Wednesday, September 3, 2014
We got our first view today of Stan Wawrinka's arm tattoo which doubles as his life motto. It says "EVER TRIED. EVER FAILED. NO MATTER. TRY AGAIN. FAIL AGAIN. FAIL BETTER." While Stan might be faulted for punctuation (no question marks on the first two phrases? For shame Stan), the theme is a good one. And after his loss today, next year he will have to fail better in Flushing.
Had you told me a few weeks ago, "Matt, you will spend over eight hours in three days watching Kei Nishikori play tennis and you will actually be riveted doing it," I would have assumed you were crazy. But after watching Nishikori upset Stan Wawrinka today for the better part of my afternoon, I must say Nishikori is the most fun scrambler to watch since his coach Michael Chang. No point is ever over with Kei, as he chases down balls that seem impossible to reach and rarely, if ever, gives up no matter the sequence in the match. At three different points during the proceedings, I wrote down "turning point" as Nishikori made a mistake or missed an open opportunity and at each juncture, Nishikori found a way to hang on. In the third set, up a break and seemingly on the way to a 2-1 set lead, Kei tried a ridiculous between-the-legs shot that cost him the point and a service game, seeming to spell the end of his chances. But he fought back, held off two set points in the tiebreak and gritting out a huge third set win.
After the match, Nishikori talked about how he was able to summon up just enough energy to finish the victory and after two long matches, it would seem likely that he will be unable to continue the magic against either Djokovic or Murray. But Nishikori, more than any other player on tour, finds a way to summon up big points where others have long since given up. His ability to frustrate his opponents could be seen by Wawrinka's who post-match handshake was nearly as awkward as the ESPN television segment in which Patrick McEnroe discussed his "departure" from the USTA Player Development post (he said it was because he didn't want to move to Florida...sure thing, the "only one American male in the Top 50" had zero to do with it). While advancing to the finals is probably a long shot, it surely the case that Kei will fight until the last point in a tournament he calls his favorite of the year. If so, I might find myself enjoying another four hour marathon with Nishikori, who is quickly becoming my tennis comfort food.
I have never understood the desire of tennis players to beat their racket into submission. They say a good craftsman never blames his tools, but for tennis players who are going through a difficult day, the racket becomes the target of aggression, often ending its already short shelf life. The most famous racket mauling might be John McEnroe's pounding that led to his default from the Australian Open in 1990, but countless other smaller wounds have been inflicted, including today when Victoria Azarenka played poorly and made mincemeat out of her racket in the process. Vika (I notice that more and more tennis reporters feel we have to shorten the women's players' names to cute little nicknames...I don't like it, but want to fit in) lost to Ekaterina Makarova in rather dominating fashion and after falling down a break in the second set, gave her racket the business. It didn't survive and neither did Azarenka, going down in a whimper after all the of the early anger.
After the match, Victoria's publicist let everyone know that part of the reason Azarenka may have played poorly (and been a bit cranky) was she had food poisoning from sushi she had eaten on Monday night. I generally have two rules in my own personal life about sushi, never eat in an airport and never while competing for a US Open. But Vika clearly did not follow the second (no word if she potentially broke the first by dining at Laguardia) and her sluggish play could have been a result. After the match, Azarenka was asked about the evil sushi and she denied it playing any part...something that directly conflicted with what her publicist had previously said. Never has the official party line been so directly disputed by an individual since Charles Barkley claimed to be misquoted in his autobiography, but Vika stuck by the position, even getting angry when asked about it repeatedly. She left the press conference frustrated and exited the US Open with a bit of a cloud, after an otherwise successful week.
So Azarenka is now out, Makarova moves on to be Serena's Semifinal sacrificial lamb and we are left with the happiest person in New York being this woman, who ended up with Vika's smashed racket which she will now surely cherish forever. "Look kids, remember when mommy was at that match where the pro tennis player went nuts and smashed her equipment....well here it is!!!!"
Lifelong friends Donald Young and Taylor Townsend made an improbable run in this year's US Open mixed doubles draw, coming up just short of an appearance in the finals after suffering a semifinal loss in Wednesday's first match on Ashe. The Chicago natives and former junior world No. 1s fell in consecutive sets to Abigail Spears and Santiago Gonzalez, 6-3, 6-4.
In case you hadn't heard, Young and Townsend's relationship goes way back -- way, way, back -- which explains the chemistry we saw from them on the court this week, despite being a couple of newbies in mixed doubles. Their mothers were doubles partners back in Chicago and, though being seven years apart in age, they were close friends growing up. Maybe that's why Townsend felt so comfortable calling her older pal "Peanut Head" to tennis writer Sandra Harwitt. The temperamental Young is cool with the nickname, at least from Townsend, because she is his baby sis, the girl he's watched follow in his footsteps for years.
This year's US Open was only their second time playing together as teammates, three years after partnering in the 2011 Open. With this year's result, one would think they'll be back in Australia next year.
I'm all for it.
Chicago stand up.
Victoria Azarenka is currently in a quarterfinal match with Ekaterina Makarova, but a lot of the talk in the second week at the US Open includes her Monday night rendition of 'Happy Birthday.' Vika did her best to wish Gael Monfils a happy birthday following her win over Aleksandra Krunic on Arthur Ashe. It was a nice gesture, but I don't see a record deal in her future.
Last night, Caroline Wozniacki addressed Azarenka's less-than-stellar singing voice, telling her good friend, "You shouldn’t audition for The Voice. That was a screech.”
Meanwhile, Azarenka's ex-boyfriend, Redfoo, recently released a new single called 'New Thang.' The video debuted this week.
