-2, 6-1, to complete a calendar year Grand Slam.

– Original 9 – Six members – Peaches Bartkowicz, Rosie Casals, Julie Heldman, Billie Jean King, Kerry Melville Reid and Valerie Ziegenfuss – of the group that was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame were saluted between the Women’s Singles semifinals. (Kristy Pigeon, Nancy Richey and Judy Tegart, also Original 9ers, were unable to attend.)

– HBCU Live – On September 2nd a Historically Black Colleges and University event was staged that created a dynamic “yard” atmosphere on the grounds of the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. The highlight of that day was the entertainment provided by the Howard University “Showtime” Marching Band.

– Hawk-Eye Live – The system with the “rent a car GPS voice” made all the line calls. (In the future perhaps competitors will be allowed to choose the tone of voice and accent used like they can when renting a car.)

– Ralph Lauren – For making the uniforms of the ball people from recycled plastic bottles. (Folks were already imagining their empty Diet Coke bottle waiting at the back of the court to return a fuzzy ball to their tennis hero or heroine.)

– Five Setters – The most ever – 36 – were played – 19 in the first round.

– Attendance – The 631,134 (85% of the record – setting 737,919 in 2019) fans were often vociferous, regularly turning matches into spirited soccer team rivalries. 

– Last year, the tournament called attention to “Black Lives Matter” with a variety of activities. In 2021, the “Be Open” platform created awareness for social change highlighting “progress, positivity, and equality” through a number of initiatives.

In Case You Missed It…
Juan Martin del Potro last played at Queen’s Club Championships (aka Fever – Tree Championships) in 2019. He defeated Denis Shapovalov of Canada, 7-5, 6-4 in the first round and fractured his right patella in the process. In 2009, the Argentine shocked Roger Federer 3-6, 7-6, 4-6, 7-6, 6-2 in the US Open final, (becoming the first man from his country to win the year’s last major since Guillermo Vilas in 1977). Nine years later, he was a straight set finalist to Novak Djokovic.

Nicknamed the “Tower of Tandil”, because of his 6”6’ height and the town where he was born, his once promising career has become a story of surgeries. All told, he has had four knee procedures, and three right and one left wrist surgeries. Recently, he began hitting in Miami. Though still experiencing right knee tenderness, he came to New York to hit with John McEnroe at the US Open site and find more inspiration in his effort to return to the tour.

Juan Martin Del Potro at the Fever-Tree Championships 2019
Juan Martin Del Potro at the Fever-Tree Championships at Queens Club in 2019. Photo: Action Foto Sport

Explaining after the workout that he had been in contact with McEnroe, who offered strong encouragement, del Potro added, “I love a challenge so I am following my dream. I don’t know if it is the pandemic, or the game, but now points seem to be shorter. If I am healthy I know I could play here.” 

Last September, Carla Suárez Navarro announced that she had been diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma and would begin six months of chemotherapy treatment immediately. The Spaniard, who turned 33 on September 3rd, returned to competition at Roland Garros then played The Championships. A 2013 and ’18 quarterfinalist in New York, she lost 2-6, 4-6 in the first round this year to Danielle Collins. But, she left the court, after playing her last singles match, with a smile saying, “I lost, but this year for me was a gift. Last year on these dates, I don’t know if I can be here one more time or not, and I’m here.”

Carla Suárez Navarro is farewelled by the US Open 2021
Carla Suárez Navarro is farewelled by the US Open. Source: Instagram

Yaroslava (who prefers Slava) Shvedova was born in Moscow but has represented Kazakhstan since 2008. She became the first Kazakh player to win a Grand Slam when she and Vania King of the US claimed The Championships and US Open Women’s Doubles trophies in 2010. As a wild card at The Championships in 2012, she became one of seven players (and the only one to do it at a Slam) to win a Golden Set (meaning all 24 points) defeating Sara Errani of Italy, 6-0, 6-4 in the third round. She injured her left foot at the Shenzhen Open  the first tournament in 2017. Later in the year she had ankle surgery.

In October 2018, she gave birth to twins (a boy and a girl). But throughout the latter part of her career, the 34-year-old has spent more time dealing with injuries then hitting tennis balls. She began 2021 playing with a Protected Ranking but going into the US Open she had a 2-15 singles record. Following her quarterfinal 2-6, 3-6 Mixed Doubles loss with Fabrice Martin of France to Max Purcell of Australia and Dayana Yastremska of Ukraine (who earned a spot in the draw as Alternates), she announced her retirement.

Botic van de Zandschulp US Open 2021
Botic van de Zandschulp playing Daniil Medvedev in the quarterfinals.
Photo: Jo Becktold

Botic van de Zandschulp was born in the Netherlands town – Veenendaal – that is harder for Americans to pronounce than his family name and that of the city where he currently resides – Wageningen. Basically unrecognized as a junior, the 25-year-old became a professional in 2013 and made career progress playing Futures and Challengers.

