Archives for September 2021

The upstarts: Medvedev and Raducanu win 2021 US Open

At the start of the 2021 US Open, Daniil Medvedev looked confident. For the first time at a Slam, when he walked on the court for two weeks – regardless when he was hitting the ball, even if he missed a few shots – he believed that over a few hours, he could win.

The Russian knew that for the most part, even if he was a little bit nervous, he would continue to be mature and continue to improve his powerful game. He finally did it, when he over-came the famous Novak Djokovic 6-4, 6-4, 6-4.

No. 1 Djokovic had won 27 matches in the Slams this year. But, on Sunday, he was tired, mentally, and he could not produce enough winners. He was barely mediocre. Plus, Medvedev was so consistent, and getting a lot of depth on his shots.

“I do feel sorry for Novak because I cannot imagine what he feels,” said Medvedev. “For the confidence and for my future career, knowing that I beat somebody who was 27-0 in a year in Grand Slams, I lost to him in Australia, he was going for huge history, and knowing that I managed to stop him definitely makes it sweeter and brings me confidence for what is to come.”

Medvedev conquered with so much variety, with his vast serves, and into the corners. He can rift his forehand, and in Flushing Meadows, his backhand became gaping and with a lot of spin, or flat it out.

Qualifier Raducanu goes 20-0 in sets
On Saturday, the very young Emma Raducanu won the US Open, too. Talk about being so consistent, and very smart on court. She is swift, she can rip her forehand and her backhand, and she can change it up, also. She beat Leylah Fernandez 6-4, 6-3. Canadian Fernandez had a wonderful tournament, but again, in the final, she was a little bit slow.

“I think it shows that the future of women’s tennis and that the depth of the game right now is so great,” Raducanu said. “I think every single player in the women’s draw definitely has a shot of winning any tournament. So, I hope that the next generation can follow in some of the steps of the greatest legends, for example, [the former No. 1 player] Billie Jean [King] right here.”

Raducanu was focused and you could see it in her eyes. She became superior this year, with her potent serves, her returning, her forehand and her backhand. She came through qualifying – a first for a Slam winner – and didn’t drop a set. No woman will eclipse a 20-0 record of set wins in a major.

On Saturday, the locked-in Raducanu hit it so firmly, very fast and reliably, too.

From now until the end of the season, Medvedev and Raducanu could win a number of matches.  Next year on the hardcourts at the 2022 Australian Open, they will draw a huge amount of attention to see if they can win another Slam.

Will the pressure slow them down, especially for Raducanu who has never been in such a large spotlight? Post-major wilting has happened before. Let us watch, and then we will know how whether they will win a lot, or just go home. And sleep.

Finding the fault lines: Djokovic wears down his opponents

Novak Djokovic

At what point can you take down Novak Djokovic in a 3 out of 5 setters? At the four Grand Slams in 2021, he has won 25 matches, so if you want to find a way to out-hit the Serbian, you would have to play almost perfectly. 

On Monday, Djokovic beat Jenson Brooksby 1-6 6-3 6-2 6-2. In the first set, the American played as well as he could, and he hit the corners. With his forehand and backhand, he was striking the ball and sprinting around the court. But, in the second set, it began to change. Djokovic knew that it he could continue with some long rallies, then he thought that Brooksby would eventually tire, even if just a bit. Djokovic believes that each hour, many of the players can mentally sink. Their legs begin to wobble. So, running back and forth, Brooksby is not fast anymore. 

Eventually, Djokovic won it, and he was pleased. The 20-year-old Brooksby has had some terrific wins over the past two-and-a half months. During the fall, he will gain ground and continue to move up the rankings.

That was quite a long, long match when Maria Sakkari edged Bianca Andreescu 6-7(2) 7-6(6) 6-3 in three-and-a-half hours. Sakkari rarely gets tired — at all — but in the third set, Andreescu began to cramp. She kept trying, but the Greek was cheering, running, bending down and smashing the ball. Last year, she began to change, not about her speed, but what she had to do something different. Years ago, she could not break into the top 20, because she would get frustrated and she would back up. In time, though, she began to move forward and hit it harder

On Wednesday, she will likely to do it again, but can she pull it off one more time? She will know, one way or another.