Tuesday, September 2, 2014
"I just want to be happy, other than that, I don't give a sh**."
That was Monfils' explanation for surrendering a point to Grigor Dimitrov when he wasn't happy with a call earlier in the game. It was yet another case of Gael Monfils being Gael Monfils. Through good and bad, he is so entertaining to watch.
Chances are if you're even a casual tennis fan, you know the Bryan Brothers. In a sport that is increasingly becoming more and more devoid of star power, a random set of twins have found a way to become probably the second and third most famous American men in the game (behind John Isner). It is somewhat remarkable considering the relative lack of importance placed on doubles by virtually all tennis fans and the scant (or more precisely almost zero) coverage it gets in the media and on television, that the Bryan Brothers could have achieved any level of stardom but they have. Doubles is generally a bygone sport played mostly by amateurs (although I find it the most entertaining form of tennis), but basically ignored when practiced by professionals at the highest level. Yet still, the Bryan Brothers are stars and a real draw, especially when playing at the US Open. So this had me wondering...what it is like to be the Bryan Brothers, rock stars of a sport no one cares about, but highly sought after for being its master.
After the Brothers won their third round match over some anonymous doubles team and moved a step closer to their record 100th ATP Tour title, I attended their press conference in the Media Center. Its location was telling of the Bryan's place in the realm of tennis popularity. They were not sent to Media Room One (the massive area in which the stars of the game are brought to meet the world's reporters), but they also weren't placed in Rooms 3-6 (rooms that aren't even really "rooms", but rather are simply cubicles where no more than 2-5 reporters can comfortably sit....they are used for the lower-tier singles winners, all the doubles players and most anyone whose name you don't know). They were instead placed in Room 2, a small office, with 12 or so reporters, comfortably asking questions in the most non-aggressive manner possible. I would call it the David Ferrer room...fit for those who are B-level tennis celebrities, and the Bryans fit right in.
Unlike other tennis press conferences in which the match is at least the preliminary focus, the story of the day was not the Bryan's victory per se, as it was rather easy, but the fact that due to scheduling they had played in front of a packed house at Armstrong Stadium. With Novak Djokovic following their match, every seat was taken and the Bryans wowed the crowd with their energy on a court that was for the most part rocking. It is fair to say that it was one of the more energetic non-final Men's Doubles matches in the past ten years. While the crowd factor was the initial inquisition, none of the follow-ups to the Bryans were about the match...as a matter of fact in the ten minute session, there was literally no reference to their play. Instead a series of general inquiries were repeated, some of which I jotted down:
Do you feel that being brothers makes your chemistry on the court stronger?
How does it feel to be the face of doubles in America? Do you feel more responsibility because of it?
Who were your heroes growing up on the doubles scene?
What do you think you can do to make doubles bigger in America?
Is there more pressure on you now that there are no other American males left in the US Open?
None of the questions had anything to do with the Bryans' on-court talents and in fact, one would have never known that they had just finished a match, had they not been sweating and downing bottles of water. Instead, it was a series of questions by a group of people (myself included...I asked the second one) who knew that the Bryans were a story but didn't know how to make their actual on-court work newsworthy. It was clear that for virtually all who follow them, the Bryan brothers are important people doing a very unimportant thing. That has to be an odd situation to be in. The questions they are asked are the same every time (there can only be so many times one focuses on what it is like to play with your brother) and the interest is always on the surface. They made reference to doubles teams of the past (specifically the rocking Jensens, who they say they looked up to as they began their career), but we learned zero about them beyond the surface. They are handsome brothers who have chosen to play together and are very good doing it...one of the best teams of all time. And they are performing in an entertaining way that makes them important on the tennis scene. But beyond that, little can be said.
At the end of the festivities, the room was cleared out so that the special reporters could get "one on one" access (I still don't know how one gets this individual access but after eavesdropping on a few of their sessions, it strikes me that they simply ask the same questions but without the comfort of the crowd...maybe I am just bitted as I was denied a one on one with, of all people, Jack Sock who should be begging for some form of notoriety or importance). Before we all were herded out of the room, a reporter said, "Just to be clear guys, you are Bob right and the other one, you are Mike." I can't remember which one he pointed to, I just remember that he was incorrect. With a smile, Bob said he was Mike and Mike said he was Bob, and everyone had a hearty laugh at the clueless journalist who couldn't tell them a part. But as soon as it was over, I realized I couldn't remember which was which either...maybe Bob was in read and Mike was in blue or maybe it was the other way around. I am not sure. And that sort of symbolizes the Bryan Brothers' status...important enough to interview but yet still individually anonymous enough to not be differentiated. It is an odd setup for two of the three biggest American male tennis stars in the nation, but one they seem to inhabit as well as possible.
Gael Monfils is back in the quarterfinals of the US Open for the second time of his career after defeating No. 7 Grigor Dimitrov in straight sets, 7-5, 7-6, 7-5. The win is the Frenchman's first ever victory on Arthur Ashe as he continued his dominance here at the 2014 Open by, again, not giving up a set. He has won all four of his matches in three sets, two coming against higher seeded opponents.
So what's behind this newfound success in Flushing?
The answer is simple: Beyonce and Coca-Cola.
As he has done in the past, Monfils was seen drinking from a can of Coke during a changeover in the second set and again in the third. He raised his sugary drink toward his corner to toast his agent -- he said it makes him smile -- before taking a big glup. "Sometimes I just want a Coke," he explained in his postmatch press conference.
