Djokovich, Beware: Tennis History is Rife with Spoiled Slams

In 2015, Roberta Vinci improbably put an finish to Serena Williams’s bid for a Grand Slam on the U.S. Open and referred to as it “the best moment of my life.”

Six years later, Vinci has not modified her thoughts.

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

Tennis runs on upsets: the newcomer who shocks the veteran; the outsider who takes down the star. Rarely will an expert match go by with out at the least one shock, however Vinci’s win was a real shock, and it was magnified by the setting and the timing. It got here on the most important stage in tennis, Arthur Ashe Stadium, with the top-ranked Williams simply two victories away from one of many greatest achievements in sports activities.

Vinci was unseeded on the 2015 U.S. Open at age 32 and had by no means gained a lot as a set towards Williams of their earlier matches. But her 2-6, 6-Four, 6-Four semifinal victory is a reminder, because the top-ranked Novak Djokovic takes purpose at a Grand Slam in the identical stadium this week, that nothing is a given at this stage, notably with the strain cranked as much as new heights.

Spoilers lurk, and so they have thwarted pursuits of Grand Slams at or close to the ultimate hurdle. The Australian gamers Jack Crawford and Lew Hoad each got here inside one match of successful all 4 main singles titles in the identical 12 months. Crawford misplaced to the British star Fred Perry within the closing of the U.S. Championships in 1933, earlier than the time period Grand Slam had gained extensive foreign money in tennis. Hoad was overwhelmed by Ken Rosewall, one other Australian, within the closing of the 1956 U.S. Championships. Martina Navratilova, using a 74-match successful streak in singles, was upset within the semifinals of the 1984 Australian Open by a 19-year-old Helena Sukova when the Australian Open was the ultimate Grand Slam match on the calendar as a substitute of the primary.

“I was more concerned with playing Martina than I was about the Grand Slam,” Sukova stated in an interview from her house in Prague on Tuesday. “I was really a newcomer and so I was really concentrating on my own game and improving my game and I was far from thinking about any record or her breaking any record.”

Sukova, an enormous underdog, stated her aim was to win 5 video games in a set.

“I had never won more than three in any set we had played previously,” Sukova stated. “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 gained that match 1-6, 6-Three, 7-5 earlier than dropping to Chris Evert within the closing. Sukova, a tall participant with large energy for that period, reached three extra Grand Slam singles finals, however misplaced all three. She and her doubles accomplice, Jana Novotna, did come to inside one match of a Grand Slam in 1990, solely to lose within the U.S. Open closing to Gigi Fernandez and Navratilova.

Consider that payback, however Sukova, now a practising psychologist, stated she wished she may return and play these matches with her new abilities.

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

Unlike Sukova, Vinci was properly conscious of the tennis historical past at stake in 2015, and she or he believes the looming risk of a Grand Slam helped her towards Williams.

“I think it played a big part in that match,” Vinci stated. “To win the U.S. Open meant reaching an incredible goal for her, and I think the combination made her play with a lot of pressure.”

Djokovic will almost certainly not face anybody as surprising as Vinci within the closing rounds on the U.S. Open, though he’ll meet an Italian underdog within the quarterfinals: the huge-hitting Matteo Berrettini.

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Updated Aug. 31, 2021, 10:07 p.m. ETNovak Djokovic holds off Holger Rune in his first U.S. Open match.Maxime Cressy, an American qualifier, delivers the most important upset to this point.The followers had been out once more for day two on the U.S. Open.

But Berrettini, 25, is the No. 6 seed and a longtime menace who already has pushed Djokovic exhausting twice this 12 months in Grand Slam tournaments earlier than dropping within the quarterfinals of the French Open on clay and within the closing of Wimbledon on grass.

“The hammer of tennis,” Djokovic stated late Monday night time of Berrettini, evaluating the facility of his serve and forehand to that of Juan Martin del Potro, the 2009 U.S. Open champion from Argentina. Perhaps it was only a coincidence that Del Potro, recovering from his newest severe harm, visited the match grounds on Tuesday.

“Next to Del Potro, he’s probably the hardest hitter of the serve and forehand,” Djokovic stated of Berrettini. “If he serves well, which is his biggest weapon, he’s tough. He’s tough on any surface to play against.”

Dodge Berrettini’s bullets and Djokovic will possible face No. Four seed Alexander Zverev, the German who beat him within the semifinals of the Olympic males’s singles match and has been enjoying the very best tennis of his profession. Winning a possible matchup towards Zverev would possible arrange a duel with No. 2 Daniil Medvedev, a shock-absorbing hardcourt grasp from Russia, within the closing.

Berrettini, Zverev and Medvedev, all large new-generation abilities, should not Djokovic’s customary rivals within the homestretch. Neither Rafael Nadal nor Roger Federer performed on this U.S. Open. But Berrettini, Zverev and Medvedev definitely would characterize fairly a 1-2-Three punch and a becoming problem for Djokovic as he chases his crowning second in New York.

Daniil Medvedev performed Tuesday towards Botic van de Zandschulp. He is a possible opponent for Novak Djokovic within the U.S. Open closing. Credit…Justin Lane/EPA, through Shutterstock

Williams was in an analogous spot in September 2015, already essentially the most profitable participant of her period and a transparent No. 1. Like Djokovic, she too already had gained 4 majors in a row — the so-called Serena Slam — however had not achieved the Grand Slam by successful all 4 in the identical calendar 12 months. Djokovic additionally gained 4 majors in a row over two seasons, from 2015 to 2016.

Only 5 gamers have accomplished 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 put herself in place to affix the listing by making a sequence of nice escapes on the Grand Slam tournaments in 2015, successful the French Open regardless of enjoying a lot of it with a excessive fever and leaving her room (and in some instances her mattress) just for her matches. Coming into the Vinci match, Williams had gained all 11 of her three-set matches at majors in 2015, together with a troublesome three-setter towards her sister Venus within the quarterfinals.

It was an outstanding run of gutsy, big-point tennis, however Williams’s luck ran out towards Vinci, whose crisply sliced backhand, rhythm shifts and shock assaults to the online had been simply the correct mix to play tips on Williams’s timing and thoughts.

Vinci additionally embraced the event: cupping her hand to her ear and shouting to the gang after prevailing in a single prolonged rally.

“I didn’t start the match thinking about winning, but I told myself to try because sometimes miracles happen,” Vinci stated on Tuesday. “In the tensest moments, especially towards the end, I tried to think that on the other side of the court it was not Serena Williams but just a person and just to try to hit the ball over the net as often as possible.”

She managed it typically sufficient to finish her comeback and attain her first and solely Grand Slam singles closing, dropping to her buddy and Italian compatriot Flavia Pennetta in straight units.

Vinci, who retired in 2018, stated she and Williams had by no means mentioned their U.S. Open match, however what is clear is that they each will always remember it.

“Serena lost to the Grand Slam more than anything else,” Navratilova informed me on the night time of that upset. “But still, Vinci had to finish it off.”