I can’t believe we’re already at the end of the final Grand Slam of the year.
I remember starting these posts at the end of the Australian Open which also fell at the end of January, a month we deemed to be ridiculously long and felt like a whole year instead of a month, and now we’re already over a week into September and guess what my life is still a mess! x
As I always say, all credit goes to Jon Wertheim of Sports Illustrated whose Slam parting thoughts inspired me to make my own. Another thing I always say, enjoy a ~fresh perspective~ on tennis from a nineteen year old fashion blogger who spends her life watching tennis but can’t actually play it to save her life. And you can read back all the other parting thoughts from this year’s Grand Slams after this one – maybe look back at any claims I made earlier on in the year about where tennis would be at now and laugh at me for probably being really wrong.
This US Open was an interesting one to say the least, so I’m excited to reflect back on the fortnight, try to focus on the positives and also look at how we can correct any issues that arose during the tournament. It’s gonna be a long, ~juicy~ one so grab a good drink – I recommend sachet coffee, it’s my tennis staple – and settle in for the last Yasmin Stefanie dot com Grand Slam parting thoughts of the year.
Naomi Osaka, this is your moment. I want to make a point of starting this Slam’s parting thoughts off with all the congratulatory praise for Osaka because the focus should be on her, this is her moment and she truly deserves it. We’ll get onto other business in a bit, but it’s important to put Naomi Osaka and her excellent level of play throughout the entire fortnight at the forefront of any chats we have about the 2018 US Open.
I wrote about Naomi in my first ever points to defend post the other week, she is an utter delight of a young woman and she deserves all the best in her career and just in her own life. She was easily the best player of the whole entire tournament for the entire fortnight. She dropped one set all tournament – to Aryna Sabalenka who we’ll come onto later – and barely even dropped games. She served up several bagels during the tournament (I mean, it is New York) and she was the most consistent player.
Naomi deserved to win the final. Before anything of note happened in that final, she was excelling, she was beating Serena at her own game. She took the first set 6-2, she was flying. And Serena wasn’t even playing badly, she was playing pretty much at her usual peak level, but Osaka was just better. She deserved the win based on both her performance for the entire two weeks and her performance in the final – before and after what happened, happened.
I’m so happy for Osaka that she will now be more widely recognised and well known, and so happy for casual viewers of tennis that they will now be aware of her and what she can do. She is a true asset to the game. Her natural talent alone is mindblowing, but over the last few months she’s managed to hone her skills and really maximise that talent, knowing when to use which weapons of hers and having discipline to not thwack a wild ball that could just as easily be a shocking unforced error as it could be a stunning winner. And even with her incredible game aside, she’s a wonderful person and a refreshing personality to have on the WTA tour. Kids, read up on Naomi Osaka. Watch videos of her speeches and press conferences. She’s the most loveable character about, and there is nothing she deserves more than this trophy.
The women’s singles final was a nightmare that nobody deserved to experience. I call it a nightmare because this morning when I woke up after the events of last night, I forgot last night had ever happened. As I properly woke up, it started sinking in. I laid in bed and remembered everything that happened and it didn’t feel real, it felt as though I was going through the recollection of a nightmare I’d dreamt overnight. Except this was very, very real.
If you don’t know or understand what happened, here’s the rundown. Serena lost the first set 2-6 to Osaka fair and square. Then, to quote the USTA: ‘on the fifth point in the second game of the second set between Naomi Osaka and Serena Williams, the chair umpire witnessed coaching taking place from Williams’ coach […] in accordance with the rules, Williams was assessed a Code Violation, resulting in a warning‘. This was where it started. Her coach, Patrick Mouratoglou, gestured to Serena to start coming forward, something Serena does not condone and did not see (after the match he admitted to coaching but, to paraphrase, said that everyone does it), the umpire saw and gave her a warning. Serena was not happy, graciously put forward her argument as to why she didn’t agree with the warning, did not receive coaching and would never cheat – of course at the time she didn’t know what Patrick was doing and didn’t see it. At the next change of ends, she had a calm conversation with the umpire to reiterate what she had just said, he responded well and she thanked him.
Later in the second set, I believe it was after she was broken or broken back by Osaka, Serena smashed her racquet in frustration and this became her second code violation for racquet abuse. After a first code violation which is only deemed a warning, the punishment for a second violation is a point penalty. When Serena realised she had lost a point, she argued her case with the umpire. In her understanding, he accepted earlier in the set that she does not cheat and did not get, or at least see and take in, coaching from her box, so that first code violation did not count as a real code violation, therefore her racquet smash should be her first warning and not her second that comes with a point penalty.
After this, she was demanding an apology from Ramos for implying she was a cheat (in my eyes, rightfully so – it can affect her career and public perception if he is leading people to believe she would cheat). She told him he would never ever ever umpire one of her matches again, called him a liar for the coaching allegations, and called him a thief for taking a point away from her. As a result of this, he gave her a third code violation for ‘verbal abuse’. A third violation results in a game penalty, so Osaka was given a game allowing her to go 5-3 up in the second set. Serena was outraged (again in my eyes, rightfully so) and asked for the referee to come on. She felt that this was sexist and made a big point to say that male players who acted worse didn’t get punished this way, which she was absolutely right about. The referee and tournament supervisor basically did nothing, the last two games of the match were played where each player held serve, and Osaka won 6-2 6-4.
