US Open: Osaka, Thiem provide highlights before sad end
A fascinating and controversial US Open came to an end over the weekend, with Naomi Osaka and Novak Djokovic crowned champions at Flushing Meadows.
Omnisport's Christopher Devine - who witnessed all the drama live in New York - picks out his highlights of the tournament, along with one hugely disappointing lowlight.
KAEPERNICK FEELS THE LOVE
The primary abiding memory from this tournament will certainly be Serena Williams' extraordinary row with umpire Carlos Ramos (more on that later).
However, eight days prior to the shocking events that sadly overshadowed the women's final, Serena and sister Venus were on court inside Arthur Ashe Stadium when a far more positive atmosphere reached its peak.
As the Williams siblings - quite possibly playing each other in New York for the last time - sat down for a changeover, Colin Kaepernick and Eric Reid appeared on the four big screens in the stadium.
The crowd's reaction sent shivers down this reporter's spine, with prolonged cheers and applause in support of the two former San Francisco 49ers players, who led protests in the NFL against police brutality and racial inequality.
It was a special moment and little did we know that a headline-grabbing advert with Nike was about to follow for Kaepernick.
OSAKA DELIVERS ON RICH POTENTIAL
The undoubted star of the championships was Osaka, who took down her idol in the women's final to make history as Japan's first slam singles champion.
While controversy marred her win over Williams, leaving the champion in tears during the presentation ceremony, it should be noted that Osaka was a set up and performing magnificently when the chaos started.
The Japanese - a breakthrough victor at Indian Wells in March - has a great serve, fearsome groundstrokes and clearly possesses a winner's mentality - as evidenced by the way she kept her cool in the final.
She lit up the past fortnight with her performances, not to mention a series of highly amusing interviews, and her future looks stunningly bright.
Also look who I bumped into pic.twitter.com/O0HBu1lpeP— NaomiOsaka大坂なおみ (@Naomi_Osaka_) September 10, 2018
DELPO BRINGS JOY TO TANDIL AND BEYOND
How wonderful it was to see Juan Martin del Potro - who almost retired in 2015 following continuous injury problems - shining again on the big stage.
Del Potro ultimately came up short in the men's final, despite a titanic effort, as the rejuvenated Djokovic produced a masterclass to claim his 14th grand slam title.
The Argentinian was in tears at the end, but should feel immensely proud. He and his boisterous band of friends from Tandil, whose vocal backing ensured there was a terrific mood every time Del Potro played, brought smiles to faces time and time again.
THIEM READY FOR NEXT STEP
Djokovic's success at Flushing Meadows means 47 of the last 55 men's slams - dating back to the 2005 French Open - have been won by either the Serbian, Rafael Nadal or Roger Federer, including all of the last eight.
By the end of September there will be no active slam-winner on the ATP Tour under the age of 30, with Del Potro and Marin Cilic both nearing landmark birthdays.
However, 25-year-old Austrian Dominic Thiem can feel more confident than ever in his ability to change that statistic. Although he ultimately lost an epic quarter-final to Nadal spanning almost five hours, this was without doubt the best performance of his career to date.
All. Night. Long.— Chris Devine (@chrsdvn) September 5, 2018
Nadal v Thiem is the match of the tournament, without question, and it will go to a fifth set at 0049.
Sensational effort from Thiem to force a decider.#USOpen@OmnisportNewspic.twitter.com/erAMFZHn00
Already regarded as a genuine contender on clay, the 2018 French Open finalist hit rare heights against Nadal to suggest his ceiling on all surfaces is perhaps higher than many imagined.
A SAD END
It is such a shame that a tournament with so many highlights will be remembered most for a deeply unsatisfying controversy.
Not only was the women's final itself overshadowed, the debate over the behaviour of Williams and Ramos continued throughout Sunday and remained a much bigger talking point on the streets and Subways of New York than the men's showpiece.
The International Tennis Federation (ITF) did not help matters, remaining silent on the issue as Ramos was subjected to allegations of sexism and racism, apparently without any right of reply.
An ITF statement in support of the umpire's decisions - providing a necessary counter-point to so much criticism - finally emerged on Monday afternoon. It should not have taken so long.