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Mailbag: Medvedev's Celebration and More 2021 U.S. Open Takeaways

A post–U.S. Open Mailbag trying to cover as much ground as possible …

Mailbag

Have a question or comment for Jon? Email him at jon_wertheim@yahoo.com or tweet him @jon_wertheim.

Hi Jon, in your 50 Parting Thoughts, you mentioned Roddick’s challenge to name who would be favored against Djokovic and in what format. Well, what about the wheelchair calendar Grand Slam winners? They weren’t mentioned in your column, perhaps you can give them the recognition they are due in this week’s Mailbag.
Ian

• Yes, thanks. And this gives us an excuse to spackle a gaping hole in the 50 Thoughts column. Both Dylan Alcott AND Diede de Groot pulled off the Golden Slam in New York. (Alcott set the new standard for tennis celebrations.) On Tennis Channel, Lindsay made the point that the Paralympics ended only a few days before the U.S. Open. I would add that reeling off this feat in the Year of COVID-19—with changing protocols and difficult air travel and added hassle/limited crowds—only adds to the achievement.

Novak lost the match. But was the love he finally received today the best win of his life?
Rod, Toronto

• I suspect, much as he appreciated the adoration, he would rather have had the Grand Slam. But, yes, in this, his 16th U.S. Open, Djokovic forged a deeper relationship with the New York fans. I saw this firsthand: Opinions still are all over the map, not just in toxic social medialand, but in the stands, the suites and among former players. Here’s a Djokovic item to consider: Three days after Naomi Osaka had announced she was taking a leave from tennis, one male player had reached out to her. Want to guess the identity?

Djokovic may not have won the Grand Slam, but he may have gotten what he really wanted—the love, not just respect, of the fans. There's nothing like a heartbreaking loss to pull people into your corner. I think he's going to be treated differently going forward.
Dan B. from Baltimore, Md.

• I’d tend to agree with that. This is not me pontificating. This is based on a considerable sample size of opinion. Know how he could further endear himself to the public? Using his platform to take a firm stand in favor of getting a COVID-19 vaccination.

Daniil Medvedev wins the 2021 U.S. Open men's singles

Two great straight-sets finals. I enjoyed both for different reasons. But I didn’t understand what Daniil said about his “flop” after winning the final point. He said only legends would understand…Can you enlighten us?
Taylor Witkin, Somerville, Mass.

• It was a FIFA reference. I suspect it’s in conjunction with this item that came out on the eve of the tournament, a press release that doubles as a generational divide. As the great Giri Nathan put it: “Imagine the pain of losing the calendar slam to a guy who reminds you with his final words that he is a Gamer.”

Wimbledon:
Men's: “Might as well have chalked the brackets.”
Women's: “Three out of four semifinalists are top 8 seeds, the fourth is a former champ. The top seed and world No. 1 wins the title.”
Everyone: “It looks like some order is finally setting in in tennis.”

U.S. Open: "Hee, hee, hee."
Croydon Fernandes

• U.S. Open: “Hold my Honey Deuce.”

This is why we love sports.

I know it's a slippery slope of what ifs concerning international migration, but imagine what Romania's BJK Cup squad would look like with Halep, Andreescu, and Raducanu! I'd like to see that team take on the Czechs...
Willie T., East Lansing, Mich.

• Or the Canadian-born team of Raducanu, Andreescu and Fernandez (coached by Mary Pierce)? Or the Monaco Davis Cup team, recruiting all those Monte Carlo residents. We could have fun with this. But here’s a serious question: When the world is flat and nationality is so fluid, do nation-versus-nation competitions lose their weight and heft? Why are we even having this competition?” and on cue:

A Chinese-Romanian Brit beats an Ecuadorean-Filipino Canadian in a major final, and only in tennis would most people not even really notice. An underappreciated asset of tennis is how ruthlessly the 11-month world tour selects for extreme cosmopolitan backgrounds. There are other international sports but none as demanding/individual as tennis.
@Aharridanechoes

• Amen.

