More at the top: on US Open 2020

The 2020 US Open, which concluded at New York on Sunday, may not have had its usual star dust, but that should not deflect from the excellence of Dominic Thiem and Naomi Osaka, who won their first and third Grand Slam singles titles, respectively. Injuries and travel concerns owing to the COVID-19 pandemic forced Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal into not making the trip across the Atlantic. World No.1 Novak Djokovic, chasing Federer’s all-time record of 20 Grand Slams, took the bait, only to be disqualified in the fourth round for accidentally striking a line judge with the ball. Among women, six of the top eight were missing. But in extraordinary times, strength of the competition must not be the only barometer. The travel, the isolation, lack of fan engagement and the persistent threat of a virus meant that players had to mine every bit of their mental energy. It is a testament to Thiem’s and Osaka’s supreme abilities that they did not wither, and managed to even summon their best tennis and fight back from the brink against the young Alexander Zverev and seasoned Victoria Azarenka, both players of top-notch skill and indomitable will. Thiem is a first-time men’s Major winner, six long years after Marin Cilic (2014 US Open), while Osaka has joined Venus Williams, Serena Williams, Kim Clijsters and Angelique Kerber as the only active women to have won at least three singles Majors.


Statistics aside, the tournament provided the first glimpse of how men’s tennis could shape up in the absence of Federer, Djokovic and Nadal. The Thiem-led mid-card, which also includes Zverev, Daniil Medvedev and Stefanos Tsitsipas, made good on its promise and provided three of the four semifinalists. That the 27-year-old Austrian broke through first was no surprise, for he had already reached three Major finals and consistently beaten the big stars. The most recent was in Melbourne early this year, where he came within a set of defeating Djokovic in the final after having already felled the then World No.1, Nadal, in the quarterfinal. While Thiem appears to be the future, Osaka, nearly five years younger, is very much the woman of the moment. The Japanese is the most decorated Asian singles player and her use of the platform of being the most marketable sportswoman on the planet to highlight instances of racial injustice has captured the world’s imagination. Serena, who failed yet again in her quest to capture a record-equalling 24th Grand Slam, will remain the top draw as long as she plays. But Osaka has carved out her own identity. The immediate future of tennis may lie in a sequestered world of bio-secure bubbles, but barriers are no doubt being taken down.


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Printable version | Sep 19, 2020 12:18:49 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/more-at-the-top/article32604089.ece

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