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Another free pass for Djokovic at US Open when Tsonga stops

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NEW YORK (AP) — Normally, it takes wins in five full matches to reach a Grand Slam semifinal. Novak Djokovic has made it that far at the U.S. Open by playing only two, because three opponents pulled out of the tournament with injuries.

Djokovic, the No. 1 seed and defending champion, once again needed to put in very little work, advancing to the final four at Flushing Meadows for the 10th consecutive year when No. 9 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga stopped because of a hurt left knee Tuesday night.

The first two sets of their quarterfinal went Djokovic’s way, 6-3, 6-2. At the ensuing changeover, Tsonga was visited by a trainer and had his left leg taped below the knee. They played one point to begin the third set: Tsonga double-faulted, then retired from the match.

 This came after Djokovic’s second-round opponent, Jiri Vesely, withdrew from the tournament with a sore left forearm. And then the man Djokovic was supposed to play in the third round, Mikhail Youzhny, quit after six games and only 31 minutes with a strained left hamstring.

“I put myself in a position again to be one match away from the finals. As tournament progresses, I feel like I’m getting better,” Djokovic said. “Of course, this Grand Slam is very unique for me: I never experienced something like this — to have three retirements on the road to the semifinals.”

Tsonga said when the pain came Tuesday, “I knew it was over for me straightaway.”

“It’s already tough to play against one of the best tennis players,” Tsonga said, “but when I don’t have my knee, I have no chance to come back from two sets to love.”

On Friday, Djokovic will play No. 10 Gael Monfils, who advanced earlier against No. 24 Lucas Pouille, the man who eliminated Rafael Nadal in the fourth round. Playing steadily, and with only a dose of the spectacular, Monfils reached his first major semifinal since 2008 by beating an error-prone Pouille 6-4, 6-3, 6-3 in an all-French quarterfinal.

For all of his deep runs at Flushing Meadows, Djokovic has won only two of his 12 Grand Slam titles at the hard-court tournament, in 2011 and 2015. He’s lost in four finals and three semifinals over the past decade.

It’s tough to know exactly how well he’s playing at the moment, simply because no one has seen him on court all that much lately: less than 6½ hours through five rounds.

After his streak of four consecutive major championships — the first time a man had done that in nearly 50 years — was capped by his initial French Open title, Djokovic was upset in the third round at Wimbledon. He returned to action by winning the Toronto Masters, but since then, Djokovic lost in the first round of the Rio Olympics while dealing with a sore left wrist that he then cited in skipping the Cincinnati Masters.

Djokovic’s right arm was massaged by a trainer in his first- and fourth-round matches at the U.S. Open, so getting all of these free passes hasn’t been a bad thing.

“In this stage of the season, considering some physical issues I have had in the last month, month and a half, this was the scenario that I needed and I wished for. I got a lot of days off and recovered my body,” Djokovic said. “Right now, I’m feeling very close to the peak. That’s the position where I want to be.”

And that’s a scary thought for Monfils. When Djokovic is at his best, his returns, court coverage and groundstrokes are as it good as it gets in today’s game.

Monfils, who turned 30 last week, only once before made it to a Grand Slam semifinal, 8 1/2 years ago in front of a partisan crowd at the French Open. But he has been fantastic during this tournament, winning all 15 sets he’s played.

“I love watching Gael. He’s one of the few players that I will definitely pay a ticket to watch,” Djokovic said. “He’s very charismatic. Plays with a smile. Enjoys tennis. Enjoys life.”

Pouille quite simply ran out of steam, winding up with just about three times as many unforced errors as Monfils, 44-15. Pouille never had won a U.S. Open match or any match that lasted five sets until last week; his 4-hour-plus win against Nadal on Sunday was his third five-setter in a row.

No one ever has won four consecutive five-setters at a major in the Open era, which dates to 1968.

“Of course,” Pouille said, “I was a bit tired today.”

All in all, the spectators with tickets for Tuesday did not get much competitive or quality tennis. All four matches were decided in straight sets — or, in the case Djokovic vs. Tsonga, even fewer.

In the first women’s quarterfinal, Roberta Vinci fell apart after losing the opening set on a foot fault, allowing No. 2 seed Angelique Kerber to take the last nine games and win 7-5, 6-0. In the other, two-time runner-up Caroline Wozniacki was a 6-0, 6-2 winner against Anastasija Sevastova, who injured her right ankle in the second game and was never able to get going.

