Friday, August 30, 2013

Three Quick Notes from Day Five

As I write this, Lleyton Hewitt is trying to upset Juan Martin Del Potro and I feel like the match requires my presence. So I will make my three notes on Day 5 a little shorter than usual. Some thoughts:

(1) The Donald Young Circus Up Close:

The story of Donald Young is familiar to any tennis fan. For the casual viewer, it boils down to this. To much was given, much was expected and it just hasn't happened. Still I came into today rooting for the kid, in part because I liked his game, in part his attitude and in part his swagger in a sport that rarely has any. Today I watched him up close, from the second row of the Grandstand court to see his match against Florian Mayer and find out why he is so polarizing. After one set, the answer was clear. Young can still be exciting to watch, as he hits tremendous running shots, has a way of escaping difficult situations and plays with a lot of energy. But sitting so close to he and his family (who I must say, seem like lovely people) can also make one not a fan. After blowing a set point and losing the first set in a disappointing manner, Young cursed loudly and in the direction of his parents, saying words that I could never imagine coming out of my mouth in the same area code as my mother. He stayed down on himself for most of the match and the language that followed was pretty striking considering the setting. I like personalities in tennis but I don't like those that disrespect those around them and then scream (as Young did after the match), "he played OUT OF HIS ASS!" Young is another American that I want to support and up until today, I have cheered for at various points for years. But like a Hannah Montana fan that accidentally tuned in and saw Miley twerk, today gives me a different image of one I otherwise want to see succeed.

(2) Hawkeye Technology:

This is probably a topic for a longer post on another day, but for now this will suffice, I don't buy the challenge technology in tennis. Now let me be clear. I am not one of these conspiracy theory people who doesn't believe in technology and thinks the moon landing was just a television stunt. However, you won't convince me that the Hawkeye tennis challenge technology is accurate. At those speeds, angles and with a round ball (which makes pinpointing the exact spot difficult), I refuse to believe that they can get an accurate spot so quickly. In soccer, goal line technology has just been introduced to the Premier League and it takes 20 seconds to come up with an accurate rendering. In tennis, we are supposed to believe it happens in 3 seconds. I don't and I am not alone. Roger Federer apparently is not trusting of the technology and in all things tennis, I follow Roger. If it is so accurate, why have lines people at all? The reason, its accuracy, while certainly better than nothing at all, is anything but 100% correct.

(3) Andy Murray Causes Brits to Worry

There are no group of people more vested in a person's success than the British media and Andy Murray.  As the defending champ lost the third set today to Mayer, the British media immediately went into high panic mode. There were immediately cries of concern of "what is wrong with Andy?" and "will he flame out?"  He didn't, winning the next set 6-1 to take the match. Still the collective panic in the room and genuine worry was palpable. I am not against "fan" journalism, as readers of The Outer Courts can surely see through out writings, and I have no problem with their love of all things Murray. However it is shocking to see a group of reporters openly pulling for a player that they are also covering for mainstream, national news outlets. To paraphrase a famous comment of years gone by, if Andy Murray has an itch, I wonder how many British journalists would line up to scratch it.

That is it for now...time to go see if Lleyton can hold on after winning the first set. Del Potro wasn't the nicest to us in the elevator in Cincinnati and that usually means bad karma...a lesson for players going forward that will hopefully be heeded.

Oh and finally, the tennis chair umpires do not need microphones this big. Over compensating?

Why are these matches so damn long?

Maybe I'm alone in this group, and feel free to speak up if I am, but I think men's Grand Slam tennis matches are entirely too damn long. Five sets? Ain't nobody got time for that. 

The best-of-five set format, though good for fans wanting to spend four to five hours with their tennis idols, is too much for the average spectator. We shouldn't have to waste an entire afternoon watching one match. Let's pick up the pace; get through one match in three and then bring out the next two competitors. Next group up, let's go.

I watched a match earlier in the week and considered changing my permanent address from Lexington, Kentucky to Court 11 had it gone any longer. Tennis is exciting to watch, Grand Slam tennis especially, so why am I having to take scheduled naps throughout so I can catch the end?

For perspective, instead of sitting through Ivo Karlovic vs. James Blake on Wednesday -- great match, though -- you could've walked from the US Open to the Empire State Building. And then down to the Statue of Liberty. You could've played 108 rounds of Ruzzle on your iPhone or caught up on all three episodes of Breaking Bad's final run. Better yet, you could've read every post in the history of The Outer Courts and told every one of your friends how awesome it is.

They say 5-setters are good for the elite players because it reduces the likelihood of an upset, I get it. But I'm not hearing it. Play three and if they lose, they lose. It's bad on their knees, anyway. Ask Rafael Nadal. Ask John Isner in a few years. Ask any tennis player with knees.

Again, maybe I'm alone here. Or maybe the people who agree with me are asleep in the stands somewhere while two unseeded players play a fifth set. Either way, the best-of-five format is too damn long in my eyes.

Ain't nobody got time for that.

Daniel Evans still alive, nipple rash and all

No one was more stunned to see Daniel Evans reach the second round of the US Open than the The Outer Courts, now we're speechless after seeing him advance to third. The young lad we saw lose in the first round in Kentucky's Fifth Third Tennis Championships, a Challenger event, upset Australian Bernard Tomic yesterday for yet another shocking victory.

But the win came with another storyline, not just that Evans is playing much better than expected and advancing along. After the third set, Evans' nipples entered the equation. Yes, his nipples. I'm just as uncomfortable writing about it as you are reading it.

Leading 1-6, 6-3, 7-6 (4) after three, Evans called for a trainer to tend to his chafed nipples. The trainer, answering an unusual call, applied tape to Evans' teats to prevent further nipple aggravation by covering the rash. He went on to win the fourth and final set, 6-3, to send Tomic home.

Defending Open champion Andy Murray was watching the match and tweeted about his fellow Brit's bizarre injury:

I assume it's the first time one professional tennis player complimented another's nipples on a public forum.

Another interesting sideshow from the match, in case that wasn't enough: Bernard Tomic's request for an Open credential for his father/coach was denied. John Tomic is serving a one-year ban from ATP events after he head-butted his son's hitting partner at a tournament in Spain. The Open said the elder Tomic isn't allowed in the Billie Jean King Tennis Center at all, not even with a regular ticket.

Nipple rashes, crazy head-butting dads and upset victories. Man, I love US Open tennis.

Why Do I Have To Cheer for an American?

Like many of you, I was captivated last night by the thrilling match between John Isner and Gail Monfils. The two players engaged in one of the more entertaining matches of the tournament (certainly the best on the show courts) and energized a New York crowd that had, up until this point, been very tame. The patrons ended up spending most of the third and fourth set on their collective feet and saluting two tennis warriors giving it their all. When you think about the US Open and the atmosphere created here in Queens, you think about raucous crowds and tremendous excitement (usually at night) that can't be matched anywhere else. That is what Isner vs Monfils gave us.

