NEW YORK — The U.S. Open—and the 2019 major season—is now in the books. As is our tradition, let's re-live the action with 50 Parting Thoughts from an entertaining fortnight in Flushing Meadows.
1. Rafa Nadal wins his fourth U.S. Open title, beating Daniil Medvedev in a strange, yet wildly entertaining final 7-5, 6-3, 5-7, 4-6, 6-4. More persistent than Styrofoam, Nadal was at max Nadal. He won with pace, spin, offense, defense and an unremitting sense that defeat was not an option. When Medvedev improbably leveled the match, Nadal found an additional gear in the fifth set. Jimmy Connors, on hand for Sunday’s final, may have put it best: “Even at this stage, Nadal plays like he’s broke.” Like all Majors this came with GOAT implications. He is now up to 19 Majors, one behind Federer—the closest he has ever been—and three ahead of Djokovic. Enjoy the show folks….
2. Bianca Andreescu is your women’s singles champion. She is 19. She is the first Canadian to win a Grand Slam singles title. She’s 8-0 in her career against top 10 players. She 2019’s WTA Most Improved Player, Newcomer of the Year and, indisputably, the MVP. (Imagine her ranking and her season if she hadn’t been injured, effectively from Miami through Toronto.) She wins with firepower but also with clever glue traps.
And above all, she is fearless. On Saturday: she is beating the great Serena Williams 6-3, 5-1 in the final. She squanders a match point. The crowd goes wild. Serena awakens. Suddenly it’s 5-5 … and Andreescu says, “Enough of this. Time to reset.” She closes it out 6-3, 7-5. That, friends, is a champion.
3. A victim of his own success, Daniil Medvedev played 23 hardcourt matches since late July. Already tired, he ran into the game’s best body-blow puncher in the final. No matter, he somehow stayed on his feet, landed a late-round haymaker and pushed the match to a fifth set. Don’t let this defeat obscure Medvedev’s emergence. He is, solidly, the No. 4 player in the world. His combination of offense and defense (and unexpectedly strong movement) makes him a player worthy of backing longterm. Inasmuch as he wants to challenge the Big Three, rather than wait out their retirements, we applaud him still more.
4. Serena Williams and the quest for that squirrely, elusive major No. 24 continues. We can talk about age, and so-close-yet-so-far mirages—her getting to four Grand Slam finals over the past 14 months and failing to win a set. More happily, how about this? She is still winning matches with ease, playing intervals of unstoppable tennis and beating top 20 players in under an hour. Next step? She calls it a year. She works on her movement in the fall and December. And then she goes to Australia—where the pressure and fanfare is lowest, where celebrities ain’t popping in for the weekend—and tries to win seven matches, as opposed to the six she’s won at the last two majors. This hardly seems insurmountable.
5. Matteo Berrettini—a linebacker masquerading as a tennis player—described himself as “having a big fork,” i.e. being a good eater. But we’ll use another piece of cutlery to describe his game. It’s a knife collection: samurai swords and daggers, but also stilettos and scalpels. Love the power, love the slice. He reached his first major semi, acquitted himself well against Nadal, and at 23, this guy isn’t going anywhere.
6. A strong tournament for GEMS Life, Gael Monfils and Elina Svitolina. … Until it wasn’t. He lost a heartbreaker to Marco Berrettini in perhaps the match of the tournament, 7-6 in the fifth in the quarters. She reached another major semi before capitulating against Serena. The circuit can be a lonely place. Good for them for finding companionship.
7. Roger Federer is nothing if not a realist. It’s one of his great virtues. He looks at the big picture and doesn’t get derailed by minutiae ... which is one reason his defeat here must cause him anguish. Not quite squander-two-match-points-serving-in-the-Wimbledon-final anguish, but a different kind. Consider Federer’s fate after Week One. Djokovic is out of the draw. You play Dimitrov and the Wawrinka/Medvedev winner (combined record against the three: 33-3) for a shot at Nadal, whom you’ve beaten on non-clay surfaces over the past five years. That’s a big opportunity. And, thus, a big opportunity missed.
8. A strange tournament for Novak Djokovic, who, of course, retired late in his fourth-rounder against Wawrinka. Djokovic deserved better than the booing he received as he left the court. (Corporate fans + alcohol + holiday weekend + New York crowd sensibilities.)