His No. 121 ranking, after competing in 13 countries before the US Open, forced him to qualify. He did and followed it up in a big way surprising Christian Ruud of Norway, the No. 8 seed, and Diego Schwartzman of Argentina, the No. 11 seed. He became the third US Open qualifier – Gilles Müller in 2008 and Nicolas Escudé in 1999 – to play through to the quarterfinals. There he lost to Daniil Medvedev, 3-6, 0-6, 6-4, 5-7. It was the only set the Russian dropped during his amazing run to the Men’s title.

For tennis players, finding time for a vacation is like searching for a passport in a new hotel room with all the lights out. Anastasia and Arina found a visa back to teaming up in a very strange place. While visiting their parents Ivan and Natalia Rodionova in Moscow after Arina finished competing at The Championships this spring, the sisters decided to workout. Anastasia, who is 39, had been off the tour after giving birth to son Max in 2019. (She married Cagri Saner, a tennis player from Turkey in November 2018 and they are currently living in Boco Raton, Florida.)

After the practice session, Anastasia told her younger sister, she was surprised by how well she hit and wondered if Arina thought she should play the US Open? The 31-year-old, who resides in Melbourne quickly said it was a great idea because…she didn’t have a partner. Of course, as the cliché continues – The rest is history.

The Rodionova sisters teaming at the US Open
The Rodionova sisters teaming at the US Open. Source: Instagram

During their careers they have played together occasionally. Their best results were losing three set finals at the 2010 Malaysian Open and the 2015 Monterrey Open. Anastasia earned a “forgettable” place in the WTA record book at the 2007 Western & Southern Open. She was defaulted after hitting a ball toward spectators cheering for her opponent Angelique Kerber. (The only other WTA default occurred at the 1996 Palermo Open when Irina Spîrlea of Romania used abusive language. The crowd evidently wasn’t familiar with the old saw – “sticks and stones…”)

In the first round of the Women’s Doubles, Anastasia, using a Protected Ranking, and Arina shocked Nicole Melichar-Martinez of the US and Demi Schuurs of the Netherlands, the No. 4 seeds, 6-2, 6-4. Next, they edged Anhelina Kalina of Ukraine and 37-year-old Renata Voráčová of the Czech Republic in three sets. Marie Bouzková and 36-year-old Lucie Hradecká, the No. 15 seeds from the Czech Republic, ended the “Dream” 6-2, 7-6.

Bjorn Fratangelo and Madison Keys began dating in December 2017. Now, they live together in Orlando, Florida. He had been after her to play mixed doubles for some time but she resisted. She finally relented after he told her they would just have fun…

They lost to Marcelo Demoliner of Brazil and Ellen Perez of Australia, 4-6, 3-6. After the match Keys admitted being very nervous, but was glad they did it.

Madison Keys and Bjorn Fratangelo
Madison Keys and Bjorn Fratangelo working out at home. Source: Facebook

Fratangelo was also happy they played and hopes they do it again. He thought that they had faced a good team that played well. But, most important, they had fun, joking a lot on the changeovers. Cutting to the heart of what took place he offered, “…I think to play with someone you love and care about is special…”

Interestingly, in 1968 Peter Curtis from Woking, Great Britain and Mary-Ann Eisel from St. Louis, Missouri were boyfriend and girlfriend. They won the first “Open” US Open Mixed Doubles. (A year later they were married; unfortunately they were divorced in 1972.)

In a contest of “Howitzer Serving”,  6’4” Lloyd Harris of South Africa defeated Reilly Opelka, the 6’11” No. 22 seed, 6-7, 6-4, 6-1, 6-3. Even with the loss, Opelka seemed to have had a financially successful singles tournament earning $265,000. But as it regularly happens at tournaments there were some “residual” costs. The Championships is renowned for its patrolling “Fashion Police” who are the “word” when it comes to tennis wear color combinations. The US Open had its “watchers” dock the 24-year-old Opelka $10,000 because of the small bag he carried onto court. Somewhat surprising, the fine wasn’t because of the color (which was pink), it was for failure to observe the “Minutia Rule”. It seems there’s a “four square inches” standard and the logo of a Belgium art gallery that is owned by Opelka’s friend, exceeded the boundary lines.

Reilly Opelka bag
The offending bag carried on court by Reilly Opelka. Source: Twitter

Admitting that he didn’t carry a tape measure with him on the tour, he felt the penalty was harsh then added, “Ticket sales must be struggling this year…” (Based on his tweets, the offending logo doesn’t seem to be in violation of the criterion. In fact, fans would have needed a hand-held Hubble Telescope to clearly see the logo from their seats.)

Reilly Opelka bag
Opelka’s replacement bag next match changed the logo to UNAPPROVED.
Source: Twitter

Out Of Bounds
It isn’t a question of “nitpicking” but every Grand Slam, because of the enormity of what is taking place, has a few instances of activities that go beyond the court lines and are clearly “Out of Bounds”.

