US Open 2020: Federer's first, Nadal's debut – the last time QFs were without a grand slam champion

By Sports Desk September 06, 2020

Remember Roger Federer's first grand slam title, or Rafael Nadal's major debut?

Both came at Wimbledon in 2003, which is the last time – before this year's US Open – when the quarter-finals of a grand slam did not feature a previous male major champion.

With Federer and Nadal absent in New York, Novak Djokovic stunningly defaulted after hitting a linesperson with a ball in his last-16 clash with Pablo Carreno Busta.

There will be a maiden male grand slam winner for the first time since 2014, when Marin Cilic claimed the title at Flushing Meadows.

While the quarter-finals are set to be packed with talented youngsters, we take a look back at what that tournament at Wimbledon in 2003 looked like.

Hewitt, Agassi fall early

The defending champion and top seed, Lleyton Hewitt was stunned in the opening round at the All England Club.

The Australian fell to Croatian Ivo Karlovic 1-6 7-6 (7-5) 6-3 6-4 in a huge upset.

Hewitt had won the second of his two grand slams the previous year, but was shocked by the big-serving Karlovic to become just the second defending champion to bow out in the first round of the tournament.

"The first, I was completely – I mean, I was scared," Karlovic said afterwards. "After I saw that I can beat him, I start to play more better."

An eight-time grand slam winner whose last success had come at the Australian Open in 2003, Agassi made the fourth round before being edged by Mark Philippoussis 6-3 2-6 6-7 (4-7) 6-3 6-4.

Philippoussis would go on to reach his second grand slam final, but fell short against a 21-year-old Federer.

The other previous major winners in the draw were Juan Carlos Ferrero, who had just won the French Open, Yevgeny Kafelnikov and Gustavo Kuerten.

Ferrero lost to Sebastien Grosjean in the fourth round, Kuerten departed in the second and Kafelnikov in a five-set loss to Raemon Sluiter in the first.

Federer takes his chance as Nadal makes debut

Federer was already the fourth seed heading into Wimbledon, and 2003 would mark the beginning of an era of success.

The Swiss had reached the quarter-finals two years prior, his reputation enhanced by an incredible five-set win over Pete Sampras.

But 2003 was comfortable for Federer, easing into the last eight before wins over Sjeng Schalken, Andy Roddick and Philippoussis.

Philippoussis had gone through five-setters against Agassi and Alexander Popp before beating Grosjean in the semis.

Grosjean had ended Tim Henman's latest home bid in the quarters, while Roddick had cruised past Jonas Bjorkman before falling to Federer.

Federer would win five straight Wimbledon titles and a record eight, while his 20 overall is also the most of men.

The man who would become one of his great rivals, Nadal, made his debut at a grand slam.

The 17-year-old Nadal beat Mario Ancic and Lee Childs before losing to Paradorn Srichaphan. The first of Nadal's 12 French Open titles came two years later, while his Wimbledon successes have come in 2008 and 2010.

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  • Coronavirus: Australian Open confirms further 25 players are quarantining Coronavirus: Australian Open confirms further 25 players are quarantining

    A further 25 players have been forced into hard lockdown for two weeks prior to the Australian Open, tournament organisers have confirmed.

    Tennis' season-opening grand slam was plunged into crisis on Saturday when it was announced 47 players would be consigned to their hotel rooms for 14 days and not eligible to practise.

    Officials said the protocols were as a result of two passengers testing positive for coronavirus on a flight from Los Angeles that arrived on Friday morning, along with another passenger who flew in from Abu Dhabi.

    That affected 24 players aboard the LA flight and 23 on the plane from Abu Dhabi, while another positive test for a passenger arriving in Melbourne from Doha on Saturday morning has taken the total number of players affected to 72.

    A statement from the Australian Open read: "One positive COVID-19 test has been returned from a passenger on a charter flight into Melbourne from Doha which arrived at 5.30am on January 16.

    "The passenger is not a member of the playing contingent and had tested negative before the flight.

    "There were 58 passengers on the flight, including 25 players. All are already in quarantine hotels.

    "The 25 players on the flight will not be able to leave their hotel room for 14 days and until they are medically cleared. They will not be eligible to practise."

    About 1,200 players and staff have been arriving in Melbourne on sparsely populated aeroplanes ahead of the delayed Australian Open, which is due to get under way on February 8.

    Speaking on Saturday, Tennis Australia CEO Craig Tiley insisted the tournament would be going ahead despite the chaos and the lack of preparation time for many of the playing contingent.

    "It's not something we wanted to happen," he told The Today Show. "We were hoping every flight would be okay. We're in this situation, we have to deal with it.

    "The Australian Open is going ahead and we'll continue to do the best we can possibly do to ensure those players, who are not in a great position, find it somewhat acceptable.