Sounds perfect right?  Apparently not. Throughout the telecast, the ESPN announcers openly questioned why the New York crowd was not cheering for the American Isner versus the foreign invader Monfils. Ignoring the fact (at least at first) that Monfils was two sets down and attempting to make a late comeback (thus meaning that cheering for Monfils meant cheering for more tennis), Chris Fowler and Brad Gilbert spent a good deal of time asking how could a New York crowd not support its own. Even though Monfils was playing the role of entertaining underdog and hitting stunning shots to give him a chance against the huge serve of Isner, for these two announcers the only question was one of passport. Isner is American and thus we Americans should cheer him no matter what.

Watching the match at the hotel (we did take last night off from the live premises), I kept saying out loud, "Why in the world should I have to cheer for an American?" Even though I received no answers (I was after all by myself and talking to no one), the point still sticks with me here a day later. Gail Monfils is possibly the most entertaining player on the ATP Tour. His style of play is exciting, with each match and up and down roller coaster of frustrating inconsistency and dynamic moments of top ten level play. But his personality is even better. He plays along with the crowd, jumping up and down when they cheer, laughing and smiling throughout and generally trying to be a showman from the first serve of the match. If Monfils was just a bit better (he once reached #7 in the world, but is now in the 30s), he would be the type of tennis player that could become a transcendent sports star. In fact, in a world where virtually no player outside of the Big Four has any traction with the American sports public, Monfils should be celebrated as having all the marketable qualities that could make him explode on the low attention span ESPN-era stage.

Further, there is no place in America where such theatrics would be more celebrated than here in New York. Yet there was Fowler, one of the most known broadcasters in all of sports, acting befuddled at the New York cheers and wondering aloud how something this "shocking" could be happening. He at one point asked whether Isner would ever be cheered so in France and added that it makes one wonder why it would happen here. For Fowler then, the American tennis fan should be a caricature of a Toby Keith country song, only hoping that fellow countrymen put a "boot in their ass" during every match, while we yell with reckless abandon for our star to "light up their world like the Fourth of July." I am surprised at such a low view of the tennis public. But at least Fowler was just acting surprised at the cheers, Brad Gilbert on the court seemed genuinely upset. He talked of a woman next to him who was angry at fans in the stands for their supposed treasonous behavior and suggested that he agreed with the sentiment. Gilbert noted that with American male tennis having so few stars, it was ridiculous not to support those actually with a chance to make a run.

That is all well and good but guess what. Monfils is the most fun player on tour and some of us appreciate fun.  Nothing against Isner, who has had a tremendous summer and who I support in virtually all of his matches. But his powerful service game is not exactly aesthetically pleasing. While I enjoy watching him at his peak performance, his matches usually become slugfests, with exhilarating tiebreaks interrupting the monotony of the otherwise lackluster play. I want Isner to win more often than not because we happen to be born on the same soil, but when I see a person with the entertainment value of Monfils on the court, forgive me if I don't simply go into a fit of anger at his success because we have an ocean between us. My tennis fandom is not that narrow-minded, even if others across the world would supposedly disagree.

The best part of tennis is the way that it equalizes success across a myraid of countries and nationalities. And what better place to celebrate this inclusion than in the most diverse city in the world. Normally that will still mean that our New York crowd rallies around its own against a storm of invaders. But sometimes we might just celebrate the beauty of the game over the pledge of allegiance cited by the player. That isn't somehow being disloyal, it is being explicitly American, a fact that I hope Fowler and Gilbert will ultimately appreciate.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

US Open Day Four in a Nutshell

It is late at night on what has been a relatively mundane Thursday at the Open, so just a couple of notes from the proceedings:

---  The story of the day for me was the second round win by Daniel Evans over Bernard Tomic. Drew wrote about this earlier in the week, but it bears repeating. Just a few weeks ago, Evans was in the draw at the Challenger event in our native Lexington, Kentucky. I noticed his name as I had a recollection of Evans from watching a late night Davis Cup match from days gone by. I assumed Evans (who was seeded in the draw) would do well, but instead he lost in straight sets 6-2, 6-1. Evans immediately exited my mind. Now just six weeks later, he is in the Round of 32 at the US Open. It is without question the biggest surprise of the event, as showcased by Roger Federer's comments when he was asked about Evans today. He said he was "honestly surprised" that Evans beat Tomic, a honest comment in a world where that is rare. Evans, tatted up like the good rebel he has been, says the reason he has improved is that for the first time in his life, he is finally working and practicing like a real professional. Whatever he has done, it has clearly worked, and one more win could see him playing Federer and trying to create another surprise, in the round of 16.

---  Speaking of Federer, I listened to his press conference today and heard him answer questions from the media in three languages. Federer gave comments about his easy win over Bautista Agut in English, French and German and while I didn't understand the last two, it sounded exquisite throughout. Listen, I have been in a lot of sports locker rooms in a number of different sports and I have never seen anything more impressive. In most sports I cover, athletes are lucky to be able to speak one language even moderately well. And here is the graceful superstar sounding eloquent (or at least eloquent to this blogger, whose major exposure to the two languages comes from "Saturday Night Live" skits) to reporters in three native tongues. It is unlikely I will see anything this week more impressive.

---  I take that back. Today I ran into Maria Kirilenko outside of the Media Center. She is my tennis crush. They scheduled one on one interviews for her and I lined up to do one. And then I realized I would have nothing to say and would instead just look at her and likely pull a Chris Farley ("Do you remember when you hit that backhand for that point....that was awesome"). All I got was this blurry picture below. It was possibly my worst run-in with a female celebrity crush since I met Ashley Judd and offended her by saying, "You are great. My mom is a big fan of yours as well and has loved you since she was a little kid."  That didn't go over well.

--- The matches today were generally boring due to the ease of the wins by the top players. No five set matches all day, and the top players (Nadal, Federer, Serena, Azarenka) barely even broke a sweat. In fact, the first four days of the tournament have been distinguished by their lack of thrilling matches. This likely changes on the weekend with some compelling third round draws, but for now the best stories have been the unknowns as the stars hold their domination.

---  Finally, a shot out to "The Outer Courts"s nemesis Jack Sock, who had a tremendous win over our favorite underdog Maximo Gonzalez. I went and watched a good deal of the match on Court 11 and while I still got frustrated with the smirks, the play was quite impressive. Sock has the talent and the draw to make some more noise. He has Tipsarevic next and then possibly a career making battle with David Ferrer. As I documented yesterday, I want to cheer for Sock. This week could make it happen.

It was a long day today as we dealt with a host of technical issues, but tomorrow looks brilliant, capped off by Del Potro/Hewitt. Hang tight and get ready...the fun is about to begin.

You have Open questions, I have Open answers

It has been a hectic first four days in Queens for The Outer Courts, mainly because everyone in the media center, including the people in charge, seem to hate us. (Hate is a strong word, we'll go with loathe. They loathe us.) Matt will go a little more in depth with the reasons behind the troubled relationship in another post, but to put it briefly, our access is limited because we were late additions to the party. Because we applied for credentials so late in the process, we're not even allowed to touch the free magazines or drink the free happy hour cocktails. Don't get me started on that one, though.

But back to the matter at hand. We're here and you have questions, as you should. And like any good tennis blogger with an ear to the ground and a laptop with complimentary WiFi, I will happily answer those questions. We all need to be on the same page if we're going to enjoy the Open, so let's get to it. May the educating commence.

What is the US Open?

If at any point you've asked yourself this question, I would like to ask you why you're on this website and who sent you.

