Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Calling the Lines

A time honored tradition in every sport, there is nothing more American than blasting a referee. Go to any game of any sport in America and I guarantee that there will be a loud minority of people yelling at whoever is officiating the game. This culture of complaint is not limited to professional or even college games (where the relative anonymity of the crowd makes it easier to scream, but arguably less effective). Simply show up at a youth event anywhere across our land and some parent (or grandparent) will be acting a fool, cursing a person that probably lives down the street for them (and from whom they may buy groceries, get their car repaired or break bed in church) over something as silly as a double dribble call. We often feel that the normal rules of society, treat others the way you would be treated, be respectful and don't call people four letter words/private body parts while screaming and pointing, simply do not apply in the context of sports. It is an unalienable American right.

However in the world of tennis, the level of officiating criticism takes on another level. Fans (and players) at tennis matches believe that the lines people are consistently making mistakes and often intentionally. I have watched at least part of over 30 matches over the course of this tournament and I have seen a player openly question a line person's call in every single one. The reaction from the crowd is even more harsh. Any shot on a show court that is even close to the line leads to a loud murmur from the crowd suggesting disagreement for whatever the decision is, whether in or out. I often want to ask those in the crowd, especially those sitting at the top of Arthur Ashe Stadium, do you really believe that you, sitting potentially 100 feet above the court, can somehow see it better than the individual seated with her focused on the line and the line only?  Their confidence is impressive, even if their rationality is not.

With this in mind, I sat directly on the line for today's David Ferrer-Richard Gasquet match, only a couple of feet behind the lines judge in the photographer's pit. My goal was determine just how hard it is to call out/in during a major male tennis match. The can be unbelievably difficult to judge the closest of close calls. Part of this has to do with the angle of the view. While there likely isn't a better option (having the linesman float directly over the court seems impractical), the side view tends to distort the proceedings a bit. With the glare of the sun (or lights at night), the white of the line can blur a bit, causing the most important feature (the actual spot the line ends) to bleed somewhat. I think this is in part why people suggest lines people tend to "err on the side of in." Whether conscious or not, the line looks bigger the more you stare at it with a glare.

Then there is the problem of the speed. With the lines people staring directly at the line, the ball's speed and arc can appear suddenly, and be tough to pinpoint. Unless you have laser-like focus, this can occasionally sneak up on you and cause a person problems while finding the exact spot of contact. Because of the crazy angles that can now be hit by the top players (thanks to the modern strings), even following the arc of the ball (and using that to surmise the landing point) can be difficult. There there is the problem that makes me believe that even Hawkeye is occasionally wrong...the ball is round and figuring out exactly what part of the ball hit what part of the line is an inexact science, perfected only by ants on the ground. To do so at tremendous speed becomes even more difficult.

With all that said however, after spending a match observing them, I believe the lines people do about as good a job as possible. On the challenged calls in this tournament (which are presumably the closest of the close calls), the decision has been reversed only 28% of the time. That is a fairly solid success record, and one thats error rare would probably be acceptable even without Hawkeye (miss on average 3-6 calls a match and can you really complain? It is certainly a better rate than officiating in other sports). After trying to recreate their job for a set, I have even more respect for what they do. Some calls are too close for anyone and on those, everyone will make mistakes. But the lines people generally do their job as well as it can be done (with the problems above hindering) and are certainly better suited to make the calls than the players focused on returning the shots or the drunk fans far up in the crowd above them. As I often say about the people who are on television commentating, a doctor preforming surgery or someone cutting my hair...they aren't perfect, but they are probably better than you.

A young Rafael Nadal with a young Richard Gasquet

Richard Gasquet is in his first US Open semifinal and Rafael Nadal is one win away from meeting him there. Gasquet, the first Frenchman to reach the Open semis in 22 years, has never won against Nadal on the ATP tour, but he has one win over Nadal from a junior tennis tournament in France when they were 13 years old.


Rafael Nadal practicing on Ashe between sessions

I caught Rafael Nadal practicing with Christian Garin between sessions today, while the fans were out buying up what's left of the merchandise and Moet. The 2013 French Open mens' champion and 2013 French Open boys' champion smacked the ball around on Arthur Ashe, where Nadal will face Tommy Robredo in the final match of the night.

