Saturday, September 12, 2020

Slant Pattern U.S. Open Notes

By Kevin Beane

The biggest story coming out of the U.S. Open this week is, of course, the disqualification of Novak Djokovic in the middle of his fourth round match. He was the top seed and heavy, heavy favorite to win the men's draw. If you missed it, it was because he, in a brief fit of ... not rage, more like annoyance, swatted a ball away with his racket, which clocked a line judge in the neck.

Was disqualifying him from the tournament harsh, considering that the line judge was not seriously injured and hitting her was clearly not intentional? I say yes, with a big asterisk.

The decision to boot Djokovic from the tournament is hardly without precedent. Here's Denis Shapovolov getting disqualified for doing the same thing, except it was the umpire. Here's David Nalbandian kicking an advertising board into a line judge. Here's Michael Mmoh being disqualified after throwing his racket and hitting a line judge. His opponent that day was Darian King, who, you guessed it, also did pretty much the same thing earlier in his career.

It's worth noting that all of these incidents happened in the last ten years. Maybe, just maybe, tennis players should try a little harder to reign in their temper tantrums.

You have to give the ATP credit for doling out punishments, however harsh, equally. While Djokovic, Shapovolov (Davis Cup) and Nalbandian (championship match of an ATP event) committed their transgressions on tennis's biggest stages, Mmoh and King's were in ATP "Challenger" (i.e. minor league) events. No matter, you're all disqualified.

So if we are going to revisit this rule and look closer at intent, it should be on the heels of a disqualification happening to a struggling low-ranked player, not arguably the most successful tennis player of all-time.

* As is often the case these days, the American women are faring much better than the men at a slam event. But what is interesting is it's not the women you'd necessarily expect.

Sure, Serena Williams is there and into the quarterfinals at this writing, but Sofia Kenin, Madison Keys, and Sloane Stephens are not. Jennifer Brady is, though. She's been on tour since 2016 and only won her first tour event in August. That's this August, 2020. Clearly, she's figured something out.

But really coming out of nowhere is Shelby Rogers. She is ranked 93rd in the world, has yet to win her first WTA Tour event at age 27, but finds herself in the quarterfinals after seeing off 6th-seeded Petra Kvitova and 11th-seed Elena Rybakina.

* With Djokovic's exit, whomever wins on the men's side will be a first-time slam winner. Among the candidates are rising stars #21 seed Alex De Minaur, #12 seed Shapovolov, and #10 seed Andrey Rublev, with a couple of slightly-older-but-still-young-guys, #2 seed Dominic Theim and #5 seed Alex Zverev, also still alive. Those two have been knocking on the door for some time now.

But the favorite at this point has to be #3 seed Daniil Medvedev, who has not dropped a set or even been pushed into a tiebreak through his first four matches. Medvedev is a huge jerk, so hopefully someone can pull of the upset.

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