It is very rare to see an athlete drink a soft drink during competition, but Monfils claims it gives him an energy boost when he is gassed. Whatever works, I guess. And it worked.
While Coke fueled Monfils in the second and third sets, it was Beyonce's "Partition" that drove him to take the first in a tiebreak. During his on-court interview with Tom Rinaldi, Monfils said he listened to "Partition" in his Beats By Dre headphones before the beginning of the match.
"I think it's a great song," he said. Again, whatever works, I guess.
Listen to Monfils' hype song below:
Monday, September 1, 2014
Serena Williams advanced to the quarterfinals with a 6-3, 6-3 win over Kaia Kanepi on Monday. It is the five-time Open champ's first appearance in a Grand Slam quarterfinal this year. "I finally made a quarterfinal!" she screamed after the match.
For America, Williams is the only hope to keep one of the singles trophies at home in the States. John Isner, the No. 1 American in the men's draw, caught an early exit at the hands of No. 22 Philipp Kohlschreiber on Saturday.
Williams' path to the title is a desirable one, now that many of the women's top seeds suffered upsets. She will see 11th-seeded Flavia Pennetta in the quarters, while a potential semifinal contest will include No. 7 Eugenie Bouchard, No. 16 Victoria Azarenka, No. 17 Ekaterina Makarova, or unseeded Aleksandra Krunic. 10th-seeded Caroline Wozniacki is the highest possible seed she will see in the finals as seven of the top ten have already been eliminated. Williams is the tournament's No. 1.
So while American tennis is down and out in the men's draw, Serena Williams is keeping the hope alive in the women's game.
U-S-A! U-S-A! U-S-A!
If Will Ferrell could team up with anyone in the world for a doubles match, he would choose John Stamos. In an interview on the US Open's blue carpet, Ferrell called John Stamos his favorite current tennis player, favorite all-time tennis player, and dream doubles partner.
Ferrell also admitted he is in Flushing for the nachos, second only to the nachos at Roland Garros.
Watch the comedian's entire interview here.
This is not Andy Murray today, but the picture is too awesome not to use
As I write this, Andy Murray is locked in an intense and entertaining battle with Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in a match that could end up one of the best of the Tournament. But after basically controlling the first set, Murray was a victim of an early Tsonga break, giving back the momentum he had worked so hard to gain. So how did our chap Andy handle this disappointment...not well. He sat down at the changeover and proceeded to repeat over and over a curse word that starts with an "F" and rhymes with the word truck. I couldn't count the total number of trucks, but I would venture it was somewhere above three and below ten. As the chair umpire looked on, Murray finally stopped and then proceeded to go back to the King's English.
Murray's forehand so far has been wicked and so has his tongue...the rest of the field is now on notice.
The women at the US Open have provided us one of the most baffling tournaments in recent memory. While Serena Williams has rolled, the rest of the top seeds have been in a race to exit the tournament most quickly, dropping like flies over the course of a murderous week in Flushing. However the men have taken the opposite path and thus it is one of the most to form men's tournaments in quite some time. Seven of the top eight seeds are still in play (with only David Ferrer eliminated, which considering his US Open history, should have surprised no one) and only one unseeded player (Dominic Thiem) has crashed the party. Yet even without a ton of major surprises or action so far, it is my guess that the energy is about to crank up with a wild "Sweet 16" full of some solid match ups and potential for great tennis. A look at what is to come, starting momentarily:
(1) Novak Djokovic vs (22) Philipp Kohlschreiber
As I write this, Djokovic and Kohlschreiber are walking onto Armstrong to begin their warmups in front of a massive crowd, filled to such capacity that the line to enter is literally snaking around the entire USTA grounds. My guess is that most will be disappointed with the action on the court as the Djoker seems a solid bet to move on rather easily. Novak has, with a couple of lapses of focus notwithstanding, rolled so far this fortnight and seems destined to have one more relatively easy match before a potential Murray-Wawrinka-Federer ride to the title. He was likely very pleased to avoid John Isner, who fell to his nemesis Kohlschreiber for the third straight year in the Round of 32. Philipp has shown us an uncanny ability to get to this point, breaking American hearts along the way, only to bow out gracefully to a better player at this point. Expect that trend to continue this afternoon.
Pick: Djokovic in three
(9) Jo-Wilfried Tsonga vs (8) Andy Murray
My gut tells me this has the potential to be the match of the tournament so far, as Tsonga and Murray take the court for the feature showdown on CBS on its final Labor Day coverage, ending its 30-plus year run. Murray has looked shaky this entire tournament, losing a set in every match and at times fighting cramps that seem to appear out of nowhere. He has not come close to showcasing his major winning form and most of the British journalists here in the media room have dismissed him as "rubbish" this year, which is not only my favorite descriptive word in the English language, but also an apt description of his recent play. Tsonga described the tennis locker room as "less afraid" of Murray this year because of his recent poor form, and a win would give him only his second quarterfinal here of his career. This will be the match of the day and maybe the tournament thus far, ending Murray's difficult 2014 major run and elevating Tsonga to a powerful slug match in the quarters versus Djokovic
Pick: Tsonga in five
(3) Stan Wawrinka vs (16) Tommy Robredo
Tommy Robredo is the Andy North of the ATP, doing better in majors than he has any right to expect and boring crowds by the thousands in the process. Watching Robredo knock out an infinitely more entertaining player (this year Nick Krygios) has become a yearly tradition for me and has led me to dub him, "Ruining Robredo" (I don't expect Nike to market that t-shirt, but if they do, consider this my Trademark application). His run usually ends to a star thankful to get Robredo over his opponent, and Wawrinka will serve that role just fine this year. For Stan, he has won two tournaments this year, the Australian Open and the Masters event in Monaco and each had the unique benefit of giving him a walkover in the third round. Blaz Kavcic did the honors this year in the third round, which may be a good omen for Stan going forward. My guess is Robredo bores the Swiss gentleman into dropping one set and Wawrinka moves on to a much more entertaining opponent in the quarters.
