Tag Archives: Naomi Osaka

Many thoughts from a fabulous first week at the U.S. Open. And Bernie Sanders vs. punching bag makes me laugh

Whew. I am happily exhausted today, after seven glorious days spent walking the grounds, and writing up a storm, at the U.S. Open.

So much has gone on, so much still to come, as I’ve been swept up in Coco-mania, severely disappointed a man I didn’t even know, and watched as much tennis as I could.

Many thoughts from my exhilarated brain, and man am I super-fortunate I get to come to this thing every year:

— So I have to start with Coco Gauff, the 15-year-old phenom/human excitement machine who won two? matches this week in thrilling fashion, and was the talk of the first week.

I’ve been covering her since two days before the tournament for the Palm Beach Post, and it’s been… quite something. Talking to her parents, her coaches, etc., they’re all kind of riding the wave of something they can’t believe is happening this quickly.

It’s really wonderful catching a “new thing” when it hits tennis: Everyone is so humble and gracious when they’ve never had this much attention before, and from all my interactions with Coco and her family, they seem like genuinely nice, grounded people.
You hope they always stay that way. What a tremendous kid Coco is, and a player with so much potential. Her length, her athleticism, how quickly she reads her opponents’ shots… she’s going to be some kind of superstar player.

But let’s all take a deep breath and remember: She’s only 15. She was born three years AFTER 9/11.

— And oh yeah, this happened after her match with Naomi Osaka. Such incredible sportsmanship, humanity, and class from Osaka. Just beautiful:

— So this was funny: I’m covering the Coco Gauff-Timea Babos second-round thriller Thursday night and, during a changeover, a guy walks past me from a few rows in front of me.

All of a sudden he stops dead in his tracks when he sees my credential.

“Ohmygod are you Michael Lewis the “Moneyball” guy?” he shrieked.

“No, sorry, just a fellow writer with the same name.”

His face dropped, he took a sip of his alcoholic beverage, and started walking away.
Sorry dude. I have to say, getting confused with the other ML happens all the time on social media, but rarely in real life.

— Besides Coco, there were a ton of other surprising success stories from American players this week, including two out-of-nowhere: Taylor Townsend, a former teen phenom who has struggled with inconsistency and injuries  the last several years, made the fourth round after having to qualify and win three matches just to get into the Open, and Kristie Ahn, a “journeyman” player who’d never won two matches at a Slam, getting to the fourth round, thrilling everyone except her own parents (read this as to why they’re mad).

— Random celebrity sightings this week, non-tennis edition: Walked right past NBA legend Kobe Bryant on Friday (he was there promoting a book or something), and Wednesday I was in the midst of Ben Stiller for about 10 seconds.
Nothing tops the two tennis legends I was lucky enough to briefly talk to, though: Rod Laver and Billie Jean King. She is, without a doubt, the greatest, and one of my all-time heroes.

— So this was one of my favorite moments of the first week: Russian Daniil Medvedev, the No. 5 seed, acted like an ass on Friday night, snatching a towel angrily from a ballboy and covertly giving the middle finger to the chair umpire, who only saw it on the JumboTron replay after the fact.

Anyway, the crowd booed Medvedev something fierce the rest of the match, and after he won, he said this.

What an awesome WWE villain he’d be!

— Finally on the tennis, noticed this week that are like, zero, American chair umpires. Every single one has some kind of foreign accent.
It’s not a problem, of course, tennis’ diversity is fantastic. Just odd that our country doesn’t seem to produce tennis chair umpires.

**And finally today, a moment of Zen, as they used to say on “The Daily Show.” Here’s presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, attempting to hit a boxing punching bag.

Uhhh, stick to politics Bern-man.

The U.S. Open is here! I’m in heaven as always. Some superstitious cows amuse me.. And a shocking retirement announcement from an NFL star

 

It feels like the night before Christmas, y’all.

I know, I know, I’m Jewish. But the U.S. Open tennis tournament starts in, oh, about 13 hours from the time I’m typing this, and as always, I am super-duper excited.