SI Recommends

Do you think an occasional underhand serve would be an effective tactic against Medvedev when he stands with his back to the fence while returning a first serve? Granted that it's not a common tactic (other than sometimes for Kyrgios), is difficult to disguise and risks disrupting the server's concentration but seems like it might have been worth a shot for Djokovic when he was searching for any ray of hope against Medvedev. Even if he lost the point, it might at least break Medvedev's rhythm and change the momentum. Or would the pros consider it too bush league even to try?
Nick

• I’d love to see some data here. The intuitive answer is: Yes. Someone returns serve in Montauk and you’d think the old ball-can’t-bounce-twice stipulation might come into play. But I’d be curious (Kyrgios?) to know how often this is successful. And how often an inexpertly executed underhand serve ends up with a short-ball winner/approach shot for the returner.

Jon…it’s not every day you can work “Peloponnesian War” into tennis. Well done! Do you think 2021 signals the end of a golden era of tennis the way the Peloponnesian War ended of the golden age of ancient Greece? See what I did there?
Kelly G., Louisville, Ky.

• Well played. Again. I think it’s too pat simply to say, “We’ve moved past Serena/Federer/Nadal/Venus and into a new era.” But I do think we got a vivid (and perhaps needed) reminder that the sport is bigger than any player or era.

1) Want a great tennis name? Look no further than qualifier Katie Volynets. And unlike most top U.S. juniors, she didn’t come up via the expensive American tennis academy system.

2) The reason no one calls for a trainer when they cramp in practice is that they can simply stop playing and take a break for as long as needed. I’ve seen lots of cramping in college practices over the years.
Craig G.

• Yes and yes.

20-20-20. If the tennis gods deem it worthy, the torch is officially passed to the Next Next Gen, the three GOATs remain eternally locked, and everyone can get on with their lives and realize the answer was there all along—there is no answer.
Dominic

• For all the passion and the surges and the lulls and controversy … there would be something karmic about this derby ending in a three-way tie. And yes, we could then get on with our lives. Not sure that will happen. But we can hope for it.

So Felix lost today in a pretty straightforward fashion. Great improvement but clearly still a long way to go to get to where he needs to be to compete with the elite players in the field. Most people knew this and so his loss wasn’t that big of a surprise. That said I’m disheartened that lost in the media narrative of this tournament was the fact that Felix was trying to be the first Black man since Arthur Ashe himself to make the U.S. Open final. It seems particularly jarring when compared to the attention Emma Raducanu received for equaling Virginia Wade’s run to the title that same year!
Vincente

• Full disclosure, Vincente and I corresponded offline about this. But it’s a good question; I’m happy to consider and reconsider. My devil’s advocacy: A) Perhaps some of this owes to the fact that the Williams sisters have been so successful—and other Black players have followed suit—that the significance has been happily diminished; B) perhaps some of this owes to the fact the Felix is not African American—if this were, say, Frances Tiafoe and Chris Eubanks it would resonate more? Certainly open to other views …

Hi Jon. Thanks for the many years of insightful coverage. As a former linesman, I'm sad to see them disappear at the Open (but understand why). To make things a bit more interesting, I think they should use celebrities to record the out-call voices and change them across matches. Some ideas: James Earl Jones, Bob Dylan, Cyndi Lauper, John McEnroe, Rainn Wilson (in his Dwight voice), Helena Bonham Carter, Judge Judy.
Troy Q

• The Australian Open used the voices of COVID-19 essential workers. Me? I’d rather concede a point than hear Judge Judy’s voice. But I love the idea.

I hope you will show major (pun intended) love to Desirae Krawczyk. What an overlooked story she is. Three Grand Slams this year! When she graduated from ASU in 2016 she wasn’t even part of ASU’s No. 1 doubles team. Please give her some love!
David J.

• Absolutely. On Saturday afternoon, she tied Novak Djokovic by winning her third major title of 2021.

Sparing one for Luisa Stefani, Brazil's first top 20 woman in singles or doubles since Maria Bueno. Won Olympic bronze, 16-2 since then with Dabrowski, highest seeds left... and tears MCL on a routine move in semis vs McCoco. Probably out for the year. Such a reversal of fortunes.
@meganfernandez7

• Apart from being a Hoosier comrade and journalistic colleague, Megan is a great tennis follow.

Shots, Miscellany

Here’s Donald Dell on Novak’s extra-tennis quest.

• Ken Solomon take us out: The Wave of Non-Game Sports Programming Is Only Beginning to Crest.

More Tennis Coverage:

50 Parting Thoughts From the 2021 U.S. Open
Emma Raducanu Wins U.S. Open With Historic Title Run
U.S. Open's Atmosphere Brings Out Best—and Worst—in Tennis Stars