That explanation alone was long af, and I’ve heavily tweeted my thoughts on this incident both as it was happening and this morning after sleeping on it, so I’m just going to accumulate all my points and questions about it here:
- Carlos Ramos, the umpire in question, is known for this stuff. Last year he had an altercation with Nadal during the French Open in which Rafa told him he would never umpire one of his matches ever again (so, what Serena said) and he did not penalise Rafa in the same way. He’s had arguments with many a player and as a result I’ve never liked him. Whenever he sits in the chair for a match I roll my eyes and say ugh and just wait for some sort of drama to go down, but never did I expect anything on this level. My point here is I want y’all to know Carlos Ramos’ history of being this way, and also know that I didn’t like him to begin with – I don’t feel that it clouds my judgement in this particular scenario but make of it what you will.
- In the first instance, he seemed to understand Serena and genuinely believe that she was unaware of any possible coaching from her box. Because of this, should he not have given her a soft warning instead of a legit code violation? Told her that it seemed that she was receiving coaching from her box and that if this happened again she’d get a formal warning, rather than penalise the woman with an official code violation for something she was unaware of, does not condone, and could not control?
- When Serena first spoke to him about the initial violation for coaching, she shut him down in a way. He called her out for coaching and she called him back out that she wasn’t receiving coaching. She handled this conversation in such a classy manner, you could argue it made Carlos Ramos look stupid. The player telling the umpire where he got it wrong and him accepting it enough to the point where Serena thanked him. Later, she asked for and demanded an apology from him. She, again, made it look a bit like he was wrong and had made a mistake in his job if she wanted him to apologise. Did this emasculate him or threaten his authority so much to the point where he abused his power and knew he could use the rules against Serena by claiming her comments as verbal abuse in order to take a game away from her?
- The point Serena made – would this has happened had it been a male player? Plenty have done far worse. Lest we forget Fabio Fognini calling a female umpire a whore here last year. Also, at the French Open last year, Ramos umpired for Lil Zverev and Verdasco. Lil Z lost the match, and broke his racquet during the match or at least attempted to. I’ve done some digging and can’t find any videos or reports telling me whether or not Ramos gave him a violation but I’m pretty sure he didn’t (don’t quote me and correct me if I’m wrong). I did find a video of the incident but it cuts off pretty quick before Ramos speaks. However, what I remember clearly is him laughing with Sascha, giving funny fake awkward looks, and being quite endearing about the entire situation because Sascha didn’t have enough strength to break his racquet and really struggled to. Because Serena has enough strength that when she throws a racquet out of frustration it just so happens to break, he will penalise her but not a skinny lil white boy who is incapable of breaking a racquet? Interesting.
- Leading on from the Lil Zverev example, this thread on Twitter shows several incidents that Carlos Ramos has had with male players displaying behaviour that breaks the rules in which he didn’t give violations or any point or game penalties, further backing up Serena’s argument that his decisions were sexist. Even if he didn’t outright think oh yeah let’s punish her because she’s a woman, sexism would be so instilled into his head that he could subconsciously be sexist – why else would he punish Serena but not all of the men in this thread?
- Let me preface this one – Osaka absolutely did not have to refuse the free point or game, I’m not even sure if she would’ve been allowed to, and she is not in the wrong for accepting them without questioning what was happening. But for me, personally, I would not have accepted those. There are plenty of players who refuse to accept a point or give away a point for things like calls they don’t agree with, so in this situation could Naomi have refused the free point and/or game? She said after that she didn’t know what was going on and couldn’t hear anything between Serena and Ramos. However, she would’ve heard and seen on the scoreboard when she was given a free point and then a free game as a result of Ramos penalising Serena. If she didn’t understand why she had been given these, couldn’t she have asked and found out and then made a judgement as to whether or not these were fair to give to her, and then asked for them to be removed if she didn’t think they were fair? And it’s ok that she didn’t but I just wouldn’t be able to live with myself if it was me in that position – maybe I have too much of a moral compass, maybe I wouldn’t be able to handle the guilt, and I definitely would’ve wanted to prove that I could win the match without freebies from Carlos Ramos on his power trip. Naomi was not wrong for not questioning these or asking to have them removed but I don’t think she can ever say she didn’t want to win that way or that she’s sorry that’s how the match had to happen without sounding like a hypocrite. If she really didn’t want things to play out that way, she could’ve spoken up and questioned what was going on. I know she’s shy but sometimes you’ve gotta try to put that aside and do the right thing.
- Something I thought of after writing this point and then came back to – do we place the blame with Patrick? I don’t like Carlos Ramos’ reactions and handling of the situ regardless but really, had Patrick not tried to coach Serena, none of this would’ve happened. We all know Serena wouldn’t have wanted it so why did he even try to do it, knowing if it was seen she’d get penalised thanks to his decision? There is nothing I hate more than when you are the only person who suffers from a decision that you did not make, something you didn’t want to happen, but the other person made the decision and ruined things for you. It is the worst feeling, the hardest to accept because you did nothing wrong, so I can’t imagine how difficult that was for Serena. People question his love for talking to the media often but when he came out of the match, admitted to coaching and gave his own impromptu press conference before even talking to Serena, whilst she was going to her own official press conference, that was even more extreme than how he usually speaks out about things and it’s not the way you should treat the player who employs you as a coach. You need to be on their side always, do things in their favour, stand by them. Their coach-player partnership has survived everything and has always somewhat baffled people, will it survive this?
