Two Golden Slams in One Day | NYTimes

 

The tennis Grand Slam is so rare that only five players can claim one, and no player at all has achieved the feat since 1988. The Golden Slam, winning all four majors and a gold medal in the same year, is nearly impossible. Only Steffi Graf had ever done it.

Until Sunday, when it was accomplished twice.

First came Diede de Groot of the Netherlands, who won the wheelchair competition at the U.S. Open to complete a sweep of the year’s four Grand Slam tournaments to go with her Paralympic gold medal.

Later in the day, Dylan Alcott of Australia completed the same feat in the men’s quad event. (As opposed to those in the wheelchair division like de Groot, quad players also have significant loss of function in at least one upper limb.)

De Groot defeated Yui Kamiji of Japan, the same woman she defeated in Australia, France and at the Paralympics, 6-3, 6-2. Her Golden Slam almost didn’t get started this year: She needed a third-set tiebreaker to beat Kamiji at the Australian Open.

Despite the accomplishment, De Groot, 24, said she felt a little let down by her play: “After such a long time of traveling and just being everywhere in the world, also I think both of us are a little bit tired. I think you could see it in the match, unfortunately.”

Sunday’s Open championship was the 12th in a Grand Slam singles event for De Groot, still behind the record of 21 set by her countrywoman Esther Vergeer in the early part of this century.

Alcott defeated the 18-year-old Niels Vink of the Netherlands, 7-5, 6-2, to complete his own Golden Slam. It was Alcott’s 15th Grand Slam singles title. Because the quad event is only three years old at the French Open and Wimbledon, it was the first chance for any quad athlete to win a Golden Slam.

“Everybody in this room asked me, ‘Are you thinking about the Golden Slam?’” said Alcott, 30. “I’ve said, ‘No, I don’t really care about it,’ all year. Of course I cared about it. It’s nice not to pretend anymore.”

In 1988, Graf said after completing her Golden Slam at the Seoul Olympics: “I’m very excited. It’s something not many people after me will achieve.”

It took 33 years. And then it only took a few hours.

Novak’s Grand Slam loss means Federer remains GOAT.

The Serb could have closed the book on comparisons with Federer. He fell short. What now?

Side by side photos of Djokovic on the court looking to his left and Federer on the court holding his racket and fist-pumping
Djokovic in his U.S. Open semifinal on Sept. 10; Federer in his fourth round match at Wimbledon on July 5. Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images and Clive Brunskill/Getty Images.

Until Sunday, no one in the past half-century had come remotely close to completing tennis’s Grand Slam in men’s singles: To win even the first three of the four major tournaments in a calendar year had proved too difficult for all the male champions of those five decades. But this past weekend, Novak Djokovic came within not only one tournament but one match of the Slam—an achievement in its own right that, if past is prologue, might not be accomplished again for another 50 years. Ahead of the match, a much-discussed question was whether winning the Slam could cement Djokovic’s claim above his contemporary rivals Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal that he, and not either of them, is the greatest men’s tennis player of all time.

But he lost, to world and tournament No. 2 Daniil Medvedev, in straight sets: 6–4, 6–4, 6–4.

So where does that leave the GOAT debate? How big a deal is Djokovic’s defeat in that final match?

We are clearly near the end of the long era dominated by Djokovic, Federer, and Nadal. Federer is 40 years old, has missed four of the past six majors, has not won a major in more than 3½ years, and recently announced that he would undergo surgery just to give himself “a glimmer of hope” merely “to return to the tour in some shape or form.” Nadal, at 35, is showing his age as well. He has missed three majors in the past 12 months, after having missed only six majors during the previous 15 years. His ranking has dropped to No. 5. The only majors he has played since 2019 are the Australian Open, where he lost in the quarterfinals both this year and last year, and the French Open, where he lost (to Djokovic) this year for the first time since 2016. Even Djokovic, at 34, is showing inevitable signs of age and of the precursors to declining dominance.

So the full book has nearly been written on the case that each of these men will make for the status of GOAT—greatest of all time. Federer, in particular, will almost certainly not be adding to his legacy. And that matters a lot, because it is Federer, not Nadal, who stands between Djokovic and the summit.

For all of Nadal’s greatness, and it is legion, his longest run at No. 1 was 56 straight weeks, whereas Federer’s was 237 straight weeks. In total, Nadal has been ranked No. 1 for about 100 weeks fewer than Federer and even fewer than Djokovic. In addition, Nadal has never won the year-end championship—the most important tournament aside from the Slams—whereas Federer has won it six times and Djokovic has won it five times. Federer and Djokovic achieved tons of success even on their worst surface, clay, but Nadal achieved comparatively little on his worst: the fast indoor courts where his rivals dominated. Nadal also won three majors in a year only once (2010), whereas Federer and Djokovic each did it three times.

Thus the road to GOAT goes through Federer, not Nadal, and we already know what Federer’s complete case is likely to be—namely, what it is now. How does Djokovic’s case compare? In terms of cumulative achievement, it’s already solid. Djokovic has won just as many majors as Federer, nearly as many year-end championships, and more Masters 1000 tournaments. He has spent more weeks at No. 1 than Federer, and he has seven year-end No. 1 rankings to Federer’s five. Given that Djokovic will probably pile up more cumulative achievements before he’s done, why is this a debate? And why is now the time to discuss it, before we see where Djokovic ends up? The answer is the same as the one that supports Michael Jordan’s case in the GOAT argument against LeBron James: Although cumulative career achievement counts a lot toward greatness, so does “peak value”—how great the greatest were at the apex of their talents and dominance. This is a crucial distinction identified decades ago by Bill James when he made GOAT rankings for baseball players.