Pick: Wawrinka in Four
(10) Kei Nishikori vs (5) Milos Raonic
The Tournament committee slotted this match for the main event tonight which seems at first glance to be an odd choice, but will likely be justified by the competitiveness on the court. Raonic seems to be the sneaky favorite of a lot of the tennis media here to reach the finals versus Roger Federer. Many see his near victory of Djokovic at Wimbledon as being avenged here in the Semifinals, as he then tries to play the role of spoiler in Roger's last stand next Monday. But first he has to get past Nishikori, a player whose style can give Raonic fits, especially if his serve isn't at the highest level. Kei is the type of player who slowly wins over a crowd and with the Labor Day night session expected to get slightly rowdy after a day of liquid refreshment, I could see a match where Milos is tested on and off the court. I pick Raonic to win but could easily see an upset, as Milos's fitness and composure are sure to be tested under the lights on Ashe.
Pick: Raonic in an exciting Four
(6) Tomas Berdych vs Dominic Thiem
I don't go to a lot of music festivals (people are too sweaty and it is way too hot), but I know someone who promotes them and I was once told that in the music festival industry they have what are called "skip" bands. On the Main Stage of an event like Bonnaroo or Lollapalooza, you might occasionally see an act that makes you say, "I really don't think Toad the Wet Sprocket is still big enough to be on in between Pearl Jam and Kanye West." But Toad the Wet Sprocket is there to allow people a break to maybe go and get out of the sun for a few minutes, rest and have a chance to thin the crowd before the big acts return. Hence the "skip" band. For the US Open Round of 16, this is the "skip" match. Tomas Berdych is the most boring top level player outside of David Ferrer (and I am not convinced they are not the same person), while Dominic Thiem is here primarily because Ernests Gulbis was Ernests Gulbis in their match. It won't be interesting, fun or able to hold your attention. So take a break and wait for Kanye (or Monfils vs Dimitrov) to take the stage a bit later.
Pick: Berdych in Four
(14) Marin Cilic vs (26) Giles Simon
This will be a classic example of exciting tennis that only the hardcore racket head will likely see. Neither Cilic or Simon are marketable names, but both play exciting games and both are looking at this as potentially their breakout moment. Both players have made a career of getting to this exact spot in a Grand Slam draw and then losing. Between them, they have two career Grand Slam quarterfinals to their resume, cementing their reputations as top level tour professional journeymen. Now their chance is finally here. Simon upset David Ferrer and Tomas Berdych stands as possibly the most beatable of the power 8 players remaining. A potential Semifinal berth stands at the precipice for both mean and both know they will rarely see a better big tournament opportunity. I expect to see both swinging for the fences, with many wild swings of momentum and for those that venture to watch it (likely as the last match on Armstrong tomorrow for those who are able to preserve until the end of the day) a five set classic on the horizon.
Pick: Cilic in Five
(7) Grigor Dimitrov vs (20) Gael Monfils
The US Open in New York, possibly more than any other tournament of the year, has a significant amount of "casual" tennis fans. These are the people who love the game, so long as Serena, Federer or Nadal are playing, and who tennis is more an annual social event, rather than a passion. Those people add to the spectacle of the US Open and are a big reason the crowds can be so intense on those special Ashe Stadium nights. But for those that are one step above the casual, for whom the Top 20 in tennis is a regular follow and entertaining matches are always sought to be found, Dimitrov/Monfils is the Round of 16 treat. The dreamy superstar Dimitrov, who has women of all ages around the grounds salivating (I overheard one around my mother's age saying a few days ago, "I don't usually go for guys like him but there is just something about those eyes...") versus the most entertaining oddball in the game. Both have a charisma that draws in fans and rarely do either produce a clunker of a match. If the Tournament is smart, this will be the main event tomorrow night on Ashe...and if so, save me a front row seat...next to the hordes of teenage girls clamoring for the "One Direction" of tennis.
Pick: Dimitrov in a very fun Four
(2) Roger Federer vs (17) Roberto Bautista Agut
As an unabashed Federer-ite, this match worries me slightly. It was around this time last year than Ruining Robredo, came and spoiled our chances for a Federer-Nadal Quarterfinal by boring the greatest to ever play into a four set loss. Now comes a similar player in Bautista-Agut, who has no business taking out Roger on a hard court, but who nevertheless could cause problems. Last night Federer started slowly versus Marcel Granollers, dropping the first set and looking very pedestrian in the process. Roger however then found his form, running off three straight sets in which he only dropped three games total. A similar match could be in store here, in a battle that likely will be a setup for a huge quarterfinal against either Dimitrov or Monfils. I expect Roger to drop a set as in Round Three, but nevertheless move on and keep the dream of a magical 18th major alive.
Pick: Federer in Four
So there you go...Djokovic/Tsonga, Wawrinka/Raonic, Berdych/Cilic and Federer/Dimitrov. A top heavy quarterfinal awaits, so long as the matches over the next two days don't screw it up. Until then, utilize the "skip" match and enjoy the proceedings.