After sitting across from Nadal, directly behind Garin, I can say with 100% confidence that I wouldn't come close to returning anything Nadal sent my way. Not a prayer.

Good luck with that tonight, Tommy.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

An EXCLUSIVE look inside The Outer Courts' US Open office

The photo above was taken in the US Open's media center, where the working media folk gather to provide tennis fans all the information they can handle through their various media outlets. Hundreds of scribes work tirelessly around the clock, from sun up to sun down, to keep the world informed of all the happenings in Flushing Meadows throughout the entire tournament. It's like the brain of Arthur Ashe Stadium; a really big brain with high-water khaki pants, wrinkled floral print shirts, and an appetite for free donuts in the morning and free donuts left over from the morning at night.

That's not where we are.

The Outer Courts has its own office at the 2013 US Open, far away from judgmental stares and black coffee farts. We are in the cafeteria on a first-come, first-serve seating policy. Some call it an inconvenience; we call it home.

Take a walk with me into an area few have seen, unless they walk by on their way to the hot bar.

You're looking at my desk here at The Outer Courts' office. Though it's not the television-equipped desk of the media room, the Evian water bottle and Ben & Jerry's ice cream sandwich wrapper add to the ambience.

Yes, that's a Tennis Channel logo on my backpack.

This is my view: a direct shot (when people aren't walking by with beer) of practice courts P1 through P5. That's five courts in viewing distance without leaving my seat. It's so hard not to be spoiled.

As you can see, window seats are hard to come by. Especially one with a few of the TV if I lean back really far.

Check out the bar in the back corner. The media room may have lockers, statistics, reliable WiFi, interview areas and power outlets at every desk, but the media room doesn't have its own bar with FREE alcohol. 

But The Outer Courts' office does.

Note: The free alcohol is only available to "M" credentials, which is everyone from the media room. We aren't allowed to partake.

Look! Condiments! Plasticware! US Open beverage napkins!

Just a few complimentary items we offer to our visitors. Take one. Take two. Take a handful. They're here for you, just as we're here for you at the 2013 US Open.

Thanks for stopping by. 

Enjoy your mayonnaise. 

Lleyton Hewitt Goes Down Under

Trust me, I didn't want to make the pun above in the title. If there is one drawback to being Australian (and there can't be many as their general life outlook, great weather and beautiful women suggest that living on the island is not a bad lifestyle), it is the fact that one can't have a conversation about anything Australian without making some sort of awful pun about the country. Some of this is due to our American need to run jokes into the ground. "Put another shrimp on the barbie," "Good day mate!", "Crocodile Dundee" and a host of other terrible Australian jokes are always brought up by Americans, usually in the worst accent imaginable. But the Aussies themselves are not entirely blameless either. One cannot go even five minutes around a group of Australians in public without them singing "Aussie, Aussie, Aussie" or yelling "MATE!" at the top of their lungs. If we are all stereotypical at creating Jay Leno-level jokes about our Australian friends, the countrymen themselves at least bear some responsibility.

Nevertheless, I have always envied the Australian people. Whether it was during my childhood pulling for the eternal loser, Greg Norman, watching Joe Hachem win the World Series of Poker or sitting on Louis Armstrong Court trying to will Lleyton Hewitt to a "turn back the clock" victory. I have Aussie envy and it causes me to pull for them in whatever competition of which they find themselves a part. Thus on Tuesday, I sat in the sweltering heat watching what I knew was inevitable...a Lleyton Hewitt loss that would lead the worst tabloid headline writer to say, "Lleyton Blew-it."  With a chance to make the first Grand Slam Quarterfinal since 2006, Hewitt found a way to instead blow a 4-1 lead in the fourth set and a 5-2 lead in the fifth, losing five straight games in each and dropping the match to Mikhail "All You Want to Do is" Youzhny. Throughout the match, Youzhny was the better player, but Hewitt did just what my golfing hero Norman used to do as well...just enough to guarantee a painful defeat. His consistent returns and solid ground strokes, forced Youzhny to hit well-placed winners to get points. When he was unable to do so, Hewitt went on a roll. When he hit his stride and played Top 20 level tennis, Lleyton had no answer.