Djokovic already leads Federer in the most important aspects of cumulative achievement, but he can’t close the case as long as Federer leads in peak value. What’s tricky is that we don’t know how long value must last to count as “peak.” Are we asking who was the best in a single match or tournament? No—that’s too short a time frame. In a 15-year period? No—that’s too long a time frame, because it would be no different from cumulative value. Where in between? That’s debatable, but to me, somewhere from one to five years seems about right.

From 2004 through 2007, Federer dominated tennis at an epic level. He won 11 Grand Slam tournaments, which has never been done in any four-year period by any other player, man or woman. His match-win percentages in those four years were 93 percent, 95 percent, 95 percent, and 88 percent. He reached 10 Grand Slam finals in a row, more than any man before or since. As noted above, in this period he was ranked No. 1 for 237 consecutive weeks, 77 weeks longer than any other player has ever held the top spot for an unbroken stretch of time. He won the year-end championship in three of those four years. Counting that championship along with the Slams, Federer played in 20 crucial tournaments in that four-year stretch. He won 14 of them. Of his six losses, two were by scores of 9–7 in the fifth set, three were to Nadal at the French Open (where Nadal was greater than any player has ever been on a given surface), and the only other one was to Gustavo Kuerten at the French Open (the greatest clay courter of the era preceding Nadal).

Neither Djokovic nor Nadal has done anything like that in a four-year stretch. However, Djokovic has had disconnected years in which he dominated as much as Federer dominated during his four-year peak. For Djokovic, those dominant years were 2011, 2015, and 2021. In each of those years, Djokovic won three majors. In 2011, he also won the first five Masters 1000 events he entered (which is more than Federer has ever won in a single year), losing only one match anywhere until late in the year, when he succumbed to fatigue and injury. In 2015, he was even better, winning six Masters 1000 events and reaching the finals of all eight he played in, while also winning the year-end championship to go along with his three majors and a finals appearance in the lone major he didn’t win. And in 2021, he nearly won the Grand Slam.

The calendar Grand Slam, though confined to one year, is extremely significant. Throughout the history of tennis, it’s the rarest of accomplishments. According to its technical definition—winning Wimbledon plus the Australian, French, and U.S. Opens in the same year—the Grand Slam in men’s singles has been won three times before: by Don Budge in 1938, and by Rod Laver in 1962 and in 1969. (In women’s singles, the calendar Slam has also only been won three times: by Maureen Connolly in 1953, by Margaret Court in 1970, and by Steffi Graf in 1988. Due to certain differences between the men’s and women’s tours before the Open Era, and other complications with comparing the two tours, I’m going to focus specifically on the history of the men’s Grand Slam when trying to put Djokovic’s quest into historical context.)

But the technical definition of the Slam is misleading; it underplays how rare the feat has been. When Budge won the Slam in 1938 and when Laver won it in 1962, those four tournaments allowed only amateurs to play, even though professionals were typically the world’s best players. Thus Budge and Laver may well not have been the world’s best, and they certainly did not need to beat the best, in order to win those “Grand Slams.”

The bottom line is that no man except Laver in 1969 (and no woman but Graf in ’88) has ever done the equivalent of what Djokovic was trying to do now: win four giant international tournaments, on three continents and varying surfaces, where all the best players are allowed to compete and choose to do so if they’re physically able. In 150 years, that has been done once by a man. And even that once wasn’t the equal of what Djokovic’s feat would have been. When Laver won in 1969, three of the four majors were held on the same surface, grass, so winning the Grand Slam didn’t require as much versatility as it does today. And one of those majors, the Australian Open, didn’t even field a full complement of competitors. What’s more—and I would argue, most important—is that every sport gets deeper and better as time goes on. So it’s always harder and thus more impressive to dominate later in a sport’s lifespan than earlier. Simply put, what was at stake on Sunday was whether Djokovic could complete the greatest feat in the history of men’s tennis.

Assuming that the Grand Slam eludes him, even if Djokovic adds to his total number of majors in the coming years, there will still be a plausible case—as there is for Jordan when he’s compared to LeBron—that Federer was greater.

So, what slipped through Djokovic’s fingers on Sunday? The answer is: (i) the greatest single-year achievement in the 150-year history of tennis, and (ii) closing the book on the Federer-Nadal-Djokovic rivalry and, for all realistic purposes, on the debate about who is the greatest player of all time.

Read full article —>

slate.com/culture/2021/09/djokovic-federer-goat-debate-grand-slam.html

Daniil Medvedev wins US Open as Novak Djokovic falls short of a Grand Slam.

Daniil Medvedev won his first Grand Slam title by defeating Novak Djokovic, 6-4, 6-4, 6-4.
Credit…Ben Solomon for The New York Times

Novak Djokovic said he was going to play this match as if it were the last of his career, that he was going to pour every ounce of his heart and soul into trying to do what few thought could ever be done again.

It was not enough.

With a startling display of power and creativity, Daniil Medvedev upset Djokovic, 6-4, 6-4, 6-4, in the final of the U.S. Open on Sunday, ending Djokovic’s bid to become the first man in 52 years to win all four Grand Slam tournaments in a calendar year. It was one last twist in a tournament that overflowed with stunning performances.

For at least another year, Rod Laver will remain the lone member of the most exclusive club in modern men’s tennis, and the 2021 U.S. Open will forever belong primarily to an 18-year-old British woman named Emma Raducanu, who went from being the 150th-ranked player to a Grand Slam champion in the most unlikely tennis tale of them all.