He lost his match to the wonderful Gael Monfils last night, but Richard Gasquet left us with something much more important...an amazing trail of unmatched perspiration. After the humidity set in following a series of rain storms, Gasquet was a sweating machine, dripping water like a wildebeest roaming the plains of south Texas.As he walked, he left a trail and the picture above showcases an ability to sweat unseen by any human I have ever encountered. Richard, you didn't win our hearts, but you amazed us with skills never before encountered...that my friend is worth much more than a spot in the US Open Round of 16.
Sunday, August 31, 2014
The unexpected breakup continues to be a good thing for the sports careers of Caroline Wozniacki and Rory McIlroy, who were planning to marry later this year until McIlroy called things off just days after the invitations were mailed out back in May. Both parties have been performing well in their respective sports, and that theme continued on Sunday.
First, McIlroy turned in a third round score of 64 at the PGA's Deutsche Bank Championship in Boston. If not for a rough back nine on Saturday, the World No. 1 golfer would likely be entering Monday's final round with the overall lead. Things are still looking positive, though, as he currently sits in third place, two shots behind Jason Day. McIlroy is well in contention.
Shorly after McIlroy tapped in on 18, his former fiancee advanced to the Open's quarterfinals for the first time since 2011, when she was the tournament's No. 1 overall seed. This year, the 10th-seeded Wozniacki shocked No. 5 Maria Sharapova, 6-4, 2-6, 6-2, in the fourth round to earn a spot against No. 13 Sara Errani in the quarters.
Dominating sports, the best way to get over a breakup.
Michael Jordan headlines a long list of professional athletes who attended some of Week 1's action at the US Open. Jordan, who took in his first ever tennis match Tuesday night, was seated in Arthur Ashe to watch his good friend and Nike pal, Roger Federer.
Jordan was in Flushing to promote a new limited edition line of Nike tennis shoes featuring the Jordan brand style and logo as well as Roger Federer's 'RF.' Nike coordinated His Airness's visit as a marketing ploy to drive sales of the shoes, released Wednesday after Federer debuted the new look in his second round match.
"I know nothing about tennis," Jordan said in a courtside television interview.
However, several other non-tennis professional athletes in town are big fans. Check out some of the many sightings below:
Henrik Lundqvist, New York Rangers
Swiss-born Lundqvist, seen here with Will Ferrell, is the goalie for the New York Rangers. He is the only goaltender in NHL history to record 30 wins in each of his first seven seasons
Nastia Liukin, Five-Time Olympic Medalist
Nasita Liukin is a retired Russian-American gymnast. She is the 2008 Olympic all-around gold medalist.
Sergio Garcia, PGA Golfer
Garcia is a professional golfer from Spain. He has over 20 international tournament wins in his career, including The Players Championship in 2008.
Bubba Watson, PGA Golfer
A two-time Masters champion, Bubba Watson is currently third on the PGA Tour's 2014 money list.
Matt Harvey, New York Mets
Currently on the 60-day DL, New York Mets starting pitcher Matt Harvey crossed the street from his home field to watch Friday's US Open action.
Danilo Gallinari, Denver Nuggets
Gallinari of Italy was also spotted on the grounds during Friday's tennis. The 26-year-old Italian is a starting forward for the NBA's Denver Nuggets. He was with the New York Knicks from 2008 to 2011.
Amar'e Stoudemire, New York Knicks
Knicks center Amar'e Stoudemire provided water to neighboring tennis fans in Arthur Ashe on Thursday. Stoudemire is often spotted around the city's big events, so it was no surprise to see him in Flushing.
Who will we see in Week 2?
Saturday, August 30, 2014
Sam Querrey and John Isner, the last two American men in the US Open, were sent home on Saturday during the tournament's third round. With their exits, the US Open's fourth round will not include any of its native players for the second consecutive year.
Querrey's loss wasn't a shocker. He fell to top-seeded Novak Djokovic, 6-3, 6-2, 6-2, in the second match of the day on Arthur Ashe. Djokovic has now won all three of his matches here in Flushing Meadows without giving up a set.
Isner, on the other hand, lost to a lower seed in No. 22 Philipp Kohlschreiber. The No. 13 seed and top overall American went down in four sets, 7-6(4), 4-6, 7-6(2), 7-6(4). Kohlschreiber has Isner's number at the Open. Saturday's win marked the third consecutive year he's sent Isner home in the third round.
Back-to-back years without an American in the Open's Round of 16? That's not my America.
Friday, August 29, 2014
No one puts on a show quite like Gael Monfils. The Frenchman is a fan favorite for doing things like jumping in the air for a 110 mph cross-court winner.
Yeah, that happened today.
We here at The Outer Courts are very fond of Tennis Channel. In addition to giving us a platform from which to pass on our tennis knowledge, the people have been wonderful in allowing us to travel across the country and cover the best tennis tournaments from an up close and personal seat. So while we have always loved all things TC (thats what Tennis Channel's friends call her), we became even more excited this morning when we got the text from our friend Josh: "Wear something respectable guys, they want to use you on the broadcast."
You can imagine the excitement. Here in front of all the world at our United States Open, we at the Outer Courts would be making our live tennis television debut. We became giddy like school children, trying to think of witty repartee we could engage in with one of the myriad of talented personalities on the air. Maybe we can talk American players' struggles with Justin Gimelstob, the rise of Cici Bellis with Lindsay Davenport or hair care tips with Ian Eagle. Back home in Kentucky, I do lots of television and give my thoughts on sports on a daily basis. But to be here, on set with all of the great tennis minds was going to be invigorating and we had to be on our "A" game and raise our standard of play.