- I asked this on Twitter and was told by Brad Gilbert that referees can’t reverse umpire’s decisions (e.g taking away the point and/or game penalty) to which I ask more questions – what’s the point of the referee then? Doesn’t this give too much power to the umpire? Anyway, my initial question is about the USTA and their views on Carlos Ramos’ decisions. When the referee came onto court, they didn’t seem to do anything to affect Ramos. They didn’t take away the game penalty, they didn’t question him or his decisions, they didn’t replace him with another umpire (can this even happen? Plenty wanted to see Lahyani replaced mid-match last week so it definitely should’ve been wanted here). If they had to take sides, it appeared as though they took his. At the end of the match, during the trophy ceremony, Carlos Ramos left and was escorted off. Usually in these ceremonies the umpire is a part of them and comes to stage to collect a plaque or gift for umpiring the final and receives applause. But a decision was made for Ramos to not be a part of the ceremony, for him to be walked off court before the ceremony began, and for him to not receive his prize thing on stage. If the USTA didn’t have him stay for the trophy ceremony, surely this is because they knew there would be some sort of issue with him having stayed. So, if they knew there was any issue, why didn’t their referee question his decisions more when Serena called them onto court? Hypocrisy.
- If you know me, you know that the trophy ceremony and the players’ speeches within them are my most favourite part of a tennis tournament ever. I was looking forward to Serena and Naomi’s speeches as much as the match itself – every Serena speech is an empowering moment, and every Osaka speech is absolute gold because of her precious, funny personality, and it would’ve been even better than usual from both of them because Naomi would have been playing her absolute idol. And that was taken away because the ladies couldn’t give normal speeches after what happened.
- Carlos Ramos made it all about him. He ruined things for Serena and he tainted Osaka’s win. Some people believe Serena took away from Naomi’s win but of course she didn’t – she was the first one to defend Naomi, comfort her, congratulate her, and ask the audience to celebrate her. Carlos Ramos made a conscious decision to alter the outcome of the match by deliberately changing the score. A lot of people were annoyed about Mohamed Lahyani giving Nick Kyrgios what sounded like a pep talk during one of his matches last week that Nick went onto win after being a set and 0-3 down – they said he altered the outcome of the match with this chat. Ramos outright changed the score, surely this alters the outcome just as much? (Side note: this doesn’t mean I think Serena would’ve won without the game penalty). Ramos overstepped the line, interfered way too much, and ruined the night for everyone. For Naomi, Serena, their teams, the fans, and everyone working to cover the tournament.
- No matter what, I hope this conversation doesn’t die out, I hope we keep questioning everything that happened so that it never has to happen again. Serena has been discriminated against so many times in her life, in her career, that she can’t not consider sexism and/or racism as a motive behind an umpire’s unfair actions. Let’s keep talking about this and get the answers we deserve, get Serena the justice she deserves, and give Naomi all the support and love and appreciation and praise she deserves.
Sorry for the length of the above points – of course this is an issue and incident that can’t just be squeezed into a couple of paragraphs and could easily have had its own post about it but why put up two separate posts at the same time on events happening at the same tournament ykno?
Have you ever seen that Zac Efron movie 17 Again? I always say this when I talk about Novak but I started watching tennis a very small handful of years ago so I’ve always been used to him winning everything. 2017 was weird for me to witness, I loved it so damn much, but it was just weird having been used to Djokovic being the unbeatable, untouchable player he was to see Federer and Nadal snatching titles everywhere they went instead of the man I was used to seeing do it. Seeing Novak win one Slam a matter of weeks ago was a huge flashback to my early months and years spent watching tennis, and this cements that feeling. He is that unbeatable, untouchable player again. You watch his matches and you can’t think of anything more he could’ve done, anything he could’ve done better. Everything is there, everything has come back together for him. Novak isn’t even my favourite of the big five, and I wanted Delpo to win tonight, but despite all of that seeing him win these big titles always seems right to me as someone who only started watching anything that wasn’t Wimbledon in 2015.
Juan Martin del Potro is still my winner though. I love Delpo so much, like so so much. He’s got to be one of the nicest guys in tennis, one of the best characters, one of the most endearing. You can’t not love him, you can’t not warm to him. As I type, Novak has just walked over to Delpo’s bench to hug him before the trophy presentation, because that’s the kind of guy Juan Martin is. Nobody will ever have a bad word to say about him, everyone on tour loves him and cares about him and wants to see him do the best. The fact that he’s even back in this final after everything he went through with his injuries and then feeling so low as a result of them, feeling like he should quit tennis, nobody in the world deserves to be in this position right now more than JMDP. We’ve seen injuries for all of the big five in the last couple of years but nothing can ever compare to what Delpo went through and nobody deserves all the Slams more than he does. It wasn’t to be today which is pretty heartbreaking, but he’s been my winner this fortnight. He can’t not make me happy. His game, his personality, his spirit, his Tandil Ten!! It is a true honour to have been able to see him play in person here during this fortnight and to be at the first match that the Tandil Ten came to, in their hospitality box on Arthur Ashe. A big thankyou to Juan Martin del Potro for always being the most uplifting, mood-boosting guy out there on the court and for making my fortnight of the US Open. Love you. Ole ole ole.