I am so damn lucky for many reasons in life, but one is that for the past eight years I’ve lived less than 45 minutes away from the greatest spectacle in tennis, and for the past six I’ve been lucky enough to have an up-close seat as a writer covering the tournament.

Every year I say this to myself when I look around the Bud Collins Media Center, and see some scribes or broadcasters muttering or complaining about something: Are you freaking kidding me? You people have the best job ever, getting to come to the U.S. Open, FOR FREE, and someone else is paying you to be there, and you get free food! And great seats to the matches!

The Open is amazing, and I’m expecting another great tournament. Since this is my blog I ought to first let you know a few of my U.S. Open preview stories have already been published; first, in the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle newspaper in Rochester, N.Y., I profiled Jessica Pegula, a super-nice woman who I’ve known and covered for years, who has made a huge breakthrough in the rankings this season.
And then for my new “regular” tennis writing gig at Tennis.One, I did a quick-hitting Open preview for the men and the women, with first-round matches to watch, three players who may win the whole shebang, and other fun stuff.

OK, on to a few other scattered thoughts as this two-week extravaganza gets underway.

— Can’t remember the last time I had this little clue who’d win the Open on the women’s side. You can make a case to me for nine different players, at least, and I’d buy in. Naomi Osaka, the defending champ? Maybe, but her year hasn’t been great since Australia. Ash Barty, the French Open champ? Maybe, but she too isn’t playing great. Serena? Sure, why not, but there are so many psychological, emotional and physical factors she has to deal with this year here at Flushing Meadows.
I’ll pick Wimbledon champ Simona Halep, but really I have no clue (aren’t you glad some people are paying me to cover this?)

— As for the men, well, that’s much easier. Bet almost everything you own on Novak Djokovic, who is by far the best hardcourt player on the ATP Tour. Bet the rest on Rafael Nadal. And say a little prayer for Roger Federer, who will need everything to go right to win.

— Coco-mania is in full swing here. I’m speaking of course of 15-year-old Coco Gauff, playing her first Open and drawing huge crowds last week at practice wherever she went. I attended one of her sessions for a story I’m working on for the Palm Beach Post, and it was pretty raucous when she signed autographs. Gauff is a great, great kid off the court, definitely someone to root for. She starts on Tuesday.

The Open is here! Happy times are here again.

**And now, just because this made me laugh hard, a video of cows all thinking they have to jump over the white lines on the road, and doing it beautifully.

Hilarious. It’s like they’re superstitious baseball players or something.

**And finally today, it’s pretty rare when an NFL superstar retires in his prime, two weeks before the season starts, but that’s happened Saturday night.

Shockingly, Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck, age 29, announced his retirement. Luck has been battling injuries for several years, and hasn’t played at all this preseason due to a calf injury.

After a constant cycle of injury and rehab, the mental and physical toll finally got to be too much for Luck.

I say good for him. Let him get out while he can still enjoy his life. The NFL chews these men up and spits them out, leaving them broken.

And it was despicable that when news broke Saturday night at a Colts preseason game, and Luck trotted off the field at halftime, some Indy fans booed him.

How dare he try to protect his future health and life, right??? Awful.

My man Pearlman has a great column up on Luck, the booing, and how he made the right decision.

Djokovic and Osaka consolidate their dominance with beautiful Aussie Open wins. The man who does rock stars’ laundry on tour. And “SNL” brings back the legend, Steve Martin, for a funny sketch

We have come to the end of the Australian Open, and as always at the end of Grand Slam tournaments, I am a little thrilled and I am a little sad.

I am thrilled because for two weeks I got to immerse myself in tennis as much as I possibly can, and while that’s certainly not as much as it used to be before I got into the human-making business (well, I’m a co-creator at least), it’s still way more than normal. And once again over the past two weeks we were treated to some fantastic tennis and drama on the men’s and women’s sides.

But of course, also a little sad because it’s over, and I delete the tournament app on my phone, and don’t wake up checking scores to see what I missed overnight from Melbourne.

Still, I’m mostly happy, because this Australian Open was great, punctuated by two very worthy champions, in Novak Djokovic and Naomi Osaka.