We ran into an immediate hitch with the one requirement for our appearance, the request that Drew and I "look respectable." We had already left the house, wearing in my case a polo shirt and in Drew's case a Hawaiian shirt featuring pictures of alligators wearing sombreros. Having watched a number of tennis matches in my day, I don't remember similar attire being a staple on television, but I told Drew not to worry. This is the sport that featured Bud Collins and his outlandish garb for decades and when we met him last year at Indian Wells, he told us that being different in the area of fashion had helped him build his career. Now we had our similar chance, with untucked Masters polos and Jimmy Buffet paraphernalia leading the way.
We arrived on set around 3 pm for our segment, eager to talk about the matches of the day. I knew that there were many potential upsets in the women's draw, including the displacement of #2 seed Simona Halep to a 32 year-old journey woman named Mirjana Lucic-Baroni. We also prepared talking points on the disappointing performance of American males and the possibility of one final Roger Federer run to glory. We were nervous, but ready and the Director on site could not have been more helpful. "Guys we are glad to have you here. We could do this any time in the next hour, so sit tight and be ready. However we go off at four, so if it runs long, we may have to do this at another time." Just like the third guest on David Letterman, we knew that our status was in flux, but after Denzel Washington and one of the cast members on "Modern Family" did their time, we would be ready to shine.
At 3:15, we were told that if Lucic-Baroni could win the second set and close out Halep, "there is a good chance we will get to you." We immediately became the biggest Lucic-Baroni fans outside of Croatia, screaming for every shot and trying to pull her to victory. As we struggled to think of words that rhymed with Baroni for rhyming chants (all we came up with were bologna and jabroni, neither of which seemed to produce anything magical), she began to take over the match. When she won the final point, a high five came from our side of the set (although to be fair it was between two drunk guys at the bar next door when one threw a wadded up paper towel into a garbage can, but we shared in the excitement), and we were ready to roll. Then bad news hit again. "Guys, when we come back we will be going to a merchandise segment, and then you." That's fine we thought...everyone loves merchandise. Heck, we spend our entire Outer Courts paycheck on merchandise at every tournament we attend. No problem.
The merchandise segment went well, thanks in large part to the great Rennae Stubbs, who handled well the moment that a passing by fan screamed while live, "BUY THE TOWEL.....THE TOWEL IS GOOD, BUY THE TOWEL!" Like a pro, she persevered and what was left was television gold. After she tossed to break, the director came to us and said, "we are going to the Gulbis match for a few minutes, but come meet Rennae and we will do the segment in ten. This was the real treat of the day. Rennae asked us about our background (Kentucky), what brought us to tennis (Ian Eagle) and our favorite things to do (breakdancing). She said that when we went live, "we would just wing it", which with my radio background is my favorite way to operate. Now we were set, me, Drew and our new friend Rennae, just three mates hanging on set talking a little tennis. It would be Emmy worthy.
I walked over to my chair, used my selfie camera to fix my hair (my hair is not television worthy and is the biggest hinderance to my happiness in the tv world. It is partially why I have hair envy of Justin Gimelstob and also why I consider the McEnroe brothers my television idols...as their hairlines hang on for dear life, so does my belief that I can still make it in the tv tennis game) and was ready for my cue. Ten minutes later, the Director takes a call, looks at the crew and says, "thats a wrap! This set is done for the day!" Everyone clapped, Drew and I looked at each other and he saw the expressions of sadness on our face and said, "Sorry guys, we really wanted to get this segment done." Rennae came up and told us goodbye (we know the future is bright for our three-person unscripted sessions), and we sulked like children who had been left behind on Christmas Day by Santa. We trudged back to our place in the back of the media room, bypassing the awful free Chia Pods, only taking solace in our shot on set with the great Miss Stubbs.
We will still be here in New York for another week and there is still time for us to make our US Open television debut. But my confidence of seeing our faces on the big screen is slowly waning. There may be less time for us in the coming week as the tennis will be getting more serious, the analysts more intense and unfortunately we have run out of our best clothing (Drew only has so many Hawaiian shirts). Today was our best chance, and it may have passed us by. But our enthusiasm will not wane. In our heart, we are bloggers and today, we watched Venus Williams up close, saw our hero Ivo Karlovic's power serve and became besties with Rennae Stubbs. A better day is hard to imagine.
It has been a long, long time since Mirjana Lucic-Baroni has seen the fourth round of a Grand Slam. Last time she reached the round of 16 in a major, the year was 1999 and the world was a completely different place. No Twitter. No Facebook. No YouTube. No smartphones. No high-def television and no "Keeping Up With Kardashians." Even worse, no Tennis Channel. (How did we ever survive?)
Today, she advanced to unfamiliar territory in the Open by defeating Simona Halep, the tournament's No. 2 seed. It was her second improbable victory over a seeded opponent this week; she upset No. 25 Garbine Muguruza of Spain in the first round.
After today's win, she wiped away tears during her post-match press conference and called it the best day of her life. "I feel 15 again," she said.
In honor of Lucic-Baron's tennis rebirth here in Flushing Meadows, let's take a look at life in 1999, the year of her last good run in a Grand Slam event:
-- Apple released its first laptop, the PowerBook.
-- Ricky Martin was Livin' La Vida Loca on the radio.
-- Star Wars: The Phantom Menace, The Sixth Sense, Toy Story 2, Austin Powers, and the Matrix led the box office.
-- Brandi Chastain took off her jersey after scoring the winning penalty kick for the U.S. in the Women's World Cup.
-- Bill Clinton was acquitted.
-- Family Guy debuted on television.