The class of 2016 are having a pretty successful reunion. The top five in the 2016 year-end ATP rankings – Andy Murray, Novak Djokovic, Milos Raonic, Stan Wawrinka and Kei Nishikori – all failed to make an appearance here in Flushing Meadows last year thanks to their respective injuries. This year they’re back with a vengeance and showing everyone why they were the top five just under two years ago. Djokovic won his second major in a row. Nishikori made it all the way to the semi finals where he lost to his fellow class of 2016-er and eventual champion Novak. Raonic made it to the second week before falling to Isner in a five setter after picking up (another!) injury. Wawrinka had an insanely impressive win over Dimitrov in the first round for the second Slam in a row before losing to Raonic in the third round. And Andy, despite only getting to the second round, looks to be in a good place in these very early stages of his comeback. His body wasn’t letting him down over the long matches he played, the only factor letting him down was his lack of match play in the last year. I’m getting very excited for the 2019 season on the ATP tour – these former top five members, if they aren’t already back to their best, are all on the way up and will all be in a good place to compete for the 2019 Australian Open come January.
Denis Shapovalov shows more maturity in his game compared to last year and the way he handles tricky situations than most veteran players. Cast your mind back to day one (my god, that feels like a month ago) when best friends, compatriots, #NextGenATP stars Denis Shapovalov and Felix Auger-Aliassime played each other. I anticipated this match for the longest time possible. When the draw was first made and Denis was drawn to play a qualifier, midway through qualifying week in which Felix was competing, all I wanted was a Denis Felix match. They are besties, it would be the cutest thing ever. When the match came around, it ended in a heartbreaking way for all involved. Felix had to retire because a heart condition he’s had for a long time affected him during the match, and Denis handled it in the most mature manner I’ve ever seen. He put all match competitiveness aside and told Felix to keep fighting, that he could do it. When Felix couldn’t fight any longer after trying for a few more games Denis listened to Felix and hugged him while he cried, he reassured him that they’d be back here playing these matches all the time in the future. Yes, they’re best friends anyway, but Denis is one of the best people on tour. Being this mature, compassionate and level-headed at nineteen years old is seriously impressive. This is a kid who was thrown in at the deep end last Summer after his breakthrough during Montreal and the US Open, he didn’t know how to cope being ranked so high, having all the media attention, travelling to all the new tournaments he was ranked high enough to play. But he dealt with it quickly and never once lost himself in it all, Denis is a truly good person and should be an example to many players on tour, even those older than him, of how to carry yourself. After his loss to Kevin Anderson he also went out of his way to praise Kevin for the way he conduced himself during their match, despite not being asked about it. It warms my heart to see such a kind kid doing bits on the ATP tour at the moment. We all know I’m Denis’ biggest fan. Oh and a sub-point here on Felix – don’t count him out after that retirement. The kid was dominating in qualies and gave Denis a tough test, not to mention his great wins in Toronto last month. Trust me on this one, Felix Auger-Aliassime is your next big thing – as is Denis – and I’m so excited to see two kids who have always been friends dominate the game in years to come.
Even with his beaut personality aside, Denis showed a lot of maturity in his game too. After his dream run to the fourth round as a qualifier here last year, he failed to make the fourth round again falling short by just one round, but he’s shown vast improvement over the last year. He won a tricky five setter against Seppi before just losing another tricky five setter to Kevin Anderson – and that’s no embarrassing loss. Denis has already honed in on so many of his strengths and talents, like his backhand, since he burst onto the scene a year ago so the only way is up. Seeing the improvement he’s made in just a year makes you so excited for the future – if he’s done this much in twelve short months imagine how strong his game will be in five years’ time.
The next gen of the WTA are putting the #NextGenATP to shame – and there isn’t even an official WTA next gen. Naomi Osaka, your women’s singles champion this year, is twenty years old. Twenty. Twenty!! She’s a matter of months older than me and winning a Grand Slam, and I’m out here on my sofa drinking a pumpkin spice latte writing a few thousand words about a Grand Slam I could never compete at because I can’t even play tennis. I digress. Osaka won the US Open at twenty. Last year, Jelena Ostapenko won the French a couple of days after her 20th birthday. Aryna Sabalenka, also twenty years old, announced herself during the US Open series this Summer with multiple top ten wins in Montreal and Cincy, the title in New Haven, and an impressive run here being the only player to take a set from Naomi Osaka. Meanwhile, the next generation of the ATP are underperforming. The ATP are really pushing their 21-and-under players – there’s a whole #NextGenATP campaign, they have their own year-end tournament – yet it’s the 21-and-under women who are really stepping it up and winning the biggest titles on the tennis calendar. Sascha Zverev is the player a lot of tennis fans and pundits are the most excited about for the future and he’s only ever gotten to a Slam QF once, meanwhile there have been multiple women younger than him winning Slams in the last couple years. Boys, step tf up. Gals, you go.
Everyone in tennis needs to start talking about climate change because it ruined the tournament. Everyone was talking about the humidity here this year, in the first two days of the tournament alone there were at least half a dozen retirements as players struggled in the extreme conditions. A new heat rule came into effect at this tournament. Roger Federer got hot and sweaty for the first time in his life ffs!
