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PostTennis: US Open Recap (David Duggan, USA, 09/11/18 3:56 am)
2018 marked the 50th anniversary of the US (Tennis) Open, now in the books. Along with the tributes to stadium namesake Billie Jean King (beaten by Virginia Wade in the finals that year; with partner Rosemary Casals, she also lost in the doubles finals) the tournament will likely be remembered not for the stellar tennis, but for the controversy surrounding Serena Williams' Saturday night blow-up against her barely half-her-age opponent Naomi Osaka, the first US Open champion (any gender, any event) from Japan, though she is also half-Haitian, hence her 5'10" height (her father has the decidedly French surname "Francois" but because she was born in Japan, she took her mother's maiden name).
But there have been no Haitian tennis champions, either, although she has lived in Florida since the age of 3. Williams was sequentially penalized for 1) being coached from her "players' box"; 2) bashing her racquet; and 3) insulting the umpire, Carlos Ramos by calling him a thief, and sexist for singling her out for a coaching violation when men were not so penalized. These penalties cost Williams a game when she was trailing 4-3 in the second set. For whatever it is worth, Ramos appears to be an equal opportunity stickler for the rules, having warned Roger Federer about slow play and coaching. Claiming that Ramos "fixates" on him, Rafael Nadal has requested that Ramos not umpire his matches.
So Serena is still stuck on 23 Grand Slam titles, tied with Steffi Graf in the "Open Era." Margaret Smith Court has 24, but 13 were in the "closed era" when only "amateurs" could play in the four slam events: Australia, France, Britain and the US. Serena is tied with Chris Evert with the most US Open titles (six), but hasn't won here since 2014. There are now four straight first-time US Open women's winners (Flavia Pennetta, Angelique Kerber, Sloane Stephens, and now Osaka), the first time that has happened since 2003-06. You have to go back to 1988-91 for a similar statistic on the men's side. Had Serena won, there would have been a 19-year gap between her first title and her most recent, which would be similar to Sandy Koufax winning the Cy Young award when he was 19, then again when he was 38. As it is, her 15 year gap exceeds anyone, male or female, by a 20 percent margin (Pete Sampras' 12 year span, 1990-2002).
I hazard to weigh-in on the "penalty-fitting-the-crime," sexist-enforcement controversy. The coaching ban, unique in sports, may need to go the way of the wooden racquet as it is hard to enforce and susceptible to too much umpire's discretion and interpretation, as well as when he may be looking at the box rather than train his focus on the court where he is supposed to be looking. Serena has a well-known capacity for voluble blow-ups (her "I'm gonna jam this m-f'ing ball down your m-f'ing throat" threat to a petite line judge who had called her for a foot fault in the 2011 finals against Sam Stosur is legendary). Having received a penalty for using an impolite word once during a USTA tournament (my opponent had just lobbed over me), I have tried to curb my tongue, but on public courts (the US Open is a public facility), I'm less circumspect.
The men's side saw the first clash of former US Open champions since 2015 (Djokovic-Federer). After beating 2009 champion Juan Martin del Potro, Novak Djokovic now has 14 GS titles, tying him with Sampras, has won the Davis Cup with his fellow Serbians, and is the only player to have won all nine "Master's 1000" titles (lesser tournaments that give the winner 1000 ranking points: Indian Wells, Miami, Shanghai, Paris, Madrid, Rome, Monte Carlo, Canada and Cincinnati). He is also the only player with a winning record against both Federer and Nadal, whom he trails in the GS-totals count. With victories at both Wimbledon and the US Open in 2018, he will finish the year at #1, the fifth year he will have done that. If there is any rap on him, it is that he has nine GS finals' losses (3 French, 1 Wimbledon, 5 US Opens), but his 61% GS finals winning percentage pales in comparison to Nadal's 71% (17-7), Federer's 67% (20-10), and Sampras' 78% (14-4). People say we're in the "golden age" of tennis (I disagree: the late '60s to the mid-1990s were much more interesting), with the Nadal-Federer-Djokovic triumvirate, but for crowd-pleasing, you have to have some shake-up at the top. Marian Cilic (2014) was the most-recent first-time men's slam winner at the US Open. On the women's side, you have to go back to 2007 to find a finals between two former champs (Henin-Kuznetsova).
I have been critical of the state of US tennis, as it has been 15 years since an American not-named Williams has been in the finals of a Grand Slam singles event. There may be signs of that changing: of the 16 competitors in the finals of the five events, singles, doubles and mixed doubles, five were Americans and four took home trophies, Mike Bryan and Jack Sock in men's doubles, Coco Vandeweghe in women's doubles (with Aussie Ashleigh Barty), and Bethanie Mattek-Sands (she of the full-sleeve tattoos, with Brit Jamie Murray, Andy's older brother) in the mixed. It would be sad if the US were relegated to producing good doubles players (sorta like Germany producing good cars but no Ferraris or Lamborghinis), but maybe you take what you can get.
And the Cubs, after losing two to the Nats on Saturday, are still in first place in their division, but the Bears lost a heartbreaker to the Packers 24-23 in the last two minutes. It might be a long fall.
JE comments: I'm happy Haiti has found a hero in Naomi Osaka--they've been in need of one since Touissant Louverture. And my hat goes off to David Duggan for this concise, information-packed, and thoroughly enjoyable reflection on tennis today. Just one question, David: you uttered an impolite word on the court? Tsk, tsk.