-- A gallon of gas was $1.22.
-- Napster changed the way we obtain our music.
-- Lance Armstrong won his first Tour de France.
-- Cici Bellis, one of the star's of this year's US Open, was born.
Welcome back, Mirjana.
It wasn't that long ago that wearing sunscreen was considered to be the type of thing only children and those who were outdoor-phobic would ever do. This was the age of the bronzed body being a symbol of beauty or manhood, showcasing that you were the type who either cared about your appearance or alternatively, worked in the great outdoors. Then, we all learned about UV rays and melanoma and the idea of spending extended times in direct sunlight without any form of protection seemed foolish at best. Sunscreen became ubiquitous, carried by even the most masculine of outdoorsmen and the idea of spending an entire day unprotected was as unhealthy as smoking. We collectively became more informed and in one of the few areas this is true in the modern world, enlightened as well.
That is, except in the realm of tennis. Tennis players still shun sunscreen with surprising frequency according to a story today in the Wall Street Journal. While they still spend large amounts of time in the hottest sunlight, they are hesitant to dab on any form of protection, causing unknown amounts of damage to their skin. The issue according to the article is this:
Tennis players tend to sweat profusely, especially during day sessions at the U.S. Open, where high temperatures and humidity are typical. When the heat mixes with sunscreen, the sweat can form a gooey substance that gets into players' eyes and onto their hands, affecting both their vision and their grip.
With success in tennis literally resting on decisions made in fractions of seconds, anything that could possibly cause an issue in grip, vision or comfort must be shunned. Thus most players decide to combat the sun with no protection, with one even saying she may be "immune" from the sun. Tomas Berdych summed up the thoughts of many saying,
Berdych scoffed at the potential risks, offering his own version of the "you only live once" theory. If he cared about the possibility of long-term skin damage, he said, "I mean, then I would be concerned about everything. I see two steps and, you know, I could fall down and hit this wall and it would be too much."
The logic in Berdych's thoughts is far from impeccable. The "I could fall down and hit this wall" argument (which would suggest a level of clumsiness that I doubt Berdych currently has) could be applied to anything and would lead one to take no precautions in any form of life. But culture matters, and in the culture of tennis, sunscreen is a non-starter, which is proof that as brilliant as they can look on the court, the decisions can be horrendous off of it.
Thursday, August 28, 2014
Bloodshed hit the top of the Women's Draw today as three heavy favorites, each of whom had Serena Williams on the near horizon, saved themselves the trouble by dropping winnable matches they each should have won. Ana Ivanovic was first, falling to Karolina Pliskova 7-5, 6-4. It was a disappointing end to the summer for Ivanovic, who looked excellent all summer in winning two tournaments and reaching the finals at Cincinnati. Yet as has been her modus operandi over the past couple of years, Ivanovic's regular season play has not translated to the Grand Slams, a fact that she herself said after the match will make her "reevaluate" how she prepares next year (don't skip Cincinnati though Ana...the chili is an acquired taste but I love it and even though it is very hot, the people are nice....plus now AJ McCarron and Katherine Webb live there!)
Ivanovic however at least fell to a player in Pliskova who is playing well. For another top seed, the loss was much more puzzling. Madison Keys fell in three sets to 145th ranked Qualifier Alexsandra Krunic in a match that at times was difficult to watch. Nerves seemed to be overtaking Keys, who made uncharacteristic errors throughout the match. One of her late serves only hit the radar at 62 mph, an emblematic example in a match in which she never seemed in her comfort zone. Krunic said afterwards that her plan had been to simply be "a wall" for Keys to go up against and the plan worked to perfection as Keys made numerous errors, due largely to a lack of patience. With a potential huge opportunity awaiting in the next round versus Petra Kvitova, the loss has to especially sting Keys, who will unfortunately see little in the way of momentum from her tremendous grass court season.
I attended the Samantha Stosur loss to Kaia Kanepi, a hard-hitting affair that found itself in the strange setting of Court 5. I attended basically out of respect for Stosur, a former champion who won the Open only three years ago and thus (in my personal view) should not have to play on the middle court of a three court set where screams from the adjoining matches constantly interrupt play (this is a pet peeve of mine about tennis so I am going to digress for just a moment if you will forgive me....why is it so important to be quiet at a tennis match? On Arthur Ashe Stadium if one even breathes during a point, the Chair Umpire will admonish "Quiet Please" in the same voice as my third grade teacher. However on the outer courts there are screams mid-point and nothing is done, nor does anyone care. What is the difference? The answer is that there is no difference and the desire to be quiet during regular points is unnecessary. That is all). While I went out of respect for Stosur, the match was likely the best I have seen so far, with both players hitting big time winners and the level of play extremely high (with the exception of the point in which Stosur got the ball stuck on the triangle of her racked below the strings...I have never seen this outside of when I play and it was a highlight of the match). While the loss is surely disappointing for Stosur, the draw sets up well for Kanepi who is one of the few female players with the power, if not the overall game, to match Serena Williams.
Serena Williams is now looking at a draw in which only Lepchenko, Kanepi, Suarez-Navarro, Pennetta, Gibbs, Dellacqua and Pliskova stand between her and the Semifinals. The highest seed she could have to face is #11 and her quick work in the early round suggests she will reach a potential Kvitova fully energized. It was a good day for Serena (she only dropped one game in taking out Vania King), made even better by the wilting of some of her biggest foes.