— Novak Djokovic’s performance in victory Sunday… I mean, what can you say? Maybe the most dominant performance in a final I’ve seen since Rafael Nadal destroyed Federer at the French Open in 2008, losing only four games total.  From the opening five minutes, the Serb was dominant. He lost only ONE point on serve in the first set, he never let Nadal have time to hit his deep groundstrokes, and never left the Spanish lefty have a chance. Djokovic has now won three straight Slams, and could hold all four majors at the same time, for the second time in his career, if he wins in Paris in a few months.

I thought he couldn’t possibly ever be better than he was in 2016. But Djokovic has gone to a whole new, scary level. Wonderful to see tennis played that well.

— Meanwhile, I’ve never seen Rafael Nadal look so… helpless as he did Sunday morning in the final. He couldn’t do anything on Djokovic’s serve, and the Spaniard saw his own massive serves fired right back at him like they came from a ball machine. Nothing Nadal did in the final worked, and he looked so much like … 99 percent of the world’s other tennis players do against Nadal.

— My good friend Dave, who is a tennis fan that parachutes into the sport during the Grand Slams, texted me a great point in Djokovic’s favor, as he grows inexorably closer to Roger Federer’s record of 20 Slam titles (he’s now only 5 away) and the Greatest of All Time debate:

A good chunk of Federer’s Slam titles have come against finals opponents who are, shall we say, less than legendary. Among those Fed has vanquished to win the trophy include Mark Philippoussis, Marcos Baghdatis, Lleyton Hewitt, and Marat Safin.

For Djokovic, in 12 of his 15 title wins, he’s had to defeat either Federer, Nadal or Andy Murray, the other three members of this “Big Four” in the Golden Age of the sport. That’s mighty freaking impressive.

— Can’t say enough how impressed I am that Osaka, all of 21 years old, can have the life-changing win she had at the U.S. Open last September, with all the attendant controversy and drama that that win entailed, then come back four months later at the next Slam and win the trophy again, in a thrilling three-set final over Petra Kvitova.

That’s really, really hard to do. She’s humble, she’s shy, she’s funny… everything about her screams “star.” Hard not to be happy for, and root for, this young champion.

**Next up today, gotta hand it to “Saturday Night Live” for responding to breaking news events with a major guest appearance, within 24 hours. This cold open spoofing Tucker Carlson’s show on the day Trump consigliere Roger Stone was arrested is funny enough (again, Kate McKinnon is a national treasure!), but then comedy legend Steve Martin comes on as Stone and it goes to another level.

Please tell me some of you in the younger generation catch the throwback reference Martin tosses in at the 6:33 mark.

**Finally today, sometimes you just read a really cool profile of someone that isn’t particularly timely or newsworthy, it’s just a fascinating feature on an idea I wish I’d thought of.

The New York Times’ Thomas Rogers introduces us to Hans-Jurgen Toph, the German man who has become legendary as the proprietor of Rock N’ Roll Laundry, a company that tours with countless music acts and cleans their clothes, expertly, and for decades.

Go behind the scenes and learn great details like how Toph and his company shrunk a pair of David Hasselhoff’s gold pants, how he calls himself “Der Toph” un-ironically, and what some of the challenges of the job are.

I enjoyed this story so much more than I thought I would, thanks to quotes like “I know every disabled bathroom in every German football stadium,” and “Thanks for taking the rocks out of my pants.”.

Really fun story here.

17 years after getting LASIK surgery, I need glasses again, dammit. And I’m not happy. The next great Americans arrive at the Aussie Open. And an ESPN announcer with a beautiful elegy to his late father

 

I’m bummed. I’m bummed because last Saturday I got some news that I hoped I’d never have to hear again. From a freaking eye doctor.

In February, 2002, I had the best surgery of my life, and spent the best money I’d ever spent.

After 20 years of wearing glasses, from age 8 on, I finally took the plunge and got LASIK surgery. My whole life changed, for the better. I hated, hated glasses, for obvious reasons in school (I was called a nerd, made fun of, all the usual insults we vision-impaired folks deal with in adolescence) and then as an adult I felt it hampered my dating life, my social life, all of it.

