Djokovich, beware: tennis history is full of spoiled slams

In 2015, Roberta Vinci improbably ended Serena Williams’ candidacy for a Grand Slam at the US Open and called it “the best time of my li...


In 2015, Roberta Vinci improbably ended Serena Williams’ candidacy for a Grand Slam at the US Open and called it “the best time of my life.”

Six years later, Vinci hasn’t changed her mind.

“People remember me for the Serena match, and I really appreciate that, ”Vinci, 38, said in an interview from his home in Milan on Tuesday. “It still gives me a lot of pleasure. They still ask me today how I could beat her.

Tennis runs on upheavals: the newcomer who shocks the veteran; the stranger who wins the star. Rarely will a professional tournament go without at least one surprise, but Vinci’s victory was a real shock, and it was magnified by the setting and the timing. He arrived on tennis’s biggest stage, Arthur Ashe Stadium, with the best Williams just two wins away from one of the sport’s greatest achievements.

Vinci was not a seed at the 2015 US Open at 32, and had never won as much as a set against Williams in their previous matches. But his 2-6, 6-4, 6-4 victory in the semifinals reminds us, while top-ranked Novak Djokovic is aiming for a Grand Slam in the same stadium this week, that nothing is certain at this level, especially with the pressure reached new heights.

Spoilers are lurking, and they thwarted Grand Slam pursuits at or near the last hurdle. Australian players Jack Crawford and Lew Hoad both came within a game of winning all four major singles titles in the same year. Crawford lost to British star Fred Perry in the US Championships final in 1933, before the term Grand Slam became widely used in tennis. Hoad was beaten by Ken Rosewall, another Australian, in the 1956 US Championships final. Martina Navratilova, on a 74-game winning streak in singles, was upset in the Australian Open semifinals of 1984 by 19-year-old Helena Sukova when the Australian Open was the last Grand Slam tournament on the calendar instead of the first.

“I was more concerned with playing Martina than with the Grand Slam,” Sukova said in an interview from her home in Prague on Tuesday. “I was really a newcomer and so I was really focusing on my own game and improving it and I was far from thinking of a record or her breaking a record.”

Sukova, a big underdog, said her goal is to win five games in a set.

“I’ve never won more than three in any set we’ve played before,” said Sukova. “I lost the first set 6-1, but when I got five games in the second set, I looked at my coach and said, ‘I achieved my goal!’ “

She won this match 1-6, 6-3, 7-5 before losing to Chris Evert in the final. Sukova, a great player with great power for this era, reached three more Grand Slam singles finals, but lost all three. She and her doubles partner Jana Novotna approached a Grand Slam match in 1990 to lose in the US Open final to Gigi Fernandez and Navratilova.

Consider this return on investment, but Sukova, now a practicing psychologist, said she wished she could go back and play those matches with her newfound skills.

“I think it would have made a difference if I had known what I know now about my mind, I would have won more,” she said. “But it’s always like that, once you get older you are wiser, but the body is not faster.”

Unlike Sukova, Vinci was well aware of the history of tennis at stake in 2015, and she believes the looming possibility of a Grand Slam helped her against Williams.

“I think it played a big part in this game,” said Vinci. “Winning the US Open meant achieving an incredible goal for her, and I think the combination made her play with a lot of pressure.”

Djokovic is unlikely to face anyone as unexpected as Vinci in the US Open finals, although he will meet an Italian underdog in the quarter-finals: the enormous Matteo Berrettini.

But Berrettini, 25, is the No.6 seed and an established threat who has already pushed Djokovic hard twice this year in Grand Slam tournaments before losing in the Roland Garros quarter-finals on earth. beaten and in the final of Wimbledon on grass.

“The hammer of tennis,” Djokovic said late Monday night of Berrettini, comparing the power of his serve and forehand to that of Juan Martin del Potro, the 2009 US Open champion from Argentina. Perhaps it was just a coincidence that Del Potro, recovering from his last serious injury, visited the tournament grounds on Tuesday.

“Next to Del Potro he’s probably the toughest hitter on the serve and forehand,” Djokovic said of Berrettini. “If he serves well, which is his greatest weapon, he’s tough. It is difficult on any surface to play against.

Dodge Berrettini and Djokovic balls likely face No.4 seed Alexander Zverev, the German who beat him in the semifinals of the men’s Olympic singles tournament and played the best tennis of his career. Winning a potential clash against Zverev would likely set up a duel with No.2 Daniil Medvedev, a shock-absorbing Russian master, in the final.

Berrettini, Zverev and Medvedev, all great talents of the new generation, are not Djokovic’s usual rivals in the home stretch. Neither Rafael Nadal nor Roger Federer have played in this US Open. But Berrettini, Zverev and Medvedev would certainly represent a 1-2-3 punch and a fitting challenge for Djokovic as he pursues his coronation in New York.

Williams was in a similar position in September 2015, already the most successful player of her time and a clear No.1. Like Djokovic, she too had already won four majors in a row – the so-called Serena Slam – but had not reached the Grand Slam by winning all four in the same calendar year. Djokovic also won four majors in a row over two seasons, from 2015 to 2016.

Only five players finished the Grand Slam in singles: Don Budge in 1938, Maureen Connolly in 1953, Rod Laver in 1962 and 1969, Margaret Court in 1970 and Steffi Graf in 1988.

Williams positioned herself to join the roster by making a series of big breakouts at Grand Slam tournaments in 2015, winning Roland Garros despite much of the fever and leaving her room (and in some cases her bed). ) than for its matches. Ahead of the match against Vinci, Williams had won all of his 11 straight sets in the majors in 2015, including a difficult three-set match against his sister Venus in the quarter-finals.

It was a phenomenal race of courageous, big-point tennis, but Williams’ luck ended against Vinci, whose perfectly sliced ​​backhand, changes of pace and surprise attacks at the net were just the right mix to play tricks on. the timing and the spirit of Williams.

Vinci also seized the opportunity: put her hand to her ear and yell at the crowd after winning a long rally.

“I didn’t start the game with the idea of ​​winning, but I told myself to give it a try because sometimes miracles happen,” Vinci said on Tuesday. “In the most tense moments, especially towards the end, I tried to think that on the other side of the pitch it wasn’t Serena Williams but just a person and just trying to hit the ball through- over the net as often as possible. “

She succeeded often enough to complete her comeback and reach her first and only Grand Slam singles final, losing to her friend and fellow Italian Flavia Pennetta in straight sets.

Vinci, who retired in 2018, said she and Williams had never discussed their match at the US Open, but what is clear is that they will never both forget.

“Serena lost to the Grand Slam more than anything,” Navratilova told me the night of that upheaval. “But still, Vinci had to finish him off.”

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Newsrust - US Top News: Djokovich, beware: tennis history is full of spoiled slams
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