PRISONERS AND CRIMINALS ON THE YACHT: France’s Kiki Mladenovic said that players stuck in “the bubble within the bubble,” who’d been exposed to Benoit Paire and were subjected to severe restrictions, were being treated “like criminals/prisoners.” Andy Roddick replied, “Prisoners and criminals don’t get a chance to play sports (two rounds for six figures)…Safety protocols are the only reason there’s a chance for players and fans to enjoy the Open. Unfortunately, perspective is seriously lacking with this take.” Martina Navaratilova promptly quoted Bill Macatee, “There is no bitching on the yacht.” She added, “Get over it. Deal with it.”
PARIS OR LONG ISLAND IN THE SUMMER? Jim Courier asked his fellow Tennis Channel commentators, “Have you ever been to France in August? It’s kind of a nice place to go rather than go to the Long Island Marriott,” Brett Haber replied, “You might be underselling the Long Island Marriott. Benoit Paire speaks very highly of it.”
SERENA DUMPS HER BOYFRIEND: These days there is a bit of a glow (and we don’t mean Patrick Morato-glow) around Serena. She’s delighting in motherhood and marriage. But there’s a twist. She has a new boyfriend.
Let us explain.
Last week at New York’s Western and Southern Open, Williams imploded, in her diciest New York match since 2018. She allowed Greek Maria Sakkari to storm back into contention. Simply put, Serena didn’t have her heart in it. She wanted out. ESPN called it a “semi tank.” After she lost, Serena said it was “like dating a guy you know sucks. That’s literally what I keep doing out here. It’s like I’ve got to get rid of this guy; it makes no sense. It’s frustrating.”
Today Serena again collected the first set. But then she fell in the second-set tiebreak to Sakkari, who is 8-0 in breakers this year. Soon things got even worse for Serena. She was broken quickly in the third set. All of tennis was shaking. There was a hint of panic.
It was easy to imagine the prayers of tournament officials at that moment: “Oh, mighty and powerful tennis gods, please protect us from a bubble-induced desolation.” Less than 24 hours before, the Open had lost its top men’s seed, the ball-flicking, destiny-wrecking Djokovic. “Now, in this year of dread, please don’t ask us to sacrifice the only GOAT we have on hand. Serena’s quest is the best story line we have.”
But Ms. Serena was struggling. Summer heat and an empty stadium were a challenge, as was the athletic Greek, with her compact backhand that often tamed Williams’ power. Maria was up a break 2-1 and serving for a 3-1 lead in the decisive third set. Rennae Stubbs said, “Everything that happened at the Western and Southern is coming back. This is playing mind games now, and it’s exhausting.” Still, Chris Evert was hopeful: “Let’s see if Serena can find that other gear.”
She did. Near the end of a key 12-shot exchange, Sakkari was on the defensive. She tamely dumped a forehand into the net. Now Serena, the greatest fighter in the history of the WTA, understood the moment. She stepped up, dumped her old boyfriend and found a new friend, filled with energy, power and Serenian confidence.
She told Inside Tennis that at the Western and Southern she had been so close, “I was just not winning those one points. One point here, one point there…[Now] I feel this whole tournament I have been doing better with that. Thank God I got rid of that guy. Never want to see him again. He was the worst.”
She hit with a commanding authority. Winning six of the last seven games, she captured her record 100th match on Ashe Stadium. Her 6-3, 6-7, 6-3 victory propelled her to her 53rd major quarterfinal appearance. Only Roger Federer, Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert have more. There, in a mother vs. mother duel, she’ll face the surging and semi-miraculous Bulgarian Tsvetana Pironkova, whom she is unbeaten against in four meetings
Today, Labor Day, is a holiday, and boy, did tennis need some rest. Two days ago Borna Coric downed Stefanos Tsitsipas in a late-night classic that was as bizarre as it was breathtaking. Yesterday Novak bashed a lineswoman and shocked the sporting world. A loss today by Serena would have been just too much for tennis’ nervous system. Now the sport can relax. It needed that.
DJOKOVIC DIDN’T OWN UP? Martina Navratilova was critical of Novak Djokovic’s tweet after he was defaulted. She said, “It was a kind of non-apology apology…It’s kind of like breaking up with your girlfriend by email. You [should] do it in person.” He made many mistakes in a split second. But then he had time to think about it, and he did not own up to it. He should have stayed and talked to the press.” Jon Wertheim asserted, “Djokovic committed a violation and followed it up by committing another one [by skipping out of his press conference].”