Leading the category were the bathroom breaks that became part of Stefanos Tsitsipas match playing routine. The rules state that in five set matches a player is entitled to two “Toy-Toy” escapes per match. The No. 3 seed took full advantage of the rules leaving the court for as much as eight minutes to “…just change into dry clothing…”

Combined with “selective medical timeouts” he continually played a “delaying overture” that his opponents did not like. At almost every opportunity, in the three matches the Greek played, he left the court. (Delays aside, he was on court for only a total of 14 sets). Carlos Alcaraz, the uber-talented 18-year-old from Spain, finally brought an end to the WC trots, 6-4, 4-6, 7-6, 0-6 7-6.

Andy Murray of Great Britain was livid with the interruptions (a medical timeout in the third set and bathroom break in the fourth) that took place in his 2-6, 7-6, 3-6, 6-3, 6-4 defeat. Murray was quite vocal about the situation, asking chair umpire Nico Helwerth, “Why are they allowed to do this? What’s your opinion? You’re umpiring the match.” (“It hasn’t taken me this long to go to the bathroom, ever.”)

Andy Murray US Open 2021
Andy Murray showed plenty of his best form in his match against Stefanos Tsitsipas. Photo: Leslie Billman

After the loss, Murray admitted that he had talked with his team before that match about not being affected by the “Tsitsipas Tactic”, which he has become well known for. He added that, while he is a brilliant player, he had lost all respect for Tsitsipas. Murray concluded, “I feel it influenced the outcome of the match”.

Tsitsipas righteously responded that he might have taken a “bit longer than other athletes…if there is a rule that says there’s a specific amount that you are allowed to take then I will probably try and follow that protocol, that rule.”

John McEnroe, one of the ESPN US Open commentators, who was born candid, said, “He gave a lame excuse…”

In his next match against Adrian Mannarino of France, Tsitsipas “took off” after losing the Tie-Break in a match he won 6-3, 6-4, 6-7, 6-0. Darren Cahill, a McEnroe commentating colleague, who was sitting courtside offered, “They (with his father, Apostolos) get a coaching violation every second match…He has said – I am playing be the rules – but there is an understanding between players about things and this is one of them… Obviously he is on the brink when it comes to understanding because he believes he isn’t breaking the rules…”

Adrian Mannarino US Open 2021
Adrian Mannarino playing Tsitsipas in the second round.
Photo: John Angelillo

Mannarino didn’t pull any punches saying, “The rule is wrong”. Rennae Stubbs, another member of the ESPN team, agreed with the Frenchman. In his scintillating match with Alcaraz, Tsitsipas was booed when he left the court at the end of the third set. McEnroe was not bashful when he said, “He should suck it up and realize that he can’t keep doing bathroom breaks and get any fan support.”

After his defeat Tsitsipas remained obtusely mystified saying, “There is not a rule that says how much time you have to take between two serves. But I respected it. These players that everyone knows they’re taking so much time but no one says anything.

“I don’t know why everyone suddenly is against me.”

As McEnroe opined, “That’s pretty lame…”

Carlos Alcaraz and Stefanos Tsitsipas
Carlos Alcaraz and Stefanos Tsitsipas meet at the net after their match. Photo: John Angelillo

Playing the game Tsitsipas’ way is not what tennis is all about. While it is not a minuscule offense when it comes to propriety, what Sloane Stephens and Shelby Rogers experienced on Instagram reached a gutter-water level of nastiness.

In her first 2021 Open match Stephens played Madison Keys, the friend she defeated in straight sets in the 2017 tournament final. This time, she won 6-3, 1-6, 7-6.

Sloane Stephens US Open 2021
Sloane Stephens during her match against Madison Keys.
Photo: John Angelillo

Coco Gauff was her next opponent. In a contest which pitted performers with Florida ties against one another, she defeated the No. 21 seed, 6-2, 6-4. Playing as if she had stepped back in time four years, Stephens next faced Angelique Kerber, the No. 16 seed. The German, who won the 2016 US Open Women’s Singles, was victorious this time, 5-7, 6-2, 6-3.

The social media reaction was definitely psychopathic. Stephens said of the tirade, “I am human, after last night’s match I got 2k + messages of abuse/anger from people upset by yesterday’s result. It’s so hard to read messages like these, but I’ll post a few so you guys can see what it’s like after a loss.”

The postings included messages threatening rape and racist violence. One said, “I promise to find you and destroy your leg so hard that you can’t walk anymore”. 

On her posting Stephens said, “This type of hate is so exhausting and never ending. This isn’t talked about enough, but it really freaking sucks.

“I’m choosing positive vibes over negative ones,” Stephens wrote. “I choose to show you guys happiness on here but it’s not always smiles and roses.” 

Madison Keys statement
Statement by Madison Keys as part of the FearlesslyGiRL campaign against cyberbullying in 2017. Source: WTA Insider

The USTA and the Open issued a statement that said in part, “Sloane has courageously brought to the forefront an issue that many modern day athletes are forced to deal with throughout their careers. The unfortunate reality is that this type of vitriol and hate is far too commonplace on social media platforms…”

Rogers, with her down-to-earth charm, was praised for dismissing Barty, 6-2, 1-6, 7-6 in the third round.