The US Open, rookie, is the fourth and final Grand Slam tennis tournament of the year. It was first held in 1881 as the U.S. National Championship and the balls are still bouncing in 2013, though much faster these days. The tournament switched to acrylic hard court surfaces in 1978 after almost a century's worth of matches on grass and a brief, three-year trial run on clay.

Where is it played?

The US Open is held at the USTA Billie Jean King Tennis Center in New York City, right across the tracks from the Mets' new baseball stadium in Queens. The 33-court tennis facility features three stadium-style courts: Arthur Ashe Stadium, the 22,547-seat primary venue; Louis Armstrong Stadium, the old main stadium; and Court 17, nicknamed "The Pit" because it's below ground level.

Arthur Ashe Stadium came with a $254 million price tag when it was constructed in 1997, in case you're wondering, and a new $550 million renovation of the tennis center is in its early stages.

Is the Billie Jean King Tennis Center close to that big globe with the fountains?

Yes, you are correct.

The Unisphere, as it's known to those who call it that, sits right outside the South Gate in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park. It's a 12-story high, spherical stainless steel representation of the Earth. It was the theme symbol of the 1964-65 New York World's Fair.

If you're having trouble imagining the gigantic replica of the world, you can Google it or check it out at the 2:23 mark in the "Mo Money, Mo Problems" music video.

How much will I get paid if I win?

If you emerge from the draw victorious, assuming you made the draw, not only would Hell have already frozen over, but you would receive a $2,600,000 paycheck.

But remember, the more money you come across, the more problems you see.

Who won last year?

Andy Murray won the men's singles tournament while Serena Williams won the women's and the Bryan Brothers hoisted the doubles trophy.

Do the Bryan Brothers ever lose?

No, I don't think they do. They're like the '96 Bulls.

Who invited Lenny Kravitz?

The tournament directors, I assume. Kravitz performed at the opening ceremonies Monday night at Arthur Ashe Stadium. I hear it was quite the spectacle.

How expensive is the merchandise?

Couldn't tell ya. I'm currently undergoing souvenir rehabilitation after my personal shopping spree in Indian Wells earlier this year. I don't know why I thought I needed t-shirts, windbreakers, an umbrella, three hats, a pair of shoes, tennis balls, sunglasses, flip-flops, a foam cowboy hat, a mousepad, and a wax figurine of Juan Martin Del Potro arm-wrestling a bear, but I'm still paying off the credit card(s).

I want to go one year.

You absolutely should. I'm having a blast and we're only getting started. The players give it their all, there is so much to do when you're not watching tennis, and it's in the greatest city in the world. The Open should be a bucket list sporting event for everyone.

Think how much fun you'd be having if they'd invite you to media happy hour.

Shut up. That's not funny.

Why is David Ferrer So Freaking Boring?

Since hitting the tennis beat, I have made it my goal to learn as much as possible about the world's top players. Before starting at Indian Wells I, like my most fans, knew a good deal about the group characterized as the "Big Four", Nadal, Federer, Djokovic and Murray. Each of these players have transcended tennis to get mainstream sports popularity and each of them has a compelling "hook" that makes them interesting and intriguing personalities. Even the second-tier guys like Del Potro, Tsonga and Isner can create compelling television due to playing style, backstory or even massive height. But for a player talented enough to be ranked #4 in the world, I can find almost nothing interesting about David Ferrer.

Ferrer is clearly the most talented player in tennis that could walk down the street of any American city and be unrecognized by even one sports fan. In fact, Ferrer can walk through the stadium area here at the US Open (as I have seen him do) and get little more than a passing glance from the most hardcore tennis fans in the United States. His matches are never considered important enough for Arthur Ashe Stadium. However his #4 ranking means the USTA feels like they can't put him on an outer court. So that means that Louis Armstrong Stadium becomes essentially "David Ferrer Stadium" for these two weeks...stick him there, as a sign of respect but an acknowledgement of the lack of any tennis sex appeal. But why is that? Why is Ferrer the living epitome of a "Perfect Storm of Blah" that makes him unmarketable and unremarkable. To me, there are three main reasons:

(1) His Name

If ever someone outside of Michael Bolton in "Office Space" had the right to curse his given name, it would be Ferrer. Now there is nothing intrinsically wrong with the name...David is a good wholesome first name that is age-appropriate and creates very little negativity. And in Ferrer, the Spanish charm is brought out as the surname is easy to pronounce by even the most inept sports broadcaster. But Ferrer had the misfortune of coming along in the age of Roger Federer. The best player of all time possesses the same name, but with perfectly placed "d" that gives his name an almost noble quality that far outpaces his now higher ranked rival. When Ferrer is spoken of at tennis tournaments, his name is immediately a let down, with the listener initially mistaking (hoping?) that you are talking about King Roger. "Ferrer plays on this court in ten minutes" gets an initial excited gasp, followed by the dismay of the realization of David's presence. The #4 ranked player in the game should not so often disappoint.

(2) His Country

Similarly, Ferrer has the misfortune of being a player with great Spanish flair (and by the way, is it a requirement that when talking about Spanish players, writers use the word "flair"...I never hear people talking about Danish "flair" or Bulgarian "flair", but I have heard at least five media members this tournament mention the phrase "Spanish flair"...but I digress) in an era that has produced the most popular Spanish player in the history of the sport. Rafael Nadal has hardcore tennis fans in awe with his powerful game and his appearance elicits more screams from female fans than a "One Direction" Today Show performance. Everything Ferrer has, Nadal has as well...only slightly more. Ferrer is a clay court specialist with a world class game on the surface...but Nadal is the best of all time on the red stuff. Ferrer's game has translated to other courts and he is becoming a weapon in the hard court season as well...but Nadal is having the best hard court summer of his life. Ferrer is stylish and handsome...but Nadal is ranked as one of the most beautiful people in the world. Simply put, Ferrer is not Nadal and for that, he is unfortunately punished.

(3) His Game

Ferrer plays tennis in the most effective, consistent and monotonous way a human backboard. To play tennis with Ferrer is simply to see yourself in the mirror, whatever you do, he will do it back to you. It is why Ferrer is so shockingly consistent. You have to be a great player to beat him as he will force you to hit winners and rarely gives up an unforced error. But it also makes watching him an exercise in willpower as you beg to see him do something, anything to make the match interesting. Ferrer doesn't do anything great, but he does everything well and thus only players on the top of their game can beat him. Since such players rarely reach that height, he is ranked #4, with few elite wins but even fewer embarrassing losses. He is the tennis "Time to Make the Donuts" guy...always on time, always dependable and always uninteresting.

