Empty US Open Highlighted by Djokovic’s Default

Andrew Neuwirth, Staff Writer

This year, we were able to see an extremely unique US Open.  The tournament, usually held in stadiums packed with tennis fans, was held with no fans for every match due to the outbreak of COVID-19.  

Many elite players opted out, including Rafael Nadal, who is ranked second in the world, Roger Federer, ranked fourth, and the reigning champion of the women’s US Open in 2019, Bianca Andreescu.  This led to a player pool where a lot of lower seeds had the chance to perform well.  

“Worse players might get further in the tournament, but their skill will stay the same.  They most likely won’t win it all because there are players that are still better than them, but they do have a better chance than usual,” said freshman Mia Clateman.

The first round in the men’s singles tournament began with Novak Djokovic, ranked number one in the world, crushing Damir Džumhur, who was unranked.  Nearly all of the players favored to win in the first round moved on.  In the first round of the women’s singles tournament, the top seed, Karolína Plíšková, seemed to be unstoppable and beat unranked Anhelina Kalinina with ease.

As the men’s singles tournament moved on to round two, all of the top seeds flew by easily to the next round.  Round three was the same story, as the only upset was the fourth seed getting knocked out.  Round four was where the competition began heating up on the men’s side.  

For the women, the second round of the singles tournament was certainly more exciting.  No. 1 seed Plíšková, who was favored by many to win the Open, was crushed by Caroline Garcia, an unranked player from France.  There were some more upsets this round, including the No. 11, No. 12, and No. 13 seeds getting knocked out, though none of these were nearly as surprising as Garcia getting past Karolína.  

Round three of the women’s singles was highlighted by Garcia, who had beaten the No. 1 seed in the previous round, getting blown out by the No. 28 seed.  After the match, Garcia was clearly dismayed, and she said how proud she was of how far she had come, but how she wished it had ended differently.  Also, No. 7 seed, Madison Keys from the United States, injured her neck in the second set and was forced to retire.  Alizé Cornet from France moved on, but she fell in the next round.

Round four of the men’s singles contained one of the most controversial exits in sports history.  Novak Djokovic was given a default during the first set for hitting a ball in anger which inadvertently hit a side judge.  This resulted in an automatic win for Pablo Carreño Busta, the No. 20 seed from Spain.  Many people found the default to be unwarranted and an overreaction, while others sided with the judges, insisting that the ejection was within the rules.  

“He should control his emotions and his actions when he makes a mistake. If he’s going to hit a ball to the side, he should at least make sure he doesn’t hit a side judge,” said freshman Steven Braunshweiger. 

Once Djokovic was sent home, the tournament title was up for grabs.

Round four of the women’s singles held many surprises as the No. 2, No. 6 and No. 8 seeds would all lose.  Many thought second-ranked Sofia Kenin would win the tournament, but they were shocked when she failed to succeed in this round.

The quarterfinals for both men’s and women’s singles arrived, and that’s when the unprecedented conditions began to come into play.  Without their diehard fans present, popular players were often at a loss for energy when they didn’t hear enthusiastic cheers after each point won.  

“When players have no fans, they don’t play up to their expectations because they are not used to the environment.  If they do have fans, some will play better because some people perform well in loud, high-pressure situations,” said freshman Alexander Wing.  

Carreño Busta, who moved on after Djokovic’s default, won in the quarterfinals of the men’s tournament.  In the semi-finals, he would fail to continue his Cinderella-run, losing to the No. 5 seed, Alex Zverev from Germany.  The No. 2 and No. 3 seeds would face each other in the semi-finals, and the second ranked Dominic Thiem would triumph and prepare for the finals.  

On the women’s side, the quarter-finals had no upsets, and each of the higher seeds made it to the semi-finals.  The semi-finals resulted in a loss for No. 3 seed Serena Williams, who was upset by Victoria Azarenka, an unranked player from Belarus.  No. 4 seed Naomi Osaka of Japan beat the No. 28 seed as well, setting up an intriguing final matchup.

The men’s final was shaping up to be a blowout, when Zverev went up two sets to nothing to start the game.  Thiem then stormed from behind to win, becoming the first player in over 70 years to come back from two sets to none in a US Open Finals.  After the game, Zverev was emotional, but Thiem showed great sportsmanship and talked about how amazing a person Zverev is during his match acceptance speech.

The women’s singles final didn’t add to any record books, as Naomi Osaka won two sets to one against Victoria Azarenka.  It was a challenging game for both players, but Osaka pulled out at the end to win her second US Open title.

Next came the doubles, which looked to be almost as exciting as the singles.  Round one of both the men’s and women’s tournament was filled with surprises.  The No. 4 seeded team on the men’s side of Ivan Dodig and Filip Polasek were surprisingly upset by an unranked team, Jamie Murray and Neal Skupski from Britain.  Additionally, Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Shuai Zhang, the No. 5 seed in the women’s doubles tournament, were upset by Asia Muhammed and Taylor Townsend, both from the United States.

The No. 3 seed in the men’s doubles tournament ended up getting knocked out in the semi-finals.  The finals matchup consisted of the No. 8 seed, Nikola Mektic and Wesley Koolhof, facing off against unranked Mate Pavic and Bruno Soares.  Pavic and Soares, from Brazil and Croatia, were underdogs in every round of the tournament, and yet they still were able to win it all.  The women’s doubles tournament ended with No. 3 seed Yi-Fan Xu and Nicole Melichar up against the unranked team of Laura Siegemund and Vera Zvonareva.  Siegemund and Zvonareva  ended up winning their tournament, defying all expectations.

Overall, there were many upsets in both the men’s and women’s tournaments throughout this unique US Open.  It was an entertaining few weeks and will forever go down as one of the wildest in recent tennis history.