I get that a lot of players don’t like expressing opinions on certain political and social issues because they want to be impartial and they want to keep their focus on tennis and not speak about things that they may not know enough about but we can’t beat around the bush when it comes to climate change. Federer blamed the roof, which has been here for three or four years now. No babe, or people would’ve been struggling for the last three or four years just as much as they did this year. It’s climate change. We all need to wake up before it’s too late – nothing will change this sport as we know it more than climate change will. Conditions are everything in tennis, as is your health as a tennis player. The conditions are thrown outta whack thanks to climate change, and players won’t be healthy if they continue to play in these conditions that obviously hindered a lot of them during the first few days of the tournament.
The humidity was the talking point and we blamed a lot of issues from the first few days on the humidity, but we need to realise where this humidity came from and start educating ourselves on climate change. All of us – players, fans, umpires, officials, commentators, the lot. Let’s not brush it under the carpet until it’s too late.
I want to talk about my encounter with Serena in the hotel gym. So when booking my trip to New York last November (ICYMI I went to NYC for a week as a family holiday but we had it fall during the US Open so we could attend it during our trip) we booked the Palace and Empire hotels because of Gossip Girl. A few months later I remembered that during the 2017 tournament, a few of the players had stayed in the Palace too. We did the first four nights there before moving to the Empire for the last two.
On the Friday, I had tickets to the Ashe night session that Serena and Venus would play in, already set to be the best day of my life. I went to train in the hotel gym that morning (gym lad me x) and was messaging one of my friends about how shockingly bad the gym was (it was actually really good for a hotel gym, I just expected even more knowing that athletes stayed there) when I looked in the mirror I was doing my reps in front of and saw Serena’s hitting partner. I’m not joking when I say that my heart started racing, I started shaking. I abandoned whatever message I was meaning to send and just started freaking out about how Serena’s hitting partner was here. I look up a few minutes later after doing a couple more sets and in the mirror, at the other end of the gym, Serena Williams is sat on a bike, drinking coffee, doing stuff on her phone.
It’s the best moment of my life. I can’t breathe, again. Now, here was one of my issues with the hotel gym when I first came in – it had one bench. One bloody bench! And it was being used when I first came in and I needed it for like 90% of the things on my workout plan. This was why I did stuff standing at the mirror to kill time while I waited for the bench to become free. When it became free, Serena’s hitting partner went on it. Ffs lad. But also it was on the end of the gym Serena and lots of her team were at so I didn’t want to go over and intrude and look like I was stalking. Eventually I went over anyway and saw there was a second, better bench. It faced the bike Serena was on. I did all my reps shaking like a leaf and trying not to make it obvious that I knew. Her husband Alexis came over to the other bench that was next to me. I couldn’t believe this was real life – I was watching her Instagram stories about Qai Qai that morning before getting up and going to the gym.
At one point Serena glanced around when I was looking at her. Here was the GOAT, one of the most important people in my life, the woman I see as the most inspiring person on earth two metres away from me, looking me dead in the eye. In that moment I think she knew. Anyone would’ve known it was Serena, but I think she knew that I wasn’t just spotting a famous athlete in a gym, I was in awe. You know something I really took away from that little moment? Not that I expect her to be, maybe unless you’re on a court with her on the other side of the net knowing all of her achievements in the sport, but she was the least intimidating person ever. I feel like a twelve year old girl at a boyband concert saying he l00ked in my eyez!!! but she did look me dead in the eye for a few seconds as we were both glancing around, and it was the least intimidating thing in the world. Considering how much importance I personally place on Serena in my life, being this close to her with her looking me dead in the eye felt almost comforting, it was one of the most encouraging things I’ve ever experienced.
I live tweeted the moment as much as I could and there was nothing more I wanted than to end the thread with a photo of me with my literal biggest inspiration ever, even if I was sweaty and in gym gear with no makeup and my hair in plaits like a twelve year old. My biggest thing was that I didn’t want to interfere in her workout, she had a big match that night (that I went to) and this was her prep. Plus, I was worried interrupting would make me look like a stalker fan and, extreme worst case scenario, could get us kicked out of the hotel. The weights area was right by the entrance of the gym so I stayed there for the rest of my workout knowing that when Serena eventually left she’d have to pass me so that’s when I’d speak. Except, in the end, there was a back entrance I didn’t know about and they all disappeared out of there before I had a chance to notice. Lol. Regardless, best day of my life and I just wanted to share.
Wimbledon made us question the rules about final set tiebreaks and the roof being open or closed. The US Open has made us question rules about umpires. Carlos Ramos’ bullshit behaviour in the women’s singles final wasn’t the only umpire-based controversy of the tournament. Cast your mind back to last week when Nick Kyrgios was tanking his match against Pierre-Hughes Herbert and umpire Mohamed Lahyani got down off his chair to talk to Nick, told him he was good for tennis, he know this wasn’t really Nick, and that he wanted to help him. A lot of people saw this as a pep-talk that resembles the on-court coaching that happens on the WTA tour and were outraged. People said Lahyani got too involved in the match and potentially changed its outcome, as after this Nick turned around and won the match. They said he overstepped his duties as an umpire, broke the rules, and some even called for him to be removed and replaced mid-match. My thoughts were that he has an extremely clean record on the tour, this is the way he is as a person and he can’t change his character traits, he 100% was saying these things to Nick to get him to play because it wasn’t fair on paying spectators, the TV audience, or his opponent for him to be tanking the match, he also was concerned Nick could be affected by the heat after so many players were in the first few days (which actually led to people criticising umpires for not factoring in the extreme conditions enough), and he needed to warn Nick that if this carried on he could be given a code violation. I know those were Mohamed’s intentions but he did unfortunately do wrong and he did break the rules. He didn’t deserve to be punished though, just reminded of what does and doesn’t cross the line, and thankfully that’s the route the USTA took.