Does any of the above mean that we should criticize David Ferrer? Certainly not. Ferrer is an elite player precisely because of the characteristics that make him boring. If tennis is the Andy Griffith Show, David Ferrer is Aunt Bee, rarely the star of the show and almost never getting the laughs...but needed for the camaraderie and consistency of the storyline. One will likely never see a major national American ad campaign about Ferrer, but they also won't see an "Outside the Lines: Special Report" either. Instead he will just do his thing, hiding in the shadows and waiting for a mistake upon which to take advantage. Revel in your "Hootie and the Blowfish"-ness David. You are boring, but "Only Wanna Be With You" and backboard tennis can still be very successful.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Life On the Outer Courts: A Set With Jack Sock

If you watch an average Grand Slam at home, chances are you focus primarily on the major matches on the big show courts. I know before attending these events in person, I had very little perspective on the overall scope of a professional tennis tournament (not to mention a Grand Slam) and was unaware of the vast array of action on "the outer courts." But even within our first moments at our first tournament at Indian Wells, it was clear to me that the best time to watch a match is when you step away from Ashe, Armstrong or the Grandstand and venture to more obscure places, like Court 13 on the appropriately named "Outer Courts". So yesterday I moved away from the ambiance of the media cafeteria and ventured out to be "amongst them" to once again watch the action away from my comfort zone (and my free refills of #1 soda). It seemed only natural that the place to be on Tuesday afternoon was Court 13 for the epic battle between American Jack Sock and German Philipp Petzchner. I decided to keep a Running Diary of the Sock-Petzchner matchup and here is what I found:

3:24 pm: While considered an "outer court", Court 13 is not in the tennis hinterlands. It has 10 rows of bleacher seating on one side, a high perch above another and seats 584 people if filled to capacity. The setting is thus intimate, but does allow the belief that you are playing in a match of some importance. However with no private entrance area, the players have to wade through the crowd to make it onto the court. Unlike the masses of movement that follow Nadal, Federer and the like, as Sock and Petzchner walk in, little attention is paid to anything beyond the attractive reporter who is making her presence known in the bleachers. The person most affected by their grand appearance was a Tennis Channel cameraman forced to duck to avoid Sock's bag hitting him in the head (just for the record, I need to state that there is no need for a new trend I am players carrying two bags. What could one possibly need for the three hours on the court that would require an additional carry-on? We aren't packing for a ten day cruise to Alaska here people...three rackets, a change of shirts and maybe (if you so wish) some fruits and nuts. You can leave your iPad and picture of distant relatives at home).

3:33 pm: As the warmup period comes to a close and the match begins, one thing stands out. First, Petzchner is wearing a garish outfit that makes him look like an English Football League Two striker:

Now don't get me wrong. I am all for personality and unique appearance on the court...but the wool socks have to be hot and while not a fashion guru, I am not sure a look is successful if "radish" is the first thing that comes to mind when seeing it. Still, do your thing already refuse to spell your first name conventionally, so why not have an outfit to match.

3:39 pm: Sock gets an early break with a stunning passing shot of of a Petzchner volley that brings the crowd to its feet. As they explode, I continue to beat myself up over the fact that I really do not like Sock. That probably isn't fair (as I don't know him) and it is a terrible feeling to have because Sock could be the future of American tennis. He is able to hit stunning forehands, has a powerful serve and if he can improve over the next two years, is this generation's Andy Roddick. But his attitude on the court makes him unbelievably unlikeable to me. He has a constant smirk on his face, belittles umpires, line judges and (worst of all to me) the ball boys and girls. In fact, he seems to spend most of his time on the court with a Cheshire Cat grin on his face, looking for someone to blame for whatever minor calamity has fallen his way. At one point early in this match I even saw him seem to be angry at the ground for betraying his attempt to get to a slice forehand. But Sock is also really talented and extremely entertaining to watch. Oh yeah, he also has the single best comedy name in all of tennis. Thus I want Jack to make me like him...but unfortunately so far he has failed miserably.

3:43 pm: Sock reaches 136 mph on a first serve, a truly remarkable sight. We forgive those in sports who showcase major talent don't we?  Maybe I can look past his otherwise disappointing personality traits to see Jack Sock, not the crusty smart-alec but Jack Sock the hidden receptacle of something great.

3:50 pm: Nevermind. As Sock bounces a ball prior to his first serve, a big point during the crucial 5th set of the match on adjoining Court 14 leads the crowd to erupt into a loud cheer. Sock then stares in the direction of those fans and glares, as if their joy during the point to the side was somehow a distraction to his immaculate serve. It is this Jack Sock that makes me nuts. First of all, why in tennis is complete silence necessary? I know tennis players have assumed silence is golden since the beginning of time. But why? This isn't golf, where you are hitting a stationary are hitting a moving object flying at you at over 100 mph...the sound of a human voice will make that more difficult? And even if it would, so what? Baseball players seem to handle it just fine and the difficulty is almost certainly greater. And even if silence is required, does Sock really expect that on Court 13, which is adjoined by three other courts and has fans milling about left and right, he will get the immaculate conditions of Ashe Stadium? The answer is yes he does and it is that sense of entitlement that places me back once again in the "anti-Sock" category.

3:56 pm: Another monster Sock serve goes off Petzchner's racket frame and careens into the crowd, striking a woman in the face. This is an often unknown hazard of attending a match...the possibility you will get pelted with a ball. The woman takes it like a trooper and holds her eye while her husband consoles her, but it marks the fourth time during this tournament I have seen someone take a strong shot to the face by a tennis ball. While foul balls do make baseball hazardous, no sport produces more involuntary participation from the crowd than tennis (and that is before the multiple usages of the "Kiss Cam").

4:02 pm: On an outer court, every sounds gets magnified and individual cheers in the crowd can take on a life of their own. After Petzchner breaks back on Sock and evens the set at 4-4, a man in the crowd screams loudly, "RIGHT HERE JACK, LET'S GO!" He says it with a force that nearly makes me jump out of my seat and clearly has an effect on Sock as well. Jack looks up into the crowd, sees the man and gives him a puzzled glare that seems to suggest, "who are you?" The man never again yells for the rest of the set. It must have embarrassed him to have such enthusiasm tampered by the player he so was hoping would "GO!" I immediately felt bad for him and even now, hope someone gave him a hug.

4:10 pm: Serving at 40-30, Petzchner stops the proceedings to ask for a towel from the ball girl. It seems to this observer somewhat unnecessary since he has taken a towel after each point and has thoroughly dried whatever could possibly be on him at all moments of the match. No group of people towel off with the frequency of tennis players during a match. If one drop of perspiration hits any part of their body, all must be stopped and a towel must be brought to accommodate. Compare this say to the NBA, where players are dripping with sweat, sharing the bodily fluids of others and in a constant state of gross moisture, yet seem to be fine moving without said towel and you players may be a bit prissy. I am just saying.

4:16 pm: Sock, continuing his "argue with anything, whether moving or inanimate, theory, challenged the lack of a call of a let on a Petzchner serve. He walks to the umpire and says, "that ball hit the net by six inches!"  I am not sure what that sentence means (it either hit the net or didn't and if it hit it by "six inches," it wouldn't have gone over the net), but Sock is adamant he is correct. The umpire cooly throws technology under the bus and says, "don't blame me...blame the computer!" Sock then looks at the umpire and says, with no degree of sarcasm, "I blame you AND the computer!!!" Somewhere a computer silently weeps.

