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Sofia Kenin leads U.S. Olympic tennis qualifying after Australian Open

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Sofia Kenin not only earned her first Grand Slam singles title at the Australian Open, but she also moved closer to one of her modest goals for 2020: qualifying for her first Olympics.

Kenin supplanted Serena Williams atop U.S. Olympic qualifying standings more than halfway through the process. The top four U.S. singles players in the WTA Rankings after the French Open in June are in line to play in Tokyo.

Kenin is all but assured a spot, since she is more than 3,000 points ahead of the No. 5 American, Coco Gauff. A Grand Slam title nets a player 2,000 points. Second-tier tournaments like in Miami and Indian Wells in March offer 1,000 points to winners.

Kenin plays doubles with countrywoman Bethanie Mattek-Sands, who has signaled her intent for the Tokyo Games. If the current singles standings hold, and Mattek-Sands is added to the Olympic team for doubles with Kenin, one discretionary doubles spot would be left.

The U.S. Tennis Association could go with the next-highest-ranked singles player — currently the 15-year-old Gauff — or perhaps Venus Williams, the most decorated Olympic tennis player in history, to pair with Serena. Gauff is younger than any Olympic tennis player since Martina Hingis and Anna Kournikova in 1996.

Venus Williams, who turns 40 on June 17, could become the second-oldest female Olympic tennis player in the modern era after Martina Navratilova (47 at the 2004 Athens Games).

The U.S. men’s picture is far different. The top American in Olympic qualifying — Sam Querrey — ruled out playing in the Olympics. The top U.S. man in current ATP rankings — No. 18 John Isner — said he’s leaning to skipping the Olympics for a second straight time.

That U.S. should still qualify four men for the field of 64 with the likes of 22-year-old Taylor Fritz and Australian Open quarterfinalist Tennys Sandgren.

Notably, two men who are currently not in outright Olympic singles qualifying position: Brit Andy Murray, who won the last two Olympic titles, and Japan’s most decorated player, Kei Nishikori. Murray and Nishikori missed the Australian Open with injuries.

However, there is one Olympic place reserved for a past Olympic or Grand Slam champion — should his nation not have qualified the full four singles spots — which would conceivably go to Murray. And Nishikori, who last played at last summer’s U.S. Open, can take a protected ranking.

U.S. Olympic tennis singles qualifying standings through Australian Open:

Women
1. Sofia Kenin — 4,051 points
2. Serena Williams — 3,595
3. Alison Riske — 2,053
4. Madison Keys — 1,972
5. Coco Gauff — 979
6. Jennifer Brady — 726
7. Danielle Collins — 692
Outside the top 10
Venus Williams — 449
Sloane Stephens — 431

Men
1. Sam Querrey — 920 (skipping Olympics)
2. Taylor Fritz — 900
3. John Isner — 890 (likely skipping Olympics)
4. Tennys Sandgren — 727
5. Reilly Opelka — 705
6. Tommy Paul — 615
7. Steve Johnson — 580

MORE: Coco Gauff eyes Olympics; can she qualify?

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Novak Djokovic wins 8th Australian Open, rallying past Dominic Thiem

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Novak Djokovic won his eighth Australian Open title the hard way, rallying past Dominic Thiem 6-3, 4-6, 2-6, 6-3, 6-4 in the final to defend the Big Three’s dominance in men’s tennis.

Djokovic was error-prone in the first three and a half sets, visited with a trainer and a doctor and was even called for two time violations on his serve. Thiem, seeking to become the first man born in the 1990s to win a Grand Slam, could see the finish line with a break point early in the fourth set.

“I was on brink of losing,” Djokovic said. “I didn’t feel that great. Dominic started dominating from back of the court.”

Djokovic saved it, then broke the Austrian’s serve at 4-3 for the first time since the opening set. Djokovic did it again at 1-all in the decider en route to extending his male record for Australian Open crowns.

Djokovic earned his 17th Grand Slam singles title overall, moving within three of Roger Federer for the first time in his career. Federer has a male record 20 Slams; Rafael Nadal has 19. The Big Three combined to win the last 13 Slams.