    "We're planning on February 8, we do have that buffer time in there. We're looking forward to welcoming fans to the Australian Open.

    "Ticket sales have been going well, we've got two weeks of great tennis and our intention is to continue with those dates."

  • Inter v Juventus: Who has the firepower to win the Derby d'Italia? Inter v Juventus: Who has the firepower to win the Derby d'Italia?

    A little before the midway point of the season, heading into Sunday's Derby d'Italia, you could argue Inter have Juventus just where they would have wanted them.

    Antonio Conte was brought to San Siro in 2019 and strongly backed in the transfer market with the primary aim of ending the dynasty he launched back in 2011-12 in Turin.

    Juve have won every Scudetto since then but are four points behind Inter having played a game less.

    Unfortunately for Conte, the Nerazzurri aren't the only side with designs on ripping away the Bianconeri's long-held crown.

    Milan remain top of the table despite succumbing to a 3-1 defeat to Juve earlier this month, where they were subjected to arguably the most authoritative display of the fledgling Andrea Pirlo era.

    Nine points separate Milan from Atalanta, Napoli and Lazio in fifth, sixth and seventh. Like fourth-place Juve, the former two have a game in hand on the leaders.

    Inter are their local rival's nearest challengers, three points from the top and three better off than third-place Roma, who were left with wounded pride by Friday's 3-0 derby defeat to Lazio.

    Struggles for consistency and congested title races can be seen across Europe as the effects of truncated pre-seasons and packed schedules continue to shake out.

    However, the firepower up front for Inter and Juve provides a strong case for both breaking clear of the pack, while promising a thrilling high-stakes shootout at San Siro.

    Lukaku-Martinez partnership brings joy

    Conte's second and final season in charge of Chelsea in 2017-18 was soured before kick-off as Manchester United beat him to the signature of Romelu Lukaku.

    It was clear that state of affairs did little for either man by the time they finally came together at Inter before the start of last season.

    Had Lukaku ranked himself as being among the top five strikers in world football, as he did last month, during the 2019 transfer window, plenty would have sniggered.

    But the big Belgian has put a patchy spell at Old Trafford behind him to shine at San Siro.

     

    Since the start of last season, Lukaku has 51 goals in all competitions - placing him fourth among players across Europe's top five leagues during that period, in between Lionel Messi in fifth and a certain prospective weekend opponent who is five goals better off.

    While not quite as prolific, Argentina international Lautaro Martinez has been a more than able accomplice, racking up 31 in 73 matches over the past season and a half.

    Nevertheless, despite this mountain of goals and Inter being Serie A's top scorers, there is a sense that Conte's front two could be more clinical.

    No player in the big five leagues with 25 goals or more to their name since the beginning of 2019-20 has a lower shot conversion rate than Martinez's 12.4 per cent.

    While Lukaku's conversion rate in 2020-21 is comparatively healthier at 27.9 per cent, in Serie A alone his nine goals from open play come in below an expected goals (xG) figure of 9.8 (Lukaku's three converted penalties do not figure in Opta's xG calculations).

    The concern for Conte is that this relative wastefulness takes a heavier toll on the big occasion.

    Inter crashed out of the Champions League after winning a solitary group match and have failed to win any of their four Serie A matches so far against last season's top six - a run continued by the raucous 2-2 draw with Roma last time out.

    Ronaldo finds ideal foil in Morata

    An obvious fear from an Inter perspective is that issues Martinez and Lukaku might have on the grandest stages will only be magnified by comparison to who they face this weekend.

    No man in the 21st century has hit the heights of goalscoring obsession known by Cristiano Ronaldo.

    Even if Juventus do not have the rampaging version that thrilled at Manchester United and Real Madrid, Ronaldo is raging against Father Time with utter conviction when it comes to putting the ball in the net.

    Only Robert Lewandowski - way out in front on 78 - has more than the Portugal great's 56 in the big five leagues from August 2019 onwards.

    Among that group of attackers with 25 goals or more, Ronaldo has fired off the most shots with 354. Messi (329) and Lewandowski (297) are not particularly close behind.

    Chillingly for opponents, he has found much greater efficiency this season. Ronaldo's shot conversion rate is 23.5 per cent in 2020-21 so far, a 10 per cent increase on the prior campaign. His 11 open-play goals in Serie A have an xG value of 7.9.

     

    If there is a new level of serenity to Ronaldo's play, part of the credit can perhaps go to the man alongside him. 

    Alvaro Morata was the third corner of the tangled Lukaku-Conte transfer triangle back in 2017, his time at Chelsea proving to be as sapping as Lukaku's at United. A loan to Atletico Madrid arrived midway through 2018-19. 

    Despite that move being made permanent, another loan back to Juventus came prior to the current campaign. 

