Rafa Nadal became the greatest tennis player in the world this summer and he proved it at the US Open on the Billie Jean King stage by completing the career grand slam in tennis, defeating Novak Djokovic in the final. I think some year he will complete the Grand Slam in the calendar year. We did not see him play at the Australian Open, Wimbledon, French Open or the US Open. We saw the transition of Federer to Nadal as the best in the sport. We saw Federer win the AO, get beat in the quarter final by Soderling at the French to stop his appearance run in the Grand Slam semi’s at 23, and get beat again in the quarters at Wimbledon by Berdych. We attended the US Open over the Labor Day weekend and saw neither player, but saw some exciting tennis. We completed the Grand Slam in the calendar year. Seeing tennis up close is completely different than watching it on TV. On TV you do not see the different spins, different paces or the emotional tensions building on the court. The feel of fans in the stands cheering for their favourite player in overwhelming and at times must be that way for the players. If you are a fan and never been to a professional tournament be sure to see my follow-up post on how to get tickets and up front seats for any of the Grand Slams without breaking your wallet, plus the best and worse of each of the slams.
We touched down in NYC from Brussels in July ending our 10 month journey around the world stopping at the first three tennis grand slams for 2010. The travel excitement was not ending. We have been attending the US Open for over 25 years. There was excitement from the vibrancy of New York City to the expectations of the last slam of the year. Could Federer hold off the ascent of Nadal by winning the Open, could Nadal get the career slam, would the two greatest players Federer and Nadal play each other for the first time ever in the North American slam? Some talking heads were billing that match would be the greatest match ever in tennis.
We got our usual seats in the second row behind the baseline in the Grand Stand and witnessed at least 8 hours per day of great tennis for 4 days, stopping in at Armstrong stadium for a day and a half day in our nose bleed seats in Arthur Ashe. The play was fast and furious as was the 4 days, as was the last 10 months.
Our first match was a barnburner with Monfils versus Tipsaveric. Tipsarevic knocked out Roddick in the previous round with some heavy ground stroking producing 66 winners and only 30 unforced errors. Today was different, Monfils was able to track down Tipsaveric balls making him to go for too much. Monfils took a timeout during one game for broken shoes. The man is an entertainer.
Wickmayer needed all her speed to take the first and third set tiebreakers for the win. The third was a thrilling last minute standoff by Schnyder but she came up short 8-6 in the tiebreaker. What happened to the promising 32 year old Schnyder’s career? Wickmayer is too high strung on the court for my liking. But a good showing for Belgium with 3 women and three men in the draw and the eventual women’s champion. Where are the young Americans?
The twenty-nine year old Melzer, the 2010 Wimbledon doubles champion is having the best year of his career and easily deposed of the thirty year old Ferrero in three sets. Melzer would have his run stopped in the next round by Federer, just like it happened at Wimbledon.
The 19 year old could not get the ball by the French champion, producing 29 errors to Schiavone’s 14. Schiavone is a dynamo bull dog on the court and will tire you out just watching her all court game. The thirty year old squashed the promising Russian. Schiavone’s run ended in the next round by Venus Williams.
This was the battle of one of the biggest one handed backhands and one of the biggest forehands in the game. The big forehand easily stopped Almagro. Almagro could be seen shaking his head and saying to his coaches box, “I can’t beat him”. Querrey wowed the crowd with 42 winners, mostly off the forehand and threw in 19 aces for a convincing 3 set win over the 14th seed. Querrey is on the rise.
If new coaches ever made a difference it was today by the Swiss and the Brit. Wawrinka was all positive energy even with a thigh injury timeout. He would not let Murray hang around. After losing the 1st set tiebreaker, he came back with a thrilling 2nd set tiebreaker win and that was enough for Murray who hang dogged it to his coaching mother for the next 2 sets.
This was the battle of supremacy for the 2 highest ranked French players. Gasquet’s pretty game was not enough for the shoe weary Monfils. Monfils even stopped play with a timeout after a shin scrapping tumble on the court and walked gingerly to the umpire and sat down in his seat. It amused the crowd that the umpire announced that Monfils was going to change his shoes.