LASIK was the panacea, the cure-all to my problems. OK, it didn’t solve EVERY problem, but it made me feel better, look better, and that led to a lot of great things in my life.

Anyway, LASIK was great, and I thought, OK, I’ll never have to wear glasses again, or at least, not for a very long time.

Well, that time is now. I knew my nearsighted-ness was getting a little worse; I’ve been having trouble seeing the scorebox on the TV during sporting events lately, and reading the letters on street signs in the dark while I’m driving was getting more difficult.

But still, I didn’t think I would hear, within two minutes of my annual eye exam, “Yeah, you’re going to need glasses for driving.”

Ugh. I’m only 43; I thought my re-entry into the four-eyed world was still a decade away. I wasn’t mentally prepared to have to delve back into this arena again.

I feel old. I feel like I should get a LASIK refund (kidding, of course, they never guaranteed anything.) I feel defeated.

After my diagnosis, I tried on a few frames, looked at myself in the mirror, and tried not to grimace each time. Couldn’t bring myself to buy specs yet; that’ll come this week.

Dammit, dammit, dammit. Back to glasses. Sigh.

On the positive side, maybe I’ll start to look distinguished with glasses, like Clooney. Nah, I’ll end up looking like Larry David.

**Next up today, this came out of the blue to me on Twitter and I have to say it was very, very moving. ESPN sportscaster Scott Van Pelt, normally known for his sharp, funny quips, went on the air the other night on the anniversary of his father’s death, and gave a beautiful two-minute tribute to his Dad, and the importance of seizing every moment.

I really loved this.

**Finally today, we are midway through the second week of the Australian Open, and as usual, it’s been an awesome tournament. Oh sure I was bummed when Roger Federer lost in the 4th round (not sure he’ll ever win another Slam, the men’s field is just so strong), but there have been so many terrific storylines I’ve enjoyed, including…

— The next generation of Americans is ready to do damage. Yeah, we’ve been hearing about them for a few years, all about their potential, but now they’re here. On the women’s side, Danielle Collins, the pride of UVA, is in the semifinals after never having won a match at a Grand Slam heading into last week (she is ranked in the Top 40, so it’s not like she is a total surprise). Amanda Anisimova, who was born 10 days before 9/11, got to the 4th round and showed she’s the future, and fellow teen Sofia Kenin was also terrific in Week 1.

— And on the men’s side, whoo boy. My man Reilly Opelka beat John Isner, Taylor Fritz did well to get to the third round, and the guy pictured above, all of 21 years old a few days ago, was spectacular. Frances Tiafoe, who many of us in tennis have been touting as the best U.S. hope to win a Grand Slam in the next few years, has finally had that major breakthrough we’ve all expected. He beat No. 5 seed Kevin Anderson in Round 2, survived two more brutal matches to reach the quarters, then finally succumbed to Rafa Nadal on Monday.

But in the process, Tiafoe revealed his wonderful personality, enthusiasm and talent that many have enjoyed as he’s risen up the junior ranks. Truly, a good dude and someone you should root for. He and the other young Americans are just about ready to arrive, now if that Novak/Roger/Rafa three-headed monster would retire already 🙂

— The Aussie Open is killer on my sleep cycle. I try to get to sleep earlier than I used to but it’s hard to turn off live tennis at 12:30 a.m. And this is the only sporting event I follow where I wake up at 7 a.m. and check my phone to see all the things that happened while I slept.

— Down to the semis in both men’s and women’s, and I’m pretty sure Novak Djokovic will win the men’s title, though Stefanos Tsitsipas and Rafa Nadal will both give him major tests in the process. On the women’s side? I have no idea, especially after Serena’s epic collapse Tuesday night from up 5-1 in the third set.
I guess I’ll say Naomi Osaka wins it, but the way Danielle Collins is playing, it wouldn’t shock me if she broke through and shocked the world.

— Finally, I have to give a shout-out to this tremendous piece of journalism from my friend and former colleague Konrad Marshall, whose work I have featured in this space before. Konrad, a native Australian who’s a journalist there now, wrote this outstanding feature on the greatest Aussie tennis player of them all, and one of the 3 greatest men’s players ever, Rod Laver.