This was supposed to be Djokovic’s moment, the day that he would finally surge past Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal and officially become the greatest player of all time.

Instead, whatever spirits pull the strings of this uniquely exasperating sport intervened in the form of a lanky 25-year-old Russian, a neighbor of Djokovic’s in their adopted home of Monaco who is sure now to create any number of awkward encounters at Monte Carlo’s cafes and grocery stores and at the local tennis club where both of them train.

Medvedev started fast, breaking Djokovic’s serve in the first game of the match and giving Djokovic few chances to take the first set. That was not supposed to matter. Djokovic, 34, had been shaky early in matches for two weeks, before raising his level and storming back for win after win. Surely, he would flip the script once more.

And he had the opening, three break points on Medvedev’s first service game, and then another with Medvedev serving at 1-2 in the second set, when the sound system malfunctioned and interrupted one of Medvedev’s serves, giving him a fresh chance to save the game.

When Medvedev took that point and then another, the weight of it all finally broke the man who had seemed unbreakable. Djokovic dismantled his racket with a violent smack on a court that had delivered him so many championships before.

A game later, Medvedev curled a backhand onto Djokovic’s toes as he charged to the net, and when Djokovic’s volley floated long, the chance to crush a dream was just a few more games and one set away.

“He was going for huge history,” Medvedev said. “Knowing that I managed to stop him, it definitely makes it sweeter.”

Djokovic had beaten Medvedev most recently in a lopsided battle in February for his ninth Australian Open title, a moment that seems a lifetime ago, when no one was talking about anyone winning a Grand Slam.

And yet, when the draw for the U.S. Open came out two weeks ago, it looked daunting for Djokovic. Matteo Berrettini, the big-serving Italian, loomed in the quarterfinals. Alexander Zverev, the talented German who knocked off Djokovic at the Olympics and was the hottest player in the world at the start of this tournament, was likely to be his semifinal foe. And if Djokovic could get through those players, he was most likely going to meet Medvedev, the world’s second best player, whose game, a beguiling mix of power and spins, seems to grow more dangerous with each passing month. He was a fitting final obstacle for Djokovic in the hunt for their sport’s biggest prize.

Medvedev stands 6 feet 6 inches tall and is as skinny as a bamboo pole. At first glance, he looks like nobody’s idea of a professional athlete. He will scurry around the court creating shots that few can see coming, then bomb an ace or pound a flat backhand down the line.

Coming into the tournament, conventional wisdom held that the only way to beat Djokovic was to take the racket out of his hands with so many unreturnable balls that one of the greatest defenders in the sport would not be able to survive the onslaught.

Medvedev did that and so much more, pushing Djokovic back on his heels and handcuffing him at the net on those handful of points that decide every tennis match, with history on the line and 23,000 fans desperate to witness it.

For Djokovic, the loss delivered a disappointment that practically no one but Serena Williams could understand. She had been the last player to enter the year’s final major championship with a shot at the Grand Slam. She, too, fell to an underdog, Roberta Vinci of Italy, on the same court in Arthur Ashe Stadium, in the 2015 semifinals.

On a personal level, this loss most likely stung Djokovic in a way that Williams may never have felt. Djokovic has spent most of his adult life chasing legends who claimed this sport as their own just a few years before he burst onto the scene. He proved early on that he could be the equal of Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer, then sagged back, only to come back stronger and repeat the cycle time and again.

Zhang and Stosur crowned US Open 2021 women’s doubles champions

New York, USA, 13 September 2021 | Leigh Rogers

On the 10-year anniversary of Stosur’s memorable 2011 singles triumph at the US Open, the Australian is leaving New York with another Grand Slam trophy.

Stosur and China’s Zhang Shuai are the US Open 2021 women’s doubles champions, securing the title with a hard-fought 6-3 3-6 6-3 victory against American teens Coco Gauff and Caty McNally in the championship match in New York today.

It was a high-quality final, with just three breaks of serve throughout the one-hour and 54-minute battle.

Stosur and Zhang hit 39 winners to 37, with their experience proving telling against 17-year-old Gauff and 19-year-old McNally in the tense final stages.

A patriotic Arthur Ashe Stadium crowd tried to will Gauff and McNally to victory, but the Australian-Chinese combination showed nerves of steel under pressure.

They broke McNally’s serve in the eighth game of the deciding set, then Stosur calmly served out an impressive victory.

“It was just such a tight tussle the whole match, a few points here and there,” Stosur said. “We stuck together as a team, played aggressive, went for it as we always do, and it pays off.”

This is Stosur and Zhang’s second major title as a team, having also won the Australian Open in 2019 together.

It is Stosur’s fourth career Grand Slam women’s doubles title in total and her second at the US Open. She won her first alongside American Lisa Raymond in 2005.

“It’s just a phenomenal feeling to have this trophy again 16 years later,” Stosur said.

This result extends Stosur and Zhang’s current winning streak to 11 matches, one of many impressive numbers stemming from today’s victory for the 37-year-old Australian.

Stosur’s triumph – by the numbers
4 Career Grand Slam titles in women’s doubles
8 Career Grand Slam titles in total
36 Career wins in US Open women’s doubles matches
123 Career wins in Grand Slam women’s doubles matches
276 Career wins in Grand Slam matches in total
28 Career tour-level doubles titles
4 Career tour-level doubles titles with Zhang Shuai
2 Career Grand Slam doubles titles with Zhang Shuai

This is the 12th time an Australian has won the US Open women’s doubles title in the Open era.