First, can I just reiterate that if you were annoyed by this you should’ve been even more annoyed by Ramos who outright changed the score of the match when it wasn’t justified to have done so. Second, both of these issues show us how many grey areas there are in tennis officiating and that we need to deal with them immediately. Ramos and Lahyani were the two extremes – Ramos showing no discretion and being almost jobsworth in his strict, TITF application of the rule book, Lahyani being perhaps too friendly even for his personality and worrying so much about Nick’s emotional state that he just crossed the line in breaking the rules.
So from these two contrasting umpire controversies we can see that there should be a middle ground between the two. Use some common sense, use your judgement, use discretion in certain incidents. Things shouldn’t be black and white to the book when a player’s mental or physical health is on the line. But don’t do it so much so that it can hinder the other opponent. I hope the ITF are looking at this and trying to find the happy middle ground, maintain consistency, and answer all questions about this grey area. The AELTC have already spoken about changing the rule of the roof staying closed the next day when a match is continued overnight, and about adding a tiebreak at 12-12 in the deciding set, and it’s been less than two months since the tournament ended. I hope these umpiring issues are addressed in as timely a fashion because they can really damage the game and question the sport’s integrity.
Sascha Zverev and Elina Svitolina fell short at a Slam again. I’ve spoken about this before. I love Elina and hate contributing to the ‘you’re good at WTA but shit at Slams’ discourse because a player can only hear it so many times before they start believing it and it starts affecting them, and I don’t agree with it, but these two really have roadblocks when it comes to the majors that they just don’t have when on the ATP and WTA tours. Elina’s has always been more mental because women maintain the best-of-three sets format that they have on the WTA tour but Sascha’s appeared to be about his best-of-five set capability because the men play longer at Slams than they do on the ATP tour. He got over this though, coming from 1-2 sets down two or three times at the French Open this year to win the matches. But he’s still falling short, just like Elina. And it’s not even tight when they lose – they both keep losing the last six games in a row. They’ve both been bagelled out of Grand Slams more than once each this year and, even though Lil Z wasn’t bagelled in the final set that he lost to Kohlschreiber here, he was 3-0 up before losing the last six games in a row to lose the final set 3-6.
We keep saying the same things about these two when it comes to stepping up from their respective tours to the Grand Slams and there’s only so much we can say. It’s already boring that we keep talking about it but, really, what else can we say about them at Grand Slam level at the moment? I believe in both of them, I don’t think we should be constantly reminded of it, but it’s a strange pattern we keep seeing in both their results. Do I think it’ll always be this way? No. And the one upside to their consistent disappointing early exits at Slams recently is that when they both finally get further or even win one, it’ll be an even sweeter moment.
I want to do a Denis Shapo and take some time to talk about the Andersons’ great sportsmanship. This isn’t just about Kevin either, it’s about his wife Kelsey too. Both of them continue to show such kindness, class and grace towards all of Kevin’s opponents always. They are both always quick to congratulate whoever Kevin has played on any given day, no matter what the outcome has been. They speak up about important issues on the tennis tours, like the waste of plastic thanks to racquet bags and players not throwing away water bottles after practices. If you don’t already, follow both of them on aaaall the socials and keep up with what they share because it’s always of importance – when it’s not praising an opponent or addressing an important issue it’s of their dog Lady Kady who I love so much I can’t even tell you.
Here’s what I thought of experiencing the US Open in person, as a Brit who goes to Wimbledon every year. The day and night session thing is annoying. I really don’t like it, and it made me so grateful that my home Slam is one where you go in at 10AM and you get to stay all day and see every match on your assigned court from start to finish.
The worst thing about the day / night session split is the fact that, if you have night Ashe tickets (and I’m guessing night Armstrong too) you can’t even enter the grounds until 6PM, and play starts at 7PM. By the time you’ve queued and gone through the lil bag search bit, you have 30-45 minutes at best to go around the grounds before play starts on the court you’ve paid to sit on. I hate it. SO much. At Wimbledon you go in at 10, play on outside courts starts at 11 and on show courts starts at 1. You’ve got a whole three hours to wonder around before play starts if you have a proper ticketed show court and, because you get to see every match on that court as they aren’t split into day and night, you can afford to come and go from the court in between matches too. I get that the day and night session is a big part of the US Open and its atmosphere, and scheduling big, showpieces as a night session is a thing. And a thing we don’t wanna lose. But my issue is with letting people in the grounds an hour before play starts, it’s unfair. Are the day session Ashe crowd kicked out of the whole grounds at 7PM on the dot? Surely it’s pretty easy to come out of the court after your match and just stay on the grounds, but night session ticket holders can only do their wandering for an hour before play starts.
Another issue is when the night session gets delayed. I went to two Ashe night sessions – Thursday 30th and Friday 31st. Thursday started on time, Friday was delayed because of how long Nadal and Khachanov went. The worst part was that Friday started with the outrageously hyped up Serena-Venus showdown and, in an effort to speed things up, the tournament had them walk out onto court when most spectators hadn’t made it in yet. It seems like a small thing, but I am genuinely gutted to have missed the walk on for that match. Imagine being even further back in the stampede of people trying to get in, slowly going up the stairs taking about 10 minutes to get two steps up, and missing the first game or two? It’s not good enough, these people pay to come and they deserve more value for their money, they deserve to get what they paid for.