After what Stephens faced, Rogers said, “I kind of wish social media didn’t exist, but here we are. It’s a big part of marketing. We have contracts. We have to post certain things…you could probably go through my profile right now, I’m probably a big fat pig and words I can’t say right now. But it is what it is. You try not to take it to heart. It’s the unfortunate side of any sport and what we do…”

After being routed 6-2, 6-1 in her next match against Raducanu, she expected the worst. Following the defeat, Rogers said she felt terrible for letting people down, then acknowledged, “Obviously we appreciate the spotlight in those moments (defeating Barty) then you have today and I’m going to have nine million death threats and whatnot. It’s very much polarizing, one extreme to the other very quickly. At this point in my career, I’d say I’m used to it…but it’s not easy to say in the least.”

But being a Faceless Tweet certainly makes it easy for some… 

O Naomi…Where Art Thou
In 2000, Ethan and Joel Coen made “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” It was a movie about rural Mississippi during the Depression. It is loosely based on Homer’s epic poem “The Odyssey” the same sort of trek that Naomi Osaka made in and out of the US Open.

Naomi Osaka US Open 2021
Naomi Osaka in her match against Leylah Fernandez. Photo: John Angelillo

Prior to the start of play, she was visibly uncomfortable during her press conference. It was almost like she had to give a speech in a class she didn’t want to take and the clock that would indicate when her required 10 minutes was up,  was on the wall behind her and she couldn’t see it, but she could hear the tick, tick, tick. She gave it her best. She has never been a “Tennis Spieler”, a player that hits the “On” button and launches into “It will be a great match between two great players in a great stadium at a great tournament…”

At the first press conference she was asked if being on the tennis court allowed her to forget what was taking place in her life. She responded, “It would be nice if there was that line for me, but no. I’m the type of person that everything is sort of the same. So, like, I feel like maybe you could see it earlier on in my career: If there was something that was not right in my personal life, you could kind of see it in my playing.”

She continued, “So it would be really cool if I could draw that line and be able to be like a robot Superman that could go on the court, focus just on tennis. But, no, I’m the type that kind of focuses on everything at one time. That’s why, like, everything is sort of muddled to me.”

Osaka won her first match against Maria Bouzková of the Czech Republic with the loss of only five games. Then received a walk over from Olga Danilović of Serbia to set up a meet with Fernandez that turned out to be a disaster. The Canadian won 5-7, 7-6, 6-4 in front of a deliriously supportive crowd.

Naomi Osaka 2021
Naomi Osaka about to smash her racquet. Photo: John Angelillo

The defending champion not only played badly, Osaka played lost, making unwise and impatient shots. Her frustration was touchable as she abused her racquet and finally launched a tennis ball into the seats. This from a player who had won four major titles and 16 straight major matches.

Following the match, Osaka opened her soul saying, “I feel like for me, recently, when I win, I don’t feel happy, I feel more like a relief. And then when I lose, I feel very sad. I don’t think that’s normal.”

Reflecting on her very un-Osaka like emotional display during the match she confessed, “Yeah, I’m really sorry about that. I’m not really sure why. Like, I felt like I was pretty – I was telling myself to be calm, but I feel like maybe there was a boiling point.

“Like normally I feel like I like challenges. But recently I feel very anxious when things don’t go my way, and I feel like you can feel that. I’m not really sure why it happens the way it happens now.

“But, yeah, it’s basically why. You could kind of see that. I was kind of like a little kid.”

Osaka leaving Arthur Ashe Stadium 2021
Osaka leaving Arthur Ashe Stadium after the second set against Fernandez.
Photo: John Angelillo

Though she was struggling emotionally when the moderator wanted to end the press conference, she, turned to her agent Stuart Duguid and asked if it was okay to mention what they had quickly discussed in the hallway before she entered the interview room. He nodded “Yes” and she continued, “This is very hard to articulate. Basically, I feel like I’m kind of at this point where I’m trying to figure out what I want to do, and I honestly don’t know when I’m going to play my next tennis match.”

Leaving the interview Osaka said, “Yeah, I think I’m going to take a break from playing for a while.”

It was chilling and eye opening to watch a 23-year-old, who seemed to be at the top of the sport but, as she admitted prior to Roland Garros, she had serious mental health concerns. Once Osaka shared her consternation, the game opened its “caring arms…” and became more supportive.

Naomi Osaka gives the peace sign
Osaka offers the peace sign as she departs the tournament.
Photo: John Angelillo

Naomi Osaka is a rarity. She is what she is…An individual whose feelings have been enriched by cultural diversity who is doing her utmost to make both herself and tennis better. Liz Clarke, the widely respected Washington Post journalist wrote in “Naomi Osaka’s return to tennis is an open question; her impact on mental-health awareness is clear” in her September 4th story, “When Osaka finally walked off the court, she held up her right hand with two fingers extended in a peace sign as the crowd cheered the sport’s new teenage sensation, Fernandez.