Stosur joins Margaret Court, Judy Dalton and Wendy Turnbull as the only Australian women to win multiple doubles titles in New York – and becomes the first to achieve the feat in almost four decades.

The former world No.1 also sets a new Australian record for longest span, at 16 years, between US Open women’s doubles titles.

Dylan Alcott secures golden grand slam with US Open triumph | SMH

Australian wheelchair tennis star Dylan Alcott has secured the golden grand slam, completing the remarkable achievement at the US Open barely a week after defending his Paralympics gold medal in Tokyo.

Alcott now has 15 major titles, winning his third US Open title with a straight-sets win over 18-year-old Dutchman Niels Vink, 7-5, 6-2.

Dylan Alcott celebrates after defeating Niels Vink at the US Open to complete a golden grand slam.

Dylan Alcott celebrates after defeating Niels Vink at the US Open to complete a golden grand slam.Credit:Getty Images

Alcott dug deep to claim the opening set and steadily wore down his opponent in the second set, putting his hands on his first US Open quad wheelchair singles trophy in three years.

But it was his achievement to claim the Australian Open, Roland Garros, Wimbledon and US titles in the same year that was immediately front of mind.

The slam was secured about 30 minutes before world No.1 Novak Djokovic was due to hit centre court for his history-making pursuit of the first men’s grand slam since 1969.

“I just can’t believe I just won the golden slam,” Alcott said on court, immediately reflecting on his journey after he found peace and purpose with wheelchair basketball and then wheelchair tennis.

Alcott and Vink pose for a picture after the final.

Alcott and Vink pose for a picture after the final.Credit:AP

“I used to hate myself so much, I hated my disability, I didn’t want to be here anymore, [but] I found tennis and it changed and saved my life.

“I’ve now become the only male ever in any form of tennis I think to win the golden slam, which is pretty cool.

“To everybody at home, I love you. Hopefully this puts a smile on your face. Better times are around the horizon.

“To everybody in New York, I feel honoured and privileged to be out here on this court.

“I’ll going to be upfront, I don’t know whether I’ll be back here, so I really appreciate everything.

“Thanks for making a young, fat disabled kid with a really bad haircut, thanks for making his dreams come true because I can’t believe that I just did it.” Thank 

Emma Raducanu beats Leylah Fernandez in US Open Women’s final | The Washington Post

NEW YORK — At every round of the U.S. Open, teenagers Emma Raducanu of Britain and Canada’s Leylah Fernandez rose to each challenge in their unlikely march to Saturday’s final.

But it was Raducanu, 18, who completed the improbable story line at Arthur Ashe Stadium, winning a fiercely contested battle of brave shot-making and defensive grit, 6-4, 6-3, to claim the U.S. Open championship.

Raducanu became the first qualifier to win a Grand Slam title in the sport’s Open era. And she did it without conceding a set over 10 matches — three in qualifying, seven during the tournament. 

For the achievement, she collected a $2.5 million winner’s check that will boost her year-to-date earnings of $268,191 roughly tenfold.

As runner-up, Fernandez, 19, earned $1.25 million. They were the first teenagers to meet in the U.S. Open final since 1999, when Serena Williams won the first of her 23 major titles at 17, over Martina Hingis. — Liz Clarke

Leylah Fernandez, Emma Raducanu storm into US Open final | The Washington Post

NEW YORK — With absolute belief in themselves and absolutely nothing to lose, a pair of teenagers stormed into the finals of the U.S. Open in back-to-back semifinal upsets Thursday.

Few sports fans had heard of Canada’s Leylah Fernandez, 19, or Britain’s Emma Raducanu, 18, when the season’s final major got underway Aug. 30 at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center.

But over the past two weeks, they have turned the U.S. Open into joyous coming-out parties that have thrilled the crowds at Arthur Ashe Stadium and left the Grand Slam aspirations of more seasoned and accomplished players in tatters.

Fernandez thrust her right arm to the sky in her signature victory celebration after she vanquished world No. 2 Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus, 7-6 (7-3), 4-6, 6-4.

It was Fernandez’s fourth consecutive upset of a seeded player in a three-set battle and by far her most impressive.

In the match that followed, Raducanu, who just this summer finished her high school A level exams in Britain, made history in becoming the first qualifier to reach a Grand Slam final in the sport’s Open era with her 6-1, 6-4 victory over 17th seed Maria Sakkari of Greece.

Moreover, Raducanu has yet to concede a set — not in the six matches to reach Saturday’s final or in the three qualifying matches she had to win to earn a spot in the 128-player field, given that her 150th world ranking fell short of the cutoff.

Raducanu put her hands on her head and burst into a huge smile upon sealing the victory over Sakkari, a 2021 French Open semifinalist, in 84 minutes.

“I can’t actually believe it,” said Raducanu, who was cheered on by Virginia Wade, the last British woman to reach a Grand Slam final, in 1977, and former British No.1 Tim Henman, who has been an adviser.

Emma Raducanu has yet to concede a set — in the three qualifying matches that earned her a spot in the U.S. Open field, or in the six matches that have her in Saturday’s final. (John G. Mabanglo/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock) (John G Mabanglo/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock)

Fernandez needed 2 hours 21 minutes and all the tactics at her disposal for her three-set victory over Sabalenka, who boasts a more powerful game, more experience and a more imposing physique, nearly a half-foot taller.

www.washingtonpost.com/sports/2021/09/09/leylah-fernandez-us-open-final

The final challenge awaiting Novak Djokovic | SMH

The historic moment has arrived for Novak Djokovic. Some time very soon, the world No.1 is going to affirm his record as the most successful male tennis player of all time, probably the greatest male or female, and well in the argument for the outstanding individual athlete of any kind, ever.
 

