US Open…Carlitos’ First, Iga’s Third…And Serena

By Mark Winters

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Stating the obvious, a tennis event that is 142 years old has a sizeable library indexing its past. Nonetheless, the US Open, held August 29–September 11, at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadow-Corona Park, Queens, New York, added to its history…substantially.

Attempting to collate 142 events is sure to create “splash over” similar to what results when someone does a cannonball into a backyard swimming pool drenching those sitting at a poolside table… That’s why, as one towels off, it makes sense to look beyond the “splasher…” to put everything into perspective.

The best way to do it – and it is unique – is by discussing the symbolism of 142. It is the Angel Number, referring to the message offered by Guardian Angels, that stresses the importance of balance in personal and professional life while working toward goals and making the effort to avoid conflict with others. Moving through the spheres of life can, at times, be harrowing but, in the end, the individual’s journey can be a rewarding success.

…Which is exactly what Spain’s Carlitos Alcaraz and Poland’s Iga Świątek enjoyed during their stay in New York. (During an interview at the Barcelona Open in April, which he won, Alcaraz told the media that he didn’t like to be called Carlos…He preferred Carlitos or Charlie…admitting, “Carlos seems very serious…it seems that I have done something wrong.”)

An Abbreviated Summary…

Coverage of the US Open was “Media Miraculous” thanks to television and radio, along with newspaper, magazine, online and social media efforts. Because there is almost nothing more to write about the matches that hasn’t already been read, an abbreviated summary about what took place will be offered…

Świątek arrived at the tournament with a 4-4 record since her 37-match, six tournament title, win-streak, ended in the third round at The Championships. Though top seeded, she had never been beyond the third round at the US Open.

Jule Niemeier during her match against Iga Świątek. Photo: Rob Prange

She had to swerve around debris a couple of times as she motored down the highway on the road to the title round. Jule Niemeier of Germany caused a lane change in the fourth round, up a set and 4-2 before being subdued 2-6, 6-4, 6-0. In the semifinals, Aryna Sabalenka, who was playing as a neutral, provided a 3-6, 6-1, 6-4 speedbump.

Tunisia’s “Minister of Happiness” Ons Jabeur, the No. 5 seed, was her final opponent. Having become the first Arab woman to reach a Grand Slam singles final at The Championships, she doubled up becoming the first Arab woman to reach the US Open Women’s Singles final.

Supported by her team wearing T-Shirts with “Yalla Habibi” on the front, which is Arabic for “Let’s go, my love!”, Jabeur’s only challenge, before facing Świątek, was a 4-6, 6-4, 6-3 third round escape from Shelby Rogers of the US and the No. 31 seed.

Going into the final, they were 2-2 in career meetings, but Świątek was 6-2, 7-6 dominant in this outing.

Iga Świątek plays herself into form against Jule Niemeier.
Photo: John Angelillo

In the early rounds of the tournament, the 21-year-old from Warsaw, talked about “working to keep my expectations low…” After her triumph she admitted, “It’s something that I wasn’t expecting, for sure. It’s also like a confirmation for me that the sky’s the limit…I’m proud. Also surprised little bit.”

Jabeur offered, “She came out really strong and put a lot of pressure on me. That didn’t help…I was trying to get in the match. It was very tough. And she was playing really good at certain times.”

The 28-year-old who lives in Sousse, Tunisia added, “Definitely Wimbledon was tough. This one is going to be tough…I struggled to win my first WTA title. It took me time. So I believe this will take me time. The most important thing is accepting it, learning from the finals that I lost.

“I’m not someone that’s going to give up. I am sure I’m going to be in the final again. I will try my best to win it.”

Ons Jabeur slides to the ball. Photo: Juergen Hasenkopf

Both players work with sports psychologists – Daria Abramowicz guides Iga and Melania Maillard works with Ons – which may be part of the reasons they have revealing senses of humor…

Simply put – Świątek is droll while Jabeur is whimsical. For example, upon receiving the US$2.6 million champion’s check Świątek said, “I’m really glad that it’s not in cash…”

During the trophy presentation, Jabeur, one of the most popular individuals on the women’s tour, said she was not fond of her opponent…in her press conference later, she clarified, “I was joking when I said I don’t like her…I’ll forgive her when she gives me a Rolex or something…”

Having won her second Roland Garros Women’s Singles championship in June, Świątek became the first competitor to win two major singles titles in a season since 2016 when Angelique Kerber of Germany secured the Australian Open and US Open Women’s Singles awards.

During the trophy presentation, she wore a warmup jacket that had “1GA” embroidered over her heart…which was very appropriate since she became the first woman from Poland to claim the singles title in New York.