Laver is 80 now, was hobbled by a stroke and only recently has come out of his shell a bit and accepted the adulation he gets worldwide.

Marshall gets so many wonderful details from Laver, about his stroke, about his beloved wife Mary passing away, and how he’s so enjoying life now. Truly, this is a fantastic piece of writing I think you’ll enjoy. (I got to meet Laver a few years ago at the U.S. Open and the 10 minutes I spent with him is an absolute career highlight.)

Oh, I have some thoughts on Serena, Osaka and the U.S. Open finals debacle: Ms. Williams was almost completely wrong. The annual FOJ gala has me feeling wonderful and grateful. And Week 1 NFL sees the Redskins look great, oh those Browns, and the Bills look as bad as ever.

Alright, there was a huge U.S. Open controversy this weekend and let’s get right to it, in the mixed doubles final Bethanie Mattek-Sands…

Wait, hang on, that’s not the one you mean?

I kid, of course. The younger sister of Venus Williams was once again the center of an enormous brouhaha Saturday night, in a women’s final that was being talked about all over the media world Sunday.

Look, I’m always thrilled when MSNBC and CNN and NPR talk about tennis in any way, because it gives exposure to my favorite sport. But it seems like a lot of times tennis is talked about because of a reason like this.

OK, so there’s a lot to unpack here, I have lots of thoughts, I’m going to try to organize them but after talking and synthesizing all of the “hot takes” over the past 24 hours, I hope my thoughts are coherent…

1. Absolutely the first point I must make: Naomi Osaka 100 percent earned and deserved that championship. The poise, skill and strength she showed throughout the two weeks was outstanding, and this 20-year-old is absolutely a future star. So happy she broke through at the Open, and I’m so bothered that her triumph is marred by what happened. That she had to hear boos rained down on her during her U.S. Open trophy ceremony is appalling.

2. Serena Williams was 90 percent to blame for what happened (I’ll parcel out the other 10 percent in a minute). That a 36-year-old woman who’s been playing pro tennis for nearly 20 years would act that way on a court, still, is deplorable. Especially a woman who has a long history of unsportsmanlike behavior at the U.S. Open.

Forget about whether she even knew her coach Patrick Mouratoglou was coaching her when the violation was given; her gross misunderstanding of the rules (the umpire, Carlos Ramos, could’ve diffused things a little by explaining he wasn’t accusing Serena of cheating, that her coach was cheating, and she the player is responsible for anything her coach does) and how she behaved when given a point penalty was terrible, and sadly so many media apologists (Sally Jenkins’ column was particularly repulsive to me) seem to focus completely on Ramos, and ignore that it was Serena’s behavior that led to the problem in the first place.

3. The other 10 percent of blame for the situation goes to Mouratoglou, who absolutely later admitted he was coaching and then gave the excuse of “everyone does it” as if that should absolve him, and Ramos gets some blame, too. He could’ve diffused the situation by explaining why Serena got the first violation, and he could’ve given her a “listen, you’re getting very close to a game penalty” warning when she started ranting at him, calling him a liar and a thief. Other umpires have done that with other players. But it’s by no means required.

4. Ramos did his job; Serena or her coach committed three violations, and in tennis that means: warning, point penalty, game penalty. The rules were enforced exactly as written.

5. The sexism card and the racism card has been pulled out this weekend, of course. The racism charge is ridiculous, this had nothing to do with race. The sexism charge has more merit; there certainly have been men’s players like Jimmy Connors and others who have behaved abominably and not been given penalties as severe as Serena’s. (Connors famously called an umpire “an abortion). Roger Federer cursed at an umpire once and wasn’t penalized.

Then again, John McEnroe, Ilie Nastase and many, many other men have been fined, suspended and defaulted from matches.

Are men and women treated differently on the tennis court? Yes, sometimes. Does that excuse what Serena did? Not in my book. Not at all.

6. Osaka was pulverizing the ball and was probably going to win that match, regardless of the game penalty enforced at 4-3 in the second set. Anyone who saw a huge Serena comeback coming, you’ve got better vision than me.