The accolade comes, often, through gritted teeth and with watering eyes. Djokovic’s greatness is acknowledged, what’s more, by the millions who have stopped watching tennis because they can’t stomach him. Nobody has done more in their sport while doing less for their sport. It’s a bizarre but compelling legacy.

His qualifications, first. If he doesn’t win his 21st grand slam tournament in the US Open this weekend, he will win it somewhere else, possibly Melbourne, where he hasn’t been beaten since Victoria last voted Liberal. Still an unbreakable 34, he might build such a monument by the end of his career that he can spend the rest of his life sitting on top of it looking down on everyone, confident he will be the best for all time.

If he does win in New York, he becomes the first able-bodied player to win a grand slam in a calendar year since Steffi Graf in 1988, the first able-bodied male since Rod Laver in 1969.

Djokovic is the best because, to get where he has got, he has beaten the best. He has won 20 grand slams against the two other contenders for best ever male player, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. It is extraordinary that these three supreme talents have emerged together, but mind-boggling that Djokovic can have risen above the other two. To be the best, you must beat the best. (Which is why many rate Monica Seles, pre-stabbing, as the best-ever female: Graf was unbeatable for more than a decade, except in the three years in which Seles repeatedly drubbed her. And then, after coming back from her stabbing, Seles won an Australian Open.)

Having beaten the best, Djokovic is now steadily picking apart the threads of self-esteem holding together the next generation. On Saturday morning, Alexander Zverev might do what he did in Tokyo and upset Djokovic, whom he had not previously beaten since 2018 and never in a grand slam. You sense that the despair that lies buried beneath the loss of drive in Nick Kyrgios and several others has some foundation in the knowledge that while Djokovic is there, they can never be the best.

Novak Djokovic unleashes his trademark celebration at the US Open earlier this week.

Novak Djokovic unleashes his trademark celebration at the US Open earlier this week.Credit:Getty

Greatest individual athletes? You rattle off Don Bradman and Heather Mckay and Michael Phelps and Steve Redgrave and Nadia Comaneci and Kelly Slater, whose personal dominance of their sports puts them beyond comparison. Babe Didrikson and Snowy Baker were freaks of versatility. But all played sports that were comparatively narrow in international competition.

Usain Bolt, Paavo Nurmi and Daley Thompson were (and Elaine Thompson-Herah is) supreme in the most accessible and democratic global sport: track and field. Sugar Ray Robinson was the greatest of boxers – another pretty inclusive sport, for men anyway – and Muhammed Ali was, is, and always will be, simply, the greatest. But that is personality, politics and romance as much as sports.

A tennis player, however, deserves singling out not just because it’s a truly global sport but due to the complex range of skills. Tennis requires not only stupendous stamina and blinding speed and reflexes, power and timing and a surgical touch, but all at the same time. A great tennis player has to be Bolt and Nurmi, and then catch their breath and be Tiger Woods too. The one thing they can’t do is tackle and get hit in the face, though Djokovic gives the impression he would be a tough body-contact competitor, if only because he might bring a gun to a knife-fight.

And yet, and yet.

Djokovic’s legion of fans are seemingly dwarfed by an army of detractors.

Djokovic’s legion of fans are seemingly dwarfed by an army of detractors.Credit:Getty

We know what it is. We struggle with the idea that when it comes to judging GOATs, we would like there to be a character test. We want the Pele glamour, the Jesse Owens dignity, the Michael Jordan dazzle. We want something more, and Djokovic has so often delivered something less. GOATs are often ‘judged’ by polls, which measure popularity, and Federer and Nadal always rank higher than Djokovic.

What has Djokovic done to deserve this? His rap sheet is long but nowhere near Lance Armstrong-grade. He had a habit of faking injury early in his career, either to put opponents off their game or to quit matches when he was losing so as to deny them the satisfaction of beating him. He has been obnoxious to officials, but hardly in the Connors-McEnroe category. He uses every gamesmanship trick in the book and has written a few new ones, and will never be accused of being the epitome of sportsmanship. His campaign to seem like a good guy has been as unrelenting as his tennis, but every now and then, under extreme pressure, what many take as the real Djokovic comes out. His Covid-Adria Tour-antivax debacle, Novak’s version of good works, seemed to say it all.

The ambivalence is real. Kyrgios, a comparative tennis non-entity, won himself a zillion Instagram followers by standing up and calling Djokovic out for being a dickhead. Still, it’s like the world is looking for reasons to dislike him. Federer and Nadal could manipulate injury breaks and other quirks in the rules and get away with it. Djokovic can’t.

Not since Ali has there been an individual sportsperson who absorbs so much punishment and emerges with the genius of the counter-attacker, having exhausted his opponent while they were thinking they were beating him. But with Ali it was the legendary rope-a-dope, whereas with Djokovic it is whack-a-mole. He is the mole that always gets away.