9. To paraphrase Shakespeare: Some are born to fame, some achieve fame and some have fame thrust upon them. Naomi Osaka falls into the third category …but she’s growing into her celebrity. Her comportment in and after the (over)hyped match against Coco Gauff was among the distinguishing revelations of the event. Still, Osaka is without a tournament title since Australia. She failed to defend her Indian Wells title on account of Belinda Bencic. Her bid to defend her U.S. Open title was thwarted on account of Belinda Bencic. I can think of one player she’d rather not face in Melbourne 2020.
10. Doubles is making a comeback. At least that's what the kids are saying. More and more world-class singles players are opting to enter the dubs competition (more on that in a second). Case in point: You'll recognize all four names in the women's doubles final: Aryna Sabalenka and Elise Mertens beat Ash Barty and Victoria Azarenka in the final.
On the men's side, the Colombian duo of Robert Farah and Juan Sebastian Cabal won their second straight Grand Slam doubles title, following up their Wimbledon triumph by beating Horacio Zeballos and Marcel Granollers (7-6, 7-6) in the final.
11. Colombia's Maria Camila Osorio Serrano played dazzling tennis to defeat American qualifier Alexandra Yepifanova, 6-1, 6-0, to claim her maiden Grand Slam title at her last junior Slam. The boys draw had to be redone when organizers neglected to seed 17-year-old Emilio Nava. As if to stress his presence, he made it to the final before falling in three sets to Jonas Forejtek of the Czech Republic. As always, Colette Lewis has you covered at the zootennis site.
12. Jamie Murray and Bethanie Mattek-Sands won the mixed doubles title, beating top-seeded Hao-Ching Chan and Michael Venus in the final, 6-2, 6-3.
13. I can’t recall a more poignant and wise press conference than this gem from Taylor Townsend after she beat Simona Halep.
Apart from perspective, there is so much pragmatic advice. I love—lovelovelove—that Townsend had the guts and the humility to approach an opponent after a defeat and ask, candidly, “What was it like to experience my ball, be on the other side of the net from me?”
14. I was talking to a former Grand Slam champion about the future of tennis. He said, (paraphrasing): “The real question is not who’s going to replace Federer, Nadal and Djokovic. Those guys are unicorns. The question is who’s going to replace David Ferrer, a guy who gets everything from his talent, works his ass off, doesn’t have drama and doesn’t beat himself.” One candidate for this succession (and this success): Diego Schwartzman.
15. For all the pushy tennis parents, Kristie Ahn’s folks are downright pull-y. Loved this piece from Ben Rothenberg detailing how the Ahns eagerly await the end of their daughter’s career. Sadly (for them) that doesn’t look likely to happen soon, given her spirited run to round four.
16. Correlation does not equal causation. But on middle Saturday, world No. 2 Ash Barty (partnered with Vika Azarenka) played a doubles match that ended 7-6 in the third set. Apart from the time on-court (almost 2:30), there’s the emotional investment that comes with such a tight match. The following day, Barty played flatly and fell in singles to Qiang Wang. We love—lovelovelove—the trend of players entering both singles and doubles. But let’s acknowledge that it’s a tough balancing act, especially if you have designs of arriving to singles matches in optimal shape.
17. We’re all a little Kyrgios-ed out. (And we’ll get another round of hot takes when his discipline from Cincinnati, including a possible suspension, is handed down). But I call B.S. on Kyrgios’s tennis-bores-me trope. You hate tennis … and you play doubles? With Marius Copil? You hate tennis … and you show up to watch your pal Jack Sock play his match? Tennis bores you … but you repeatedly engage Tennis Twitter and apparently wake up to Tennis Channel? You’ve dated a tennis player, your friends are tennis players, you’re known as a fixture in the locker room…
This is no knock on Kyrgios. All of the aforementioned is great. (Kyrgios playing his singles match and then dashing out to watch Sock, who needs the support, was among the coolest, most generous gestures of the tournament.) It’s an encouraging sign that Kyrgios has this level of investment. But you have to say, “Dude, stop trashing the sport, especially when you act otherwise. It’s OK to say you like your job. No one will think less of you.”
