NO FAKE FANS: Vika Azarenka bristled at the idea of placing images of fans in the seats around the courts. The veteran said, “I hope they don’t put in fake people – that’s going to be super weird…[In] the NBA it looks so creepy.”
GO FIGURE: Brad Gilbert says any of 30 women can win the US Open…He says New York’s lightning-fast courts are the fastest he’s seen there in 20 years.
4,000 TO ONE: So far there have been over 4,000 COVID tests of players in New York – with only one positive result. But as one top official told IT, “No celebration until it’s over.”
THE SLOANE ZONE: Fleet, thoughtful, giving and appealing, Sloane Stephens is good. She won the 2017 US Open, reached No. 3 and was within six points of winning the French Open. But she may be the most baffling WTA player of the Open era. Years ago, when she descended into a massive slump, she scolded the media. Relax, don’t panic. Everything is going to be okay. And it was. Soon she put aside memories of a devastating foot injury and was beaming as she lifted the Open trophy.
But it’s déja vu all over again. Time and again she’s lost to players with triple-digit rankings. Today she fell, almost tamely, to France’s Caroline Garcia, No. 49, and Sloane is now 5-18 since last year’s Wimbledon. Lindsay Davenport commented, “She’s too good a player for results like this. Real champions…grind their teeth and dig…”
After Sloane’s disheartening loss, not one reporter entered her virtual press conference. When the moderator asked her about the match, she said she had “another week to improve and get better.” Maybe the entertainingly enigmatic Californian will do just that, burst her own bubble within the bubble, and once again put all the doubters in their place when she wins the Open. Then it would be “even Stephens” for Sloane.
LESSONS LEARNED? Grigor Dimitrov was an early victim of the well-intended but ill-fated Adria Exhibition tour. He was the first of about nine participants to test positive. The Bulgarian reported that it’s been a tough, uneven road back, and today he said, “The first week was just tragic.” He was reduced to crawling and later, at times, he lost his sense of taste and smell. Today, after his first round victory, Grigor spoke to Inside Tennis about the fallout from the Adria Tour.
When we noted that the tour’s driving force, Novak Djokovic, had suggested that he was the victim of a mean-spirited witch-hunt a couple of weeks ago and then had repeated that claim earlier this week, the Bulgarian chose not to comment on the world No. 1’s claim.
“It’s not easy on him. It’s a very complex situation, and so is the magnitude of how it’s happened. I am in a position to say so many things, but there is no need of that. It’s in the past. We’ve learned our lessons. I hope we all understand our mistakes…and that’s going to serve us in the future. It’s an example, whether it is bad or good. People will judge regardless. It was the right intention; it happened when it happened; let’s put it to bed.
“The rest is on his own terms. He’s his own CEO. He’s in charge of his life…How am I to say what I really think?…I didn’t know what was happening behind the curtain. Sometimes you are in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
BRUINS IN THE NEWS: For the third time in eight days, fans reflected on UCLA tennis. Last week at the Lexington Open – despite the presence of Serena, Venus, Coco, and Sloane Stephens – unheralded but rising UCLA product Jennifer Brady (who, under Stella Sampras’ guidance, was a member of UCLA’s 2014 NCAA championship team) flexed her power and emerged to claim her first WTA title.
Two days later, legendary Bruins coach Glen Bassett, tennis’ Wizard of Westwood, passed away at 93. Many recalled the extraordinary contributions of the only man to win NCAA tennis titles as a player, assistant coach and head coach.
Today, 2014 UCLA NCAA champ Marcus Giron downed his hobbled UCLA doubles partner, the two-time NCAA champion Mackie McDonald. This brought to mind the question: How do we rank the great UCLA players of all time? There’s Jimmy Connors, Arthur Ashe, Eliot Teltscher, Charlie Pasarell, Brian Teacher, Jeff Borowiak, Mackie McDonald, Peter Fleming, Mark Knowles, Billy Martin, Justin Gimelstob, Fritz Buehning, Jim Pugh, Allen Fox, Marcus Giron, Ferdi Taygan, Ben Kohlloeffel, Haroon Rahim, Herb Flam, John Austin, Brian Garrow, Larry Nagler, Ron Cornell and Ian Crookenden.
