2018 U.S. Open: the Vengeance of Novak and Serena

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The U.S. Open men’s final was, unfortunately, a bit too predictable. I never liked del Potro in this tournament, as a dark horse, for instance — I said he was too stiff, the BH still a big liability, etc. I liked Stan (Stan had SP in that first set TB against Raonic. He wins that, maybe he goes berserk . . .).

My “too stiff” description played-out as much as the bad BH (which everyone already knows about). Some like his movement; me, not so much. The Argentine didn’t have a chance in that match.

There really was no dark horse in this tournament because Novak was so much more fit, fresh and motivated than anyone else. Remember how I’m a big picture guy, love the broader narratives (HRFRT, etc.)? As I said several times, Novak had to win this USO. 2-7 in this final, at the biggest tournament in the world, was not a suitable win-loss for such an all-time great. Besides the fact that he had ceremoniously imploded in Roland Garros following his summit of the Novak Slam in 2016, and then relinquished his dominance of the tour, allowing Fedal to feast like they did for a year and half: Novak’s return back in spring and summer of 2018, coming full-circle here in NYC, was destiny.

Corny? Talking about destiny and tennis?

Let’s talk about destiny shall we, which can be seen here as the fraternal twin of legacy.

The tale of this tournament boils-down to a couple of quick takes on Novak and Serena (once we clean our screen of the Serena debris, we can appreciate the tremendous game and character of Naomi Osaka).

Djokovic

What will I remember best about this final? Two things: one is the final level that Novak has shown throughout his career (though, granted, he has lost some major finals in somewhat surprising fashion). Those exceptions aside, Novak’s form in these high-stake matches is almost stunning. His form here in NYC was the best I’ve seen him look from the BL (which is basically his game).

I said in my preview that I was looking forward to seeing del Potro’s FH come-up against Novak’s ability to track and retrieve his opponent’s various forays. More on the delPo FH in a minute. Novak’s form was pristine. There was drama in that second set, mainly in the eighth game with Novak serving 3-4. The game lasted over twenty minutes, Juan Martin having a look at 3-4 BPs. If he breaks Novak there and serves-out the set, we might have had a match, but let’s be honest. Even if Djokovic loses that set, you think Juan Martin has enough to win two more sets?

Wasn’t in the cards. Too much from the Serb on ROS, and just too steady throughout rallies, serve got more and more solid throughout the match, etc. I tweeted-out before the match that Novak’s serve was the key to the match. If he has trouble holding serve, gets broken a few times, that neutralizes his ROS a bit, gives his opponent confidence, belief, etc. Sure this is true of most players, but if Djokovic is holding serve routinely, his opponent really has no chance.

The first set was routine dominance for Novak. He painted lines in several rallies, was just too good. After the early break in the second, Novak looked in cruise-control. When he’s serving well and he’s that dialed-in on the ground strokes, we may have our case of the evolution of the game. I still want to see peak Djokovic v 2007 or early 2017 Federer (fresh of the long break and his Ljubičićian game-plan in startling form), but this exceptional and natural stroke of the ball, the extra-ordinary two-hander, and the flexibility, among other things, make Novak’s highest form truly something we have to recognize as a near flawless game.

What you have to add to Novak is the mental strength. That’s perhaps what I sense in calling this the best Novak I’ve seen. He seems so comfortable with a certain maturity and focus that may arise in the wake of such loss and struggle. He lost a lot following the Novak Slam. He’s back with a vengeance, which may be the best way to describe this 2018 form and the run he’s on, which probably continues well into 2019: this is the vengeful Djokovic.

The second take-away from the men’s final is again part of this dominance of Novak: his ability to stare-down the del Potro FH and actually go to it on several occasions, to invoke a FH to FH H2H was very illustrative of what we had last Sunday late afternoon, early evening in Arthur Ashe stadium: a dominant Novak vs. an underwhelming Juan Martin. As exciting as it is to see the Argentine back in such big matches, we have to acknowledge the difficulty in movement he has at 6’6″ along with the jeopardized BH, rendered terribly limited from multiple surgeries.

To be honest, I liked del Potro more last year in this tournament, partly because the field was pretty depleted, but also because I liked his form (the Thiem match showed he was not quite 100% healthy), but the way he took care of Federer (also not 100%) and the way he looked in the first set v Nadal (go watch that). Unfortunately, Nadal, with his Moya-inspired problem-solving, figured-out how to beat the tower of Tandil (go out wide to the FH and then attack the BH).

But again: the second big take-away from this final was watching Novak to after Juan Martin’s FH and really out-hit the big guy from that side. Yep, Djokovic’s FH last Sunday was better than del Potro’s FH. Game — Set — Match.

Serena

I referred to Novak as “the vengeful Djokovic.” This is a competitive vengeance, a way of describing his come-back, the way he has taken complete control of the tour, ripping it from the hands of Fedal.

The other big event in NYC last weekend was the women’s final. We have here an example of Serena’s vengeance. Of course, this is bit different in terms of the connotation I make in my first use of the word (ahhh, the nuance of diction).

