Monday, October 25, 2021

Mendoza: Keeping an eye on Osaka & Djokovic

Al Mendoza

All Write

EVERY Grand Slam is a joy to watch. The ongoing US Open tennis is no exception.

Naomi Osaka and Novak Djokovic are back and that makes me doubly happy. Their Grand Slam appearance always gives me a thrill equal to that of watching Tiger Woods do his thing in his golf heyday.

But absent in the ongoing US Open lasting up to Sept. 12 is Austria’s Dominic Thiem, who gave me the biggest kick last year when he climbed out of the pits to defeat Germany’s Alexander Zverev, 2-6, 4-6, 6-4, 6-3, 7-6.

Thiem, who turned 28 on Sept. 3, is nursing a wrist injury, forcing him to abandon his crown in the 141st edition of the year’s fourth and final Slam offering a record total of US$57,500,000.

But back to Osaka and Djokovic.

Osaka left tennis in June when she was threatened with sanctions for refusing media interviews in the last French Open.

She next said she was grappling with mental health issues.

The majority of her colleagues showed support, including the legendary Serena Williams.

She resurfaced in the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. Although she dropped a stunning third-round loss to unknown Marketa Vondrousova, her return brought joy to a sport that loves winners—and fighters.

Gladly, Osaka is her old self in New York, easily winning her first assignment before advancing by walkover over 20-year-old Olga Danilovic, who withdrew due to a non-Covid related illness on Thursday, Sept. 2.

Like Thiem last year, Osaka also rallied to defeat Victoria Azarenka, 1-6, 6-3, 6-3, for her second US Open title and her third Slam, proceeding to win the Australian Open this year.

Osaka went theatrical when she arrived in the US Open final last year wearing a black face mask bearing the name of Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old African-American boy shot to death in Cleveland, Ohio, in November 2014.

Before that, Osaka also wore similar masks for each of her other six matches, each with a different name of a Black American who died from either police violence or other citizens in the US.

Osaka’s most memorable mask had the face of George Floyd, who died last year from being kneed on the neck by an arresting Minneapolis police officer that was later convicted for murder.

Djokovic also made headlines last year for hitting a ball out of frustration—straight into a line judge’s throat.

Although accidental, Djokovic was banished from his fourth-round match for ball abuse.

He must behave now. Isn’t he aiming to repeat as a calendar Grand Slam champion after Rod Laver in 1969?

No mean feat.


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