 Clark continued, “Without a word, Osaka wished them all peace as she walked off in search of her own.”

Nothing more needed to be said…

Shouldn’t Be Overlooked…
Alcaraz followed his third round upset of Tsitsipas by winning another exhausting contest this time against qualifier Peter Gojowczyk of Germany 5-7, 6-1, 5-7, 6-2, 6-0. The victory made the 18-year-old from Spain the youngest man to reach the quarterfinals since 1963. (In those days, the tournament was the US National Championships and Thomaz Koch of Brazil who turned 18 in May ’63 was a quarterfinalist).

Frances Tiafoe became the first US man to reach the second week in back-to-back US Opens since Mardy Fish and Andy Roddick in 2011–12. His run came to an end when he lost 4-6, 6-2, 7-6, 6-4 in the fourth round to Felix Auger-Aliassime of Canada, whom he nicked named “Box Office”.

Jenson Brooksby
Jenson Brooksby going down to Novak Djokovic in the fourth round.
Photo: Jo Becktold

At 20, Jenson Brooksby became the youngest US man to reach the fourth round since Roddick in 2002. Novak Djokovic defeated the Sacramento, California native, who has a fascinating toolbox of strokes, 1-6, 6-3, 6-2, 6-2.

All the players rejoiced that spectators were back in the stands but last year’s US Open Women’s Singles finalist Victoria Azarenka of Belarus went further.  She pointed out that if attendees had to show proof of at least one vaccine shot or a 72 – hour negative, ATP, WTA and ITF competitors, who are not required to be vaccinated, should be so “because I think we all want to be safe…”

Five men who were qualifiers –  Gojowczyk, Henri Laaksonen of Switzerland, Alex Molcan of Slovakia, Oscar Otte of Germany and van de Zandschulp – made the US Open third round for the second time since 2000

Where The Men Are…?
“Where the Boys Are” was a 1960’s coming of age movie about university students going to storied Fort Lauderdale for a spring break escape. It won the Laurel Award for “Best Comedy of the  Year”.

Currently US tennis is a comedy which is why so many are asking – Where the Men Are? For the first time since the US National Championships began in 1881, there wasn’t one native player in the quarterfinals. The answer to why this happened is not like solving a simple math problem. It involves quadrants and quotients and much more. The equation is made more confusing by the fact that there are 14 Americans, the most since 1996, in the ATP Top 100. (Thirteen men reached the second round of this year’s tournament; only 1994 was better when the number was 15.)

All sorts of justifications have been offered from “tennis is cyclical…” to “players from other countries, who are disadvantaged are hungrier…” Then there are the soothsayers who exclaim, “We are in the best place we have been in years…”

Mackenzie McDonald 2021
Mackenzie McDonald playing at this year’s Australian Open.
Photo Anne Parker

Sadly, the slam showings in 2021 don’t lie. Mackenzie “Mackie” McDonald, who reached the fourth round in Australia, was the best American. At Roland Garros, it was a tie between Marcos Giron, John Isner, Steve Johnson and Reilly Opelka all of whom made the third round. At The Championships, Sebastian Korda ended his debut in the fourth round. In New York, a trio – Brooksby, Opelka and Tiafoe were done-in by the fourth round.

The way things stand now – Roddick will remain the trivia answer to the question – Who is the last US player to win the US Open Men’s Singles title (and bonus points are given if the year – 2003 – is provided, along with the name of the player he defeated Juan Carlos Ferrero, the Spaniard, who is now Alcaraz’s coach.)

Down And Out…
Before the first match was put on court, an all-time “could not participate” injury list was medevacked to the press. Certainly it was unrivaled by any other slam in history. Roger Federer, facing a third surgery on his right knee, opted out. Rafael Nadal did the same because of a persistent problem with his left foot. Serena and Venus Williams were sidelined by a torn right hamstring and a leg injury of some sort (respectively). Defending Men’s champion Dominic Thiem joined Serena on the torn team but for the Austrian it was his right wrist tendon sheath.

Recovery from surgery, in Stan Wawrinka’s case, the Swiss’ left foot, with Kyle Edmund of Great Britain, one of his knees and Borna Coric of Croatia, believed to be his right shoulder, kept all three out of the draw. Milos Raonic of Canada had two issues – a calf and a heel – before specifying that his right leg wouldn’t allow him to play. (Perhaps it was a right leg trio). Jo-Wilfried Tsonga of France was another “out with a leg…” with no indication of what was wrong.

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga Wimbledon 2021
Returning from injury, the only Slam matches Jo-Wilfried Tsonga played this year were the first rounds of Roland Garros and The Championships.
Photo: Jed Leicester

Jennifer Brady, a 2020 semifinalist, did. A bruised knee accompanied by plantar fasciitis (neither location was identified) made it impossible for her to play. Patricia Maria Tig of Romania remained away from the court because of a bad back. Jelena Ostapenko of Latvia used the “utility opt-out” – medical reasons.

