US Open: Osaka, Thiem provide highlights before sad end

By Sports Desk September 10, 2018

A fascinating and controversial US Open came to an end over the weekend, with Naomi Osaka and Novak Djokovic crowned champions at Flushing Meadows. 

Omnisport's Christopher Devine - who witnessed all the drama live in New York - picks out his highlights of the tournament, along with one hugely disappointing lowlight.

 

KAEPERNICK FEELS THE LOVE

The primary abiding memory from this tournament will certainly be Serena Williams' extraordinary row with umpire Carlos Ramos (more on that later).

However, eight days prior to the shocking events that sadly overshadowed the women's final, Serena and sister Venus were on court inside Arthur Ashe Stadium when a far more positive atmosphere reached its peak.

As the Williams siblings - quite possibly playing each other in New York for the last time - sat down for a changeover, Colin Kaepernick and Eric Reid appeared on the four big screens in the stadium.

The crowd's reaction sent shivers down this reporter's spine, with prolonged cheers and applause in support of the two former San Francisco 49ers players, who led protests in the NFL against police brutality and racial inequality.

It was a special moment and little did we know that a headline-grabbing advert with Nike was about to follow for Kaepernick.

 

OSAKA DELIVERS ON RICH POTENTIAL

The undoubted star of the championships was Osaka, who took down her idol in the women's final to make history as Japan's first slam singles champion.

While controversy marred her win over Williams, leaving the champion in tears during the presentation ceremony, it should be noted that Osaka was a set up and performing magnificently when the chaos started.

The Japanese - a breakthrough victor at Indian Wells in March - has a great serve, fearsome groundstrokes and clearly possesses a winner's mentality - as evidenced by the way she kept her cool in the final.

She lit up the past fortnight with her performances, not to mention a series of highly amusing interviews, and her future looks stunningly bright.

 

DELPO BRINGS JOY TO TANDIL AND BEYOND

How wonderful it was to see Juan Martin del Potro - who almost retired in 2015 following continuous injury problems - shining again on the big stage.

Del Potro ultimately came up short in the men's final, despite a titanic effort, as the rejuvenated Djokovic produced a masterclass to claim his 14th grand slam title.

The Argentinian was in tears at the end, but should feel immensely proud. He and his boisterous band of friends from Tandil, whose vocal backing ensured there was a terrific mood every time Del Potro played, brought smiles to faces time and time again.

 

THIEM READY FOR NEXT STEP

Djokovic's success at Flushing Meadows means 47 of the last 55 men's slams - dating back to the 2005 French Open - have been won by either the Serbian, Rafael Nadal or Roger Federer, including all of the last eight.

By the end of September there will be no active slam-winner on the ATP Tour under the age of 30, with Del Potro and Marin Cilic both nearing landmark birthdays.

However, 25-year-old Austrian Dominic Thiem can feel more confident than ever in his ability to change that statistic. Although he ultimately lost an epic quarter-final to Nadal spanning almost five hours, this was without doubt the best performance of his career to date.

Already regarded as a genuine contender on clay, the 2018 French Open finalist hit rare heights against Nadal to suggest his ceiling on all surfaces is perhaps higher than many imagined.

 

A SAD END

It is such a shame that a tournament with so many highlights will be remembered most for a deeply unsatisfying controversy.

​Not only was the women's final itself overshadowed, the debate over the behaviour of Williams and Ramos continued throughout Sunday and remained a much bigger talking point on the streets and Subways of New York than the men's showpiece.

The International Tennis Federation (ITF) did not help matters, remaining silent on the issue as Ramos was subjected to allegations of sexism and racism, apparently without any right of reply.

An ITF statement in support of the umpire's decisions - providing a necessary counter-point to so much criticism - finally emerged on Monday afternoon. It should not have taken so long.

 

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    ONE MATCH AT A TIME FOR MUGURUZA

    Muguruza looked in danger of a third successive defeat to Yastremska when she dropped the first set to the Ukrainian, before fighting back strongly to seal a 4-6 6-3 6-3 victory on her seventh match point as her opponent sent a return wide.

    The Spaniard, seeded 12th, advances to a second-round meeting with Zheng Saisai, who overcame Ajla Tomljanovic 6-2 4-6 7-5, and the two-time semi-finalist knows the Chinese will provide a stern test.

    "I love coming here, it's such an entertaining tournament. I did well in the past so it's always good to be back," Muguruza said. "She [Yastremska] was playing very well the previous two times, she played better today but I managed to increase my levels and win.

    "I've certainly been kind of close, but that [the title] is very far away, come on it's only the first round, I don't want to think about that yet. I played her [Zheng] also recently, every match here is very difficult, it's such an important tournament and I'm ready to fight."

     

    MIXED RESULTS FOR FORMER FINALISTS

    Kasatkina was pushed hard by Frech before prevailing 6-3 3-6 6-4 and the Russian hopes a return to Dubai will kick-start a season that has yielded only one prior victory - a walkover following Maria Sharapova's withdrawal in St Petersburg.

    "It was a very tough match with long rallies, we played more than two hours so I'm a little bit tired but happy I won," she said in her on-court interview. "I'm not playing my best tennis at the moment but I'm hoping this match will give me confidence and I'll correct this crisis.

    "Yesterday I came here, there was nobody in the stadium and I just sat there [in the stands] with my friend and reminded myself of some memories of last year and I'm happy to come back here."

    Alize Cornet, who lost to Venus Williams in the 2014 final, eased past Timea Babos 6-4 6-3 but it was a different story for 2016 champion Sara Errani, who took the first set against Ivana Jorovic only to be beaten 4-6 6-4 6-2.

     

    SASNOVICH BACK FROM THE BRINK

    The comeback of the day undoubtedly belonged to Sasnovich, who pulled off a remarkable turnaround to defeat Ekaterina Makarova.

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    Halep worked alongside Van Cleemput en route to the Qatar Open final, where she was beaten in three sets by Elise Mertens on Saturday.

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    Halep split with former coach Darren Cahill during tennis' close season, with the Australian saying he wanted to spend more time with his family.

    It was under Cahill that Halep scaled the WTA rankings and made her grand slam breakthrough at Roland Garros.

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    "I can say that I am not looking [for a coach] at the moment," Halep said. 

    "I have my team, I have my hitting partner with me. I feel good like this and I will take my time. 

    "I know I said that when I started the year and then I changed my mind because I felt I need a coach. 

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    "Now I feel more relaxed, I feel more chilled. The priorities are changing a little bit. I'm more responsible for myself and I try to solve my own problems, on court and off court."

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