Iga Świątek embraces her trophy. Photo: Susan Mullane

In an earlier historic US Women’s outcome, Anita Lizana of Santiago, Chile defeated Jadwiga (nicknamed Jed or Ja-Ja) Jędrzejowska of Kraków, Poland, 6-4, 6-2 in the 1937 National Singles final becoming the first Latin American to earn a major singles title. Lizana, who was a bit over five feet tall and scurried about the lawns at Forest Hills, was nicknamed “La Ratita” (“The tiny rat”).

Delightfully candid, Świątek, who left New York with a record of 55-7, and seven tournament championships in 2022, said, “It’s great for a few weeks, but I wouldn’t choose it as a place to live because I’m more of a person that needs a calm place with the proper environment to rest. New York is kind of always alive. That is, for sure, not my place.”

Fortunately, in this section’s first paragraph it was brought out that the goal was to provide an “abbreviated summary…” Attempting to condense what Alcaraz accomplished makes the word brevity meaningless…and to a certain extent, this also applies to the New York adventure of his trophy round opponent Norway’s Casper Ruud.

The best way to sort out the Men’s Singles is to play “Firsts…”

Alcaraz tied for first becoming the third US Open performer to reach a Grand Slam final by winning three consecutive five set matches against – Marin Čilić, the No. 15 seed, in the fourth round; Jannik Sinner, the No. 11 seed, who had a match point on his serve at 5-4 in the fourth set, in the quarterfinals; and Frances Tiafoe in the semifinals. (Stefan Edberg also did it at 1992 US Open, as did Andre Agassi in 2005.)

Juan Carlos Ferrero (centre) celebrates with the rest of the Alcaraz team.
Photo: Jean Catuffe

Juan Carlos Ferrero, a US Open finalist in 2003, the year he was the Roland Garros Men’s Singles champion, has orchestrated Alcaraz’s development the past three years.

He said, “From the moment I started with him, I saw things that were different from other guys his age. You saw it against Cilic, Sinner, and Tiafoe. He’s a great competitor and never gave up. It’s a surprise to everyone but me. I was pretty sure, if it wasn’t this year, he would [win] the next one.”

Nadal plays with “Take no prisoners…” passion. Alcaraz has his own almost “Brutal Elegance…” Tiafoe, nicked name “The Big Foe” became the first African American to reach the men’s semifinals since Arthur Ashe in 1972 and the youngest American to reach the last four since Andy Roddick in 2006, (who was 24 at the time, the same age as Tiafoe).

Having set a US Open Tie-Break record going 8-0, Tiafoe described the atmosphere in his match against the tournament winner, “It was so electric…Unbelievable shot-making, gets, extending points, crazy shots…crazy at times. I’ve never played a player who moves as well…He’s going to be a problem for a very long time…”

Francis Tiafoe during his semifinal. Photo: Susan Mullane

In the seven matches he played, Alcaraz spent 23 hours and 39 minutes on court (including the five hour and 15 minute epic against Sinner that finished at 2:50 a.m.), the longest trek for any Grand Slam winner in history.

Repeatedly asked how he was holding up after the long matches, he would grin and say, “It’s not time to be tired…” which may have been the reason that members of his team would extol him with “Aguantar” (endure) shouts from the stands.

The 6-4, 2-6, 7-6, 6-3 final hinged on a critical period late in the third set. Leading 6-5, Ruud was unable to convert two set points on the Alcaraz serve as both times the Spaniard charged to the net and produced angled volley winners.

Ruud could not recover and folded in the subsequent tiebreak, winning only the first point before a series of surprising unforced errors.

The 23-year-old is coached by his amiable father Christian, who was a tour performer for 10 years and reached the Top 30 in 1995.

His son became the first man from his country to reach the US Open final and first to play for two Grand Slam singles trophies in the same year. (Ruud lost to Rafael Nadal of Spain at Roland Garros.)

Prior to the final, one of the sidebar stories was that the winner would become the new world No. 1 and the finalist would be No. 2.

After the match, Ruud addressed the fact saying, We knew what we were playing for, we knew what was at stake…” Then added, “Number 2 is not too bad either. I will continue to chase for my first Grand Slam and the No. 1 world ranking.”

Casper Ruud in the final. Photo: John Angelillo

Once the match concluded, Alcaraz had checked three more “Firsts” boxes – Youngest US Open winner since Pete Sampras of the US in 1990; youngest Grand Slam champion since Nadal won Roland Garros in 2005; and most notable – Youngest man to be ranked No. 1 in history.        