4:22 pm: During a tense final service game, Sock saves a match point and sends the set to a tiebreak. He looks down at the ground after the game point and yells. "WHAT! THAT'S RIGHT! WHAT!" I am not sure if Sock is channelling Stone Cold Steve Austin or seriously interrogating the hard court surface, but either way I assume it is Jack showcasing happiness. As the tiebreak begins, my friend Miguel, the security guy sitting in front of me with the most serious look on his face I have ever seen, stands up and begins staring with anger at a gnat that is flying to his left. I took a picture of the moment right before I believe Miguel was going to have the gnat removed from the premises for making too much noise:

4:29 pm: The match that began with a bang ends with a whimper. The tiebreak starts off poorly for Petzchner and he never recovers. Sock wins easily 7-2, and within seconds he is pumping his fist and smirking. Soon thereafter, Philipp has to retire from the match due to injury and the entire proceedings are concluded prematurely. It was a disappointing end to an otherwise fun afternoon on an outer court. The match showcased three important things to me:

(1) Being on "The Outer Courts" is much more fun than the main stadiums, especially in the first week.

Early in the tournament, Arthur Ashe Stadium is used primarily as a show court for the sport's biggest names. That is all fine and dandy but those first week matches are generally dreadful affairs. The excitement, and even matches are all out yonder in the boonies of the double-digit courts. They are worth the price of admission.

(2) You can see a player's true personality on the outer courts

Even in a sport like tennis, a player's true personality doesn't always come through. The cameras don't catch every thing a player does or every moment he spends arguing a call or questioning a decision. Plus, when the players realize they are on a primary court and will have a national audience, they generally are on their best behavior. Not so on the outer courts. There they showcase exactly who they are, warts and all. Thus you will know who is a true gentleman and who might be slightly insane.

(3) I am still fascinated and disappointed by Jack Sock

John Isner is American tennis currently. But Jack Sock is the best chance at the future. And I can't make myself yet like him. His actions on the court are of the worst whining variety and his attitude is difficult to tolerate at best. With that said, he is still very young and his talent is obvious. His name brought me to his game (and the jokes as he gets more popular will only increase), but his talent and attitude will make him a story for years to come. I will continue to watch him and hope to see him mature, but whether it happens is anyone's guess.

We are sitting in the rain and hoping for some late tennis action...but since it is still Day Three, when the skies clear, I will be headed to an outer court.

What To Do During The Rain Delay

We're currently under a rain delay here in Flushing Meadows, leaving thousands of anxious tennis fans stranded throughout the Billie Jean King Tennis Center with nothing to do. But fret not, my US Open friends. There are still plenty of activities available to pass the time until play gets underway again. Here are five:

Wine Down Wednesday!
1.) Drink champagne.

Because it's 1:30 p.m. on a Wednesday and you're at the U.S. Open.

Bottoms up.

I don't think the keychain is supposed to go on your ear, sir.
2.) Buy a Mercedes.

The 7 train back to the city can be crowded at times and your nose hairs don't deserve the insufferable smells that often permeate from some of the subway's passengers. Is that urine? I think it's urine.

So why not leave Flushing Meadows in style behind the wheel of a brand new Mercedes? Yeah, it's an impulse purchase, an expensive one at that, but it can be yours for the cost of four of those 2013 U.S. Open fleece jackets you were about to buy.

I see you checking The Outer Courts on your mobile device.
3.) Stand with these people outside the indoor training facility.

Everybody's doing it. Look at how much fun they're having.

I want a bag with puppies on it.
4.) Visit the Time Warner Experience.

Time Warner Cable's new customer and fan lounge outside the East Gate of the Billie Jean King Tennis Center has everything one would need to follow the tournament; from interactive maps to live audio and handheld controllers featuring action from six different courses.

Just don't ask to watch Dexter or Ray Donovan. The Showtime breakup is still a touchy subject.

Got enough tennis balls?
5. Shop in the US Open Collection Store.

Unless, of course, you bought the Mercedes.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

We are One in the Bond of the SEC

On the whole, I have found tennis players relatively difficult to talk to on our travels. I don't necessarily blame them for this fact. As we have stated on here often, tennis media don't actually watch tennis, so they make the trips to the tournaments solely to talk to the players. And since on the whole, tennis media seem to have the personality of a pack of pea moths, I wouldn't be eager to talk to them either. However I am a person interested in conversation and actually communicating with others, not just enjoying the perks of international travel. Thus the inability to get anyone outside of Rafael Nadal to do anything more than give me a head nod has been frustrating.

Enter John Isner. The lanky American came into the media room today after his straight set first round win and media immediately swarmed him. They began asking him about his match, his next opponent and other battles taking place on the grounds. I had nothing to say about those subjects, mostly because I was sitting in the cafeteria while he played. Instead I looked at the former UGA star and asked him how the Bulldogs were going to do against Clemson. He immediately lit up, ignored the other chirping reporters and looked at the logo on my shirt (I am repping UK here in Flushing) inquiring, "you from Kentucky?"  I said yes and the conversation was on.

We chatted about the UGA quarterback situation (good), the Bulldogs' big game issues in the past (bad) and the future of UK football (rising). We talked about whether Georgia would cover the spread Saturday (1.5 and Isner says for sure) and the over/under line (probably worth avoiding). And we went into some detail on the SEC as a whole, specifically whether anyone can wrestle the conference crown from the Dirty Tide. It was as close as I yet have gotten to an in-depth interview on the tennis beat and afterwards, I walked away like a celebrated general walking off the battle field. Now to be fair, it had nothing to do with tennis and there is almost nothing I could use anywhere outside of "The Outer Courts". But it is a start and I have now realized that as long as the tennis players I encounter have the same love and affection for the S-E-C that I do, everything will be fine.

Let's just hope that Juan Martin Del Potro has an unknown allegiance to Spurrier and the Gamecocks.

Donald Young isn't messing around at this year's Open

There was a time, not even that long ago, when Donald Young was "The Next Big Thing."  The kid from Chicago, skewed hat and all, was the future of American tennis, the Venus or the Serena on the men's side of the sport. Everyone, including legends like John McEnroe and Jim Courier, projected him to be great. Like great-great. And everyone, including legends like John McEnroe and Jim Courier, and the suits at Nike that drew up Young's enormous endorsement deal, were wrong. They were all wrong. It's 2013 and Young never reached the bar, that incredibly high bar, that was set for him. He is now known as the guy who peaked too early, the guy with a 17-match losing streak in 2012.

But Donald Young showed flashes of greatness in his opening round match this afternoon against 46th-ranked Martin Klizan. And by showed flashes of greatness, I mean he pummeled Klizan throughout the entire match, winning 6-1, 6-0, 6-1. That's a jaw-dropping scoreline for you, folks. Holy beatdown.

Young advances to face the Mayer/Monaco winner in the second round of the Open. If he can win that one, he'll likely meet an old foe in Andy Murray in the third round of the tournament. Murray sent Young home from his best run at Flushing Meadows, in the fourth round in 2011. 

Does Young still have another Open run in him?

We're about to find out.

MAXIMO: A Cinderella Story

At this point in America, tennis reaches the average American sports fan via the exploits of four people, Nadal, Federer and the Williams sisters (and Venus is barely hanging on to this level). Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray and Maria Sharapova are occasional draws and the height (and serve) of John Isner is gaining steam. But for the most part, it takes star power to reach the average American public more interested in Duck callers than tennis ballers. That is unfortunate, because on Court 13 today the type of moment that sports fans love took place. An underdog, with the look of a mid-level comic book character, dug down deep and came through for the win of his life. Unfortunately for the sport of tennis, only me and a few hundred of my friends were there to see it.

