Naomi Osaka and Dominic Thiem.
The surreal, fan-less zone of a United States Open that ended on Sunday night deserves to be judged on several levels. It was, let’s not forget, extraordinary that this happened given the headwinds, national skepticism and the international quarantine issues he faced amid the coronavirus pandemic.
After all this understandable worry, only one player, Frenchman Benot Paire, tested positive, although several other French and Belgian players and coaches were restricted to their hotel rooms for more than a week due to a contact with Pair.
Further down the track, however, this US Open will be judged in large part by the quality of its champions. When future tennis fans and historians browse the long list of Grand Slam tournament results dating from the 19th century, they will see the names of Osakas and Thiems for 2020.
If both turn out to be tennis greats, there will be even less reason to modernize an asterisk on that single please, be it a single edition of the tournament, which was missing six of the top 10 women and Rafael. Nadal, his champion defender in men’s singles.
The whole question will really be resolved over time, and that depends a lot on the winners, said Steve Flink, a tennis historian. If a player who wins a tournament like this never backs him up and never comes close to another great title, then I think historians will look at him differently.
Osaka, 22, and Thiem, 27, are young in a sport largely dominated by elders for the past decade. But the 2020 US Open appears to be on a solid footing in the Champions Department.
Osaka, with three Grand Slam singles titles and a former No.1 ranking, is a sure-fire Hall of Fame contender. She also has charisma, an offbeat spirit, and other intangibles, including a knack for being a part of general storytelling.
Her victory over Serena Williams in the 2018 US Open final turned into an international incident after Williams was tied up for a point, then a game for code of conduct violations, sparking conversations about gender bias and sympathy for Osaka, whose victory celebration was anything but.
Also consider Osakas’ role over the past three weeks in shining the spotlight on black victims of violence, including police violence, a campaign she said had inspired her to keep winning.
Her drive to embrace politics wasn’t as bold as it would have been for the former champions (that’s another era), but it was still a contrast to her fellow finalist, Victoria Azarenka. Perhaps Belarus’ most famous athlete, Azarenka has chosen not to weigh on the uproar in her country, where mass protests continue against President Alexander Lukashenko, a leader she knows personally and who is accused for stealing his last election.
In light of Osakas’ easy power, hard-earned fitness, and ability to level up on big points in New York City, she most likely would have won this US Open even if all of the top 10 made the shifting.
The picture is less clear but still promising for Thiem.
His marathon victory over Alexander Zverev on Sunday earned him his first Grand Slam singles title. But that’s quite a feat in this high-level era, and Thiem has already reached three more Grand Slam finals.
If he can walk in less than two weeks, at the start of Roland Garros, he will also be among the top three favorites, alongside 12-time champion Nadal and world No. 1 Novak Djokovic.
While Osakas ‘victory was a reflection of the present in women’s tennis, Thiems’ victory was a projection of the future in the men’s game.
While it’s refreshing and meaningful that someone other than the Big Three Nadal, Djokovic, and Roger Federer ultimately won a major tournament, the downside is that Thiem didn’t have to beat any of the Big Three in this. tournament to do so. It’s not Thiems’ fault: Djokovic was fired by default in the fourth round for unsportsmanlike conduct after hitting a ball in frustration that hit a linesman in the throat.
But a victory under these circumstances leaves a lesser impression. Much of what made Osaka such a star was that she won her first major title against Williams, the greatest player of the time, under extraordinary and debating circumstances.
Thiem has beaten each of the Big Three at least four times, but not yet in New York. As compelling as it was in its finals, Sunday’s final between a German and an Austrian was set to draw one of the lowest TV ratings in the United States for a men’s US Open final.
It was not a problem. In a tournament without paying spectators, there were very few American viewers either. ESPN’s ratings were microscopic: a surprise and a disappointment to both Open organizers and ESPN, who lobbied for the tournament to take place. The network, in fact, was the main reason the tournament was held, due to its copyright worth over $ 100 million per year.
It should not be considered rude to make this point. US Open revenues don’t just pay big salaries to American Tennis Association officials. It funds the sport on many levels in this country, and most of the players who participated in the tournament had not had significant salaries for six months. The first round singles losers won $ 61,000, and the USTA had contributed to player relief funds and provided some support to tennis coaches and programs in the United States.
But hosting the US Open wasn’t all about money. It was also a symbolic gesture after everything New York has endured, and while none of the players made it to Manhattan, at least officially, they did make it to the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center and have given everything in silence. The night of the women’s singles semi-finals where Osaka stood up to Jennifer Brady and Azarenka defeated Williams would have been a night in any tennis season.
Roaming the sports landscape on Sunday, live professional sports were everywhere: NBA and NHL playoffs, NFL openings, Major League Baseball, WNBA, European football and more. This glut helps explain the low scores in the US Open, but what would it have been like if tournament leaders had failed to bring tennis back to the court with so many other leagues succeeding?
The players prepared even after a long break. There were only two withdrawals in the men’s tournament: the lowest number since 2006. Five-set duels were commonplace, none more captivating than Borna Corics returning in the third round after six match points to beat Stefanos Tsitsipas , and none are more significant than Thiems high -wire, victory at the limit over Zverev from two sets. It was an extraordinary final more than a grand finale, but the extraordinary always has its thrills.
Roller coaster roller coaster, said John McEnroe, who has ridden a few in his long career.
Big Three or no Big Three, it was clear how much the outcome mattered to the two young men as they struggled to combat the pain in their legs and the doubt in their heads. On the 50th anniversary of the US Open, they played the first tiebreaker of the fifth set in a singles final in US Open history.
The first of many Grand Slam titles, Zverev said between tears in Thiem, congratulating his friend and rival.
If so, this hard-hitting US Open will look even more worthy in the history books than it did on Sunday night.
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