DJOKOVIC BLASTED: While the New York tabloids headlines blasted “Choke-ovic” or “Hard to Swallow,” outspoken New York Post columnist Maureen Callahan directed a fierce, unsparing criticism towards Novak. “So what did Djokovic do? After attempting to comfort the line judge – who gave him the most epic and deserved side-eye of 2020 – Djokovic argued that he should not, per the unambiguous rules, be disqualified. ‘She doesn’t have to go to the hospital for this,’ he griped.
“Wow. Instead of expressing relief that she wasn’t more grievously injured or killed, instead of humbly taking whatever penalty was coming his way, Djokovic whined like a toddler. Then he stood on the sidelines, head in hand, anxious over nothing but his own fate…An otherwise fearsome warrior, the cowardly Djokovic slunk out of Queens rather than face the media.” Callahan claimed Novak’s apology was about “‘Me, Me, Me…What will become of me?'”
To his credit, Novak sent a message for social media folk to show kindness towards the lineswoman who got hit. She had been abused by some, but Novak noted she didn’t do anything wrong and that people should be “supportive and caring.”
“Jennifer Brady can absolutely win this tournament if she believes in herself.” – Rennae Stubbs
“The night train keeps rolling along.” – A Canadian journalist on Denis (“The Night Train”) Shapovalov, who beat David Goffin in the fourth round
“No linespeople were harmed in the making of this match.” – Mary Carillo, on Shelby Rogers’ upset over Petra Kvitova, which finished just after Djokovic’s default
“It’s so late that Hawkeye is sleeping.” – Brad Gilbert when there was a problem late the other night
“As soon as I heard her [gasping] I knew Novak was out.” – Bethanie Mattek-Sands
GO FIGURE: Bright and bubbly commentator Alexandra Stevenson said, “You often see players whose parents play sports.” What the former WTA pro didn’t mention was that her mother was a Philadelphia sportswriter and her father is Doctor J, the NBA icon Julius Irving…French authorities announced that players at Roland Garros will have to stay in one of two official hotels. Serena, who has a Paris apartment, was not exactly pleased. She also said that she loves Rome and has friends there, but she’s not sure whether she could take her daughter to the Italian Open and is not certain whether she’ll play there or not…Marin Cilic was the last first-time major winner at the Open in 2014…For the first time since Wimbledon 2003 there isn’t a Slam champ in the quarterfinals…The last time none of the big three were in the quarterfinals of a major was the French Open in 2004.
AMAZING MOTHERS: Tsvetana Pironkova, who wept after her match when speaking of her son, hadn’t played a WTA match in three years before coming to the Open. In the quarters the Bulgarian will face Serena, who is possibly be the highest profile young mother in the world. Vika Azarenka, who worked for mother’s rights within the WTA, is also in the quarters. Incredibly, for the first time in history there are three women in the quarters of a major. Vika told ESPN, “I am so proud of the ladies…I hope this inspires them to continue to go for their dreams and not only to identify themselves as mothers, but continue to strive to yearn for what they do.”
AMERICAN GLORY: In 2017, four American women, Sloane Stephens, Madison Keys, Venus Williams and CoCo Vandeweghe reached the semis. This year three Americans could make it there: Serena Jennifer Brady and Shelby Rogers. Quarterfinalists Naomi Osaka and Vika Azarenka both have homes in Florida.
THE KIDS ARE COMING: Six of the eight men’s quarter-finalists are under 25. The men’s winner will have been born in the 1990s.
ROLE REVERSAL: Usually it’s politicians who call tennis players to bask in their glory and offer their congratulations to winners. During all the confusion about COVID protocols the other day, Djokovic was reportedly trying to call New York’s Governor Andrew Cuomo. But he hasn’t had much luck recently getting through to powerful folks. On the eve of the creation of his new player association, he didn’t call Roger or Rafa.
IN THE SHADOW: Jennifer Brady, 25, and Shelby Rogers, 27, scored incredible breakout victories Sunday. Respectively they beat German Angie Kerber and Czech Petra Kvitova, who between them have won five Slams. But, not totally unlike Naomi Osaka, who didn’t get full credit for her 2018 US Open win when there was a huge controversy, Brady’s and Roger’s heroics not only occurred in empty stadiums, but drew little hoopla.
NO ASTERISK NEEDED: The fourth round of the women’s draw featured six Slam champs, four former No. 1s, three moms and the reigning Aussie Open champ.
JUST WONDERING: Along with Bjorn Bjorg’s cigarette-smoking first wife, Mariana Simionescu, and Boris Becker’s former wife Barbara, is Sofia Kenin’s father Alexander the most nervous member of an elite player’s support group?
AND THEN THERE WERE NONE: The last American man in the singles draw, Frances Tiafoe, was the youngest American man to reach the fourth round since Donald Young, in 2011. But he lost today to Daniil Medvedev.