“Definitely my favorite court, my favorite stadium in the world,” said Djokovic, who moved to 16-0 in semifinals and finals in Rod Laver Arena. “I’m blessed to hold this trophy once again.”

LISTS: Most Grand Slam singles titles

Djokovic’s latest means that he snatches the No. 1 ranking from Nadal. Djokovic, who turns 33 on May 22, will have the same number of Slams as Federer and Nadal each had on their 33rd birthdays.

Thiem, the closest challenger to Djokovic, Federer and Nadal in recent years, narrowed the gap. He lost the 2018 French Open final to Nadal in three sets and the 2019 French final in four to the Spaniard.

“Novak is part of three guys who are by far best players ever,” said Thiem, who beat Nadal in a four-set quarterfinal, “These guys brought tennis to a complete new level, so they also brought me to a much better level.

“It was easier for sure in a different era to win big titles, that’s 100 percent. But I’m happy that I can compete with these guys on the best level. I really also that I win my maiden slam when they are still around because it just counts more.”

It’s the first time in the Open Era that three straight men’s Slam finals went five sets.

The last two showed just how close we may be to a changing of the guard. Consider Nadal needed 4 hours, 51 minutes to outlast Russian Daniil Medvedev at the last major, the U.S. Open in September.

“You definitely have a lot more time,” Djokovic, who has won 11 Slams since turning 26, told the 26-year-old Thiem. “I’m sure you will get one of the Grand Slam trophies. More. More than one.”

Now the spotlight shifts back to Nadal, who goes for a 13th French Open title in four months. He can tie Federer’s Slam total for the first time.

MORE: Coco Gauff eyes Olympics; can she qualify?

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Novak Djokovic, Dominic Thiem meet in Australian Open final, another generational duel

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On paper, Novak Djokovic versus Dominic Thiem in Sunday’s Australian Open final marks the third time in the last four Grand Slams that one of the Big Three faces a next-generation talent looking to break through.

Djokovic doesn’t quite see it that way.

“I think [Thiem is] not really anymore next generation,” he said. “I mean, he’s been around for many years and now already established top-five, top-10 player. … He definitely has the game. He has the experience now. He has the strength. He has all the means to really be there.”

No younger player has been a more consistent challenger to Djokovic, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal than the Austrian Thiem.

He lost to Nadal in the last two French Open finals and beat Djokovic in four of their last five meetings, most recently at last season’s ATP Finals on an indoor hard court.

But Djokovic is 15-0 in semifinals and finals at Rod Laver Arena. He eyes a record-extending eighth Australian Open title (Sunday, 3:30 a.m. ET) and to keep Thiem from becoming the first man born in the 1990s to win a Slam.

Few players have shown more dominance at a single Slam than Djokovic. Perhaps only Nadal at the French. The 26-year-old Thiem is well aware.

“He’s the king of Australia,” Thiem said of Djokovic on court after dispatching fellow child of the 1990s Alexander Zverev in Friday’s semifinals. “I’m always facing the kings of this certain Grand Slam in the final.

“If I walk off the court as a loser in two days, I still have to be patient, still have to trust the process.”

For Djokovic, it’s a chance to move within three Grand Slam titles of Federer’s male record 20, and two behind Nadal. The Serb, at 32, is six years younger than Federer and one year younger than Nadal, with less wear and tear.

“I don’t see tennis anymore only as I’m going to go there, and I’m going to win the trophy, do everything possible to achieve that, and once that’s done it’s done, and that’s the only reason I’m playing,” Djokovic said before the Australian Open, according to The New York Times. “I’ve finished with that kind of chapter in my life. I guess through the evolution of my life I came to the stage where it’s more than that.”

Djokovic hasn’t dropped a set since the first round. He swept a hobbled Federer in the semifinals. He is a clear favorite against Thiem, who is now used to the underdog role in major finals.

Thiem said it’s a completely different situation playing Djokovic in Australia versus Nadal in Paris. But he could not deny similarities.

“I mean, we are playing in tough times, we young players,” he said. “We always have to beat all these unbelievable legends.”

MORE: Coco Gauff eyes Olympics; can she qualify?

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