NOTES 

Carlos Alcaraz looked worn out in his quarterfinal match versus Felix Auger-Aliassime. But, not worn out to approach the net to retire at 63 31 (ret). The 18-year-old Spaniard had both legs wrapped during the match and cited a leg injury for retiring. Auger-Aliassime becomes the first Canadian man to reach a US Open semi. 


In another teenage coming-of-age stage, Leylah Fernandez prevailed over Elina Svitolina 6-3 3-6 7-6(5). The Canadian, who turned 19 just yesterday, cracked numerous down-the-line forehands for winners. She got a break on the penultimate 

point, as her pass bumped off the net cord. Svitolina, who continues to find obstacles in her pursuit of her first Grand Slam final, can only wonder why she can’t find clear sailing in a draw opened up by numerous upsets. … 

Alexander Zverev is so consistent, each time now, and this year, his return is now deeper and he can mix it up. He took down Jannik Sinner 6-4 6-4 7-6(7), which was a tough match, but he focused, which is why he won. …

The U.S. men and women are gone now, including Reilly Opelka, who lost to Lloyd Harris. Opelka has had a fine year, but he needs to return substantially better. If he wants to reach in the ttop 10, he has to improve day after day. The reason why 
Matteo Berrettini had moved up, into the top 10, because the Italian knew he had to be more aggressive with his return. …

It was very impressive that Belinda Bencic was thoughtful and powerful, when she beat Iga Swiatek. You would think that if she sticks with a plan, then maybe she can go much further, maybe in the final? …

Another teenage shocker is Emma Raducanu, who came out blasting, and crushed American Shelby Rogers, who was erratic and also exhausted. However, Brit Raducanu is young and she is very patient. Plus, she can find the lines. She will be around for a long time. …

Karolina Pliskova likes the hardc ourts, and she beat Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova. Still the question persists if the former No. 1 can take home a major. Later in the second week, she has to step it up, and be more steady. Once, she reached the US Open and this year’s Wimbledon finals, and she was close, but in the third set, she was so-so. If you get there again, grab it. 

Time to pivot: Frances Tiafoe & Leylah Fernandez are upset winners

Lylah Fernandez

There are times when Frances Tiafoe was erratic. He would be frustrated and knock the balls way out. But, on Friday right, at the US Open, he was spectacular when he really needed to be.

It was a marathon at the Arthur Ashe Stadium, and very late at night, he pulled it off, upsetting  Andrey Rublev 4-6 6-3 7-6(6) 4-6 6-1.
 
“I love these matches. This is why you work,” Tiafoe said. “This is why you put the time in, to play the best guys in the world. These are the matches I get up for. I want these guys. I want to put it on my resumé. I came out today and I was like, ‘I’m going to beat him.’ I grew up with this guy, I don’t fear any of these guys. Let’s keep going.”

Yes, the American Tiafoe has lost a lot of five setters. But, as the years go by, a player learns and can becom smarter. Tiafoe has a massive first serve, and a gigantic forehand. His backhand is pretty good, too. However, he is ranked outside of the top 50, so he has a tremendous work to do. Including advancing at this year’s US Open.

 “I’ve lost a lot of five-setters. My five-set record isn’t great,” he said. “[But] I can’t not bring it. I’ve lost a lot of tough matches on this court. … I wasn’t going to leave this court without a win tonight.”

TOP WOMEN FALL
Naomi Osaka has won four Grand Slams, but this year, she seems perpetually downcast. She lost against the very good young player, Leylah Fernandez, 5-7, 7-6 (2), 6-4. The Japanese is a huge hitter. The reason why she was No. 1 was because she was so focused. Not anymore, as in the match. She missed some easy swings. She was foiled and she actually smashed her racket to the ground.

The 18-year-old Fernandez is coming up strong, with some impressive forehands and backhands.

Yet on Friday, Osaka was depressed again. She does not know when she will return this year.

“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,” Osaka said. “I don’t think that’s normal. 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. I think I’m going to take a break from playing for a while.”