Throughout the match, Hewitt had opportunities to win big points, all by hitting shots that the top players can make in their sleep. A slight mishit by Youzhny would cause the ball to hang in the air just enough that a Top 20 player would slam it with enough pace to guarantee a point. But for Hewitt these opportunities were wasted, as he instead blocked back returns and guaranteed that the point would be won or lost on the racket of Youzhny. It is a style that does well against weaker players, but for the stretches of the match where Mikhail was dialed in (specifically the end of the 4th and 5th set), Hewitt was a dead man walking. The casual pace of the match (and the long rallies on each point) just seemed to string out the inevitable. Just like watching Greg Norman trudge through the back nine at Augusta in 1996, the fate was predetermined but the agony getting there was just more painful.

All in all it was a great run for Hewitt in Queens this week. But he may never have quite a chance like this again, after knocking out the powerful Del Potro and playing with caution instead of seizing his chances during crucial points. He will always have his Open Championship here to fall back on, but he will likely regret what might have been on this day and missing out a chance to get a shot at the #1 player in the world, Novak Djokovic, on Arthur Ashe Stadium one last time. At least he can take solace in his Australian fans, who reacted to the loss as only they chanting "Aussie, Aussie, Aussie,"hugging and chugging. It is the Australian way.

Nadal to see a familiar face Wednesday night

When Rafael Nadal takes the court tomorrow night for his quarterfinal match on Arthur Ashe, an old friend will be standing across from him -- and it's not Roger Federer, unfortunately.

No. 19 seed Tommy Robredo, the man responsible for Federer's dismissal from this year's Open, draws the seemingly impossible task of trying to upset Nadal to reach the semifinals. No one in the world is playing better than Nadal right now as he seeks his 20th consecutive hard court win this season, and part of Nadal's success in 2013 can be attributed to none other than Tommy Robredo, his fellow countryman, former doubles teammate, and next opponent.

2008 Monte Carlo Master champions
The two Spaniards trained together in Barcelona earlier this year prior to Nadal's first tournament back since Wimbledon in 2012. Little did they know at the time, they'd be facing each other in the US Open quarterfinals eight months later.

Robredo and Nadal in Barcelona
The friendship will be put aside for the day, at least for a couple hours at night, as they battle to advance to face either Richard Gasquet or David Ferrer, who is also from Spain, in the semifinals. The only other time Nadal and Robredo throw the camaraderie aside: when Real Madrid and FC Barcelona are playing football. Nadal is a big Real Madrid supporter; Robredo is a lifelong Barca fan. That means we have the "Clasico" of tennis at Arthur Ashe tomorrow night.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Watching Federer Lose is No Fun

I knew I had to take the 7 train and come to Queens. Sometimes you just know that something important is about to happen and you don't want to miss it. Even though rain had taken out most of the day and action was not to begin until past 5 pm, I was determined to make the trip and see the great Roger Federer play in person. If he lost (which seemed a longshot), I wanted to be there for one of his last appearances in Flushing. If he won, I hoped to see what I saw from Federer in Cincinnati, more improvement and continued movement to his shining self of old. There were difficulties on the travel (specifically a man was grabbed off of my subway car, two feet away from me, by four policemen who then told a woman in Spanish that he was being arrested for "going car by car in the subway, rubbing his genitalia on people"...thankfully I missed out), but when I arrived, Armstrong Stadium was my destination. With Roger Federer playing on the smaller court for the first time since 2006, I was there to make sure Federer did not lose to Tommy Robredo and the dream quarterfinal with Rafael Nadal would come to fruition.

Unfortunately, dreams do not always equal reality. I took my seat in the photographer's row next to the court (the best part of this entire experience...sitting in that position makes you realize the speed and athleticism of these players in a way that television does no justice) and hoped to see vintage Roger. Instead I saw what might be characterized as the worst Roger Federer Grand Slam match in a decade. Think about this for a minute. Federer's career record versus Robredo was a stunning 10-0, and he had only dropped three sets during that entire time period. On Monday night, Federer fell in three straight sets, thus doubling his career set losses to Robredo in just under 150 minutes. While the scoreline was painful (7-6, 6-3, 6-4), what was much worse was the domination of play. Robredo controlled the match from the outset, was the better player throughout and at all points was in control. If one dropped off of another planet and was told they were watching the greatest player to ever play the game, they would have certainly thought his name was "TAH-ME" (the ear-piercing scream by the one Robredo fan in the stadium, seated directly behind me) and not the great Federer.