This was an highly anticipated match because the American Fish was on a resurrected career and having a surging summer, everyone wanted to see him go on further but the 3rd seed is the real stuff and slowly tired out Fish who had a 5 set win over Clement in the previous round.
This was a test for both women. Was Wozniacki the real top seed at the tournament or was the former 2006 Open champion back true form? With Serena out, it was wide open for someone on top of their game to win it. Sharapova attacked in the blue for most of the 2 sets, but Wozniacki’s 10 only unforced errors keep Sharapova going for broke and the loss.
On our first day at the Open I forgot to put a SD disk in my camera, so no images of our first day, but what a first match it was. This match is what you hope for when going to the Open. An 18 year old American ranked 220 in the world who had to play the qualifying tournament to get into the Open draw was up against the 36 ranked and unseeded player Stakhovsky. Harrison had already won his first round against Ljubicic the 15th seed. So the hype was on, was he the next American hope? The grandstand was filled and the crowd was chanting “Ryan, Ryan…”. Harrison lost the first set fairly easily, but what was surprising was this kid was a serve and volley player, in an era that does not lend itself to that style. Harrison was also strong from the baseline picking spots to get to the net and served consistently in the 120’s and over 100 on the second. The crowd watched in disbelief that there could be such a stronger baseliner and server that vollied at every opportunity and he was an new and unknown American. His opponent also pick times to get to the net, making 91 approaches to Harrison’s 83. When was the last time that many net plays occurred? Harrison’s game clicked in the 2nd set and he took it 7-5 and the crowd was wild and buckling down for the best of the 3 remaining sets. Harrison took the 3rd set easily and it looked like he was going to the next round, the crowd was ecstatic. Stakvohsky’s experience came into play, showing he was not done yet. Taking the fourth. Both players were looking tired for the fifth set, where the player with the most will usually wins. Since there was so much net play there were more lobs in the match than probably all other matches in the tournament together. Harrison at one point succeeded in running down a lob and hit a winning tweener that put the crowd in a standing frenzy. The fifth set went to a tie breaker that brought the crowd to a standing ovation after the 4 hour display of tennis like it hasn’t been played in decades. The crowd started chanting “Lets go Ryan..”. It was an electric tie breaker and Harrison was feeding off the energy of the crowd and it was soon at 3 match points for Harrison. The players had to wait long for the crowd to silence. Stakvohsky served two big serves and followed them in for two put away volleys. It was next up to Harrison at 6-5 to close out the match. He kicked his first serve out wide just barely missing an ace that the crowd thought it was responding with a quick loud cheer then a sigh. The second serve was a lollipop and Stakvohsky took control with a long rally that Harrison lost with a missed shot. At 6-6 Harrison double faulted. Match point Stakvohsky. The air was out of Harrison’s play from then on and he lost 8-6 with a lob to Stakvohsky standing at the net. It was a big let down to see Harrison lose, so much energy was generated in that stadium, it seemed like the tournament was over, but it was the first match of the four in the Grandstands for the day. Everyone was drained and disappointed but they knew they saw something special.
One of the benefits of the tournament is a ear piece radio. The matches are not only broadcast over the radio but they have special segments of tennis interest. One such is an early morning interview with Nick Bolleteri. In the segment the next day after the Harrison match he said Harrison is the real thing. In 2 to 3 years’ tennis can expect really big things from him. He was really enthusiastic about his development.
The next match was Schiavone versus Bondarenko. Schiavone also hit a tweener (remember the Sabatweeny?)that set her jumping 3 feet off the ground in celebration. Bondarenko could beat any male tennis player with just her good looks but it didn’t help her against Schiavonne.
Nalbandian watched the ball as good as Federer but gives a big snarled look at the ball before striking it. Serra was not in the same league and Nalbandian was on the comeback trail.
After 10 hours of tennis we had to beat the crowd to the subway.