Sofia Kenin had been vaccinated but caught the virus and remained at her Florida home. Travel restrictions and safety concerns were the reasons Qiang Wang remained in China. When it came to Latisha Chan of Taiwan no one knew why she was on the missing in action report and not playing with Hao-Ching Chan, her sister and regular partner.

A left quadricep injury forced Johanna Konta of Great Britain to withdraw shortly before she was to face Kristina Mladenovic of France. Once play began the casualties continued. Marin Cilic of Croatia ended his amazing record of not having retired in his previous 800 career matches when “physical distress” caused him to abandon play with the score 7-6, 7-6, 2-6, 1-6, 0-2, Retired against Philipp Kohlschreiber of Germany. Sebastian Korda headed to the locker room, according to his agent “with stomach issues” after retiring against Nikoloz Basilashvili with the Georgian leading 6-2, 2-1.

A foot injury forced Grigor Dimitrov of Bulgaria to return to the locker room when he trailed Alexei Popyrin of Australia, 6-7, 6-7, 0-4 in the second round men’s encounter. Olga Danilovic of Serbia had a viral illness which gave Naomi Osaka a walkover victory in women’s play in the same round.

Memories of the “old Jack Sock” the player with the divot making forehand and the mortar-like serve were showcased in the first set of his third round match with Alexander Zverev of Germany. He blitzed his way to a 6-3 lead before the No. 4 seed played like it and ran away with the next two sets 6-2, 6-3. Sock, whose stride had changed noticeably as the match progressed, was hampered more and more by a groin injury. Having been treated by the trainer on court during the second set he retired at 1-2 in the fourth set.

Jack Sock US Open 2021
Jack Sock leaves the court after injury forced him to retire.
Source: Instagram

Zverev admitted that had Sock kept playing the way he was in the first set, the match would have ended in an hour-and-a-half and he would have been making vacation plans for a trip to the south of France. He continued his praise, “He hit 3,000 winners and made zero unforced errors I’ve never seen him play like that before”.

(Because of the injury, Sock was unable to play his second round doubles match with Neal Skupski of Great Britain giving Dominik Koepfer and Emil Ruusuvori a walkover. The German-Finnish tandem had “injury” on their side because they defeated Tim Puetz of Germany and Michael Venus of New Zealand 3-6, 6-5, Retired in the first round when Puetz strained his side.)

First round doubles retirements contributed to the thrashing of events. Daniel Evans, “out of caution…” (because he was still in the singles draw) decided to stop playing with British partner Lloyd Glasspool with the score 7-6, 4-6, 1-2, Retired against Marcus Daniell of New Zealand and Marcelo Demoliner of Brazil. Miomir Kecmanovic of Serbia and Casper Ruud of Norway were down 2-6, 0-2 against the French duo Hugo Nys and Arthur Rinderknech and decided “enough is enough…” and retired (and it’s anyone’s guess as to why). Equally mysterious was the “no reason” walkover Sander Gillé of Belgium and Demi Schuurs of the Netherlands received from Máximo González and Nadia Podoroska, an Argentine team.

Carlos Alcaraz
Carlos Alcaraz lets his victory over Stefanos Tsitsipas sink in.
Photo: John Angelillo

With the parade of unfinished contests none was more telling and fan disappointing than quarterfinalist Carlos Alcaraz’s second set retirement to Felix Auger-Aliassime of Canada. The 18-year-old Spaniard began the match with both thighs heavily taped. After losing the first 3-6, and down 1-3 in the second he approached the chair umpire and said he would not be able to continue.

After it was announced that his right adductor muscle was causing more pain than he could endure, he said, “I had no choice…” (As it turned out he has a fibrillar tear in the vastus medialis and lateral quadriceps and an elongated adductor…Please don’t ask to see our anatomy diplomas.)

Neither did Luisa Stefani. In her semifinal doubles match with Gabriela Dabrowski of Canada, they were ahead 2-1 in the first set Tie-Break against Coco Gauff and Katy McNally, the Brazilian stopped quickly near the net. Her right knee gave way and she collapsed. She attempted to stand but was unable to support any weight on her leg. She was taken from the court in a wheelchair. Later she tweeted “Just to let you know I’m fine. I’m going to the hospital now to get tested and find out what happened. When I can, I’ll send you more news…”

The next day (Saturday September 11th) she tweeted, “The day was long and difficult. I did the exams and it showed that I had a knee ligament tear and I still don’t know the next steps…”

Luisa Stefani and Gabriela Dabrowski
Luisa Stefani and Gabriela Dabrowski were forced to retire in their semifinal.
Source: Instagram

Today’s players are supremely fit. Still looking beyond all the years Federer, Nadal, the Williams, Wawrinka and Cilic have spent toiling on the court, the question should be asked – Why were there so many injuries in New York?