Credit:Illustration: Simon Letch

How much of the anti-Djokovic feeling is prejudice? I think a lot of us have to admit that there is some anti-Balkan bias involved here. The militaristic appearance, the finicky way of bouncing the ball, gives an uneasy vibe. Djokovic’s way of standing like Christ, arms spread, after a win, gazing skyward as if he can’t believe what Blind Freddy saw coming for the last two hours – another comeback victory. If you’re primed to dislike the Serbian army captain look, it’s as irritating as all get out. But is that because so many of us can’t see the charm? Is it an irrational xenophobic reaction?
The intersection of form and content is jarring when it comes to Djokovic, and this forces us to ask discomfiting questions of ourselves. Are we really in it for the excellence, or are we compromised by our biases? Federer never forced us to ask complicated questions about anything. He only requested that we behold the frictionless perfection of the style, the thing in itself. Djokovic is provocative, and that makes him interesting.

Whereas Federer brought so many to tennis, Djokovic’s methodical progress to the top has been, for many, a 10-year turn-off. Avid tennis watchers who have kept faith can rightly claim a purity of eye: they are seeing the tennis player, whereas others are turning away from the surface impression.

But that impression doesn’t count for nothing. While Federer’s majesty was remote, Djokovic implicates us. His tennis game has never had any outstanding signature such as a booming Serena Williams serve, the Federer touch or the Nadal forehand. What has always characterised Djokovic is an inexhaustible will to win. There is so much will to win, it’s gone beyond the boundary of the sport and is confronting, even ugly, to watch.

And that’s the thing with Djokovic: he has beaten all that tennis can throw at him; his final adversary is the uneasy viewer. His final victory, through the weight of his record, is over the spectator’s doubts. It’s not to win us over. It’s to make us submit.

 https://www.smh.com.au/sport/tennis/the-final-challenge-awaiting-world-beating-novak-djokovic-20210910-p58qhm.html

US OPEN JUNIOR TOURNAMENT UNDERWAY

This year’s US Open Junior Championships are eagerly awaited by players and fans alike after the 2020 edition of the tournament was cancelled due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The crowds are back in New York, and the juniors competing in the six-day event are ready to compete side by side with the world’s top professionals on the grounds of the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows, New York.

Players spent the day on Sunday dodging rain drops as they took to the practice courts in advance of the start of the year’s final junior slam, which begins on Monday. Twelve qualifiers and a lucky loser joined the field on Saturday after the completion of the qualifying tournament at the Cary Leeds Tennis Center in the Bronx, with four Americans joining the 27 others who were direct entries or wild card recipients.

One of those qualifiers, Theadora Rabman, isn’t far from home, with the 16-year-old New Yorker making the best of her wild card into qualifying by winning two matches over seeded players in third-set tiebreakers. Another unseeded 16-year-old wild card, Californian Kyle Kang, matched Rabman’s feat, defeating two seeds, including the second seed in qualifying, Coleman Wong of Hong Kong, 6-1, 3-6, 10-5. Both will make their junior slam debuts on Monday. Valencia Xu and lucky loser Katja Wiersholm round out the quartet of Americans who emerged from qualifying.

The United States Tennis Association decided to reduce the draw size for this year’s tournament, calling it “the best opportunity to host a safe and logistically successful event.”

The qualifying draw size went from 32 to 24 and the main draw size from 64 to 48, meaning that the 16 seeded players in each singles draw will have byes, with their opponents decided in Monday’s first round.

The top two seeds are, for the third consecutive junior slam, Andorra’s Victoria Jimenez Kasintseva and China’s Juncheng Shang, both of whom reached the semi-finals at Wimbledon. The Wimbledon champions, Samir Banerjee of the United States and Ane Mintegi Del Olmo of Spain, are the No. 2 and No. 4 seeds, respectively, joining 2020 Australian Open champion Jimenez Kasintseva as the only junior slam champions in the draw.

The United States claims half of the top six seeds: Banerjee, No. 4 seed Bruno Kuzuhara and No. 6 seed Victor Lilov, the 2021 Wimbledon boys’ finalist. Spain has two seeded boys, No. 3 Daniel Rincon and No. 14 seed Alejandro Manzanera Pertusa, as does France, in No. 10 seed Sean Cuenin and No. 11 seed Sascha Gueymard Wayenburg.

College Park J1 champion Mark Lajal of Estonia, the No. 9 seed, is confident after claiming his third J1 title of the year last month on the hard courts of the Junior Tennis Champions Center, and American wild card Ryan Colby, a finalist in College Park, is also one to watch.

No. 16 seed Ashlyn Krueger, who played in the women’s singles main draw as the USTA National 18s singles champion, and No. 7 seed Robin Montgomery are two of the four seeded Americans, along with No. 12 seed Elvina Kalieva and No. 10 seed Madison Sieg. No other country has more than one seeded player in the girls’ draw.

An unseeded girl to watch is 16-year-old Reese Brantmeier, who was runner-up to Krueger at the USTA National 18s and won two rounds as a wild card in the women’s qualifying. So too is Julia Middendorf of Germany, who warmed up for her last junior slam by winning an ITF World Tennis Tour event at W15 level in her home country last month.

With nearly one of every three players in the draw from the United States, the fans in New York will have no trouble finding a rooting interest. If that player is an underdog, the cheers will be even louder as supporters look to identify the next Jenson Brooksby (2018 boys semi-finalist), Brandon Nakashima (2019 boys semi-finalist) or Coco Gauff (2017 finalist) who they could be watching on Ashe or Armstrong Stadiums in a few short year.

Source: ITF

Rogers’ epic comeback stuns No.1 Barty in US Open third round

No.43 Shelby Rogers rallied from a double-break down in the final set to upend World No.1 Ashleigh Barty’s quest for a US Open title.

