Wednesday, September 3, 2014
We got our first view today of Stan Wawrinka's arm tattoo which doubles as his life motto. It says "EVER TRIED. EVER FAILED. NO MATTER. TRY AGAIN. FAIL AGAIN. FAIL BETTER." While Stan might be faulted for punctuation (no question marks on the first two phrases? For shame Stan), the theme is a good one. And after his loss today, next year he will have to fail better in Flushing.
Had you told me a few weeks ago, "Matt, you will spend over eight hours in three days watching Kei Nishikori play tennis and you will actually be riveted doing it," I would have assumed you were crazy. But after watching Nishikori upset Stan Wawrinka today for the better part of my afternoon, I must say Nishikori is the most fun scrambler to watch since his coach Michael Chang. No point is ever over with Kei, as he chases down balls that seem impossible to reach and rarely, if ever, gives up no matter the sequence in the match. At three different points during the proceedings, I wrote down "turning point" as Nishikori made a mistake or missed an open opportunity and at each juncture, Nishikori found a way to hang on. In the third set, up a break and seemingly on the way to a 2-1 set lead, Kei tried a ridiculous between-the-legs shot that cost him the point and a service game, seeming to spell the end of his chances. But he fought back, held off two set points in the tiebreak and gritting out a huge third set win.
After the match, Nishikori talked about how he was able to summon up just enough energy to finish the victory and after two long matches, it would seem likely that he will be unable to continue the magic against either Djokovic or Murray. But Nishikori, more than any other player on tour, finds a way to summon up big points where others have long since given up. His ability to frustrate his opponents could be seen by Wawrinka's who post-match handshake was nearly as awkward as the ESPN television segment in which Patrick McEnroe discussed his "departure" from the USTA Player Development post (he said it was because he didn't want to move to Florida...sure thing, the "only one American male in the Top 50" had zero to do with it). While advancing to the finals is probably a long shot, it surely the case that Kei will fight until the last point in a tournament he calls his favorite of the year. If so, I might find myself enjoying another four hour marathon with Nishikori, who is quickly becoming my tennis comfort food.
I have never understood the desire of tennis players to beat their racket into submission. They say a good craftsman never blames his tools, but for tennis players who are going through a difficult day, the racket becomes the target of aggression, often ending its already short shelf life. The most famous racket mauling might be John McEnroe's pounding that led to his default from the Australian Open in 1990, but countless other smaller wounds have been inflicted, including today when Victoria Azarenka played poorly and made mincemeat out of her racket in the process. Vika (I notice that more and more tennis reporters feel we have to shorten the women's players' names to cute little nicknames...I don't like it, but want to fit in) lost to Ekaterina Makarova in rather dominating fashion and after falling down a break in the second set, gave her racket the business. It didn't survive and neither did Azarenka, going down in a whimper after all the of the early anger.
After the match, Victoria's publicist let everyone know that part of the reason Azarenka may have played poorly (and been a bit cranky) was she had food poisoning from sushi she had eaten on Monday night. I generally have two rules in my own personal life about sushi, never eat in an airport and never while competing for a US Open. But Vika clearly did not follow the second (no word if she potentially broke the first by dining at Laguardia) and her sluggish play could have been a result. After the match, Azarenka was asked about the evil sushi and she denied it playing any part...something that directly conflicted with what her publicist had previously said. Never has the official party line been so directly disputed by an individual since Charles Barkley claimed to be misquoted in his autobiography, but Vika stuck by the position, even getting angry when asked about it repeatedly. She left the press conference frustrated and exited the US Open with a bit of a cloud, after an otherwise successful week.
So Azarenka is now out, Makarova moves on to be Serena's Semifinal sacrificial lamb and we are left with the happiest person in New York being this woman, who ended up with Vika's smashed racket which she will now surely cherish forever. "Look kids, remember when mommy was at that match where the pro tennis player went nuts and smashed her equipment....well here it is!!!!"
Lifelong friends Donald Young and Taylor Townsend made an improbable run in this year's US Open mixed doubles draw, coming up just short of an appearance in the finals after suffering a semifinal loss in Wednesday's first match on Ashe. The Chicago natives and former junior world No. 1s fell in consecutive sets to Abigail Spears and Santiago Gonzalez, 6-3, 6-4.
In case you hadn't heard, Young and Townsend's relationship goes way back -- way, way, back -- which explains the chemistry we saw from them on the court this week, despite being a couple of newbies in mixed doubles. Their mothers were doubles partners back in Chicago and, though being seven years apart in age, they were close friends growing up. Maybe that's why Townsend felt so comfortable calling her older pal "Peanut Head" to tennis writer Sandra Harwitt. The temperamental Young is cool with the nickname, at least from Townsend, because she is his baby sis, the girl he's watched follow in his footsteps for years.
This year's US Open was only their second time playing together as teammates, three years after partnering in the 2011 Open. With this year's result, one would think they'll be back in Australia next year.
I'm all for it.
Chicago stand up.
Victoria Azarenka is currently in a quarterfinal match with Ekaterina Makarova, but a lot of the talk in the second week at the US Open includes her Monday night rendition of 'Happy Birthday.' Vika did her best to wish Gael Monfils a happy birthday following her win over Aleksandra Krunic on Arthur Ashe. It was a nice gesture, but I don't see a record deal in her future.
Last night, Caroline Wozniacki addressed Azarenka's less-than-stellar singing voice, telling her good friend, "You shouldn’t audition for The Voice. That was a screech.”
Meanwhile, Azarenka's ex-boyfriend, Redfoo, recently released a new single called 'New Thang.' The video debuted this week.
Tuesday, September 2, 2014
"I just want to be happy, other than that, I don't give a sh**."