For some time, hard courts have been blamed. Even pre-Nadal times, there were play everything, except The Championships, on Terre Battue advocates. True, Alcaraz’s third and fourth round matches against Tsitsipas and Gojowczyk were taxing five setters, but he is a training beast and only 18 – Why did he breakdown? Was it tension, having never gone so far in a major or…?

Using a broad brush – Is the game itself responsible? Being more specific are the ATP, WTA and ITF by adhering to tournament schedules that are almost inhuman hurting those who keep the organizations in business. While the circuit rewards those at the top handsomely they abandon those not in the Top 100 to beg to make a living. They are trying to “get by…” playing themselves into ruin physically. We all should know that better competitors, being more secure financially, make it easier for them to compete but more important, they can afford to take care of themselves when they are banged up.

Most will agree that something needs to be done to save tennis as well as the players who make it such an amazing sport. Will there be some necessary change(s)? It would seem-Not Likely-if those in control continue with their hands on the rudder. 

Move Over Fred Perry And Ken Rosewall…
In 1933, Jack Crawford entered the US National Championships having already won the Men’s Singles titles at Australia, Roland Garros and The Championships. The Australian, who played with a distinctive flatheaded racquet, reached the final at the West Side Tennis Club. Fred Perry of Great Britain was his opponent, who he had defeated in their first career meeting, in the 1932 quarterfinals, at The Championships, 7-5, 8-6, 2-6, 8-6.

As was the custom at the time, (one that he followed throughout his career) Crawford wore long white flannels and a long-sleeved white shirt. (He was also known for having an occasional “tot” of whiskey during tight matches and from all indications it worked for him.) Against Perry, “Gentleman Jack” as he was known, lost the first set 3-6, but won the next two 13-11 and 6-4. It was a hot muggy day and Crawford, a life-long asthmatic began having trouble breathing. Perry took full advantage of the situation winning the final sets 6-0, 6-1 to earn his first Grand Slam singles trophy becoming the first player from Great Britain to win the US National Men’s Singles since Laurence Doherty defeated the defending champion William Larned of the US, 6-0, 6-3, 10-8 in 1903.

Fred Perry playing Jack Crawford at The Championships in 1934. Photograph by Edward George Malindine

As a result of the defeat, the first Grand Slam, in which a player claimed the singles titles in Melbourne, Paris, London and New York in one season, didn’t occur until Don Budge invented the term in 1938.

Lew Hoad, in 1956, had an opportunity to realize a Grand Slam. He defeated his friend Ken Rosewall in their country’s national championship at Kooyong Stadium, 6-4, 3-6, 6-4, 7-5 in the singles final. Having straight – setted Sven Davidson of Sweden in the Roland Garros final, (on Terre Battue, his worst surface), he moved across “The Pond” and stopped Rosewall in The Championships Men’s final, 6-2, 4-6, 7-5, 6-4. So, it all came down to Forest Hills and the September 9th match between the “Sydney Twins” (who were born in the same city with Rosewall arriving three weeks ahead of Hoad). The ball, on the grass at the Westside Tennis Club bounced lower than it did at the All England Lawn Tennis Club and at home in Australia. In addition, the wind was always tricky in the 14,000 seat horseshoe shaped stadium. Rosewall was tactically brilliant and Hoad, to be expected, was “tight”. The result was a 4-6, 6-2, 6-3, 6-3 Slam destroying victory for the older Aussie.

Six years later, Rod Laver won a Grand Slam as an amateur. He turned professional in 1963 and won his second Slam in 1969.

Rod Laver 1969
In 1969, Rod Laver won The Grand Slam for second time.
Source: Getty Images

Since the esteemed Laver’s double no one has come close to “Slamming” until Novak Djokovic put the record book on notice in 2021. He rolled through Australia, Roland Garros and The Championships. As the year progressed talk turned more and more to the “Serbian Slam”. Though he didn’t want to discuss it…Either out of his need for the tennis public to respect him and/or love him, he rarely got off the topic. (Honestly, he was not completely at fault because tennis journalists turned the subject into an ultra-marathon topic.)

The enormity of what he was attempting to accomplish is difficult to comprehend. The task the 34-year-old was facing in New York can’t be adequately or simply defined or detailed.

An exceedingly complex individual, throttled by personal issues, he regularly “talked himself” into corners. He added to his plight, offering quotable quotes like “…I thrive under pressure… Pressure is a privilege, it truly is”, (which he expounded on in depth to Naomi Osaka and Simone Biles after they admitted to having mental health concerns earlier this year.) He went on to say, “This is what you work for day in, day out, all your life, to put yourself in a unique position to win Grand Slams and to make history…”.