Shelby Rogers Ashleigh Barty US Open USTA

NEW YORK – Shelby Rogers kept the home hopes alive at the US Open, as the Charleston native manufactured a stunning third-set comeback to stun No.1 Ashleigh Barty 6-2, 1-6, 7-6(5) in the third round to advance to her second straight Round of 16 in New York. A quarterfinalist last year, the 28-year-old played a disciplined match to earn her first win in six matches against the World No.1, coming back from a double-break down in the final set to steal the win. The victory is Rogers’ first over a Top 10 player since defeating Serena Williams last year in Lexington and her first-ever win over a reigning World No.1.

In their fifth meeting in the 2021 season alone, Rogers was looking to tally her first win over the Australian. Rogers had reason to believe an upset was possible. Rogers had played Barty close twice this year, taking her to a match-tiebreak at the Yarra Valley Classic in February before losing 7-5, 2-6, 10-4. On the green clay of Charleston, their Round of 16 duel came down to the wire, with Barty edging it 7-6(3), 4-6, 6-4. 

“I think tonight going on the court I told myself I didn’t want to lose the same way I lost the last five times against her,” Rogers said. “I just tried to do things a little bit differently. In the first set I mixed in some high balls, I was super patient with her slice because she’s not going to miss one very often. I know that very well.”

There were early signs of trouble for Barty, who fired four double-faults in her second service game to give Rogers the early break at 2-1. With Barty struggling to find her range on her serve and off the ground – the Wimbledon champion hit 17 unforced errors in the opening set – Rogers cruised to break Barty twice and seal the first set 6-2 after 32 minutes. She did not face a break point in the set. 

“I think what I’ve learned most from her is that she’s No.1 for a reason. It was going to take everything I had tonight to beat her. I gave everything I had and got the win.”- Shelby Rogers

Barty immediately righted the ship in the second set. After coming through two tight service games to hold, Barty broke Rogers for a 3-1 lead and never looked back. After hitting 17 unforced errors in the first set, Barty hit just 7 in the second set, while firing 13 winners. As she recognized Rogers opting for a more defensive gameplan, Barty found her range and rhythm, finding good purchase when she patiently built points and extended rallies. 

“In the second and third, she definitely raised her level, as she does,” Rogers said. “I mean, she’s the No.1 player in the world for a reason. But I started wanting to hit the ball a little bit harder, find some winners if I could. That’s the tennis I like to play. That’s what she wants me to do. She wants to redirect and finesse me around the court, wait for me to miss.”

Turning Point: Barty continued her progress through the final set, building a 5-2, double-break lead. But as the World No.1 stood just four points from the Round of 16, the unforced errors began to creep in again. Serving at 5-3, 15-0, Barty misfired on three consecutive unforced errors – a forehand, a backhand, and a double-fault – and Rogers broke as Barty mishit yet another forehand at 30-40. 

After Rogers hold from 30-all in the next game by out-rallying Barty with a forehand winner and then closing with an unreturned serve, the partisan crowd on Arthur Ashe Stadium were on their feet. Feeding off their energy and buoyed by Barty’s failed attempt to close out the match, Rogers doubled down on her defensive efforts. As Barty tried to serve out the match for a second time at 5-4, Rogers made her intentions known, chasing down every ball and baiting Barty to go for less margin than she was comfortable with. 

As Barty served at deuce, Rogers won one of the longest rallies of the match – an 18-shot all-court exchange – that ended as Barty misfired a forehand. On her second break point of the game, Rogers converted, fending off a 107 m.p.h first serve. Barty misfired on another forehand off the return and the comeback was on. Rogers had leveled to 5-5.

After an exchange of holds at 30, Barty and Rogers readied for the deciding tiebreak. Barty came into the match with a 14-2 record in three-set matches this season, while Rogers was 4-8. The tense tiebreak rolled along on serve, with Rogers coming up with the defensive answers to Barty’s craft. Serving at 1-2, Rogers fended off a series of biting Barty backhand slices down the line to get the better of the No.1 in a 19-shot rally. In fact, Rogers would win all three points in the tiebreak that lasted over 10 shots, reversing the trend that saw Barty get the match on her terms in the second set. 

At 5-5 in the tiebreak, Barty finally blinked. Unable to summon her formidable first serve, Barty missed a forehand off a driven forehand return from Rogers to give the American the first match point of the night. With the biggest win of her career on her racquet, Rogers found a 105 m.p.h first serve wide that Barty could not get back. After 2 hours and 8 minutes, Rogers’ look of complete disbelief said it all. 

Source: WTA Tour

Alcott finishes final Paralympics as a champion

Tokyo: Australian wheelchair tennis legend Dylan Alcott announced these Paralympics will be his last after winning another gold in the men’s quad singles final on Saturday, a tournament he says was the hardest he’s ever competed in.

The four-time Paralympian said he was planning to drink “ten thousand beers” on Saturday evening after prevailing 7-6, 6-1 against Sam Schroder from the Netherlands.

Dylan Alcott after his men’s quad singles gold medal in Tokyo.

Dylan Alcott after his men’s quad singles gold medal in Tokyo. Credit:Getty

Although Alcott says he couldn’t care less, his clinical victory keeps alive his bid for a golden slam, which involves winning all four grand slams, plus a Paralympic gold medal. Alcott has now three slams and the gold medal, with just the US Open left in 2021.

“I’m not coming back to the Paralympics ever again,” Alcott said. “I love the Paralympic Games so much. It means so much to me. When I was 17, I got to play with the Rollers [Australian wheelchair basketball team] and we won gold and it was life-changing. Paralympic sport saved my life. It was the best thing that ever happened to me. I owe it so much. To get it done today was bloody awesome.