Venus Williams beats No. 1 Kerber in Miami Open quarters

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KEY BISCAYNE, Fla. — Venus Williams moved a step closer to her first Key Biscayne title since 2001 when she beat top-ranked Angelique Kerber 7-5, 6-3 Wednesday night in the quarterfinals of the Miami Open.

It was Williams’ 15th career win against a No. 1 player, but her first since 2014. Seeded No. 11, she’s into the tournament’s semifinals for the first time in seven years.

Williams’ opponent Thursday night will be No. 10-seeded Johanna Konta, who became the first British woman to reach a semifinal in the tournament by beating No. 3 Simona Halep 3-6, 7-6 (7), 6-2. No. 2 Karolina Pliskova will play No. 12 Caroline Wozniacki in the other semifinal.

Williams took charge of her quarterfinal match when Kerber double-faulted on the final two points of the opening set, and broke serve twice more early in the second set. She closed out the victory on her fifth match point with a backhand winner.

It was a matchup of offense against defense, with Williams the more aggressive player, charging the net often. Kerber stayed rooted to the baseline and was on the defensive even when she served, facing 13 break points and losing serve five times.

The German will remain No. 1 next week despite her loss. She reclaimed the top ranking this month after Indian Wells, replacing Serena Williams, who is sidelined by a knee injury.

Venus Williams improved to 61-13 at Key Biscayne, where she is making her 18th appearance. She won the title in 1998, 1999 and 2001 and considers the tournament her hometown event – she lives 90 minutes north in Palm Beach Gardens.

At 36, Williams was the oldest woman to enter the draw, but she hasn’t been taxed physically while winning every set in her four matches.

On the men’s side, Fabio Fognini became the first unseeded player in 10 years to reach the men’s semifinals at Key Biscayne when he beat 2016 runner-up Kei Nishikori 6-4, 6-2. Fognini, 29, who matched his best showing in an ATP Masters 1000 event, will next play the winner of Wednesday night’s match between Rafael Nadal and Jack Sock.

Nishikori was seeded No. 2. Fognini improved to 9-44 against top-10 players, and became the first Italian man to reach a semifinal at Key Biscayne.

Historical marker for tennis great Tilden rejected again

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PHILADELPHIA (AP) A Pennsylvania panel once again rejected a historical marker for Philadelphia tennis great Bill Tilden.

Tilden became the first American to win Wimbledon in 1920 and also won seven U.S. championships. In 1950, The Associated Press voted him the greatest player of the first half of the century.

A year ago, a panel of the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission that approves historical markers voted 4-1 against recommending approval of a marker at Philadelphia’s Germantown Cricket Club, citing Tilden’s convictions on charges involving teenage boys in the 1940s.

Karen Galle, coordinator of the historical marker program, confirmed Wednesday that the panel again voted 4-1 against approving the marker in February and that recommendation was among 54 approved by the commission at its March 22 meeting.

“While the significance of this athlete’s tennis career and talent are indisputable, his convictions for sexual misconduct with underage boys preclude recognition,” commission spokesman Howard Pollman said.

Lack of a marker doesn’t diminish Tilden’s accomplishments but approval “may be perceived to dishonor victims of sexual abuse,” Pollman said. Officials have cited the climate in the commonwealth following the sex abuse scandal involving another sports figure, Penn State’s Jerry Sandusky.

Tilden was arrested in Beverly Hills, California, in November 1946, after a 14-year-old boy was caught driving the star’s car erratically. Officers reported that when the teen exited the car, his pants zipper was down. Police charged Tilden with contributing to the delinquency of a minor, and he served seven months in jail. He was arrested again in 1949 on allegations that he violated probation by being in the company of another teen boy, and that he groped a third teen. He served 10 months at a prison farm.

Tilden, born to a wealthy Philadelphia family, was featured regularly in magazines, newspapers and newsreels during his career. He was friends with Hollywood elite and played at the White House at the invitation of President Warren Harding. He’s credited with urging children of all economic backgrounds to learn tennis, once a sport only for the wealthy, and modern players still value his manuals on how to play.

After his convictions, Tilden’s Germantown membership was revoked, and his portrait was removed. In recent years, the club has begun to embrace Tilden’s memory, and a group of Philadelphians has been lobbying for a historical marker at the site.