Novak Djokovic US Open 2021
Novak Djokovic celebrates his semifinal win over Alexander Zverev.
Photo: Susan Mullane

Reaching the final wasn’t an easy go. He lost at least one set in five of the matches he played before the trophy round. He was stressed…and rightfully so. But as he has done so often, he was unable to let his play lead to deserved applause. He always wanted more. After trouncing qualifier Holger Rune, 6-1, 6-7, 6-2, 6-1 in front of a crowd that was very supportive of the young Dane, he didn’t do his usual Corcovado arms spread love me gestures to the crowd following the match. He stalked off the court and in his post-match interview was caustic.

He whined that the fans were booing him. When told that they were offering support for the 18-year-old by chanting “Ruuuuuune”, he acted surprised that they weren’t booing then segued into a confusing discourse saying, “It didn’t really bother me…” Then he circled back to talk about how it bothered him. Instead of being “gracious” (in the languages he speaks gracieux in French; gentile in Italian ; cortés in Spanish or milostiv in Serbian) and using “he has a bright future…” tennis speak, he acted like a child, not the No. 1 player in the sport. Then he went on to add, “It wasn’t one of my best performances…”

Daniil Medvedev US Open 2021
Daniil Medvedev in his match against Botic Van De Zandschulp.
Photo: Susan Mulllane

The US Open was a chocoholics delight providing daily tastes of the game’s sweetness. The Men’s final – No. 1 seed Djokovic against No. 2 seed Daniil Medvedev – was the last of the handmade treats for tennis lovers.

At the beginning of the 2019 US Open, Medvedev’s candor negatively impacted his fan appeal. But following his 7-5, 6-3, 5-7, 4-6, 6-4, four hour and 51 minute Men’s final loss to Nadal he received some “New York Love”, (which can’t be logically explained). His goofy quirkiness, in the eyes of spectators, made the crossover from being “different” to truly “appealing”. 

His acceptance grew last year when he was a US Open semifinalist to tournament champion, Dominic Thiem. People began to realize that there was much more to his game than his 6’6” slinky, springy movement.

From the beginning against Djokovic, he played with mathematically calculated steadiness. As he had throughout the event, he returned serve from the outskirts of Queens yet had the lanky speed to reach drop shots and craft effective responses. He did the same with groundstrokes his opponent attempted to use to “windshield-wiper” him around the court.

In the title round, Djokovic was not the same player who drubbed the No. 4 seeded Medvedev, 7-5, 6-2, 6-2 in the Australian Open Men’s final in February this year. Given the enormity of what he was hoping to accomplish, it should have been expected. His grueling 4-6, 6-2, 6-4, 4-6, 6-2 semifinal win against Alexander Zverev, the No. 4 seed (to whom he lost in the Tokyo Olympics semifinal) probably played a role in this year’s September 12th result.

Prior to the tournament the classy Laver, who attended the final, repeatedly said that he would welcome Djokovic to the “Slam Club” with open arms. However he cautioned that “All it takes is one bad day and it’s gone”.

Daniil Medvedev and Novak Djokovic
Djokovic congratulates Medvedev on winning the match.
Photo: Susan Mullane

Medvedev’s 6-4, 6-4, 6-4 victory was not the outcome of the Serbian having a bad day. The champion played a thoughtful and creative match. There were a few shaky moments but he gathered himself and stayed strong through momentary stalls. On his second opportunity to win the title, he served the match out then, with his tongue hanging out of his mouth, he collapsed in Leaning Tower of Pisa style (supposedly imitating a FIFA video game goal scoring celebration) to the court.

Like most things he does, Medvedev was measured in his post-match comments. He acknowledged having a plan and that it seemed to have worked. He was quick to add that Djokovic, in his mind, is the best of all-time. He went on to say that his opponent may not have been at the top of his game because he was dealing with so much pressure. But the winner pointed out – “I had a lot of pressure, too”.

A Grand Slam title is the most cherished achievement in tennis. In Medvedev’s case his victory was even more significant. As he told the audience, on September 12th, three years ago, he had married Daria (“Dasha”) but had not had time to find an anniversary present, “So, I have to win this match…”

Daniil Medvedev kisses the trophy
Daniil Medvedev kisses the trophy after winning his first Slam.
Photo by Corey Sipkin

While sitting in his chair on court waiting for the trophy presentation to begin Djokovic was distraught. He covered his head with a towel to hide his erupting emotions. He fully deserved the moment of tranquility. After going 27-1 at the majors, he had had an extraordinary year.

When Djokovic had his opportunity to address the attendees he said, “My heart is filled with joy, and I am the happiest man alive because you guys made me feel that way on the court…You guys touch my soul. I’ve never felt like this in New York, honestly.”

Daniil Medvedev should not only be praised, but he should be commended for earning his first major championship. What’s more, he ought to be lauded for joining Fred Perry and Ken Rosewall, a truly illustrious duo of Grand Slam deniers. Rod Laver’s record is still safe going on 53 years now. As for Novak Djokovic, let’s hope he finally realizes how good he is and does not continue to grovel for praise and ultimately, tennis’ love that can’t be bought, but by now surely should have been earned.

Title photo of Emma Raducanu by Corey Sipkin

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