“It’s the sweetest of all my wins because I got pushed. I shouldn’t have won. I had the expectations of the whole nation on my shoulders but I think Australia would have survived if I lost. I remind myself that so I don’t have that much expectation.”

Alcott had to dig deep in the first set but his class shone through as he wrapped up the match on his terms, sealed with an incredible backhand winner on match point. The stunned look on Alcott’s face said it all.

A two-day delay helped Alcott mentally and physically reset for a match that he was no certainty to win, given the rising standard of his opponents around the world.

The 30-year-old rarely gets emotional but this latest victory, away from friends and family who watched on at home in Australia, meant more than any of his decorated career.

“That was the hardest tournament I’ve ever played,” Alcott said. “I feel like an old ancient man. I’m in agony. I’m just so thankful and grateful that I was able to get it done. I’ve worked so hard. The Australian public’s got behind me and my career, the whole Paralympic movement, I’m just such a proud Paralympian. I’m proud of my disability.

“I was almost done after Rio and then I just kept going. [These Paralympics] got delayed a year. I was in a dark place when it got delayed because I was done and I found a second wind and my family got me through and my team. I didn’t think I was going to make it. The extra year was so bad for me because the Dutch kids got awesome. We found a way to keep motivated. I’ve got a few more tournaments left in me but not three years left. It’s so special to go out on top like this.”

Alcott wrapped up his final in straight sets.

Alcott wrapped up his final in straight sets. Credit:Getty

Alcott will travel to the United States in coming days for the US Open, where he will attempt to lock away a fourth grand slam in 2021 to go with his latest Paralympics heroics.

While supporters and admirers will continue to talk about the golden slam, Alcott reiterated it wasn’t something that motivated him.

“Everyone’s been crapping on about the golden slam but I couldn’t care less right now,” Alcott said. “I’ve got to celebrate this for what it is, which is one of the biggest achievements of my career, I’m just honoured to be here and to get it done.

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“The US Open, I’ll think about when I get to New York. I’m a Paralympic champion for the fourth time [in] basketball and tennis. It’s incredible stuff.”

Minutes after his match, Alcott cracked open a Corona with his doubles partner Heath Davidson and said he was looking forward to celebrating his second individual wheelchair tennis gold medal in style.

“I’ll drink ten thousand beers,” Alcott said. “Get ready, Tokyo. Get all your beers ready. I’m so excited, I haven’t had a beer in ages.”

‘It’s the sweetest of all my wins’: Alcott finishes final Paralympics as a champion www.smh.com.au/sport/tennis/it-s-the-sweetest-of-all-my-wins-alcott-finishes-final-paralympics-as-a-champion-20210904-p58ot5.html?btis

 

Sent from iPad. Pls excuse typos.

Dutch young guns win Wheelchair Tennis quad doubles gold

Dutch young guns Sam Schroder and Niels Vink are the new Paralympic quad doubles champions after defeating Rio 2016 gold medallist Dylan Alcott and Heath Davidson of Australia at Ariake Tennis Park.

The Netherlands’ Sam Schroder and Niels Vink have won gold in the quad doubles besting reigning champions Dylan Alcott and Heath Davidson of Australia 6-4 6-3 at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games.

It marked a changing of the guard as the 21-year-old Schroder and 18-years-old Vink won gold on their Paralympic debut and have undoubtedly shown the new generation of wheelchair tennis players are ready to make big waves.

“I have no words. It’s just crazy that we achieved this at such a young age already,” Schroder said after the win.

“It’s incredible to win a gold medal being only 18 and 21 and in our first Paralympic Games,” Vink echoed.

The gold medal match started off evenly with neither side able to find the break in the first six games.

Play was put on hold momentarily during the first set to close the roof of centre court at Ariake Tennis Park after it started raining. But just two games later the Netherlands pair found their much-needed break after five unforced errors from the Australian duo saw Schroder and Vink take the first set.

Sam Schroder (R) and Niels Vink of Team Netherlands during the Wheelchair Tennis Men's Quad Doubles Golden Medal match at the Tokyo Paralympic Games (Photo by Buda Mendes/Getty Images)

Sam Schroder (R) and Niels Vink of Team Netherlands during the Wheelchair Tennis Men’s Quad Doubles Golden Medal match at the Tokyo Paralympic Games (Photo by Buda Mendes/Getty Images)

2021 Getty Images

With momentum now falling the way of the young Dutch duo, they took an early 3-1 break in the second set.

Australia, who were willing themselves to stay within the match, took the chance to break back at 3-4 before the Netherlands stole the break back, making it 5-3.

With the gold medal put into the hands of Vink, who was serving for the game, he didn’t put a foot wrong as the Netherlands pair soon found themselves as gold medallists.

Unfortunately, there won’t be too much celebration going on tonight with both Schroder and Vink back in action on 2 September.

“Not too much because he [Schroder] has a gold medal match tomorrow (in singles), and I have a bronze medal match,” Vink said.

Meanwhile, in the quad doubles bronze medal match, Japan’s MOROISHI Mitsuteru, and SUGENO Koji were leading Great Britain’s Antony Cotterill and Andy Lapthrone 2-1 in the first set before rain interrupted play Court 1.

After the match resumed on Centre Court, it was the Japanese duo who were victorious in a three-set thriller 7-5 3-6 7-5 that finished around 2:00 am JST.

Sent from iPad. Pls excuse typos.