The thing is, I can’t complain about my matches. I usually have the worst luck with buying tickets to tennis months in advance when you don’t know who will make it far enough to the round you’ve purchased. Just look at my history of seeing Dominic Thiem on a one sided match with one opponent injured every single time I go to the ATP Finals in The o2. I got Serena and Venus. Serena and bloody Venus Williams playing against each other at their home Grand Slam during an Arthue Ashe night session. I actually found a tweet in my Timehop today from three years ago (I didn’t even know I watched the US Open then!) saying ‘love watching serena + venus play eachother.’ and now I’ve seen them play each other in person at the best possible place to get to see it. Life dream achieved. I’ve also always wanted to be at a Delpo match for the atmosphere and it was made even better because my match was the first one of the tournament that the now famous Tandil Ten aka his besties from childhood who flew out to support him and have their own hospitality box on Arthur Ashe for every Delpo match attended. If a Delpo atmosphere is good with a normal crowd, having the chants led by his best pals from back home was a whole other level. I also saw Djokovic who is one of the only really big players I’d never seen play a match live before despite meeting him at Wimby two years ago, and being at a Sharapova Ashe night session considering her record in them (at least up until Carla ruined it on her bday lol) was an experience for the bucket list.
In terms of ~atmos~ as George Ezra call it, the US Open makes Wimbledon look like your boring great aunt – at least that’s how I put it in my ‘gram caption. It’s an absolute bit of me. I’m not your conventional tennis fan, I’m a nineteen year old lightweight student who loves a good bitta chart music. The US Open was right up my street for all that, especially the night session. The lights going down, the music coming up, the big screen at the changeovers showing all the kids doing the floss, the honey deuce cocktails. Give me a bit of that. 11/10 for atmosphere, US Open. You win.
The USTA have appeared unorganised, inconsistent and weak during this fortnight, not least because of their many poor statements on issues. So many people were mad about the USTA’s initial statement following the Lahyani-Kyrgios incident because it merely described what happened, which we all already knew, and didn’t address the issues of any of Lahyani’s ‘this isn’t you, you’re good for tennis‘ quotes. They allowed him to continue to umpire for the rest of the tournament which y’all know I agree with, but a lot of others didn’t.
There was the issue with an umpire giving Alize Cornet a violation for changing her top after a ten minute heat break, after which she came back and realised her top was on back to front so she took it off, turned it and put it back on whilst standing at the back of the court, exposing her sports bra (shock!!!!!!! god forbid we see a woman’s torso flesh x). The fallout of this was messy, the WTA were quick to release their own statement condemning the USTA’s umpire’s decision to give a warning for this, very very rightly so. The USTA apologised and said it was wrong. Then, of course, the two umpire dramas of the tournament.
The first statement they released about the Carlos Ramos incident in yesterday’s final was literal trash. Again, all they did was describe what happened as if none of us watched it with our own eyes. Then a second statement was released by USTA President Katrina Adams, who I’ve briefly mentioned on this blog before and who I love, in which she praises Serena for being such a champion and handling things so well. A lot of people took issue with this because they said it celebrated Serena and publicly condoned her behaviour on court. As someone who had zero issue with her on court behaviour I can’t relate, but I can see that the statement caused outrage. On the other hand you have people like myself who stand clearly on Serena’s side and think she was oppressed by the umpire and the tournament’s officials whom she called onto court. For me, if the USTA is releasing a statement with their President praising Serena it just makes me question why the USTA referee and tournament supervisor who came onto the court when Serena asked did nothing at all to diffuse the situation or to make it fairer for Serena. If y’all USTA care about what happened to Serena so much and are praising her for how she handled it, where were you when she was going through it alone with nobody defending her side? The statement was a case of too little, too late.
This tournament has exposed so many inconsistencies in our sport, the subtle sexism that goes on without people even realising, and just how messy things can get in a big organisation in the sport like the USTA. The only good thing that comes out of big issues like these is the fact that the issues now have to be addressed and resolved so none of these things ever happen again.
Roger and Rafa are still yet to play one another in NYC. This is the second Grand Slam this year that Nadal has had to retire from mid-match, out of only three Slam match retirements in his career. Also this year it always seems to be when he finally plays sleeveless which just robs us of the beautiful moment we could have of sleeveless Rafa lifting the trophy with his sleeveless arms. Buff. Rafa is the one player where it hurts me the most to see him retire mid match, he’s been through the worst injury woes of the big five by far and it underestimates his difficulties when him and his injuries are compared to Roger’s, Novak’s, Andy’s and Stan’s. There is one upside I’m banking on though – last year Rafa was performing really well during the US Open series and Asian swing but, after that, it took a toll on his body and he couldn’t finish off the year properly – or even start 2018 properly until the clay. What I’m hoping for him this year is that, because the issue has come around now, he can rest and recover his body now in order to be able to finish the year strong. He plays so much in a season that, by the end of the year, he’s fucked. I really hope he takes as much time as he needs and doesn’t rush for the Asian swing so that he can give a good go of the European Indoors tournaments and push to finally win the Nitto ATP Finals – selfishly because I have tickets to the final and want to see sleeveless Rafa lift that trophy in person for the first time.