A David vs Goliath matchup

Maximo Gonzalez defeated #14 seed Jerzy Janowicz in a match as entertaining as any we will see this week. We will see better tennis, closer matches and possibly heightened drama...but just for sheer enjoyment and smiles on the faces in the stands, nothing is going to top the unveiling in New York of dear Maximo. Take a second and realize what a huge underdog poor Maximo was going into this match. Janowicz's game is taylor-made for the US Open. His powerful serve and intimidating forehand made him a darkhorse choice in the easy David Ferrer quarter of the bracket. Those who do US Open bracket pools (sad sorts) had him penciled as a potential shocker into the last weekend and I heard one international reporter yesterday say that this "this will be the tournament that Jerzy becomes a worldwide name."

On the brink of becoming a worldwide name

Not so fast. Maximo had something to say first. Maximo Gonzalez is not only a world-class name seemingly created by a WWE script writer (can't you see Maximo coming to the ring...the spunky underdog with high-flying moves and a chant of MAXIMO! while engaging in mischievous, yet humorous behavior), but on this day, he also had a tennis game to match. There was absolutely no reason to think Maximo could even stay on the same court as Jerzy (in fact one unnamed Top 20 player saw that Jerzy lost to Maximo and said to any within earshot...what is a Maximo Gonzalez?). He came into the tournament ranked #247 in the world, having played in exactly ZERO ATP Tour matches this season. His sole tennis on the international level was in the Challenger series, and the only surface he had bothered to take on was clay. He came to the US Open qualifiers on a flyer and beat three people ranked higher than he just to get to this position. If ever there was a match that looked to be forgettable, this was it (as showcased by the placement of the #14 seed in the tournament on Court 13).

Our hero sensing the moment

But that my friends, is why they play the game. Backed by a group of self-described "New York trash talkers who love the underdog," Maximo played the match of his life. With each returned serve and sliced backhand at his opponent's toes, Maximo got the crowd behind him (which in New York means against the other guy, leading to my favorite taunt so far of the tournament, "Hey Jerzy, this is New York tennis baby and making guys like Maxi win is what we do!!!!") and slowly caused the big man with the bad back to wilt. Janowicz, clearly in pain, but still moving fairly well, fell apart in the second and third set, slamming his racket, pounding the backstop of the court, yelling at the sky, throwing his hat to the ground for the final four games and complaining to the umpires so often that even one of his supporters yelled, "okay that's enough!" (at which point he did shake his head as if to agree). It was such a poor effort that a member of the Jancowiz entourage (and yes, in tennis everyone has an entourage), got so frustrated that she walked out of the arena, looking at the taunting New Yorkers in the process saying, "you suck and so does this place!"

Trash talking came from this can guess which ones

But as the screamers suggested, this is New York and this is what they do here. New York crowns temporary heroes that burn bright for a few days...guys like Maximo. It would be difficult to have found anyone in the draw this week with less of a chance to make news in the tournament's first days than a clay court specialist from the Challenger Tour who hadn't played in a Grand Slam since 2009. But enter Maximo, "The Outer Courts" new chosen underdog and a crowd favorite on the smallest scale. The rest of the American sporting world may never learn of his majestic qualities (unless he can win a couple of other matches), but if given the chance, I know they would love him.With a possible matchup set up in Round 2 with "The Outer Courts" arch-enemy (one Jack Sock), a titanic struggle on Thursday between unadulterated joy and perpetual annoyance could await. But for now, we celebrate Maximo, the hero of Day Two so far and proof that in tennis anything, except possibly a seat for Drew and me outside of the media cafeteria, is possible.

Maximo celebrates the big win

Behind-the-scenes look at Tennis Channel's set in the sky

I reluctantly put my lifelong fear of spiral staircases aside for the day and climbed up to Tennis Channel's loft in Arthur Ashe Stadium to see what it's like on the set. Once I safely reached the top, high above the tournament spectators and their gigantic tennis balls, I positioned myself in the far corner where I couldn't break anything or disturb the people doing actual work.

The Instagram video you see above shows what it's like being a fly on the wall while Tennis Channel worked its Tennis Channel magic with Milos Raonic. You see it on TV and now you know what's like behind the scenes.

For the first time in U.S. Open women's singles history, it's gonna start raining Min!

Grace Min won the 2011 U.S. Open girls' singles title.

Yesterday I wrote about Dan Evans and how I saw him lose in the first round at the Fifth Third Bank Tennis Championships last month in Lexington, Ky. Today's Open schedule features another familiar face from the Lexington Challenger event, only this time our connection is even stronger.

For reasons I'll never truly understand, Matt and I were invited to commentate a tennis match at the Fifth Third tournament for the USTA. Again, why we were asked, I'll never know. But we did it and had a blast providing our insight and unique perspective (with help from 14-year tennis pro Joanne Wallen) to the USTA's online audience with viewers tuning in from all over the world.

The match we were assigned to for our tennis color commentating debut featured ITF women's circuit competitors Sanaz Marand and Grace Min, two strangers to The Outer Courts crew. But after calling what felt like the longest tennis match in the history of the sport -- like watching two tinier, prettier versions of Isner and Mahut do battle -- we have a bond with Marand and Min forever. You always remember your first, they say.

So now that you know the background, you can only imagine our excitement when we saw Grace Min's name on the 2013 U.S. Open's women's singles draw. 

Grace Min?! OUR Grace Min?! Could it be????!!!!

It's true. Grace Min, our Grace Min, survived the qualifying gauntlet to reach her first U.S. Open singles tournament. Today she'll face Karin Knapp of Italy, ranked 94 places higher, and I'll be her biggest supporter sitting courtside.

Will she remember me? Of course not. The moment was only memorable for one of us. But I remember her, the winner of my first match as a commentator, the one I'll never forget, and I couldn't be happier to see her here in Flushing Meadows.

Time to bring back my catchphrase from that night Lexington:

"It's raining Min! Hallelujah, it's raining Min!"

Monday, August 26, 2013

Today at the US Open in 4 Pictures

The smiling man above is Kentucky Defensive End Bud Dupree. I put his picture up here (a) because I know you are wondering about what he and his teammates will do when they open their season against Western Kentucky University on Saturday and (b) because he is an example of the type of people Drew and I deal with in our regular jobs. We cover Kentucky sports and that basically means talking to college athletes such as Bud, usually with their lives still ahead of them, eager, full of energy and smiles. There are pros and cons to the job, but after years of doing it, we have entered into a comfort zone where we are able to predict how days will go and what encounters we will have.

Tennis is an entirely different world. In tennis, every day is completely unique and you are never sure exactly what you might encounter on the grounds. We have found some of the nicest people we have ever met covering tennis and some folks that I have wanted to have deported to Antarctica (and that is just at Tennis Channel!). The same is true of players. While I have been amazed at how kind and engaging Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer have been, I have had to bite my tongue during interactions with Juan Martin Del Potro and Jack Sock. Every person is different and that diversity of personalities makes every day unique.

