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Thursday, January 20, 2022

Tennis Yearender 2021: Federer’s farewell, Raducanu sings Sweet Caroline, Osaka’s mental health stand

As the ongoing year, 2021, comes to a close we take a look back at the moments that made a lasting impression in the tennis world.

Written by Sayak Dutta |
December 23, 2021 2:09:28 pm
tennis year enderHere is a lookback at the memorable events of tennis in 2021.

In sport, as in life, there are events within events. Moments that shape the moment of glory or moments that stay in the mind beyond the runs, wickets, goals, and trophies. Moments that are more imperishable than numbers. As a breathless year of sport ends, and another sporting year restless to unfold, The Indian Express looks back at 2021.

Federer’s final farewell?

6-3, 7-6, 6-0. That’s what the scoreline read at the Wimbledon quarterfinal when Roger Federer’s regulation forehand down-the-line went miserably wide. Hubert Hurkacz leapt in joy, the stadium went silent for a brief while before the pattering of applause trickled in. This was Federer’s biggest defeat at the All England Club. As he walked off quickly from the court with a wave, the applause that followed sounded more like an informal goodbye. Even the commentators wondered if this was the ‘final farewell’. Federer has recently stated he would be “extremely surprised” if he comes back for Wimbledon next summer. The Swiss great is at present in rehab after his third knee surgery and it’s possible he could miss all of the 2022 season. Will that forehand gone awry be the last image we take away from Federer’s glittering career? Only time will tell.

King of Clay falls

Novak Djokovic stood with his arms stretched wide, a slight hint of disbelief in his eyes, as he converted the match point against Rafael Nadal at the French Open semi-final. The king of clay had fallen 3-6, 6-3, 7-6(7/4), 6-2 after an epic 4-hour 11-minutes. As the saying goes, if you come at the king, you better not miss. Djokovic did not and more impressively, he wore down his foe in Nadal’s own battlefield – the famed Roland-Garros court. With that momentum, Djokovic would face Stefanos Tsitsipas in the final and defeat him 6-7(6), 2-6, 6-3, 6-2, 6-4. With the latest silverware in the cabinet, Djokovic became the first man in the Open Era to win all four majors twice. The year would get better for the Serb with his Wimbledon victory, thereby booking a place in the game’s hall of champions with 20 Grand Slam titles – the same as Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal.

Serena’s Australian Open swansong?

Emphatic. That’s the term that seemed the most apt when Serena Williams fell to Naomi Osaka in the Australian Open. It was a straight-set demolition that effectively ended Serena’s quest for her 24th Grand Slam crown. The American veteran was swept aside by the Japanese prodigy 6-3, 6-4 in front of a crowd allowed back after Melbourne lifted the lockdown. As Serena made her way off the court, she stopped, placed a hand on her heart and waved at the crowd. Was this a goodbye? No one but Serena can say this with surety. Recently, she withdrew from next year’s Australian Open, saying “I am not where I need to be physically to compete.” This is the second major tournament that she will be missing after the US Open, which might fan those retirement rumours but with Serena, we never know. The queen may want to go out on her own terms and a last hurrah may just be around the corner.

Emma Raducanu Raducanu’s win turned her into a superstar overnight, putting her in demand in the United States (File)

Emma’s “Sweet” US Open victory

After becoming the first British woman to win a Grand Slam in 44 years, 18-year-old Emma Raducanu was serenaded by the fans in attendance at the Arthur Ashe Stadium when they sang “Sweet Caroline”. Raducanu was a relatively unknown face when she came to the US Open but after her victory over another teen sensation, Leylah Fernandez, she left as the tennis queen of England. As she sat in her chair, soaking in her hard-fought victory, the Neil Diamond anthem was played and in a lovely shot, the newly-crowned US Open champion was captured in immortality, singing along to the song. The tune was the anthem of the summer as the England football team adopted it on their brilliant run to the Euro 2020 final, sadly losing in the final to Italy. Raducanu, however, would not be denied.

Medvedev’s dead-fish celebration

Medvedev had just extinguished Novak Djokovic’s hopes of winning the Calendar Slam, beating him 6-4, 6-4, 6-4 to win the US Open crown. After a win, the Russian usually opts for a muted celebration but not this time. This was his first Grand Slam title and he wanted to do something different. He suddenly hit the ground to do a dead-fish celebration- almost symbolising the NextGen, with their own set of new hobbies taking charge of the tour. For the uninitiated, the celebration is a tribute to one of his great off-court passions – the FIFA video game. In his on-court acceptance speech he addressed the move. “Only legends will understand. What I did after the match was L2 + left,” Medvedev said. He would explain it further in the post-match conference, saying, “If I’m going to win Wimbledon, I need to do something, but I want to make it special. I like to play FIFA. I like to play PlayStation. It’s called the dead fish celebration. You’re going to score a goal, you’re up 5-0, you do this one.” Never change Daniil, never change.

naomi Osaka The four-times Grand Slam champion Osaka announced her withdrawal from French Open to focus on mental health (AP)

Osaka takes stand for mental health

Naomi Osaka won this year’s Australian Open in February. In May, she announced her withdrawal from the second Grand Slam of the season, the French Open. In a statement shared on social media, Osaka said she would be skipping the tournament to protect her mental well-being.

