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On to the issue…
This week we see how Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, and Novak Djokovic are like that guy at your club who beats up on juniors, congratulate the winners of the US Open, and spare a thought for players ranked beyond #400. Read on to find out more.
90s babies rejoice
Dominic Thiem defeated Alexander Zverev 2–6, 4–6, 6–4, 6–3, 7–6(6), becoming the first man born in the 90s to lift a Grand Slam title. Something about that sounds astonishing—that no male player born in the 90s has won a Grand Slam before Thiem. Yet it’s true. And you can thank Messrs Federer, Nadal, and Djokovic for that. To say that the three have been utterly dominant for the past decade is an understatement.
To the younger players on the professional tour, the Big 3 have been comparable to the old-but-experienced guy at your local club who beats up on the most promising juniors every year on his way to the Club Championships.
With Federer and Nadal out, and Djokovic being defaulted, the draw cleared up for someone to seize victory. Just to be clear, we don’t mean to take away from Thiem’s efforts. He fought hard for it and earned it by all means. The final was a battle of attrition and Thiem hobbled across the finish line. But it would be a lie to say that it wasn’t made easier (the degree we can debate) by the Big 3 not being present in the draw. Congrats to Thiem!
Noami Osaka defeated Victoria Azarenka 1–6, 6–3, 6–3 to win her third Grand Slam title. Osaka, who had been nursing a slight hamstring injury throughout the tournament stayed tough against Azarenka to earn the win.
Congratulations to Osaka on a well-deserved victory, but we can’t help but feel a little for Azarenka. The story, sporting wise, would have been amazing: to have a resurgent former world #1 (and, as US Open commentators frequently remarked, “A mom”) fight through her personal problems and take home a Grand Slam would have been nice to see. Azarenka even led 6–1, 2–0 at one point in the match.
But Osaka wasn’t having any of it. She wrestled back control from Azarenka, winning 12 of the last sixteen games and eventually closed out the match. Osaka now has two US Open titles and an Australian Open title (if we’re talking about Grand Slams). She moved from #9 to #3 because of her victory in New York.
Spare a thought for the battlers
Tennis is back! Yes… we know that. But it’s only “back” for a very specific subset of players: those in the top 200 and those capable of getting entry into Challenger and WTA 125k events. Depending on the quality of entrants, Challengers and WTA 125k events usually have a ranking cut off of around #400ish.
So what happens to players ranked beyond that? They compete on the ITF Futures tour. And as you can imagine, the ITF has been a lot slower to restart its events compared to the ATP and WTA. Part of it is that there is probably less of a financial incentive for tournament organizers and host countries to ensure that ITFs resume. There’s also hardly any prizemoney on offer at these tournaments and most players competing at this level are losing money.
Yet ITF Futures are an important part of the professional pipeline because they offer young (and old) players a chance to compete for ranking points. This lack of ITF Futures has dealt a difficult blow to the players ranked ~#400 and beyond who count on these tournaments to gain points so that they can progress their careers.
While some ITF Futures tournaments are taking place around the world, many have been cancelled. Travel restrictions are still in place in parts of the world, and some players don’t even want to risk travel with the ongoing pandemic.
All of this has left many up-and-coming players in a bind—almost in a sort of limbo. What do I do now that I can’t play Futures? Do I coach a little bit? Bide my time? Is it time to hang up the racquets? (Or warp them against a pole if I’m really angry?)
So yes, while tennis is back, spare a thought to this pipeline and the players ranked ~#400 and beyond. There’s not much they can really do right now except work on improving themselves and their games. Chances to compete are scarce.
We made decent predictions
We’re going to pat ourselves on the back a little bit for our US Open finals predictions. They were:
Men: Pablo Carreno Busta❌ vs Dominic Thiem✅
Women: Jennifer Brady❌ vs Victoria Azarenka✅
In the end, we got 50% of them correct. Dominic Thiem played a great match to defeat an in-form Medvedev. Many keen tennis fans thought that Medvedev would be the player to step up and take his first Grand Slam. Thiem stopped him.
Picking Azarenka over Serena Williams was a much tougher decision. But the way Azarenka played against Elise Mertens (astonishingly well), it was difficult to look past her. And she delivered, defeating Serena in three sets. Williams will have to continue her quest for her 24th Grand Slam title on clay.
Pablo Carreno Busta was up two sets to love against Alexander Zverev… so that has to count for something, right? Similarly, Jennifer Brady lost in a high-quality match to eventual-champion Naomi Osaka. Brady definitely had her chances against Osaka so we’ll take that as an almost correct prediction.
Overall, not bad. That being said, don’t put any money on our predictions.