18. Another tournament, another slate of question marks for the (alleged) successors to the men’s throne. Stefanos Tsitsipas, still, it seems, dealing with his heartbreaking loss to Wawrinka in Paris (on June 2!) lost in the first round, but not before calling the chair umpire “a weirdo,” which seemed especially odd for a player who, admirably, relishes being a non-conformist. Felix Auger-Aliassime mustered all of six games against Denis Shapovalov, who had a fine tournament, but lost in five entertaining sets to Gael Monfils. Karen Khachanov, who nearly beat Nadal in 2018, lost in round one. So did Dominic Thiem, now 26, who caught a sickness from his brother and never looked like himself here. And ….
19. The annus miserabilis of Sascha Zverev continued. He lost in the fourth round after a battle against both Diego Schwartzman and his own serve (and psyche). Credit to Sam McLean, a terrific young data analyst, for this pull: In his last 10 matches, Zverev has hit 103 double faults. In that interval, his opponents have won a total of 1098 points. So nearly 10% of his lost points are owed to double faults.
20. Back to Taylor Townsend. A) There was something especially sweet that her breakthrough occurred at the U.S. Open, given her past with the USTA. (Because no sport does conflicts-of-interest like tennis does conflicts-of-interest, the full sweep of the story was not properly told.) B) Note that she had to qualify. So not only did she win six matches in two weeks, but the USTA did not see her—a former junior star, a serve-and-volleying dervish, a 23-year-old ranked No. 116, a few weeks removed from holding match point against a top-five player at Wimbledon—as someone worthy of a wild card.
21. One of the wild cards went to Coco Gauff, who made the most of it, building on her Wimbledon success and winning a pair of matches before getting next-leveled by Osaka. In some ways this was a perfect tournament for Gauff. She learned (again) that the hype is justified. And she also learned that there’s still much work to be done. The issue now: where is she going to play this fall? We like the age eligibility rule on balance, but this is the underbelly: it’s hard for a surging player to get more experience.
22. Seeing Maria Sharapova lose to Serena is nothing new. Seeing her lose 6-1, 6-1 in round one, is. Here’s what else is new: seeing Serena locking into an event from the jump. None of this “beat a few qualifiers and ease into the middle weekend.” She fixed her focus early. And this was a blessing.
23. We need to dispense with the silly conspiracy theory that the draws are fixed. They are not. (Side note: why would the USTA want Serena Williams to play Maria Sharapova in round one, ensuring that one of the bigger draws would be eliminated on the first night?) That said, why not be transparent and hold a proper real-time ceremony and not the “reveal” they do here?
24. The policy undergirding “required professional standards” is sound. When a compromised player enters the draw with no hopes of winning, it deprives a fit player of a spot and deprives fans of a competitive match. But this business of assessing injury is subjective and tricky. Carla Suarez Navarro—a consummate pro—played a set against Timea Babos, lost 6-2, and retired. She was fined $40,000 for violating the “First Round Performance Rule.” She is appealing and you wonder how she felt a few days later, when David Goffin essentially admitted that he gave up against Federer. You have to be at least a little uncomfortable with these subjective judgments and the reputational damage they can inflict.
25. For all the attention conferred on players for lapses in sportsmanship, here’s counterprogramming. Late in a taut fourth-round match between Alexander Zverev and Diego Schwartzman, Zverev was cited for coaching and assessed a point penalty. Schwartzman approached the chair to advocate on his opponent’s behalf. Schwartzman wasn’t aware a prior warning had been issued and asserted that he didn’t know Zverev was receiving coaching.
26. Throw this out as a thought exercise and not a screed … but it strikes us as—what? Inconsistent? Problematic? A bad look? Much ado about nothing?—that the USTA pays equal prize money and comes in for the PR win, but then charges different ticket prices for the men’s and women’s matches. So basically, the tournament gets to take advantage of capitalism—and acknowledges that two disparate markets exist—but the players don’t? Then again, their response might well be: “Aren’t we being responsible stewards when we make as much money as possible and then divide it equally?”
As much as I find the equal prize money “debate” itself tiresome—worry about growing the pie, not splitting it—the issues it raises are fascinating.