Take today. We arrived at the US Open as eager beavers, ready to brave a Grand Slam and cover it like it has never been covered, while also setting aside a bit of time to explore the official US Open gift shop (we spend our entire Outer Courts' paychecks on merchandise). However this day has been a bit of a grind as we have had to adjust to our new scenery, while also enjoying one of the biggest events I have ever been a part of as a pseudo-journalist. Thus rather than write 5,000 words on what we have encountered, I thought it better to sum it up in four easy pictures:

Many of you mistakenly believe the tennis blogging lifestyle is pure raw sexiness on a daily basis. This is not always true. Yes there are the moments when you meet a beautiful Italian tv reporter who tells you that she thinks your voice is "oh so cute" (chicks dig Southern drawls) but then there are the other, more difficult times as well. Today we arrived in Flushing, Queens to find out that we have no seat in the media room and thus no place in which to write our whimsical musings. When we asked the woman at the media desk what we could do, she said "well there's always the cafeteria." So that is where we are...posting "The Outer Courts" writings from a space in the corner of the media cafeteria. Yes, this means I smell like zucchini and Drew has eaten six meals already, but we didn't come here for the glamour. Blogging is not about your scenery, but about setting the scene for the reader and letting her live through you. We came here for the tennis and media luxuries such as televisions to watch the matches, power outlets to give your computer life or desks to sit behind are not requirements for us. We will harken back to a much more pure, simple time, when writers were writers. I have been told that AJ Leibling once covered a Joe Louis fight while sitting in a bus depot on a stack of hay. This is our mission this week and a lack of sunlight or electricity will not deter us.

Because it took us so long to get settled, we didn't get to watch a great deal of actual tennis today. You may remember from previous Outer Courts tournaments that the tennis media tends to watch almost no tennis, preferring instead to simply sit in the media room and eat granola bars, while talking loudly on their phones. Not me. I came here to see action, so I ventured to Louis Armstrong Stadium to see David Ferrer take on Nick Krygios. I will admit that I cared not at all about Ferrer (no more boring great player could there be), but wanted to see 2013 Australian Open and Wimbledon Boys Champion Krygios play. It was like watching a young deer learn to walk, slow, unsteady and full of mistakes. Yet the massive talent was obvious. Krygios played with Ferrer in his three set loss and watching the match, I got a distinct "I will remember this when he gets good one day." The mistakes he made were all of the "going for too much" variety and stardom is (in my humble opinion) almost assured. Seeing Krygios early in his career is why you watch tennis and I plan on being like that annoying guy in college who insisted he saw Dave Matthews Band "before they got big." I am now a Kyrgios mark, and seeing him early is a perfect example of what is great about this tournament.

The couple above on the other hand, is an example of the what is terrible about tennis in New York. These two spent the entire Ferrer-Kyrgios match, sitting in the third row, taking selfies of themselves and wearings sunglasses at night. To say that I dislike them is an understatement. To say that I would have liked to see them fail miserably at the Pamplona Running of the Bulls is only a slight overstatement. Watching the two of them take pictures, giggle and pose during the proceedings led me to contemplate horrible behavior and it may only be because of a late departure (she wanted ice cream) that my time in New York is able to extend past one day. When I draw up the type of person that I find difficult to tolerate, this couple would at least be in the preliminary sketch. My hope is to not see them again.

After the match, as I walked back to my media cafeteria home, I ran into the reason that for all its downfalls (the other media seem to believe this is the worst of the Grand Slams), there is a certain appeal to the US Open that can't be matched anywhere. Walking past a group of panting young women (apparently Lenny Kravitz had just walked by), I saw sitting above me, the grey dome of John McEnroe doing a live interview before Serena took the court. McEnroe was one of my childhood heroes and the reason that I love tennis. In my trips to Indian Wells and Cincinnati, I haven't run into him as he didn't attend either affair and meeting him has become my goal. Now, here he was above me, wearing the same media pass that I am (although my guess is that his includes free meals in my office, excuse me...the media cafeteria). Say whatever you want about the difficulty getting here, the lack of seating or the loud people screaming into their walkie-talkies. McEnroe is here and this is the US "Freaking" Open...and I am in attendance covering it. That is beyond cool and the reason these next 12 days are going to be something special.

And if you need me, I will be plugged into the outlet next to the pasta bar.

Dan Evans bombed in Lexington, shines in Flushing Meadows

No one is more shocked by Dan Evans' upset win over 11th-seeded Kei Nishikori than The Outer Courts. And that says a lot, because EVERYONE is shocked the British qualifier advanced to the US Open's second round. But we have history with Evans, dating all the way back to a month ago. Yeah, that far back. Let me explain:

Evans competed in the Fifth Third Bank Tennis Championships in Lexington, Ky -- the place I call home -- in late July. In fact, Dan Evans was in the first match I saw at this year's tournament, my first time attending the Lexington Challenger event. It was Evans versus Malik Jaziri and Jaziri won the opening round match rather convincingly in two sets. Needless to say, I wasn't impressed by Evans and never thought we'd cross paths again. But I was wrong.

The 23-year-old Evans pulled off the first major upset of this year's Open in his debut at Flushing Meadows, just days after he rallied from a set down against Adrian Menendez-Maceiras to reach the Grand Slam stage as a qualifier. Ranked 179th in the world, Evans took down Japan's top player and the No. 10 guy on the 2013 money list without giving up a set.

So who is this Evans guy?

Here's what we know...

He was once known as the "bad boy" of British tennis.

Evans was suspended by the LTA in 2008 after he was spotted partying in the wee hours of the morning prior to his boys' doubles match at Wimbledon. He was stripped of all funding and support for fourth months.

The win over Nishikori is his first victory in a Grand Slam event.

He was 0-2 prior to Monday with both losses coming at Wimbledon, in 2009 and 2011.

He clinched a comeback victory for Britain in the 2013 Davis Cup.

Evans stunned Evgeny Donskoy, ranked 245 places higher, to complete a miraculous comeback for Great Britain over Russia in the Davis Cup. He was a last minute addition to the team.

He has an Oscar Wilde quote tattooed on his left forearm.

It reads, "Every saint has a past, and every sinner has a future."

He watched Billy Madison Saturday morning.

It was a great morning, he tweeted.

He'll face Bernard Tomic in the second round of the US Open.

"It will be another good match," Evans said of his next opponent. He said he prefers Tomic over Albert Ramos, who Tomic defeated on Monday in five sets.

The Outer Courts will be there for that one, although Evans would probably prefer we stay away. I wasn't much luck for him in Lexington.

Day One of the US Open Gets Off With Sadness

The Outer Courts arrived today at the US Open, ready to take on the world and visit our first Grand Slam here in New York City. This area is a great place for tennis and the history of the sport reeks out of the premises as strongly as the odor emanating out of the riders we encountered on the #7 train on our way to the event. We were eager to find our way into the Billie Jean King Tennis Center, get our media credentials and begin blogging at a pace that would make you, Tennis Channel readers, proud.

Unfortunately, like all great stories of triumph, this one began with a rough patch. As we walked towards the area where our credentials were to be given, a man in a yellow shirt with the logo "Security" on it, told us in no uncertain terms, "YOU CANNOT GO THIS WAY WITHOUT CREDENTIALS!" I assumed that his tone was possibly due to a difficult morning and then proceed to explain to Mr. Yellow Shirt that we had such credentials, but we needed to pick them up at the stand 100 feet behind him and if he would so kindly let us walk by, I would get the credentials and all would be fine. He then looked at me (wearing sunglasses on an overcast day, a perfect compliment to his hyper-aggressive arrogance accompanying his small modicum of power) and said, "If you want to PICK-UP credentials, you must enter from the other side, which can be accessed by walking around the facility." He then pointed to a path that would require us to walk all the way around the circular USTA grounds, a direction that would probably include just under a mile hike. I pleaded to his sanity by saying, "the entrance is 100 feet behind you, why make us walk that entire way when we could be there in 5 seconds." He smiled with a smarmy grin and said, "it is policy."

So there you go, the US Open of 2013 begins with adherence to rigid "policy" as the overriding theme. I am not sure what "policy" suggest that one can only enter an entrance from one side of a parking lot as opposed to another, but now with blisters on my feet and frustration in my mind, I am ready to give a small overview as to what Day One of the US Open has given us so far.

--- The big news of the morning is the announcement of the retirement of James Blake. Many saw this coming, as the American has been hounded with questions for the past few months about when he would cut the cord on his tennis career and enter the game of tennis commentary, where he will most certainly succeed (this is a particular hazard of being an athlete as the implication that comes with such questions is that you are no longer fit to proceed with your career. I would not take well to such questions). Blake says that this tournament will be his final run, a fitting end for a player that has seen his best moments here in New York. He laughed, cried and reminisced during his press conference and explained that he hoped to have one more glorious run over the next two weeks. As American tennis struggles to find players outside of John the Giant, losing Blake, probably still the most marketable current male American, is a huge blow. However as his play and fashion choice (he is the last player I have seen refuse to conform to the dry-fit tennis wear revolution, causing his cotton shirts to get weighed down with so much sweat that a woman in Cincinnati two weeks ago said to me, "I simply can't look at him with all that moisture everywhere"), have faltered, it became clear it was time to make the tough decision. We here at The Outer Courts wish him the best and while we aren't sure what to do in his first round match (he plays the funniest player on tour, and Outer Courts favorite, Ivo Karlovic in Round One), I am hoping he finishes with one magical day/night where he gets Arthur Ashe electric again.

--- Venus Williams won in dominating fashion, taking out the #12 seed Kirsten Flipkens (6-1, 6-2). It was an old-school Venus day as she controlled the match from the opening moments and never looked back, taking out Flipkens, who beat her in three sets just three weeks ago. The win leaves open the possibility of a Round of 16 match against Serena, which could result in a similar conversation as the one I had with my grandmother when the two played in a US Open final many years ago. My grandmother said to me while flipping channels (the match was on, but tennis isn't her normal focus), "those women are both named Williams, maybe they are related." I then said to her, "yes Granny they are...they are sisters." She got a puzzled look in her eye and then said, "well that isn't nice then. They shouldn't play each other. What would their mother say?" It is a good question...what would their mother say?

--- We spent most of the afternoon learning the lay of the land and at the US Open, that means roaming the underground halls below Arthur Ashe Stadium. More than any other stop so far on our travels, the US Open offers a great opportunity for the media to just casually run into players, a highlight for The Outer Courts. Thus far today, we have passed Novak Djokovic (he posed for a picture with two girls, which I then proceeded to photo bomb), James Blake (I am not going to say that Drew mumbled under his breath that Ivo Karlovic might pull off the win...but I am not going to suggest he didn't) and a random female player I didn't recognize, crying in the hallway. After we passed her, Drew and I debated as to why she was shedding tears...I thought it was because of a loss, Drew believed an injury, but we both regretted not taking the time to comfort her. There is nothing sadder than the sight of a lone woman crying with no one around to help ease the pain. So if you are the player we saw weeping in the hallway, we apologize. Next time we will adhere to our Southern, gentlemanly ways and make it better.

More as the day goes along, as we move towards Roger Federer's debut under the lights.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Hey US OPEN! We are Here and Ready to Go!

Tomorrow, The Outer Courts arrives in Flushing, Queens to begin two weeks of coverage of the US Open for our friends at Tennis Channel. A year ago the notion of writing that sentence would have seemed beyond ridiculous. For just one year ago, Drew Franklin and I were mere humble bloggers and radio guys from the state of Kentucky, walking the streets and mumbling about John Calipari, Ashley Judd and Mitch McConnell. But now, thanks to the good folks at Tennis Channel, and you "The Outer Courts" readers, here we are, ready to descend on the grand spectacle of American tennis.

We do not know what to expect, but we do know that we are ready to go. For me personally, I am ready for one of the more difficult to predict US Open Tournaments in recent memory. On the men's side the prohibitive favorite coming into the tournament seems to be Rafael Nadal, who has dominated the hard court season in ways that would have been unfathomable just a few years ago. All of the top contenders to the Nadal throne have shown vulnerabilities, and the inconsistencies shown by Djokovic, Murray and Federer suggest that the draw has an openness to it that we haven't seen in recent years. Does Rafa run roughshod across the men's bracket, hammering forehands and picking the underwear out of his butt in a manner that makes him untouchable? Or does John Isner reach back and combine the unreturnable serves he showcased in Cincinnati with something resembling a return game and come through his ridiculously difficult draw. Or maybe, just maybe, this is the final beckoning hour like Pete Sampras gave us in 2002, and we see one last magical run by Federer, bringing his graceful game back to a Grand Slam title.

And on the women's side, can anyone touch Serena? Even as she lost the tournament in Cincinnati, it was still clear that her reign at the top of the women's game is as solid as she wants it to be. With Maria Sugarpova out of the tournament (by the way, was that really a thing? Did everyone really fall for the Sugarpova publicity cry and then report it as actual news when the woman was not even planning on playing in the actual tournament? One point Maria, zero points everyone else), the list of players capable of beating Serena seems to stand at one...herself. If she is focused and wants to win here, she does. The question for early in the tournament is whether Sloane Stephens can win her first two matches and set-up an Australian Open rematch that could place the national sporting eye firmly on Arthur Ashe Stadium. Here is hoping that happens.

But let's be honest. Chances are that you aren't here for any of those storylines. You are here to get the US Open covered in the most ridiculous manner possible, and that is what we are planning to do here on The Outer Courts. We never thought we would be here, but here we are and we plan on giving you a side of this event that you have never seen. We hope you come back and visit often, tell your friends and follow along as we experience the tournament the way you would, as a fan.

It all kicks off tomorrow with a fairly solid Day One in Queens.  Serena Williams and Roger Federer play in the nightcap, but solid matches exist throughout the day, including Venus Williams vs Kirsten Flipkens, David Ferrer vs Nick Krygios, Jelena Jankovic vs Madison Keys and Ernests Gulbis vs sanity. We will take you through the day and evening here and try to stay out of trouble in the process (doubtful). It should be a fun two weeks as we cover our first major with the same no-holds barred philosophy I saw showcased at dinner tonight in Manhattan. There, Brad Gilbert was eating at a table next to me and a woman to my left spotted the former American tennis player/coach and current commentator. As he ate with a group of friends, she looked at her companion and said, "he is much balder than I thought."

Yes, Brad Gilbert is much balder than we thought...and insights such as those are what the next two weeks will be all about.