Hello and welcome to the 18th issue of Tennis inbox. This week we take a look at some other memorable defaults and realize that we’re terrible at making dark horse predictions. That won’t stop us from making finals predictions, though. Read on to find out more.
The whole world knows about Novak Djokovic
Everyone knows about what happened to Djokovic. Even the super macho guy you know who thinks tennis is a sport for “unathletic people” has by now messaged or come up to you to say, “So what about that Novak Djokovic, eh, eh, eh?” Tennis, for the most part, might have an esoteric following. But whenever there’s a controversial event (for example, Serena’s disqualification) the entire world knows about it.
By now you’ll know that Djokovic accidentally smacked a ball which hit a linesperson in the throat. Because she had to be taken off the court, the world #1 and tournament favorite was defaulted out of the US Open. Shockwaves reverberated around the tennis world.
Here comes our obvious throat clearing: we’re not saying that what happened to the linesperson wasn’t bad. It was. Online trolls even found her social media profiles and began to harass her through them.
What we are saying is that compared to past incidents of players hurting officials by accident, Djokovic’s faux pass was relatively tame. Take for example Denis Shapovalov’s forced retirement in a Davis Cup match against Kyle Edmund in 2017. Shapovalov absolutely cranked a ball which hit the chair umpire in his face. Compared to that, Djokovic’s offending incident was vanilla.
David Nalbandian committed an arguably worse offense. After being broken while playing at the Aegon Championships, Nalbandian kicked some wooden slats on the side of the court, failing to realize that there was a human being sitting behind said slats. Nalbandian’s foot went straight through the slats and ended up in the shin of a poor linesperson. The linesperson was left bleeding and Nalbandian was defaulted for the incident.
On the WTA tour, a comparable incident occurred in a match between Latvian Jelena Ostapenko and Brit Naomi Broady during their contest in Auckland, New Zealand. After losing a point, Ostapenko threw her racquet into the back of the court, striking a ball boy in the process. Broady was furious. She demanded a referee and looked as if she was pressuring the umpire to default Ostapenko. That’s what the commentators picked up on, anyways. Ostapenko was allowed to continue play but Broady eventually won the match. The players also argued after their handshake.
Dark horse flops
Before the US Open started, we said that Andy Murray and Kim Clijsters were two dark horses to keep our eyes on. Unfortunately, neither of our predictions delivered. Andy Murray had a spectacular match in the first round, coming back from two sets down to defeat Yoshihito Nishioka 4–6, 4–6, 7–6 ( 5),7–6(4), 6–4.
But you could tell that the effort took something out of him. Murray just couldn’t summon his scampering abilities in the next round. His movement appeared stiff, unnatural. As a result, Felix Auger Aliassime dispatched Murray in straight sets.
Kim Clijsters fared even worse. After a stellar performance during World TeamTennis, Clijsters withdrew from the Western & Southern Open citing an abdominal injury. Fans had some hope that she would have been able to recover and perform well at the US Open, but that hope was in vain. Clijsters lost in the first round to Ekaterina Alexandrova 6–3, 5–7, 1–6.
A resurgent Victoria Azarenka
While we made some (wrong) predictions about returning players to look out for in the US Open, we clearly missed an important one: Victoria Azarenka. In hindsight, it was a poor error. Azarenka did, after all, win the Western & Southern Open (her opponent, Osaka, withdrew from the final citing a hamstring injury).
The 30-year-old Belarusian is a former world #1 and was the Australian Open champion in 2012 and 2013. Azarenka, with her characteristic howl when hitting the ball, was once a consistent fixture at the top of the women’s game. Sometime around the middle of the last decade she began struggling with injury, which caused her ranking to slip.
Azarenka then went on a pregnancy hiatus, giving birth to her son Leo on 20th December 2016. Her return to tennis was not easy, however, as Azarenka entered into a custody battle with the father of her son; she withdrew from the 2017 US Open and 2017 Fed Cup Finals due to the matter.
It’s been a tough journey back, but Azarenka is finally hitting her stride at the US Open. She had a relatively straightforward first round victory and then pulled off an upset against countrywoman Aryna Sabalenka (#11 WTA) in the second round.
Azarenka continued her roll last night, dispatching 16th seed Elise Mertens 6–1, 6–0. Commenting on Azarenka’s play, ESPN analyst and coach to Simona Halep, Darren Cahill, said it was as if Mertens had been struck by a “battering ram.” Azarenka was relentless with her groundstrokes, and in the end Mertens had no way of neutralizing her opponent.
Azarenka will play Serena Williams next. Based on how she performed today, we’re going to pick Azarenka to come out on top of that match up.
Tennis over there
All attention has been focused on North America for the past few weeks but tennis is actually on in other parts of the world. The Austrian Open in Kitzbühel, Austria features numerous players who didn’t fare so well in the US Open as well as competitors who couldn’t make the trip to the United States. The 1st seed is Italian Fabio Fognini. The 2nd seed is Diego Schwartzman. Some familiar names in the draw: Feliciano Lopez, John Millman, Jannik Sinner, Hubert Hurkacz.
Kei Nishikori also made his return to tennis after about a year out, but lost in the first round to Miomir Kecmanovic in three sets. Nishikori, currently ranked #34, has a career-high ranking of #4 in the world. If the US Open isn’t enough for you, you can watch the action on Tennis TV, the ATP’s streaming app.
Ok, sorry, we can’t help but make predictions. These are ours based on everything we’ve seen:
Men: Pablo Carreno Busta vs Dominic Thiem
Women: Jennifer Brady vs Victoria Azarenka