Roger was hit and miss this tournament. His first few rounds weren’t tricky enough to judge how well he was playing but when he overcame Kyrgios in the third round in the manner that he did, my mind was changed. I could really see him winning the tournament, I was truly convinced for the first time. And then he went out in the next round, hot and bothered. His face was as red as his kit, it was the weirdest thing I’d ever seen. Let me tell you how bloody surprising this Federer loss was for me. I was taking off from New York after my lil US Open / Drake at Madison Square Garden / general NYC trip, Federer won the first set 6-3 literally seconds before we took off and I had to put my phone on airplane mode. I saw that and though yeah, classic easy straight sets Federer win with a break in each set. When I landed in Landan seven hours later and went on Twitter, all the tweets in the ICYMI section were like ‘wow, what a night’, ‘after all this can we please remember what a good guy John Millman is’ and I thought damn he must’ve pushed Federer, but still thought Fed won. Then I opened the US Open app and scared everyone around me on the plane waiting to get off with my reaction to the score. I was in shock. Coming home and watching back parts of the match, it’s safe to say I’ve never seen Federer look like that. He barely ever sweats and the man was soaked with a red face, struggling to catch his breath in some moments. He looked like me after spinning. I really think that loss was one of those things where it wasn’t his day – for some reason his body couldn’t handle the conditions that one given day, the sets were really tight but in the deciding moments Federer couldn’t get the one or two extra points he needed to keep his chances alive.
Will we ever see Fedal in NYC? They can’t retire without it. Even if it never happens competitively, surely some sort of ehxo will be staged just to let it happen. I don’t discount the fact that it could still happen, but it’s going to need to happen soon or it won’t at all.
Some mentions for specific players.
Kaia Kanepi knocked out world number one and favourite for the tournament Simona Halep in the first round. To many casual viewers, it will look like a random gal beat the world number one but to those of us who keep up with tennis year-round, we know how dangerous Kaia is, especially at a Slam. She backed up this win with a run to the round of sixteen where she lost to Serena, managing to take a set off the GOAT before being knocked out. David Ferrer played his last ever Grand Slam match of his career (unless he can get a wildcard into Straya in January) and had to end it in the saddest way, retiring against his good friend and compatriot Rafa Nadal. Ferrer is arguably the best men’s player never to have won a Slam, he is high up in the list of many records in the sport and he will always be highly regarded amongst anyone who knows anything about tennis. Karen Khachanov made a name for himself amongst causal viewers, even getting on Buzzfeed for looking like Liam Hemsworth when all us proper tennis viewers are out here like yeah we been knew x. He’s great for the game and even though he lost to Rafa, this looks like it will be the loss that changes his career and makes him as a player. He’s going to have learnt so much from it, he’s now got his name out there as a player thanks to how well he played (and his Hemsworth brother comparison) and I won’t be surprised if he has deep runs in the Slams next year after learning from the moments of the match that cost him it. Nick Kyrgios caused controversy for tanking and then coming alive after his talk with Mo but the thing that really shocked me about his time here at the US Open was his pretty one sided defeat to Roger Federer. As soon as the draws were made, everyone looked at the potential third round encounter between Kygs and Fed. They’d played three times on the ATP tour before but never at a Slam – all three matches had been three setters and eight of the nine sets had been tiebreaks, with all of the final sets coming down to a handful of points in those breakers. And then Nick lost in straight sets, with Federer taking it 6-4 6-4 7-5. For the first half of the first set Nick was competitive and had a good few chances to break, but once Federer saved those chances he charged ahead to the end of the first set, and through the super fast second set. By the third Nick’s level returned but that seems like it was because he felt like he could loosen up because he was so down he almost expected to lose. Nick performs best on the big stages against the best players so it was a disappointment that the match seemed so one sided but Federer did play the best I’d seen him play in months, since either Stuttgart or Indian Wells. Sloane Stephens, who was the defending women’s singles champion, is one of those who can go out first round or end the two weeks with the trophy in her hands – a bit like Jelena Ostapenko. As the tournament progressed, it became more and more likely that Sloane could and would defend her title – or at the very least make it to a semi final against Queen Serena. It actually seemed odd for Sloane to lose when she did, I probably would’ve been less surprised had she lost in the first couple rounds, but she didn’t seem like herself. What I loved about her defeat is that she was gracious in it, it was clear she had an issue and she did touch on it in her press conference, but she didn’t want to focus on it and spoke eloquently about the match. Jamie Murray is impressive af in doubles, he’s won Slams in them every year for the last few years whether in mixed or mens – a stat we need to make a bigger deal of than we do, and his mixed doubles win this year was even sweeter because it was with Bethanie Mattek-Sands who, a year ago, had to skip this tournament because of a severe injury she got at Wimbledon.
So, there we have it. A full year of Grand Slam parting thoughts done and dusted. I swear I literally cannot stick to anything unless it involves me talking about tennis.
Slam parting thoughts shall make a return for the 2019 Australian Open at the end of January, in which I’m hoping I’ll get to do a big juicy first point all about Serena equalling Margaret Court’s record of 24 Slams.
In the meantime keep up to date with my new series Points to Defend in which I talk about topics and issues going on and thoughts I’m having about tennis in a more general and hashtag relatable context for both tennis fans and general blog readers who couldn’t care less about who won which title and who is ranked where. And you can also read back all my tennis goodness here.