I had my Serena take posted on this blog, which basically said that both Serena and her camp were at fault (clearly), but that Ramos probably could have been a little more nuanced, making clear to Serena, for instance, that you’re on the verge of getting the game penalty, tone-it-down, Ms. Williams, you’re losing this argument and I will be forced to give you a third violation, etc.

But he was by-the-book. Too many people who have played the game at a high level, who know the nuances of the codes, etc., support Ramos and think Serena pretty much fucked this up. I think of three particular critics who have a lot of credibility (who are famous for their tennis, their analysis and for their support of Serena): Martina Navratilova, Angie Davenport and Mary Carillo. You can find their responses online. There have been other perspectives made public as well, of course. But those three should be a pretty good indication of where to come-out on this incident.

I am not a fan at all of Serena’s tennis; if I am watching women’s tennis (I grew-up watching a lot of women’s tennis since the sport used to be populated with great depth and class), I would be more interested in a Venus match. The two are quite different in their composure and style.

In the end, Serena has a certain legacy that might superimpose her tennis greatness.

She has resorted to bullying tactics in the past, and this 2018 USO women’s final incident is going to be classified as pretty much a demonstration of this character flaw.

Here’s my final take on Serena-gate. Perhaps lost in all of this is the fact that she was getting soundly beaten in this match. Her coach reacted to this by trying to suggest a better tactic (go to net); he and she got assessed a code violation for this. The impending defeat continued to develop and her frustration grew, partly because of the coaching violation, but MORE because she was LOSING the match, absolutely.

If she’s cruising in this match, won the first set 6-3 and is on pace to close this out in two sets, she doesn’t give a shit about the violation: believe me. That’s how this works. She’s not a persecuted athlete. There is no evidence that she is a regularly hounded by sexist and racist critique. She’s the most popular female athlete in the world. She’s adored; and if there is a sense that she’s subjected to unfair criticism of her gender and/or the color of her skin, she’s not alone here, nor is that heinous opinion out-weighing the love and appreciation she receives. In other words, we as a tennis culture do not feel sorry for Serena. She’s a decorated champion and a rich, famous and celebrated athlete. Period.

But she was LOSING this match (yes, this whole incident was much more about tennis competition than it was about sexism and racism). Her frustration grew because SHE WAS LOSING THE MATCH. After getting broken, she smashes her racket — she can say she was frustrated by the double-standard of the tennis officiating, by the gender bias in tennis, but there’s not enough evidence to prove that, nor does that truly explain what was happening here to provoke this anger: she was losing!

After the racket smash, Lindsey Davenport, calling the match with Mary Carillo, told Carillo that Serena was going to get a game penalty, that the smash meant she has two and a third was probably coming. Davenport was not expressing disagreement in the officiating. She herself was warning Serena from the booth.

Ultimately, Serena was going to lose this match. This is a devastating reality for her, wanting so much to even her total with Margaret Court (24 majors) and get herself back into the spot-light. But Naomi Osaki was beating her.

We are now a good 20 minutes after the coaching violation and racket smash. The match is coming to a close here, Osaka nearing her first major championship title. This is when Serena goes back to get-into-it with Ramos. If Williams wants to argue the coaching violation, she needs to address that at the time of that assessment; timing is important here. We see players argue calls all the time. She did argue at the time of the first violation, which is quite acceptable, but her coach got caught coaching and that’s a violation (he admitted to coaching her during the match). She is not going to win the argument.

By going back to resume the argument and make the disagreement more personal, more vicious, etc., this became about Serena, not the call, not even the umpire.

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I have called her out, as well as called-out the media for blindly glorifying her tennis in the past. This 2018 USO final incident validates criticisms like my own. Or like the one who tweeted-out that short (only partial) video highlight of some of her career low-lights where she’s bullied line judges, chair umpires and other players.

In the end, this feels for many people like she bullied Osaka through to the trophy ceremony.

What a disaster and Serena doesn’t look innocent at all but for some small part of a fanatical fan base and a political left point-of-view who champion these kinds of weak arguments, who miss the real story in all of their grandiose political commentary. The real story here is simple: Serena got beat by Osaka and resorted to her (unfortunately for her fan base) typical bratty, entitled bullying tactics.

More to say.  Sorry for the delay.

Two other points I really want to address concern #14 and tying Pistol Pete (an excuse to talk about Pete) and the media’s response to Djokovic. He’s just not as appreciated as Fedal, which seems like such a miss and a miserable position to take on this champion.

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On a lighter note, and I know you all have seen this guy, hilarious:

3 thoughts on “2018 U.S. Open: the Vengeance of Novak and Serena

  1. PRF - Władysław Janowski

    Speaking about Serena-gate we maybe forgot another big culprit and this one was present at both finals. On the one “supporting” Serena. On the other disturbing Novak. No matter, if these wre the same people. It’s not about New York and Americans. Crowds are widely international.
    The best crowds I have ever seen are in Spain, where it’s obvious, who is the hero. But they are in the mass tennis connoisseurs. No Rafa-histeria there. Every good game applauded, never disturbing opponents of Spaniards. Next is maybe German. Crowds have enormous influence on behavior of all actors: players and umpires. In this terms – good that Serena lost and good that Novak won. In both cases the tennis won 🙂

    Like

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