That was Monfils' explanation for surrendering a point to Grigor Dimitrov when he wasn't happy with a call earlier in the game. It was yet another case of Gael Monfils being Gael Monfils. Through good and bad, he is so entertaining to watch.
Chances are if you're even a casual tennis fan, you know the Bryan Brothers. In a sport that is increasingly becoming more and more devoid of star power, a random set of twins have found a way to become probably the second and third most famous American men in the game (behind John Isner). It is somewhat remarkable considering the relative lack of importance placed on doubles by virtually all tennis fans and the scant (or more precisely almost zero) coverage it gets in the media and on television, that the Bryan Brothers could have achieved any level of stardom but they have. Doubles is generally a bygone sport played mostly by amateurs (although I find it the most entertaining form of tennis), but basically ignored when practiced by professionals at the highest level. Yet still, the Bryan Brothers are stars and a real draw, especially when playing at the US Open. So this had me wondering...what it is like to be the Bryan Brothers, rock stars of a sport no one cares about, but highly sought after for being its master.
After the Brothers won their third round match over some anonymous doubles team and moved a step closer to their record 100th ATP Tour title, I attended their press conference in the Media Center. Its location was telling of the Bryan's place in the realm of tennis popularity. They were not sent to Media Room One (the massive area in which the stars of the game are brought to meet the world's reporters), but they also weren't placed in Rooms 3-6 (rooms that aren't even really "rooms", but rather are simply cubicles where no more than 2-5 reporters can comfortably sit....they are used for the lower-tier singles winners, all the doubles players and most anyone whose name you don't know). They were instead placed in Room 2, a small office, with 12 or so reporters, comfortably asking questions in the most non-aggressive manner possible. I would call it the David Ferrer room...fit for those who are B-level tennis celebrities, and the Bryans fit right in.
Unlike other tennis press conferences in which the match is at least the preliminary focus, the story of the day was not the Bryan's victory per se, as it was rather easy, but the fact that due to scheduling they had played in front of a packed house at Armstrong Stadium. With Novak Djokovic following their match, every seat was taken and the Bryans wowed the crowd with their energy on a court that was for the most part rocking. It is fair to say that it was one of the more energetic non-final Men's Doubles matches in the past ten years. While the crowd factor was the initial inquisition, none of the follow-ups to the Bryans were about the match...as a matter of fact in the ten minute session, there was literally no reference to their play. Instead a series of general inquiries were repeated, some of which I jotted down:
Do you feel that being brothers makes your chemistry on the court stronger?
How does it feel to be the face of doubles in America? Do you feel more responsibility because of it?
Who were your heroes growing up on the doubles scene?
What do you think you can do to make doubles bigger in America?
Is there more pressure on you now that there are no other American males left in the US Open?
None of the questions had anything to do with the Bryans' on-court talents and in fact, one would have never known that they had just finished a match, had they not been sweating and downing bottles of water. Instead, it was a series of questions by a group of people (myself included...I asked the second one) who knew that the Bryans were a story but didn't know how to make their actual on-court work newsworthy. It was clear that for virtually all who follow them, the Bryan brothers are important people doing a very unimportant thing. That has to be an odd situation to be in. The questions they are asked are the same every time (there can only be so many times one focuses on what it is like to play with your brother) and the interest is always on the surface. They made reference to doubles teams of the past (specifically the rocking Jensens, who they say they looked up to as they began their career), but we learned zero about them beyond the surface. They are handsome brothers who have chosen to play together and are very good doing it...one of the best teams of all time. And they are performing in an entertaining way that makes them important on the tennis scene. But beyond that, little can be said.
At the end of the festivities, the room was cleared out so that the special reporters could get "one on one" access (I still don't know how one gets this individual access but after eavesdropping on a few of their sessions, it strikes me that they simply ask the same questions but without the comfort of the crowd...maybe I am just bitted as I was denied a one on one with, of all people, Jack Sock who should be begging for some form of notoriety or importance). Before we all were herded out of the room, a reporter said, "Just to be clear guys, you are Bob right and the other one, you are Mike." I can't remember which one he pointed to, I just remember that he was incorrect. With a smile, Bob said he was Mike and Mike said he was Bob, and everyone had a hearty laugh at the clueless journalist who couldn't tell them a part. But as soon as it was over, I realized I couldn't remember which was which either...maybe Bob was in read and Mike was in blue or maybe it was the other way around. I am not sure. And that sort of symbolizes the Bryan Brothers' status...important enough to interview but yet still individually anonymous enough to not be differentiated. It is an odd setup for two of the three biggest American male tennis stars in the nation, but one they seem to inhabit as well as possible.
Gael Monfils is back in the quarterfinals of the US Open for the second time of his career after defeating No. 7 Grigor Dimitrov in straight sets, 7-5, 7-6, 7-5. The win is the Frenchman's first ever victory on Arthur Ashe as he continued his dominance here at the 2014 Open by, again, not giving up a set. He has won all four of his matches in three sets, two coming against higher seeded opponents.
So what's behind this newfound success in Flushing?
The answer is simple: Beyonce and Coca-Cola.
As he has done in the past, Monfils was seen drinking from a can of Coke during a changeover in the second set and again in the third. He raised his sugary drink toward his corner to toast his agent -- he said it makes him smile -- before taking a big glup. "Sometimes I just want a Coke," he explained in his postmatch press conference.
It is very rare to see an athlete drink a soft drink during competition, but Monfils claims it gives him an energy boost when he is gassed. Whatever works, I guess. And it worked.
While Coke fueled Monfils in the second and third sets, it was Beyonce's "Partition" that drove him to take the first in a tiebreak. During his on-court interview with Tom Rinaldi, Monfils said he listened to "Partition" in his Beats By Dre headphones before the beginning of the match.
"I think it's a great song," he said. Again, whatever works, I guess.
Listen to Monfils' hype song below: