The US Open: Shaky Osaka & Dominant Djokovic

Naomi Osaka

The US Open can be thrilling, or dull, depending on who is really focusing. At the conclusion of the first week, it can be a blast, but winning and reaching the second week is the hardest. Many people — and I mean hundreds of players — have never made it into the quarterfinals at the Grand Slams. It is pretty rare. That is reality.

On Friday, there were some cool wins in a hot, sticky day. Four of the women won it, with Naomi Osaka, Petra Kvitova, Petra Martic and Jennifer  Brady. Osaka and Kvitova have won twice at the Slams. Both of them can be some of the biggest hitters out there, cracking forehands and backhands, complimented by heavy first serves. They may not love the net, but they can bend down and put it away. But they have triumphed on the big stages before and they could do it again

Martic does push herself now, for more than for a year now, but to get even deeper, she has truly mix it up. The American Jennifer Bradly had a few wonderful wins, punching down Caroline Garcia. However, on Sunday, she will have to run for a long time because she has to play against the former No. 1 Angie Kerber, who can be steady for a long time. Because of that, Brady has to push herself more than ever.

You have to think that Novak Djokovic may never lose this year. He is totally brilliant, but there were some so-so patches being ticked off. Yet really, in three-out-of-five-sets matches, his confidence is right there. The No. 1 Djokovic is heavily favored in every match.

Denis Shapovalov wouldn’t quit, and it was very close, but he was pretty tired at the end. He edged Taylor Fritz 3-6, 6-3, 4-6, 7-6(5), 6-2. That was a huge victory, and the Canadian began to return. He is bigger and stronger than he was last year. He is growing up…

Alexander Zverev is so unpredictable at all the Slams, but he is so good when he is on. He could go far, into the semis, and then, it could face Djokovic. He would have to play his best ever to stun the Serbian.

At 1 am on early Saturday monring, Borna Coric edged Stefanos Tsitsipas 6-7(2), 6-4, 4-6, 7-5, 7-6(4) in 4 hours, 36 minutes. There were so many different strokes in many different rallies, but Coric never went down. He is playing more solidly, but on Sunday, he could be exhausted. It only Sunday, seven days, and now they can see that if they want to go further, they have to trust themselves.

Federer: ‘When the cogwheels don’t grip anymore, I stop’

Roger Federer

Roger Federer won’t play this year, because he suffered an injury, and there was no reason to be super healthy during the spring and summer anywa

Now the Swiss says that next year, and even another year, he could still be playing when he will be 40 years old. The 20-time Grand Slam champ said that he will go to the 2021 Tokyo Olympics.

Federer is a very smart person. Still, at times he can be irritable. In an interview with SportsPanorama, he said he isn’t sure whether he will retire, or he could continue play until he will be 50-years-old.

“Since I won the French Open in 2009, the media has been chopping on this topic. But it is already clear that I am at the end of my career,” said Federer.

“I can not say what will be in two years. That’s why I plan year after year. I’m still happy right now. But when the cogwheels don’t grip anymore, I stop. When I am old, I will definitely still play tennis. But no longer train, just ball.”

Just like Federer, 99 percent of the ATP and WTA rarely stop and think about stopping. Not everyday, as they age, but they can always go back to reflecting on a match and dream, win or lose. Just playing; that is enough.

Let’s stop dissecting the No. 1-10 rankings. Instead, let us look at the No.11-20, the young players.

Four of them has a chance to win ATP 1000s, or even if they reach the finals at a Grand Slam. There are four players who are still learning, such as Andrey Rublev (22 years old), Karen Khachanov (24 years old),
Denis Shapovalov (20 years old) and Felix Auger-Aliassime (19 years old).

Rublev and Khachanov are Russians, while Shapovalov and Auger-Aliassime are Canadians.

Eventually, when the terrific veterans finally retire, and then the majors will be wide open. In January, Rublev won Adelaide. He out-hit the big swinger Auger-Aliassime. Rublev can be very aggressive, but he can also become frustrated, and disappointed. He can crack both sides. But, he has to be more tolerant, and when he does, he will be placid and be ready to win more often.

Two years ago, Khachanov won the ATP 1000 in Paris. Then it looked like he was going straight into the top 5, but he stalled. There are times when he was magnificent, and at the 2020 Australian, in the fourth round, Nick Kyrgios edged Khachanov 7-6 in the fifth set. That must have been very hard. Khachanov is tall, but he is not very quick. I would think that at home, he has to work on his legs.

Shapovalov can be passionate, when he really wants to win, to show the earth that he is an stunning player. He can be, but when he is a little bit off, then he will fall apart. He needs to push himself closer to the net.
Auger-Aliassime came out of nowhere, and in January and February, he was very bold. He reached the final of Rotterdam and Marseille. Even though he lost, he was agile. He can bang the ball, but he still have to get much better when he had to return. That is critical, to reach the top.

The three wonderful players, such as Federer, Djokovic and Nadal, really know how to return. That is why they have won so many gigantic tournaments. If the young players want to go much further, they have to impose their return games.