What had begun as an exciting chance to watch greatness one more time instead became an act of sadness and depression. There is very little less fun than watching Roger Federer play poorly. A man who defined grace and elegance at his peak, tonight played like a struggling mid-50s ranked player, hoping to get a few breaks and sneak through with an upset. I don't like seeing highlights of Ali losing to Spinks and I don't like seeing Roger blow open shots against a Grand Slam journeyman. Federer's forehand completely deserted him, causing countless framed returns and at least four wide open put-aways blown with poor execution. The only thing resembling the Federer of old was the outfit, as Roger's attempted signature shots, from running one-handed backhands, to precise drop volleys routinely missed their targets and put Federer in poor positions. When Roger would hit minutes of the Federer of old, he would then follow it with faltering play, including a key game in the third set, where he went up 0-40 on Robredo's serve, only to lose five straight points, four with unforced errors.

One shouldn't take away anything from Robredo, who afterwards said he played one of the best matches of his life. But people did not come to Armstrong Stadium for a taste of Tommy R (well except possibly one woman sitting three rows up who, when Robredo took of his shirt at a break yelled, "Tommy, come home with me to Long Island and I will put some meat on those bones!"  I don't think he took her up on the offer). The crowd was here to see Roger as he continued to move towards his own form and hoped to set up a Thursday night for the ages. Instead what they saw was a depressing realization of the inevitability of age.  Federer is not yet Willie Mays chasing fly balls in centerfield with the Mets, but for the first time, "human Roger" is upon us. It is no longer just an elite player like Nadal, Djokovic or Murray who can take him out at the elite tournaments. Now he can lose to every Tommy, Dick or Harry that plays at an inspired level and catches him on the right day. Roger is mortal and that is depressing.

Will we see Federer vs. Nadal again?

Staring contest with Federer in Cincinnati
We were blessed with an incredible match between Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal in the quarterfinals in Cincinnati last month, one that reminded us of the old days, and now we're eyeing another potential quarterfinal showdown between the two here at the US Open.

This year's Open draw placed No. 7 seed Federer and second-seeded Nadal on the same side of the bracket yet again, on a crash course for a meeting in the round of 8, just like we saw at the Western & Southern Open. They have both done their part in staying alive thus far, and tonight, they'll each play to set up their 32nd head-to-head meeting. 

Federer is up first with a match against Tommy Robredo in Armstrong, moved over from Arthur Ashe due to the rain delay. It will be Roger's first match on the Armstrong court since 2006. The line is ridiculously long to get in already.

Nadal's match against Philipp Kohlschreiber will get underway shortly in Ashe.

If both Federer and Nadal advance, their next match will mark the first time they've met in the US Open.

Give it to us.


Robredo is owning Federer.

Stay away, rain!

Labor Day at the US Open has been very slow and uneventful for tennis fans. Rainfall hit the Billie Jean King Tennis Center around noon, suspending play for over four hours throughout the day, and left us wondering if we'd see any Monday tennis at all.

But now the acton is picking back up in Flushing Meadows with hopes the showers will hold off throughout the night. It's a big hope, but we're rolling with it. 

A look at the forecast, via iPhone:

We're off to catch the 7-train back to to Queens. Hopefully we'll see tennis when we get there.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

What has Federer been doing in NYC?

In Cincinnati I questioned Roger Federer's focus on tennis and explored possibilities outside the game that could be distracting him. You, the readers of The Outer Courts, seemed to like the post and the pictures that came with it, so I thought we'd do something similar here in Flushing Meadows.

Below you'll find a few things Roger Federer could be up to here in New York City when he's not on the court. It's a big city, he has a lot of downtime, so the possibilities are endless.

1. Filling in for Alex Rodriguez.

Look at that smooth swing. It's just like a backhand.

2. Saving kittens from the subway.

Two kittens made national news last week when they got loose on a subway track, forcing the MTA to shut down power to the line. The furry animals were rescued seven hours later, but by who?

3. Starring in a Broadway musical.

Jersey Boys, perhaps?