“I think now the best thing for the tournament, the other players and my well-being is that I withdraw so that everyone can get back to focusing on the tennis going on in Paris,” Osaka said.

Ahead of the French Open, Osaka had announced her pledge to skip post-match press conferences to protect her mental health. After her first-round match win against Patricia Maria Tig, she stood by that and was handed a fine. In her statement, Osaka also said she planned to “take some time away from the court.” She, however, did not specify for how long.

A Tweet from Chinese journalist Shen Shiwei’s Twitter account allegedly showing recent photos of Chinese tennis player Peng Shuai

#WhereIsPengShuai trends after Chinese player’s disappearance

On November 2, Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai accused Zhang Gaoli, China’s former vice-premier under Xi Jinping, of sexual assault in a post on Weibo, a Chinese social media platform. The post was taken down minutes after it went up. And then Peng Shui disappeared. She wasn’t seen in public for two weeks, which sparked concern for her safety. A number of tennis stars, including Naomi Osaka, Serena Williams, Billie Jean King, and Rafael Nadal, denounced censorship and expressed their concerns for Shuai. #WhereIsPengShuai became the talk of the world leading to the World Tennis Association announcing that it was suspending all events in China indefinitely. The Chinese government, however, did all it could to prove that the star was doing well and good. First, a reporter with CGTN, the state broadcaster, posted photos of Peng that he said were from the tennis star’s personal WeChat account. Later, Chinese state media reporters posted photos and video footage showing Peng at a youth tennis tournament. Recently, according to a Singapore newspaper, Peng Shuai said that she never wrote of having been sexually assaulted. The Lianhe Zaobao newspaper posted a video of Peng it says was taken Sunday in Shanghai in which she said she has been mainly staying at home in Beijing but was free to come and go as she chose.

Medvedev’s clay aversion

If you have been following Daniil Medvedev’s career, you might have come across the Russian’s aversion to clay courts. It’s not really a secret and Medvedev has told everyone who would listen that he “hates the surface.” That was the case again at the Madrid Masters when let his feelings show throughout the contest against Alejandro Davidovich Fokina, at one point exclaiming “I don’t want to play here on this surface!” at a change of ends. After winning that particular match, which incidentally is his first career win here, he cheekily wrote on the tv camera lens “Love clay :)”

At the Italian Open, it was the same story when he faced off against fellow Russian Aslan Karatsev, losing 2-6, 4-6. He had lost the first set and when he was broken in the second, he sat courtside and muttered to himself, “It’s the worst surface in the world for me. But if you like to be in the dirt like a dog, I don’t judge.”

Following that, he lost a couple of more points and turned to tournament supervisor Gerry Armstrong and said, “Gerry, please default me, it would be better for everybody.”

Cuevas’ ‘quarantics’ in hotel

What do you do when you are a tennis player and have been thrust into quarantine before an important event? You get creative. That is exactly what Uruguayan veteran Pablo Cuevas did. Cuevas was one of 47 competitors ordered into mandatory 14-day isolation after positive coronavirus cases were identified on two separate charter flights into Australia. In order to pass time, the player posted videos on social media detailing his antics in his hotel room. He pretended to surf on his bed and said, “They told me that the best waves are here in Australia.”

He pretended to be a stockbroker in his Instagram story, explaining that Australian Open shares are down at the moment, but it could change once the tournament kicks off. He even pulled out a beer and threw himself a one-of-a-kind dance party. He also filmed himself sunbathing while sitting on the window and in another instance, pretended that he’s in a hospital bed.

Tsitsipas’ lengthy bathroom breaks irk many

Greek player Stefanos Tsitsipas was in the eye of the storm with his lengthy bathroom breaks often, pardon the pun, courting controversies during his US Open matches.

In his first-round match against three-time Grand Slam champion Andy Murray, Tsitsipas took a lengthy toilet break that went on for around 8-9 minutes. He took another eight-minute-long toilet break after the fourth set, but not before taking a medical time-out and even halting play to switch racquets while he was down 0-30 on his serve. “It’s not so much leaving the court. It’s the amount of time,” Murray said after the match. “I have zero time for that stuff at all and I lost respect for him.”

Against French player Adrian Mannarino in the second round, Tsitsipas again took a toilet break after losing the second set before coming back to win the match in four sets.

Alexander Zverev is another tennis player who did not hold back against Tsitsipas’ antics, accusing him of using the bathroom breaks to get instructions from his father. “He’s gone for 10-plus minutes,” Zverev said. “His dad is texting on the phone. He comes out, and all of a sudden his tactic completely changed. It’s not just me, but everybody saw it. The whole game plan changes.”

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