A PLAYER with Caribbean roots has won the women’s singles crown in the United States Open Tennis Championships three times in the last four years.
Two years after lifting the trophy for the first time, Naomi Osaka did the trick again when she recovered from a 6-1 first-set thrashing nine days ago to defeat Victoria Azarenka in a battle of former world No.1 players for the title at Billie Jean National Tennis Centre, Queens, New York.
The 22-year-old represents Japan, the land of her birth, but her father hails from Haiti.
Osaka had maintained tremendous composure to stun Serena Williams when the six-time champ suffered an infamous meltdown in the 2018 title match.
Slone Stephens, who called her then 92-year-old Trinidadian grandfather Noel Smith “the best person who ever lived on this planet”, had beaten Madison Keys in an all-American final the year before, a few months after returning from injury with a world ranking outside the top 900 in the world.
The 27-year-old was edged in three sets this time by compatriot and eventual semifinalist Williams for a place in the “round of 16”.
Jean Julien Rojer, the Caribbean’s most successful player, and Horia Tecau were beaten in the semifinals of doubles by eventual champs Mate Pavic of Croatia and Brazilian Bruno Soares.
The 39-year-old from Curacao and his Romanian partner actually served at 5-3 to force a final set, but ended up losing the final four games in their 6-4, 7-5 defeat.
Rojer and Tecau had taken down Indian Rohan Bopanna and singles quarterfinalist Denis Shapovalov of Canada 7-5, 7-5 to reach the last four, after stunned the top-ranked pair in the world, Juan Cabal and Robert Farah of Colombia, 4-6, 6-3, 6-4 in the quarter-finals.
Rojer and Tecau, who are now ranked 21st in doubles but they have been as high as No.3, captured the US Open title in ’17, two years after being the last pair standing at the Wimbledon Championships.
But Rojer, who won the under-18 singles title in back-to-back years in the Trinidad ITF (International Tennis Federation) Junior Tournament in the late 1990s, is not the Caribbean’s most successful player of all time.
That honour goes to Mark Knowles.
The Bahamian and his regular partner Daniel Nestor of Canada were crowned doubles champs in three of the four Grand Slam events – Australian Open (’02), US Open (’04) French Open (’07) and reached the Wimbledon final in ’02, the same year they climbed to the top of the world rankings.
And although he never won a title, Knowles reached the top 100 in the world (No.96) in singles, four years after he turned professional – in ’96.
After losing three-set finals to Williams in ’12 and ’13, Azarenka of Belarus won their “battle of the moms” in the semis, before having to settle for the runners-up cheque for the third time.
The two-week tournament concluded last week Sunday night with Dominic Thiem lifting his first Grand Slam trophy when he became the first player in 71 years to capture the men’s title after dropping the first two sets in the final.
The Austrian edged Alexander Zerev in a fifth-set tiebreak after taking down the German in four in the Australian Open semis at the end of January.
It was the first Grand Slam tennis tournament since the coronavirus pandemic forced Wimbledon to be cancelled in July and the French Open to be pushed back from late May, twice, and will eventually get going on Sunday.
And it was the first Grand Slam competition to ever take place without the presence of spectators.