4. Running for Mayor.

First order of business: Replace all soda machines in the city with Moet machines.

5. Twerking with Miley Cyrus at the VMAs.

Miley Cyrus set America back ten years with her antics at the MTV Video Music Awards in Brooklyn. Is Roger Federer a fan of the controversial pop star and her "dancing"?

I doubt it. I highly doubt it.

British Media...Let Andy Murray Poop in Peace

May we talk as friends here for a moment? I don't want to offend anyone and I hope everyone knows that I try to be the most open chap possible. But I seriously do not understand the British media and their fascination/obsession of all things Andy Murray. Now don't get me wrong. Andy Murray seems like a fine young mate and the type of athlete you would want as a role model in your country. I have no problem with the way the British people seem to adore Andy and I loved watching his win at Wimbledon and the way it seemed to unify the Brits in a manner not seen since Mr. Bean's first movie on the telly. But when you are around Murray and watch those in the British press paid to follow him, the scene gets....well it gets a tad bit creepy.

When most tennis players are through with their match, they come to the press room to meet the media and trudge through the monotony of answering their usual questions. The reality is that in a tennis match, absent some huge transcendent moment, there isn't a whole lot worth reciting afterwards. The media simply need one quote to put in there story, and thus asking "Hey Roger, how did you feel out there?" generally suffices. This has become the norm for questioning as there isn't really a way to dissect a particular moment in the match in a way that makes sense (for example a question that was stated, "On that one point in the third set where he hit the backhand, and then you hit a forehand and then he hit a slice volley and then you hit it was that?" probably wouldn't be any more productive). The media questions thus are pretty mundane and often focus very little on the match itself and more on the player's "mindset" both before and after play. It is boring and often silly, but it seems to be a time-honored ritual, and for the best players, gives them a chance to flash a winning smile, an occasional quip and send everyone away happy.

The media stalks their prey 

 Not so with the British press and Andy. Instead of a trite series of questions about nothing, the British press seem to want to engulf every moment of Andy's life both on and off the court. After his three set win today over Florian Mayer, Murray trudged into the room like a teenager marching to detention. These affairs always seem like work for Andy and it doesn't take long to see why. The first question came from a British reporter (I assume he was British based on accent and teeth hygiene) who asked "Andy, did the bathroom break after the first set do the trick?"  Murray looked up slightly and somewhat ducked the question, saying something about the heat and trying to stay hydrated, but the reporter would not be deterred. He quickly followed, "but Andy, did you just need to go to the toilet or were you also struggling breathing?"  That sentence in and of itself is bizarre (is that an either/or....toilet or breathing?'s almost like asking, "were you hungry or cold?") but not quite as odd as the sight of back to back toilet questions in a press session of the US Open. Murray looked at the reporter (with patience) and said, "I needed to go to the toilet."

Then a bit later, another British reporter (who sounded and looked like Margaret Thatcher circa 1982) asked if Murray was seeing a "mental conditioner" in Florida. I had never heard the phrase "mental conditioner," (although to be fair it is quite descriptive) but Andy seemed to get her point and said yes he was seeing a sports psychologist. The reporter pressed, "do you know her name?"  Murray said her name was Alexis and she followed, "what is her last name?" with a seriousness that suggested Alexis was going to get a phone call very soon questioning what she was doing to dear Andy. The Americans in the crowd giggled at the exchange, but Murray seemed to find it perfectly normal.

So I decided I had to act. In Cincinnati, I listened to reporters question Murray on why he was watching Challenger tournaments online in his spare time (his friends are playing) and what he was doing staying up so late (reading). I couldn't even fathom how they knew this much about what Murray was doing off the court and I was a bit surprised by such inquiry into his private time. Over the course of my tennis coverage, the amount of inquisition into all things Andy Murray seemed a bit much to me. So I raised my hand and asked Murray, "do you ever feel like you get asked questions other players don't, for instance about toilets and mental conditioners, and that your country's reporters are too into your personal life?"  It was a blatant shot across the room to my British comrades (who stared lasers through me), but it needed to be said. Why do they care about this nonsense?  Murray laughed (point for me by the way...I have now made Nadal and Murray laugh in the last three weeks...Roger you are next) and said, "people ask me about lots of things that don't matter, like if a feather blowing across the court in Australia is why I won a match. It is amusing." It looked as if Andy and I agreed...these people care way too much.