    Under his old team-mate Pirlo, Morata looks like a player reborn, scoring 11 times in all competitions. Only four of those have been in Serie A but his seven assists over the course of the campaign are already more than he managed in the past two completed seasons - casting him as the ideal supporting act to Juve's indisputable lead performer. 

    One of the best five in the world, one of the greatest of all time, Argentina's next superstar striker or the quiet man from Madrid. On Sunday, one of them is set to step forward and add a key twist to a gripping Scudetto race.

  • Liverpool v Man United: Red Devils one full-back short of reaching the next level Liverpool v Man United: Red Devils one full-back short of reaching the next level

    It is December 16, 2018 – Liverpool have just beaten Manchester United 3-1 at Anfield in Jose Mourinho's final match in charge of the Red Devils.

    Victory sends Liverpool to the top of the Premier League, and while they ultimately narrowly missed out on the title that season, hindsight shows it was a signpost for their potential and depths United have plumbed.

    Ole Gunnar Solskjaer came in soon after on an interim basis and, despite there being critics who consistently call his abilities into question, there can be no doubt of the impact he has had.

    Sunday January 17, 2020 – United go to Anfield top of the Premier League, three clear of their bitter rivals. It is an achievement in itself, though Solskjaer has taken every opportunity to play it down – his terse response when asked in his pre-match news conference if he had received messages of congratulations from former team-mates highlighted his indifference.

    After all, in an ideal world for United, this is just the start – they must now look to make the summit their permanent residence in the table and continue to develop.

    While Solskjaer would surely not say so publicly, there is one area in particular where United should seek inspiration from their old nemesis.

     

    FULL-ON FULL-BACKS

    One of the Liverpool's greatest strengths over the past few years on their ascension back to the top of the pile in English football has been their first-choice full-backs.

    Generally speaking, it is quite rare for a side to have a right-back and left-back who are both effective at either end of the pitch, yet Andy Robertson and Trent Alexander-Arnold are just that, and especially so from an offensive perspective.

    They can help to create overloads in attack, with their presence in the final third still ensuring they carry a threat out wide even if the likes of Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah have tucked inside, as they frequently do.

    It's difficult to say United find themselves in a similar situation, however.

    Luke Shaw has demonstrably improved as an attacking presence, suggesting the signing of Alex Telles motivated him to work harder.

    The left-back is producing more crosses, successful crosses, key passes and passes into the box than he was last season, whereas Aaron Wan-Bissaka has regressed in each of those areas.

    A reported £50million signing from Crystal Palace in 2019, Wan-Bissaka was billed as potentially United's right-back for the next decade, but at the moment he looks out of place in a team that generally attacks with speed, precision and commitment.

     

    WAN-BISSAKA'S REGRESSION

    Of course, a full-back's primary function is – for the most part – to defend, but as champions Liverpool prove, having players comfortable with both sides of the game provides a real advantage.

    Wan-Bissaka certainly did not look to be a lost cause last season – his tally of three open-play crosses per game, while not outstanding, at least showed a desire to get forward. This season, there are only 13 players who have featured at least 10 times in the league to have averaged more than three.

    But in 2020-21, Wan-Bissaka's numbers have shot down. Now he is delivering just 1.1 crosses per 90 minutes and his overall key passes total of eight only puts him level with United's back-up left-back Telles, who has played just six games.

    Robertson leads the way among defenders with 32, while Alexander-Arnold, Joao Cancelo and Aaron Cresswell have 25 each, and next is the improved Shaw on 22.

     

    UNBALANCED UNITED

    So, what does this mean for United?

    Above all it contributes to them being lopsided. It's no secret that they have issues on the right side of their attack, with Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford both preferring to operate from the left if not through the middle, while Mason Greenwood simply hasn't managed to recapture his form from last term yet.

    This arguably makes it even more important to have a presence on the right, but seemingly Wan-Bissaka's team-mates do not have the same kind of trust in him as they do Shaw and Telles on the left.

    Just 33 per cent of United's passes from the wing into the box this season have come from the right flank, which means they go down the left about twice as often.

    There is no such disparity for Liverpool, though.

    Even in a season when Alexander-Arnold's level is being criticised, Liverpool still frequently look to try their luck down the right.

    In fact, 52 per cent of their passes from the wing into the opposing penalty area have been from his side of the pitch. They have much greater balance, and therefore this ensures they are less predictable.

    Of course, this isn't just on Wan-Bissaka. As mentioned, it highlights an overriding issue with United's right wing, but it does also raise questions about whether they feel he is their best bet long-term at right-back.

    In Wan-Bissaka's first season, his remarkable tackling numbers – which do remain impressive this term – and effort to get forward fairly frequently showed promise, even if some fans expected more from a £50m full-back.

    But with United hoping this is the start of them establishing themselves among the leading powers of English football once again, there's little doubt a right-back with greater attacking presence would offer them another dimension.

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