Here is a collection of comments by the sushi lover Alcaraz…

“Everything came so fast. For me it’s unbelievable. It’s something I dreamed since I was a kid, since I started playing tennis,” said Alcaraz, whom folks of a certain age might still consider a kid.

“I always say you have to believe in yourself all the time…The hope is the last thing that you lose.”

“I fight for every ball until it bounces twice or it’s a winner. Those points sometimes lift me up. They make me smile and I enjoy the moment. Every now and then, you need to create a bit of magic.”

And there is no question he did…and as Ruud pointed out, “Hard to believe he’s only teenager, but, yeah, he is.”

Trophy Winners…

Those who left New York with trophy cabinet additions included:

Men’s Doubles – Men’s Doubles – Rajeev Ram of the US and Joe Salisbury of Great Britain became the first team since Australian stalwarts Todd Woodbridge and Mark Woodforde, in 1995 and ’96, to earn back-to-back championships. 

Women’s Doubles – With their victory, Barbora Krejčíková and Kateřina Siniaková of the Czech Republic achieved a career Doubles Grand Slam. Caty McNally of the US joined a group of players who were finalists in consecutive years having lost in 2021 with Coco Gauff and this time out with Taylor Townsend, (both of whom are her countrywomen). Jana Novotná of the Czech Republic is the consecutive finalist record holder coming up short from 1990 through ’93.

Happy winners Barbora Krejčíková and Kateřina Siniaková.
Photo: Susan Mullane

Mixed Doubles – Australians John Peers and Storm Sanders became the first pair from their country to claim the title since 2001 when Todd Woodbridge and Rennae Stubbs were the champions.

Boys’ Singles – Martín Landaluce of Spain

Boys’ Doubles – Ozan Baris and Nishesh Basavareedy of the US

Girls’ Singles – Alexa Eala became the first player from the Philippines to win a Junior Grand Slam title.

Girls’ Doubles – Lucie Havlíčková of the Czech Republic and Diana Shnaider (neutral)

Men’s Wheelchair Singles – Alfie Hewett of Great Britain

Men’s Wheelchair Doubles – Martín de la Puente of Spain and Nicolas Peifer of France

Women’s Wheelchair Singles – Diede de Groot of the Netherlands (It was de Groot’s fifth straight US Open title and for the second year in a row, she swept the Women’s Wheelchair Singles championships at the majors to earn The Grand Slam.)

Women’s Wheelchair Doubles – Diede de Groot and Aniek van Koot of the Netherlands

Quad Wheelchair Singles – Niels Vink of the Netherlands

Quad Wheelchair Doubles – Sam Schröder and Niels Vink, both of the Netherlands

Boys’ Junior Wheelchair Singles – Ben Bartram of Great Britain

Boys’ Junior Wheelchair Doubles – Ben Bartram and Dahnon Ward of Great Britain

Girls’ Junior Wheelchair Singles – Jade Moreira Lanai of Brazil

Girls’ Junior Wheelchair Doubles – Moreira Lanai and Maylee Phelps of the US
(The US Open was the first Grand Slam to host Junior Wheelchair Championship events.)

Junior Sportsmanship Award-Kyle Kang of the US, Clervie Ngounoue of the US, Moreira Lani and Ward. The was the inaugural presentation of the award to an able-bodied and wheelchair boy and girl competitor.

Post-It Notes…

Daniil Medvedev, the neutral defending Men’s Singles champion and No. 1 seed, was defeated by Nick Kyrgios of Australia, the No. 23 seed, 7-6, 3-6, 6-3, 6-2 in the fourth round.

Novak Djokovic of Serbia, the 2021 finalist, was unable to participate because of his Covid-19 vaccination status.

For last year’s “Magic Pair…” Emma Raducanu of Great Britain and Leylah Fernandez of Canada, the 2021 Women’s Singles winner and finalist, their stays in New York were not euphoric.

Alizé Cornet of France, playing her 63rd consecutive Grand Slam event, sent Raducanu, the No. 11 seed, home 6-3, 6-3 in the first round. Liudmila Samsonova, who was neutral, downed Fernandez, the No. 14 seed, 6-3, 7-6 in the second round.

US Open II-Tournament officials, aware that Świątek likes to examine the champions’ trophy, ingeniously put a piece of tiramisu, which she adores, in the sterling silver award she received after her victory. Leading the champion to say, “I really appreciate it. Especially since I didn’t have anything to eat.”

US Open-Set a record with 776,120 attending during the two weeks, breaking the 2019 standard of 737,872.

And Serena…

Tennis has a wonderful way to coronate royalty… It bestows female legends with single name status…such as Billie Jean, Chris and Martina. Then there is the Williams 2 – Serena and Venus.