Don't get me wrong, I understand the explosion of all things Andy in Britain and the love/pride he brings the country. Let's be real...the amount of sports where Britain rules atop the heap is not high (unless you consider cricket a sport of consequence and I don't...if you wear knitted sweaters in the event, it is not a sport) and having some tennis glory at this point is clearly important. While producing pop stars like rabbits, athletes of the highest regard are rare and I appreciate the excitement of their exploits. Plus, I also understand the British tabloid media culture, where everything is covered in depth and every celebrity is dissected like a reality show Kardashian. But in this individual sport of tennis, dynamic obsession over one person would seem to be exhausting. When Roger, Rafa or Novak come into the room, they don't have an entire nation panting on what type of fruit they are eating or if they took Nyquil to help them fall asleep. But poor Andy can't even go take a leak without having the entire press corp speculating on its meaning. It has to be a difficult go and would seem to burn out most anyone in his postion. This is probably why his press conferences seem so laborious and lack the fun of the other greats. He is trying to hide as much of himself as possible to a press group that want to know every ounce of him.

So I say this to my British compatriots. Slow down...give Andy some space...let him enjoy his success. Otherwise you will burn him out, and he will spend even more time in Miami visiting Alexis and others, and less in your country where you people will not leave him alone. Maybe that is why your athletes all either leave the country or tend to flame wear them down. Life is supposed to be fun and having a group of people dissecting your every move isn't quite the way a world class tennis star wants to live.  If you love a butterfly dear Brits, you can't trap it, but rather you have to let it fly. If it loves you back, it will return. Let Andy fly, and absent that, at least let him poop in peace. We will all be better for it.

So who do we latch onto now?

The 2013 US Open hasn't been kind to The Outer Courts' favorite ATP tennis personalities. There is still a week's worth of tennis remaining but the ones we love, and the ones we love to loathe, have all been sent home.

Ivo Karlovic gave us a great match against James Blake in the first round, but Stanislas Wawrinka ended Ivo's journey, one we here hoping (very high hopes) would take us deep into the tourney. John Isner, he met an early demise yesterday to Philipp Kohlschreiber. Daniel Evans and his nipple rash, dismissed. Donald Young, Grigor Dimitrov, and Fabio Fagnini, gone. Even Jack Sock, a guy we dislike but never miss in action, is done here at Flushing Meadows.

So what do we do now? Do we fly back to Kentucky? Do we stay and milk the cafeteria for all of its WiFi and bottomless soft drinks while ignoring tennis?

No, we stay and keep on keepin' on because that's what Tennis Channel expects from its expert bloggers. But we need a new name to latch onto. The Outer Courts needs a new star.

Leaving the Big Four aside, the remaining draw has potential but we don't know who will emerge from the bracket and into our hearts. Tommy Haas is an early favorite, in part because he told Matt he wears his hat backwards to prevent sweat from dripping down his face, but we're not ready to go all in on him just yet. Jankso Tipsarevic has a hot girlfriend and he beat Jack Sock, maybe he's the choice. Or maybe it's Milos Raonic, because why not Milos Raonic?

This is like hitting the dating scene after a long relationship, only we're not buying anyone drinks or lying about what we do. We're just going to feel our way around, give a couple people a chance, and, hopefully, the one is out there for us. If not, I guess we'll just root for whoever is playing Wawrinka.

Sunday at the US Open: We are Back!

It was a quiet day yesterday here on "The Outer Courts" and for good reason. Your favorite tennis bloggers had to focus on our regular gigs and cover the college football game that everyone in America was talking about, Kentucky vs Western Kentucky. If you missed that action (and I am sure you didn't since it was on ESPN News and America is always tuned into ESPN News on a Saturday night), then you might want me to write a long wrap-up of the game and the implications of the somewhat embarrassing UK loss. But alas, that is not out mission on this blog, as we instead focus on tennis and the majesty of this US Open. So with that in mind, a quick catch up on what we missed yesterday and getting ready for a Sunday here at the Open.