7. Serena’s entire reaction/explosion from her belief Ramos thought she was cheating. Her pride and moral compass were triggered, and she couldn’t live with the idea someone thought she was cheating. Most players who get warnings let it go, and return to focus on the match. Clearly, she couldn’t.

8. Lastly, history matters. Reputation matters. If this were the first-ever incident of Serena behaving this way, maybe she gets more leeway and sympathy from others. But this is an athlete who had made great, great strides the past few years with her behavior on and off the court. She was no longer so discourteous when she lost, nor when she won. She was comporting herself with more maturity on and off the court.

But this was disgraceful and deplorable behavior Saturday night. I do give Serena credit during the trophy ceremony for trying to get the crowd to stop booing, and to give Osaka her due.

But man, was that too little too late. Naomi Osaka was a worthy champion. On Saturday night, Serena Williams was far from it.

**OK, let me move on to something that filled me with great joy. Saturday night was the annual Friends of Jaclyn gala, an event I look forward to every year because I get to see so many people involved in this fantastic charity. As I’ve written many times in this space before, my wife and I are heavily involved with this wonderful organization that pairs children with pediatric brain tumors with high school and college sports teams across the country, allowing these children to be showered with love and companionship at a very difficult part of their lives.

We all go to a lot of annual events but this one is special to me because it’s so gratifying to see the same people every year, specifically the kids who are fighting their disease bravely and seeing them annually lets me know that they’re still here, fighting, doing all they can. We’ve lost more than 150 kids to this horrible disease since FOJ’s founding in 2005, so seeing the smiling, shining faces of kids like Sterling Bachman and Grace Leva every year reminds me that some are winning this fight.

The Murphy family, and the two women who run FOJ, Erin Perkins and Alicia Greenstone, are so compassionate and have such huge hearts, and they do a phenomenal job raising awareness of FOJ and pediatric brain tumors.

I haven’t posted the original HBO Real Sports story about Friends of Jaclyn in a while, so I felt like today would be a good day to do it. Here’s FOJ’s website if you’re interested in getting involved.

**Finally today, football is back! Every year I get less excited about watching NFL football, for a variety of reasons, but week 1 always gets me excited. Everyone’s undefeated! New players are on new teams and anything’s possible! The Jets might not stink! The Browns might not stink! Maybe the Patriots WILL finally stink!

Anyway, my green and white boys don’t play their first game until tonight so I had a stress-free football Sunday, but lots of other interesting stuff happened, namely…

— Aaron Rodgers went down in the first half of the first game for the Packers Sunday night against the Bears, and millions of Packers fans (and fantasy owners) had to be thinking, “He’s not hurt AGAIN, right?) Well, he was, but only for a little while, and he led a stirring comeback and the Bears, after an amazing first half by Khalil Mack (hey Raiders, good job trading him, that looks great so far!), blew a huge lead and lost.

It’s good for the NFL to have Aaron Rodgers healthy

— The Washington Redskins were supposed to be terrible. They’ve got a new QB and seemingly not much talent around him. But they came out and whupped the Arizona Cardinals. One of the reasons I love Week 1: Now Skins fans are all excited and thinking their team is great. But what if the Cardinals just stink?

— The Browns. Oh, the Browns. After going 0-16 last year, they fell behind the Steelers 21-7 Sunday. Then they rallied to tie the score, forced the last of six Pittsburgh turnovers at the end of overtime, then had a game-winning field goal blocked. And so they ended the game in a tie.

But they did give us absolutely the best stat graphic of the year, nothing will top this, ever.

I mean… how sad is that? They tied their opener and it’s their best start in 14 years!!! Oh, the Browns. I love them so.

— There can’t be a more depressed fan base this morning than the Buffalo Bills (and to my Bills fan friends, of who I have several: I’m sorry). They lost 47-3 on opening day. Forty-seven to three!!!! That’s beyond bad. That’s pathetic.

Oh, the Bills. Gonna be a long winter in Buffalo.

Let’s go Jets. Let’s go Darnold. And Happy New Year to my fellow Members of the Tribe.