In a noteworthy addition, a central figure in the emergence of “The Double in the Bubble” (the Western and Southern Open and the US Open that are being played back-to-back in NYC) is USTA president Patrick Galbraith, who twice reached the Wimbledon doubles finals, collected 38 titles on the circuit and was a three-time All-American and an NCAA champ. It’s been said the proud Bruin is the best male player to ever head the USTA.
CICI RINGS THE BELL: The under-the-radar story of CiCi Bellis’ reemergence is a feel-good story at a time when we need one. Tennis Channel noted, “Six years ago she was the Coco Gauff, a wildcard at the US Open, beating Dominka Cibulkova, and the youngest player to win a match at the Open since Anna Kournikova. She reached No. 35. Then her world was turned upside down.”
First CiCi had a couple of surgeries, including one where things went terribly wrong. Another operation had to fix a part of her arm that hadn’t been repaired correctly. In all she had four surgeries on her wrist and elbow. That’s a huge ask for anyone, let alone a 20-year-old. But Bellis is incredibly tough. She emerged last fall in Houston to win three matches and made the third round in Australia this year. At the Lexington Open last week she made the quarters. Today she came from behind to beat France’s Océane Dodin and reach the second round of the W&S Open where she’ll face the considerable Aryna Sabalenka. CiCi is not a large woman, but she has a huge heart.
YOU HAVE TO FEEL ALIVE AGAIN: Once again the indrawn, dare we say meek, Andy Roddick managed to get out of his shell enough to let us know what he really thinks on whether the US Open this year should have an asterisk next to it. While some have said it should, the Texan countered, “It doesn’t really matter if a person doesn’t think it is valued the same, because historically it will be valued as a Grand Slam win. Roger has missed plenty of tennis…In the 15 hard-court events Rafa entered, from October 2015 to Miami 2019, he only completed three – he either withdrew or retired. People play sometimes, they miss sometimes. It counts. Your job is to be the best player at the tournament in that time frame. Whoever comes out of the US Open is going to be the US Open champion.” Then Andy put the debate into a broader perspective, saying, “Judging anything right now in any part of the world against perfect is a bit of a fool’s errand. [After] six months on the couch, I would be pumped up and ready to get out there and play. You really wouldn’t need much motivation. You’re not locked in, you get to participate, you get to actually work. You get to do what you love. Yes, judged against perfect it sucks. But given the opportunity to play a Cincinnati event in New York to get ready for the US Open, you have to feel alive again.” Brett Haber added, “As Andy said, it’s not perfect, but the perfect is the enemy of the good, and it is certainly good to have tennis back.”
“The choice is pretty stark. Sit on your couch or play. I think it’s a pretty easy ‘Yes.’” – Jim Courier
“That’s Bruin-on-Bruin violence,” – Bret Haber on the all-UCLA match between former doubles partners Marcus Giron and Mackie McDonald
“He’d better play good tennis, because the rapping game wouldn’t pay for his own studio.” – Andy Roddick on Denis Shapovalov’s renewed rapping effort
THE MARCH OF TIME: To start today’s ESPN broadcast, Tony Trabert offered this poignant essay on time and tennis. “Time is the only irreplaceable commodity, every moment, every breath a gift. Time is measured in seconds, minutes and hours, but it is cemented in moments. The unmistakable pop of a fresh can of balls, the electric energy of the walkout, the squeaking sneaker, thundering aces, the relentless groundstrokes. In the tightest moment, the best of us transcend the clock and the scoreboard – still sometimes finding ourselves wishing for a rewind, to relive the magic. But time is tricky like that. It marches on, unyielding and unforgiving, much like the crushing defeats along the way. Though time never changes, we transform and adapt, unlocking exhilarating triumphs.
“The truth is, we’ve been self-isolating between the white lines for much longer than six months. Now we pick up the pieces of a season unlike any other and are reborn. The stakes may be different, and our hearts may long for Cincinnati roars, but the goal remains the same. There is no time in tennis, because tennis is timeless, and as long as we have time we are unstoppable. Tennis is back. It’s time.”