---  The middle Saturday of the US Open is generally considered what of the signature days within the event and a showcase time for the sport. CBS takes over coverage for an entire afternoon and it is the day that tennis gets its most prolonged look on a major network at any point in the year. Thus it is unfortunate that yesterday might have been the worst schedule for the middle Saturday that I can remember. The matches were all, once again, without flair or drama and the beatdowns that occurred surely made the television viewing audience slip throughout the afternoon. Part of this is because of the general overall problem with men's tennis right now...specifically that people care almost none about anyone outside of the Big Four. The middle Saturday used to have the best stars in the game, playing second tier players that viewers still knew, as they attempted to pull the upset and get into the Round of 16. Not anymore. The second tier guys now are either boring or not covered, and thus we get what we had on Saturday...a snooze fest. But part of the problem is due to the way the USTA schedules this tournament as well. They spread out the first week so slowly that the weekend, which could potentially have Round of 16 matchups under a different format, is instead bogged down with Round of 32 blowouts. Its unfortunate, as today's schedule is much better and Monday could set up to be a day to remember. But luckily for "The Outer Courts" (but not so much the television viewers), the day we missed gave us very little to regret.

---  We did lose two of the final three remaining Americans in the men's draw yesterday as John Isner and Jack Sock both fell to defeat. It was Isner's second straight departure from the tournament at the hands of Philipp Kohlschreiber, who not only has the big man's number but clearly took advantage of Isner's fatigue after a long summer series. For Isner, it is quickly becoming apparent that his success is opponent-specific...the players whose strength lies with a great return game (think Djokovic) are vulnerable to Isner, whose serve can be so dominant that it is hard to get into any rhythm. But for consistent players whose style is "backboard" tennis, mixed with an occasional winner spliced in (think Nadal or Kohlschreiber), their consistency ultimately wears down the tall American. As for Sock, "The Outer Courts"' player nemesis had a good run, reaching the third round and playing great tennis for all five days. Still this is a bit of a missed opportunity, as Janko Tipsarevic was ripe for the taking and a potential career-making Round of 16 match with David Ferrer awaited. Sock won the first set and was in good position in a tiebreak in the second, when he missed on two crucial points back to back, lot his composure, the tiebreak and then the next two sets in a flurry. It illustrated the major issue with Sock, which his inability at crucial times to maintain his composure when any degree of adversity strikes. Until he fixes that glaring weakness, his play (which was close to the best of his career this week), will always come up short in big matches.

--- I have been in this US Open cafeteria for a long time and it has begun to feel like home. But there are some signs that maybe I need to broaden my reach a bit and move about the premises more. Case in point today when I went to get a refill of my Diet Coke (they have an "all you can drink" Diet Coke fountain drink for $1 a day...something that would make Mayor Bloomberg's head explode but is wonderful for folks like me), I tasted the delicious concoction and thought it seemed slightly flat. Others came after me and I asked them if they agreed and they all said it tasted fine to them. But I knew there was a problem. I consulted with the manager, mentioned my concern and he inspected, finding that they were adding 15% too little carbonation on each mixture. He then said to me, "it takes an amazing soda palate to be able to taste such small differences." And that my friends is what I amazing soda palate. It is the little victories in life that we savor the most.

---  It is early here on Sunday, but we already have a victory for the best set of twins since the Doublemint commercials, the Bryan Brothers. The Brothers Bryan are of course going for a calendar year Grand Slam, and they won a tight one today in three sets, a match that included wild swings of momentum and a crucial save of a match point. The Brothers have done what was thought near impossible, they have made doubles tennis sexy and relevant in today's modern world. As a matter of fact, their match led off on Ashe Stadium and was given primetime coverage on CBS. Doubles as a draw has been dead for years, which is sad to people like me who used the unique parts of doubles play (specifically not having to move nearly as much on each point), to make it my speciality during my playing days. But now thanks to their game, and more importantly, their similar faces, the Bryan Brothers may be the 5th and 6th most popular male tennis players in the game. It is actually quite a remarkable accomplishment and proof of my long time adage...when in doubt, it is always better if you have two of everything. That is true for hamburgers, pets, girlfriends, children and yes, tennis players as well.

That is all for now...Serena and Sloane play today, followed by Djokovic tonight. Much more to come here on "The Outer Courts"