27. Favorite line of the tournament:
28. Favorite stat: Jelena Ostapenko had seven (!) double faults in her first service game against Alison Riske. She won the game, and the set, and the match.
29. We all love the roof and the fact that it enables match-play when it rains. But it sure does impact competition. On the first Wednesday, rains caused the cancellation of all but nine matches. So 18 players had A) the certainty they would play and B) an extra day of rest. Not unlike having Hawkeye on some courts and not others—fortunately not an issue now at most events—it sure changes the playing field and advantages the stars.
30. We had a winner before the first ball was hit. The U.S. Open Fan Week set a record for total attendance in 2019, with 115,355 fans coming through the gates of the National Tennis Center over the first seven days. The qualifying matches are free. So is the Bronx Open.
31. Spare some thoughts for ... Juan Martin del Potro. On the 10th anniversary of his title, he’s back in injury rehab. (Though, on the positive, side he is allegedly returning in Vienna next month, and Denis Kudla, who got his spot in the draw, made the most of it.) Thanasi Kokkinakis won a match and then had to withdraw with another injury. Kevin Anderson and Milos Raonic didn’t post. Petra Kvitova was a shell of her self.
32. Calling Jack Sock’s recent stretch a “slump” is an act of definitional courtesy. A top-10 player 18 months ago, Sock is now out of the top 200 and winless at the ATP Tour level in 2019. But note that we are talking singles. While he’s dismissed the idea, Sock would do well to consider a career as a doubles specialist. His skills are unimpeachable. His fitness would not be exposed the way it is playing solo. And it would enable him to continue on. He would also do well to look at Dimitrov and take comfort in how quickly committed, in-shape professional players can reverse career trends.
33. There is playing. There is overplaying. And there is Benoit Paire. His schedule this year is sheer comedy. Really, check this out. He lost in the second round and—tennis doing the irony thing as usual—the score was 7-6 in the fifth set. And he left without a handshake.
34. Lots of talk about the teenagers here. Spare a thought for Amanda Anisimova, who recently lost her father, and cheer for her next time she plays.
35. Kudos to Oracle, which announced a new Challenger series—with 50 events!—designed to improve the prospects of up-and-coming American and U.S. based players.
36. Five players who didn’t get out of Week One but impressed nonetheless: Zach Svajda, the 16-year-old Kalamazoo champ who weighs 130 lbs. The youngest men’s player in the men’s singles draw since Donald Young in 2005 makes Alex de Minaur look like Reilly Opelka, but he hits the hell out of the ball.
Caty McNally, the 17-year-old from Cincy who took a set off of Serena. Dominik Koepfer, a solid—but not transcendent—player at Tulane who reached the middle weekend. Jannik Sinner, the Italian teen who took more sets off of Stan Wawrinka than Novak Djokovic did. Nice to see Hyeon Chung back.
37. Jenson Brooksby, an 18-year-old Baylor tennis recruit, played his way into the main draw through qualifying. He beat Tomas Berdych in round one. In his next match, he was up a set and a break against Nicholas Basilashvili of Georgia—with a qualifier, Dominik Koepfer, a former Tulane player, up next. Suddenly you’re thinking: “This kid could be close to a $280,000 payday. Maybe college can wait.” Then Basilishvili wins the set, the match and Baylor tennis still has a prized recruit coming. For now, anyway.
38. A lot of you complain, not wrongly, that the WTA’s janky technology is not worthy of the on-court product. For example, when Serena played Karolina Muchova—a fine, top 50 player—fans and journalists wondered how tall she was. They were frustrated with this. Good news: we hear a website redesign and relaunch is coming soon.
39. Props to Eric Butorac, one of tennis’s good guys. The former player is now director of player operations at the USTA and he is the force behind the relaxation and recovery room under the stadium where players could meditate, apply foam rollers and sit in Barcaloungers. (And where Serena Williams went to nap). Here's what was offered to the players this year:
NuCalm sleep system
Hyper ice vibration
Normatec recovery boots
Gameready ice flush
We're all for it.
