The big clash: Azarenka versus Osaka

Victoria "Vika" Azarenka

When exactly did it dawn on us that the former two-time Grand Slam champion Vika Azarenka was playing well enough to take the 2020 US Open and to win another major?

Before August, it was hard to know when will the Belarussian was going to return to her former dominating game, winning matches all the time and smashing very deep and true. There were a good three years when she was out of it, mentally, focusing on family and not processing tennis. But, in 2020, she began to practice a lot, and re-think what she needed to do. She found more patience, overcoming her earlier rut of being baffled.

But, not anymore. As she said, she matured a lot. When she finally woke up, went on the court, and she locked in, winning at the Western & Southern Open. She won it all, getting a walkover when Naomi Osaka withdrew due to injury. Now, she has reached the US Open final, and on Saturday, she will face another two-time Slam champ in Osaka.

Azarenka shocked Serena Williams when she beat her in three sets – the first time the Belarussian took down the American at a major. On Thursday, at night, Serena was 19 victories and 4 losses. In Thursday contest, there were some fine points, but Serena knew she could make Azarenka nervous. She did that at the Grand Slams, so many times, then Serena would grab it again. In the second and third set, Serena was so-so, while Azarenka let her strokes and aggressiveness fly and she went for it. This time, the powerful Azarenka grew up.

She won the Australian Open twice, and she also reached two US Open, another two times. Also, the vast basher reached the semis at the French Open and Wimbledon. Clearly, when 31-year old Azarenka was playing very with determination from both sides to side, she can beat anyone.
Osaka, who won the 2018 US Open and then the following Australian Open, is also on a roll. She had some dry patches in 2019. But when she returned from the COVID-19 pause,, she really wanted just to go out there and have fun. During the last 12 days, Osaka dug in, win or lose. Her strong commitment to support the Black Lives Matter movement on social media and by wearing masks with Black victims’ names, seems to help her focus on that mission, and her tennis game.

In the second week, you could know that Osaka would hit very hard from the backcourts, and she was fast. Just like Azarenka, they want to go for shots immediately and find a mammoth winner.

This will surely be a three-setter. In the final set, someone has to commit and take a big chance. Azarenka will do that, and win the 2020 US Open. She will be extremely satisfied.

Coronavirus: Squeezing the 2020 tennis year

By staff writers

Question: What to do with the 2020 tennis year in the time of the coronavirus quarantine?

We can pretend that in three-and-a-half months, the players will walk on the court and will play in the matches on the ATP and WTA tours. 

Obviously, the coronavirus pandemic has become the biggest threat to professional tennis in the Open era. The elongate shutdown – starting with Indian Wells in March – has created havoc for the tours, tournaments (including the feeder tours), national governing bodies and the ITF. The support staffs, including officials, physios, agents, etc. have all been hit hard. A year without Wimbledon … it’s worse than shocking, it’s numbing.

But, no group has had it rougher than the lower-ranked players. Considering the years that they have worked, trained and practiced to get into or near the top 100, they are now going months without tournament earnings. These are the players who don’t have the clout to do television commercials or appear in magazine ads, earning substantial off-court income. This financial burden could put some outstanding players into a career-wrenching stall. The players really want to play the events and not just stay at home. We care about these players and hope the tours and tournaments can make some adjustments to get as many players back on court and earning prize money.

Hopefully, our tireless doctors, nurses, researchers and other medical staff will somehow get us through this mess. The next step is to get players back into tournaments, whether with or without fans.

The Quebec government has canceled the women’s edition of the Canadian Open. The question is when will they play every week, starting in Toronto (for the men), Cincinnati, the US Open, Roland Garros and then the Asian swing? But, is it fair to the spring tournaments to just watch their franchises suffer?

The fans really want to see play resume at the tournaments, whether in person or on television. But, how can you put on a tournament, especially with fans, if everyone has to stay six feet apart?

Squeezing down

If play resumes in August (that may be a big “if”), it will mean five months of tennis will be lost. How can you squeeze 10 months of tennis into five?

Play less, play shorter. That may mean making some hard decisions on how tournaments are played in 2020. Any real changes could also affect pro tennis after the coronavirus is defeated or disseminated.

Do you like the three out of five at the Slams, or do you want to see them in just two out of three? The very best players — as Roger Federer, Rafa Nadal and Novak Djokovic have won 56 Grand Slams — can take down most every opponent in the majors. They do it year after year because, when they are playing beyond three hours, they wear the lesser players down. Physically and mentally. So, few men have won the majors because their opponents are exhausted. That is huge, and that is why these great players rarely lose in the majors.

When watching at home, we can find some five-setters riveting. Others, even in finals, not so much. The endless trek through five sets just runs too long. Casual fans have to wonder if it makes sense to sit and watch TV for four-plus hours.

How do you condense tournaments? Shorter matches and less players in some tournaments so other competitors can play in other tournaments.

So, we think the majors and tours should start rethinking their match schedules. Consider reducing the length of the 2020 slams to 10 days. Changing week-long tournaments to five days. Give tournaments the their week slots they lost from March to July and then move the competitions to late summer and fall.

Here are some solutions. With the men, at the US Open and Roland Garros, use two out of three sets, rather than three out of five. For the women, who already use two out of three, they can switch to the best of two sets and then use a match tiebreak, not another set. Plus, at these Slams, instead of having a 128-player draw, they can go down to 96 or 64. Instead of using two full weeks, they can reduce them to 10 days. That could work. 

Of course, everyone’s goal should be to make more playing opportunities to the lower-ranked players. They don’t have revenue streams from huge endorsement deals. So, before the main draw, the all 2020 tournaments could expand the qualies. Additionally, they could reduce those matches to two short sets and a match tiebreak. The matches would contain added intensity from the first point.

That would be a blast. That may be a real solution to heal the coronavirus wounds and salvage the 2020 tennis year.