Top 20 in 2019: Men, 15-11

Denis Shapovalov

No. 15: Denis Shapovalov
The 20-year-old from Canada had a terrific year.. He can be steady, focused and very powerful. Both his forehand and his backhand are lights out, as is his first serve. But he is not great at the net, as well as returning. Plus, he can become frustrated when he is losing. He is like many youngsters who want to play constantly. They all do, but they have to practice more, instead of just going from the tournament to tournament. That way, the coaches can give them advice, rather than just thinking about when he will win a Slam ASAP. Shapovalov has to learn, and when he does, he will go into the top 10 in 2020. For sure, he will upset a number of the top players. Then he will smile. On court, he is darn good player already.

No. 14: Diego Schwartzman
The Argentine decided that he would be more bold, he would move forward and on occasion, he would rip at the lines. He has been around for a solid decade, and in 2019, he knew that if he didn’t re-think his attitude, then he would never have a real chance to become in the top 10. He hasn’t yet, but he is close. During January, February and March, he knows he can catch up, and win a big title. He is a grinder, and will continue with that style. But if he wants to add his game, he has to take risks. Why not do it? 

No. 13: Kei Nishikori
Many years ago, the Japanese reached the final at the 2014 US Open. He did not win it, but at least he looked very, very good. However, he is injured all the time, month after month. No matter what he tries, he is still frequently hobbled. When Nishikori is healthy, he can leap up high and punch the ball. He is very quick, and he can concentrate. He has upset a few great players, but not often enoguh. In the 2020 Slams, he can reach the second week anytime. But winning it all, when he has to play for so many hours? That would be surprising.

No. 12: Fabio Fognini
The Italian finally played consistently, perhaps for the first time. The 29-year-old always liked playing on clay, but it took him for a number of years to become very respectable on the hard courts. He mixes it up — a heck of a lot — and he runs fast and can play some amazing drop shots. He has played so many tournaments, year after year, and somedays he looks terrific, but there are other days when he is bored. However, now, after he married the former US Open champion Flavia Pennetta, he started to calm down. His backhand has improved, along with his deep return. He wants to go even higher in 2020 on the hard courts, because he is just fine on the clay. Fognini has to attack and change it around. Last year, he won an ATP 1000 at Monte Carlo. Can he do it again, somewhere? Sure he can, as long as he continues to be sharp.

No. 11: David Goffin
He is almost 30-years-old, and the Belgium had a first-rate year in singles. Of course, he has never won a major — and maybe he never will —but at least he was more hopeful. He reached the No. 7 in 2017, but he could not beat the big boys. He was a little bit nervous. Finally, he calmed down, and he pushed hard, especially with his wonderful one-handed backhand.  His forehand is powerful, too, but his serves and net play, is pretty mediocre. Goffin has a solid five more years left to get better, to improve, and be thoughtful. Obviously, he will go back into the top 10. But can he reach the top 5 in 2020? Close, but he has to prove it.  

Rising Borna Coric outlasts Shapovalov

The young 21-year-old Borna Coric has played so much better in the past month. Last year, he was all over the place, but now, he doesn’t get so angry and throw his rackets. No, when it is in to it, he just walks over and he refocuses.

On Tuesday, he edged Denis Shapovalov, 7-6 4-6 6-4. The Canadian was very enthusiastic, but he also can be pretty pissed off when he misses a shot or two. Coric has changed a few things, but really, he is just so steady and acurrate. For sure, he needs to come into the net a little bit more, but he can run forever…

 Alexander Zverev looked terrific against Nick Kyrgios and he won it 6-4 6-4. The tall Zverev is finally  becoming more happy, consistent, and he just rips the ball from both wings. He won Rome and Canada last year so clearly, when he is feeling good, he can beat anyone. I mean, everyone. But it is fairly early so if he wants to win Miami, he needs to breath and be more smart.
Kyrgios is hurt again. He has been hurt all the time this season, and a good amount last year, too. He is a damn good player when he feels healthy, but when he is not, he struggles. Who knows when he will play again…

The American Frances Tiafoe outlasted Tomas Berdych on Tuesday, but then he had to play again and he lost against Kevin Anderson. Tiafoe has had a terrific six weeks, and hopefully, he will continue to practice. We will see much more in the coming months…

Here comes a wild match tonight: Milos Raonic vs. Juan Martin del Potro. Raonic looks healthy, and JMDP is on fire and I mean he is totally smoking. Del Potro won Indian Wells, and he recently said that he is pretty tired, but he is locked in and he is not missing the tiny balls. Still, Raonic  wants to take him out, badly. He is going to have to return extremely well or he will lose in straight sets…
Talk about Vika Azarenka who is launching. She overcame  Katarina Pliskova 7-5 6-3. Her serve has improved — a little — her backhand can go anywhere she goes, and she is super optimistic at the net. She can win the title again, but she has to dig deep for hours to do it…

She will face Sloane Stephens in the semis on Thursday. Just like Azarenka, she is hopeful and self-assured. She is super steady,  she can really run and mix it up, which is why she destroyed Angie Kerber. However, against Azarenka, she has to attack early and keep it deep, or she will do down. Or perhaps Stephens can were her down in the third set. Perhaps.