But how about Fernandez, who on court, she is already clever. “Finally, I found a pattern to her serve,” Fernandez said. “I just trusted my gut and hit the ball.”

Ash Barty took a big fall in the third set. Up two breaks to Shelby Rogers, the top seed lost 6-2, 1-6, 7-6(5). Statistically, the Australian had a slight lead in winners/unforced errors, aces and just about every category. But, she made too many mistakes in a final-set tiebreak while the American crowd propelled South Carolina’s Rogers to victory.

How about Garbine Muguruza is getting substantially better, beating Victoria Azarenka in three sets. Muguruza likes to ram it, side to side, and she can be excited and totally into it. But Azarenka let herself be dominated. While she did win two Slams, her second serve can be almost awful. When she lost match point, she double faulted. Ugh.

How about the 18-year-old Spaniard Carlos Alcaraz, who stunned No. 3 Stefanos Tsitsipas 6-3 4-6 7-6(2) 0-6 7-6(5)? Alcaraz could be one of the best players for the next 15 years. The Spain is athletic, he changes the shots, he can shatter it. Alcaraz can hit it softly, well-placed drop shots right over the net. He is coming hard.

NOTES
Canadian Felix Auger-Aliassime was pumped up in the fifth set and then he can inhale, then run, very hard. At the end, he knocked off Roberto Bautista Agut 6-3 6-4 4-6 3-6 6-3. Another one, who is gaining ground. …   Former No. 1 Simona Halep came up big, and maybe she won’t go far in the second week, but she is so steady. She beat Elena Rybakina 7-6(11) 4-6 6-3.

Jack Sock’s marvelous forehand was zipping past Alexander Zverev in the first set. But, he had a medical timeout on his right leg after the first game in the second set. The injury stalled Sock’s revival and he resigned in the fourth set.

In one of the best matches of the year, Angelique Kerber beat Sloane Stephens 5-7 6-2 6-3. The German was spot on and super steady. Stephens looked good, over the first two sets But, in the third set, she became nervous and lost her control. Maybe Kerber will continue to be so smooth. Then she will have a real shot to win her fourth Grand Slam. But she has to continue to pivot.

At the US Open: Legends of the Fall

Andy Murray

A couple days ago, Stefanos Tsitsipas knocked out Andy Murray in five incredible sets. Murray was not happy, and he said late. He talked about Tsitsipas who, after the fourth set, went into the bathroom and he did not come back for eight minutes. Murray was ticked off, and said he should have come back earlier. But, Tsitsipas needed to take a few more minutes to re-tool, and he did. In the fifth set he was far and more consistent. So, he won it and he moved on.
Murray had not played for four more than hours in many years. He had three surgeries, but it looked like the Brit played so much better at the 2021 US Open than he had since the surgeries. Maybe he isn’t so fast now, but his strokes are massive. At least he did that in the US Open first round. But in upcoming monthsl, will the three-time Grand Slam champion keep up this level? We will find out in the so-called the “Legends of the Fall.”

On Wednesday, Tsitsipas won again, when he knocked down Adrian Mannarino in four sets. Once he is on court, the Greek is strong and secure.

The young American Coco Gauff can be spectacular, but also, she can make some silly shots. She lost in straight sets against the former US Open champ Sloane Stephens. Gauff is very fast and she can rift the ball, but her serve and her return need more work. I would think that each month, she will get better.

On the other hand, Stephens appears to be waking up. She has not played enough over the past three years, but now she is more focused and aggressive. So, she won two matches against two very good players in Madison Keys and Gauff. On court, she looks totally grounded. Now, we will see if she can reach the second week. After that, then Stephens could determine her own fate.

NOTES
At night, Diego Schwartzman took beat Kevin Anderson 7-6 (4), 6-3, 6-4. He can be so strong.

American Frances Tiafoe is into the third round and he looked much better this week then he did over the past couple months. Now he will have to play even better.

Here is a big one on Friday when Aryna Sabalenka will face American Danielle Collins. The American has to play 100 percent to upset Sabalenka.

Ons Jabeur is playing colossal this season and she has a chance to reach the second week. She will go for it because it really matters.