THE NAKED TRUTH OF NOVAK DJOKOVIC: Novak Djokovic said that after the third set of his heated battle against Marton Fucsovics, in which he finally prevailed, he and his foe ended up in side-by-side ice baths in the locker room. The Serb whimsically noted, “You’re battling with a guy for two-and-a-half hours – then you’re naked in an ice bath next to him. It was quite a magnificent feeling.”
SEEKER AND STAR – A GREEK SPEAKS OF TRUTH AND WISDOM AS HE SOARS IN THE RANKINGS: When one thinks of Stefanos Tsitsipas, the phrase “Greek god” comes to mind. The soaring ATP star, who just turned 20, has Hollywood-approved good looks, a gorgeous one-handed backhand, an even better forehand and a mean serve. In Toronto he beat four straight top 10 players, including Novak Djokovic, en route to the final. Californian Pete Sampras was of Greek heritage. Now, some dare to ask, could Tsitsipas become Greece’s first Grand Slam champion?
For now, all Stefanos has done this summer is become arguably the hottest young player in the game. He also gave comfort to victims of the second-worst wildfire of the century and is the reason tennis is now a big deal in hundreds of little villages in Greece’s much-celebrated outback. Plus, there’s a bonus to all this. He’s a probing thinker with a restless, curious mind, in the best tennis tradition of Billie Jean King, Arthur Ashe, Yannick Noah, Andre Agassi, Novak Djokovic and Andrea Petkovic. His “What’s the meaning of it all?” tweets include provocative philosophical adventures such as these:
• “The world as we have created it is a process of our thinking. It cannot be changed without changing our thinking.”
• “It’s amazing how many different sounds you can hear while walking in NYC. Just close your eyes and absorb!”
• “The voyage of discovery is not in looking for new landscapes, but in looking with new eyes.”
IS THE IRANIAN CAT CALLING THE CATSUIT HOT?: Iran is famous for its restrictions on women’s clothing. Yet the country’s former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was outraged by the ruling of the French Tennis Federation on Serena’s catsuit. He asked, “Why is the French Open disrespecting Serena Williams? Unfortunately some people in all countries, including my country, have not realized the true meaning of freedom.”
One Twitter user, Eskandar Sadeghi, challenged Ahmadinejad. “Yes,” he wrote, “But will you wear a catsuit in solidarity?”
CONSIDER THE SOURCE: Less than a year ago, Bernard Giudicelli – the head of the French Tennis Federation, who recently said Serena should show respect and not wear her catsuit – was convicted of defamation. Giudicelli was ordered to pay a 10,000 Euro defamation fine to French former player Gilles Moretton, plus 5,000 Euros for damages and 2,500 to Moretton’s lawyer.
MOST SENSIBLE COMMENTARY: CNN’s John Berman asked, “Do you know what Serena Williams should wear when she plays tennis?” He then answered his own question: “Whatever the hell she wants to.”
HOT ZONE: The brutal conditions at the US Open gave new meaning to the old phrase “hottest ticket in town.”
THE UNASKED QUESTION: As the brutal 96-degree heat with its debilitating impacts descended on Flushing Meadows, fans fainted, players defaulted or sought relief in ice towels, and took full advantage of the new, merciful US Open-only rule allowing men a ten-minute break after a third set. All the while, reporters asked myriad questions about the breaks between sets, the wet ball index, all the retirements, and why there is even a shot clock under these conditions. A writer mentioned to Novak Djokovic that the Australian Open had had some intensely hot days, that this year’s scorching Wimbledon was the hottest since 1976, and that the Open was almost unplayable. The reporter suggested that perhaps there is a climate change trend here. Djokovic noted, “I don’t like the trend…Obviously all the pollution and everything that this world is doing at this moment to nature doesn’t help. At the same time, tennis is an outdoor sport that we’re a part of.”
‘THE MOST RANDOM ACHIEVEMENT POSSIBLE’: Incredibly, Canadian veteran Peter Polansky, ranked No. 119, became the first person to achieve the Lucky Loser Grand Slam. Translation: he was good enough to be a lucky loser (that is, a player who gets into the tournament when someone else pulls out) in all four of the majors this year. Sadly, he also set another record that will be tough to equal – he lost in all of them. Polansky said, “It’s been fun. I don’t take it too seriously, because it’s the most random achievement possible. A couple of players have come up to me and rubbed my shoulder trying to get some luck.”
FAKE NEWS, REAL NEWS AND THE IMPORTANCE OF TELLING TENNIS’ [AND TENNYS’] STORY: In Melbourne, Tennys Sandgren stirred upset when he bashed the media: “You seek to put people in these little boxes so that you can order the world in your already assumed preconceived ideas. You strip away any individuality for the sake of demonizing by way of the collective.”
At the Open, one writer reminded Tennys that the media tries to write about the players’ passions, struggles and hopes, in the hope of bringing those stories to the public.
Sandgren responded, saying, “That’s good…I see that in sports media, and in tennis media. I see the other side of it sometimes, so I like that [storytelling] side. You guys play an extremely important role.”
“He’s looking mean.” – John McEnroe on Rafa Nadal’s all-black outfit
VIKA VIGNETTE: There are so many tennis tales of journeys to America. Andre Agassi’s father Michael escaped the squalor of Turin, Iran and ended up in Chicago, where he became an elevator operator. Over 50 years ago, Martina Navratilova outfoxed Communist authorities in Czechoslovakia and came to America. At age 11, Monica Seles came from Belgrade to Nick Bollettieri’s Tennis Academy. With $700 in his pocket, Maria Sharapova’s dad Yuri brought her from Siberia to Florida when she was seven, taking her to her Bollettieri tennis lessons on his bicycle.
And then there’s Victoria Azarenka. The Belarus-born star, who now lives in California, and who’s won the Australian Open twice, came to America at age 10 – all by herself.
Vika told IT, “It was crazy. I traveled by myself at 10 years old.” She added, in one of the greatest tennis understatements ever made, “That was adventurous. New York was something I’d never seen before. The pace of the city was so fast that even at 10 years old, you’re like, ‘Whoa!’ For me, I had a lot of fun coming here. I loved fast food restaurants, unlimited sodas…It was nice.” “I grew up [in Belarus] in the city, but [it was] obviously not fast-paced…New York was very impressive for the first time.”
So we asked Vika what she would do if, at the age of 10, her son Leo asked to go halfway around the world on his own. Vika replied, “[It’s] not happening. Not happening…I want to promise myself that I’ll be a realistic mom who is going to let him do [things]. But I love him so much, I don’t know if I can let him go. I look at it completely differently…[from how] my mom did. How brave she was to let me go at 14 years old by myself to the academies…For me, it wasn’t that I wanted to go by myself, I just didn’t have an opportunity. I think I want to support my son every step of the way if he wants me to be there.”
We then asked Vika for the key lesson she’s learned about parenting while being a player. She replied, “I got challenged with my patience. That’s something that’s always been the most difficult part for me. It was forced on me. I guess [it’s] a way for me to learn patience. I still don’t think I’ve mastered it.”
HEADLINE OF THE DAY: ‘On First Day, the Top Seed Exits Before Lunch’
PENKO DOWNS PETKO: The great Penko vs. Petko battle of 2018 was won by Penko, as Jelena Ostapenko downed Andrea Petkovic 6-4, 4-6, 7-5.
PETKOVIC’S FANTASY: Andrea Petkovic, who lost today, joked that in the heat of the battle, she “would have appreciated having some handsome man carrying me from corner to corner.”