Prior to the US Open, with a 1-3 record this year after competing at The Championships, National Bank Open and Western & Southern Open, Serena used a Vogue essay to announce she was “Evolving…” (not “Retiring…”) after the US Open. As expected, ticket sales launched into orbit.

She hired Rennae Stubbs as an additional coach for the tournament. Stubbs decided, since Williams had played so little recently, she needed to play practice sets instead of just hitting.

It seemed to help as Williams played better than she had for a long time, with her footwork almost back to its best.

Though still not at the top of her game, she used her well founded tennis instincts and “Serena Grit…” to fashion a 6-3, 6-3 win over Danka Kovinic of Montenegro and an “expected surprise” 7-6, 2-6, 6-2 triumph over Estonian Anett Kontaveit, the No. 2 seed.

Serena Williams shows her grit. Photo: PCN Black

Her first feature match showing on the sold-out Arthur Ashe Stadium on the night of August 29th, was magnificent as fans, celebrities and the tournament itself pulled out all stops. It was a “Maximum Tribute” scene that would be repeated twice more for one of the game’s greatest…ever.

In the third round, Croatian born Australian Ajla Tomljanović was more resilient than her “not always trusting in her ability” reputation and closed the “Serena Show”, 7-5, 6-7, 6-1.

The over three hour contest, established the ESPN record for most viewers for a tennis match in the broadcaster’s 43 year history, averaging 4.8 million viewers and peaking at 6.9 million.

She achieved the first of her 23 Grand Slam singles titles at the 1999 US Open. It was the “Youngsters’ Final” and the 17-year-old Serena defeated 18-year-old Martina Hingis 6-3, 7-6.

In addition, she became the first African American to win the US Women’s title since Althea Gibson’s 1958 success on the grass at Forest Hills. Serena went on to win five more championships and finished her career with a 125-16 record in New York.

Following the defeat an emotional Serena shared with spectators her feelings about the support offered and the importance of her family noting, “…Without Venus there would be no Serena…”

Serena and Venus Williams make contact during their doubles match. Photo: Susan Mullane

During her 27 year professional career, she played 1,014 WTA matches. In the process, she established “The Serena Effect”, a multidimensional phenomenon.

As Tomljanović told the crowd during her on-court interview, following the match, “I’m really feeling sorry (for defeating her) because I love Serena as much as you guys do.

“I’ll miss seeing her on the courts.”

New York-A Broader Look…

This year’s US Open rewrote tennis history in many ways…

But behind all the story headlines were narratives that, for the most part, didn’t receive “feature” mentions. Diana, Princess of Wales, died on August 31, 1997 in a Paris automobile accident…five days after the 1997 US Open began. Queen Elizabeth II passed away three days before the 2022 US Open concluded.

The Men’s final took place on the 21st Anniversary of 9/11. During that period the world changed dramatically. In many cases for the good… There were also instances where democracy was challenged, bringing about suffering and worse…

The remembrance sign on the court for the Men’s Singles final.
Photo: Roger Parker

At the Men’s Singles trophy presentation Michael McNulty, the USTA President, was first to speak. After praising three “spectacular weeks of tennis”, he said, “…before we celebrate the players’ success I want to take a minute to extend our thoughts and our prayers to the people of Ukraine… For a swift end to this unprovoked war on their nation.”

He continued, “I’m proud to announce that during the US Open we raised $2 million for Ukrainian relief…” while somehow forgetting to mention that September 11th has a special place in the memories of Americans.

The gaffe, which worldwide news outlets called attention to the next day – Monday, September 12th – was even more dumbfounding since a moment of silence in remembrance of those who perished on 9/11 took place in Arthur Ashe Stadium before the final was played.

It is even harder to sort out since tennis officials are known for “staying on topic” and etching messages into the consciousness of audiences.

Fortunately, the well-spoken Ruud had the awareness to offer, “…My heart and thoughts go out to everyone who lost someone close, a relative or someone they loved so…it is something we will never forget.” Alcaraz added, “…my thoughts are with you on this special day…”

Ruud and Alcaraz’s understanding of the situation called to mind the 2004 US Open Women’s Singles final. Svetlana Kuznetsova defeated Russian countrywoman Elena Dementieva 6-3, 7-5 on September 11th.

Prior to commenting about the match, Kuznetsova then Dementieva touched those in attendance with caring remarks on the third anniversary of the terrorist attack.

These recollections beg the question – Can the sport of tennis and its devotees, do anything more to make sure that Iga and Carlitos, along with all the Ukrainians and the rest of those in the competitive ranks, have a future that speaks more to Promise…?

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