High school and youth sports participants could learn a lot from the recent U.S. Open tennis championships that took place in Flushing, New York over the past two weeks. I often hear about teams folding like a house of cards when the score looks insurmountable. Well, get out the film on the rain-delayed men’s championship that took place Monday rather than on the typical championship Sunday.
Serbian Novak Djokovic now stands with just two losses and 64 remarkable wins. What makes his feat remarkable is that in the fifth set of the semifinals, facing renowned multi-Grand Slam winner Roger Federer, Djokovic was down two sets and Federer was looking at match point. Notice I didn’t say that Federer was in the championships? Djokovic dug deep and came back on the former World No. 1 zinging a cross-court shot that turned his 4-5 deficit into a 5-5 tie, then 6-5 lead, and ultimately, a 7-5 fifth set win. The overall outcome was 6-7, 4- 6, 6-3, 6-2, 7-5.
The lesson here is as old as time itself. You can use the slang version of ‘it ain’t over until it’s over’, or the more eloquent ‘it’s not over until the fat lady sings’. Regardless, Djokovic was the epitome of the underdog not willing to let one more point ruin his outstanding record. He got inside Feds head and he committed the errors. That moved Djokovic on to take on Rafael Nadal of Spain, a match up that gave the non-traditional Monday crowd ever bit of what it had paid for. Rafa, as he is more commonly known in the tennis world, has struggled mightily this season and came into the match up at 59-10 on the season. He played with two badly burned fingers last month, and had acknowledged that Djokovic was definitely affecting him mentally. It took four sets and four hours, ten minutes, 6- 2, 6-4, 6-7(3), 6-1, with Djokovic eventually pocketing $1.8 million, plus the coveted trophy that had eluded him. He now holds three of four majors this year, with just the French Open title eluding him. He has won three Grand Slam events in one year—The Australian Open, Wimbledon and now the U.S. Open, becoming just the sixth male player to ever match that feat. He also has nine ATP titles, five more than any other male player.
The Serb is also a class act, entering Arthur Ashe stadium sporting a FDNY navy blue cap in honor of 9-11. As he told the crowd after the win, the events that took place on Sunday far outweighed the sport that he and the other players have enjoyed. He sent out his compassion to the families of the victims and said as a Serbian native, knows war all too well and the toll it can take. Rafa also made an impassioned statement surrounding the weekend’s events and the significance of the extra ceremonies that opened each day’s play with first responders, police, firefighters and starstudded renditions of the national anthem. Poor form
Unfortunately, the women’s final once again was full of the drama that is Serena Williams. Those who follow tennis are aware of her struggles over the past year with a foot surgery that resulted in a lifethreatening blood clot in her lung. Back full strength this season, she appeared to have a renewed respect and appreciation for the game, but her often public displays of anger cast a dark shadow on what should have been another special finale’.
Facing Australian Sam Stosur, Williams yelled out during a point and when the chair umpire issued the point to Stosur as per protocol, Serena unleashed a tirade of venom onto her. That resulted in a $2,000 for verbal abuse of a tournament official. Among the insults, Serena told the chair, “I despise you”. “I hate you.” “You screwed me over here last time too, right?” referring to the 2009 U.S. Open where a very public display of disrespect saw Williams hurl threats at a linesman for calling a foot fault on her. Different chair ump, Serena, sorry. That incident earned her several thousand dollars of fines, a probationary period issued by the USTA, and the default of that match to Australian Kim Clijsters.
CBS commentator Mary Carillo nailed it when she said on air, “That’s just bad form”. Also in the booth was John McEnroe, and anyone who follows tennis knows, he was one of the most vocal players and fit-throwers back in the 1980s and 90s. He at least waited until the point was over before unleashing on the officials. It was just a sour note on what was otherwise a spectacular two weeks of tennis.