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I know most of you are gearing up for Week 1, but I’ve stumbled into watching the last couple rounds of the US Open, and it’s been much more compelling than I would have thought.
Last night, while I was out at dinner with friends, drinking margaritas and exchanging theories derived from various rabbit abysses, Heather’s Portuguese phone rang four times in a row. It was Sasha from my Portuguese phone we had left her as she and her friend babysat themselves for the first time. Geniuses they are, they walked Oscar but neglected to take the keys with them and had locked themselves out. I had no real choice but to down my margarita, inhale my tacos and Uber home to let them in.
The silver lining of being stuck at home by myself on a Saturday night was I got to watch the women’s final. I used to watch a lot of tennis in the ‘80s and ‘90s, and even a good deal of women’s tennis, but aside for Nadal-Jokovic-Federer and occasionally Serena, I haven’t watched much over the last two decades, particularly on the women’s side.
I didn’t have high hopes for this match, but figured I’d leave it on in the background while I tinkered with my NOSTR accounts, checked for NFL news and did a Sudoku. There was one woman, Coco Gauff, of whom I had heard, but didn’t know anything about other than that she was American and black. I figured the crowd would be behind her at the US Open, facing Aryna Sabalenka, a Belarussian who I had seen a couple times in a tennis reality TV show Heather and Sasha watched this summer.
Gauff, it turns out, is only 5-9, average by pro tennis standards, and fairly petite body-wise in relation to some of her peers. Sabalenka is 6-0, with broad shoulders and a lot more mass on her frame. Accordingly, Sabalenka hits much harder and more aggressively than Gauff and crushed her in the first set.
The problem for Gauff was while she was quick and had amazing range, her game was all defense, no offense. It was like Michael Chang when he won the French Open just by getting to every ball.
But Gauff grabbed an early lead in the second set, and her “just getting to every ball” was starting to seem otherworldly. She was in better shape than a triathlete, had a bigger VO max than an Olympic miler. She was covering so much court, running back and forth, returning clear, crushed would-be winners and not even having to catch her breath.
It’s worth watching this three-minute highlight reel in full to get the idea:
Gauff won the second set, but I still thought Sabalenka would win. She serves and hits like Serena Williams, and Gauff was just out there making almost no errors and running on grit and heart. But in the third set Gauff just didn’t relent. She chased down everything, and even though Sabalenka hit all the winners and big shots, she also made all the errors.
When Heather got home, I told her what a great match it was, but she was dubious. The third set wasn’t close, and these aren’t all-time greats. What was so great about it? Maybe my expectations were low, or maybe I got caught up in rooting for the American, but I don’t think that was it. They say styles make the fight, and these were two great, complementary styles to watch. That and the amount of self-belief and heart Gauff showed after getting blown off the court by the world’s (now) No. 1 player in the first set.
After the match Gauff said a prayer, and when asked about it explained she doesn’t pray for results, only that she’s able to give her full effort. I think that’s what was so enjoyable about the match — you saw a less potent player win her first Grand Slam by giving everything she had.
. . .
I’ll try to watch the men’s final too, though it coincides with the late wave of NFL games. I love Djokovic as a player and even more so now that he stood up for his principles and refused to inject pharmaceutical conglomerate chemicals he obviously didn’t need at the cost of missing two grand slams he would have been favored to win.
He’s the Muhammad Ali of his era, and like Ali, one of the greatest athletes of all time in any sport. If he wins today, he’ll have been a fifth set at Wimbledon away from taking down the Grand Slam at 36, his response to being banned at the peak of his powers in his quest for GOAT status at the behest of pharma-friendly apparatchiks.
So I’ll be pulling for Djokovic today, but let’s not forget Daniil Medvedev was himself banned from Wimbledon last year, simply for his identity as an ethnic Russian. Djokovic is not the only player in this final whose livelihood was undercut by ignorance and bigotry.
From Gauff’s unbelievable show of heart yesterday to two players responding to hate and bigotry to arrive in this final in the land of the free (and no matter what the craven ruling class of the day does, it’s constitutionally — axiomatically — that so long as we recognize its founding principles), I’m enjoying it.