40. The Boulevard of Broken Dreams item … what do Ernests Gulbis, Tommy Robredo, Hyeon Chung, Kaia Kanepi, Magdalena Rybarikova, Peng Shuai and Kirsten Flipkens have in common? Each have made the second week of a major. (In the case of Cheon, a 2018 semifinal!) … and each was in the qualifying draw here.
41. Noah Rubin is really to be commended for speaking openly and vocally about the working conditions and the psychological toll the sport exacts. Here he is with Ted Koppel (h/t producer Deirdre Cohen) on CBS Sunday Morning. This is more of a discussion (counter)point than a hot take. But at what point do we need to acknowledge the role of capitalism and market economics? There are talented actors and actresses waiting tables all over L.A. There are talented musicians playing dive bars. For that matter, the local anchor in Little Rock does not have Koppel’s travel budget and clothing allowance. All professions have their levels. That said, tennis needs to do a better job redistributing prize money to lower levels and—on cue….
42. Jim Courier did a real service, taking the initiative, arming himself with data and remodeling prize money distribution at the majors, all with designs of easing the burden on lower-ranked players.
Note that these models are based on current levels on Grand Slam prize money. Imagine if the ATP players get their way and get a bigger percentage of the gross revenues at the majors.
43. The obligatory Tennis Channel note. Thanks for your suggestions—good, bad and sartorial. It was especially heartening that many of you referenced “chemistry.” We have a fun and cohesive team and a lot of fun together. Glad to see the morning pregame show is getting traction, up almost 50% in the ratings from 2018. Mark Houska, Ross Schneiderman, Brad Shaffer and the redoubtable Le An Hinh are among the many stars off-camera.
44. Midway through the tournament one of you—asking to remain nameless—reported that a heckler began verbally assaulting a player as he headed to the locker room. Why? Because the player was a 20/1 bet and, apparently, lost a close match, costing the heckler money. (“Go to the practice courts,” was among his kinder slurs.) I tend to go pretty libertarian on sports gambling. But it’s worth noting: there are some very real and ugly social costs.
45. From the subcutaneous level. ... Lots of tennis politics and important elections brewing. The search for ATP leadership continues. There will be a new chairman and a new president—a much-needed dose of new governance—and we hear one of the positions might well go to a female candidate. (Note, too, that Weller Evans’s board spot goes to vote later this year, as does a tournament board spot.) After the announced retirement of the USTA chairman—and Mike Wallace survivor—Gordon Smith, the derby is on for the USTA position. (The eternal underlying question: do you seek fresh blood and find an outside candidate, or do you give the job to an insider who knows where the white spaces reside and bodies are buried?) And then there’s the ugly ITF election. You want more? We’re angling on 100 ATP players who have enlisted a Toronto firm to help extract more prize money from the majors.
46. The trade tariffs hit this week. Bad news for some tennis ball and racquet manufacturers who have plants in China. Speaking of China, let’s hope the Shenzhen Sports Stadium looks different by the time the WTA Championships roll around.
And then (h/t Nicholas Kristof) there’s this tennis tie-in.
47. I’ve been surprised that Steve Ross, who owns the Miami Open, has escaped the wrath of Tennis Nation. (Ross, the Dolphins owner, was treated less kindly by Equinox patrons and NFL fans.) Meanwhile, a lot of personnel shake-up at the Miami event. Look for a tennis industry veteran to be introduced as the new tournament director.
48. As always, the sly and witty Arthur Ashe dee-jay— Aaron “DJ Trizz” Markham, under Todd Noonan’s direction—was superb. Playing Rihanna’s “Umbrella” when it rained and “I don’t care, I love it” during Kyrgios’s antics were a few of the highlights.
49. A last word about Grigor Dimitrov: Barely a month ago, he was losing in Atlanta to Kevin King, a former Georgia Tech player ranked outside the top 400. Today, his career is back on track. For all the players who left here on a sour note—Sabalenka, Muguruza, Stephens, Zverev—take solace here. Tennis can be cruel and lonely and brutal. But it also enables you to make fast course corrections.
50. If you enjoyed the SI coverage this tournament, thank ascending star Daniel Rapaport. And reward him with a follow.
ALWAYS FUN GEEKING OUT ON TENNIS WITH YOU FOLKS. WE’LL REV IT UP AGAIN FOR AUSTRALIA 2020.