CoCo Vandeweghe is not in a good mood after suffering a 6-3, 6-3 loss to Carla Suarez Navarro, the tournament's No. 15 seed, on Court 11. The 22-year-old Vandeweghe, playing in her hometown of New York City, couldn't control her temper as she watched the match fade away to Suarez Navarro.
Down 2-5 in the second set, she took her anger out on chair umpire Fiona Edwards for giving her a racket abuse warning. Vandeweghe had just smacked her racket against the net but did not believe it warranted a warning. The American then chucked her racket out onto the court during a changeover, and according to the New York Times' Ben Rothenberg, called Edwards, "bush league" and "freshman level."
After the match, Vandeweghe refused to shake Edwards' hand as she stormed off to the locker room, still visibly upset.
The loss makes eight Grand Slam appearances for Vandeweghe without escaping the second round, and one meltdown she'll wish she could take back.
As for Suarez Navarro, she'll see Kaia Kanepi in the third round of the Open. Kanepi won the best match I've seen here thus far, a three-set, back-and-forth battle with 24th-seeded Samantha Stosur. It came down to a tiebreaker and neither player was going away easily. Kanepi really had to earn the victory.
Cheer up, CoCo.
Being a Sam Querrey fan must be a hard undertaking. Nearly every match is a stressful affair, often going back and forth and inevitably including a moment when (win or lose) Querrey seems to surely blow it with the most frustrating of errors. If Sam were a wrestler, he would almost certainly be called "The Ulcer" because being his fan is sure to produce one. But that is why today was so refreshing. Thursday afternoon in Queens, Querrey gave us the rare treat of a relatively easy victory, taking out Guillermo Garcia-Lopez 6-3, 6-4, 6-4 in under a relatively short tennis jaunt. Querrey dominated the Spaniard with his serve, won all of the key points and made virtually none of his trademark heartbreaking errors, instead dominating and showing a form that harkens back to his Top 20 days.
After the match Querrey said he is feeling as good as he has in two years and he thinks he is at the level of Top 20 form. That's good, because his task gets much harder in the next round, where Novak Djokovic and a national television audience on the stage of Arthur Ashe Stadium awaits. But regardless of how that match turns out, we should take a minute to salute Sam for being a shining light on this otherwise depressing fortnight for American tennis. I had not realized how depressing the situation had become until I saw this ESPN graphic this morning:
From 33 in the Second Round to only three. That is pathetic. So while we could use this occasion to talk about Querrey's tense matches of the past or wonder whether he has any chance of holding up the Red, White and Blue versus the Djoker, we should instead take a second and give a salute. With only three left, we need to give thanks for the small bounties in our midst.
The concept of quitting is something that most athletes cannot begin to ever fathom actually doing. It goes against the very ethos of sports to quit in the middle of an event, give up and walk off the playing field, when there is still some fathomable chance to compete. In most team sports, coaches stress to "play until the final whistle" and it is seen as noble when teams that are being beaten still fight to the end. Effort is praised, even where it is without hope, because sports are about competition until the very end. Even in individual sports like golf, when a player walks off the course before the completion of a round , it is seen as the sign of a major injury. Foregoing the chance to finish a round is so looked down upon by the participants, that it is (usually) only done only if the player is truly unable to go on. Quitting is a nonstarter in virtually all sports, only to be done in the most severe of cases and always with a hint of embarrassment on the player's face.
Well except tennis. In tennis, for reasons that I cannot understand, quitting does not have the same negative connotation. Leaving matches prior to their completion or "tanking" points to save energy is not only not looked at it with scorn, it seems to be an accepted part of the culture. This US Open has been peppered with "retirements," especially on the men's side, where each day has seen 3-4 matches end with one of the players walking off the court. This is especially odd because considering the history of this Tournament over time, these have not even been particularly hot or harsh conditions. At times these retirements have been totally understandable, such as yesterday's painful session of cramps by American Steve Johnson, that caused him to leave a match he was likely on his way to winning. But then others have been...well questionable. One of those odd retirements occurred on Tuesday when Jack Sock walked off the court in his first round match versus Pablo Andujar. Sock was behind two sets to one, but still in the match and he declined to start the fourth set, citing cramping issues. Little was thought about the decision then, until Sock said today:
On Tennis Channel, Jack Sock says he retired from singles because he started to feel some cramping and didn't want it to get worse. #usopen
— Ben Rothenberg (@BenRothenberg) August 28, 2014
Now it is always difficult to judge the amount of pain a person is going through at any given moment. Because pain by its very nature is only experienced by an individual, judging whether someone is "faking" it or making more out of an issue than they should is almost always unfair. But here we have Sock himself acknowledging that he started to feel "some" cramping and that he didn't want it to get worse. Well why not? This is the US Open. Was Sock saving his legs for some other Grand Slam event of which I am not aware? Clearly one doesn't want Sock to have to endure pain, but wouldn't it stand to reason that he should play until he simply cannot go any more? I don't want things "to get worse" either in any aspect of life, but that doesn't mean you don't give every last ounce of effort until it does. While I won't cast a final aspersion on Sock's grit, on the heels of having lost the third set 6-1 and not playing his best tennis (while also I might add, not necessarily looking injured), it is at the very least questionable.
Sock is of course not the only player with a retirement that causes us to raise our eyebrows. Michael Llodra just gave up against Philip Kohlschreiber after the first set, which accounts for the 29th retirement of his career...the 7th in a Grand Slam. That record is suspect at best and suggests a person more likely to simply "take his ball and go home" when confronted with adversity rather than truly play until the final point. Maybe I am just being too harsh but seeing this image of Steve Johnson truly suffering yesterday,
and I can't help but ask, how come it seems so easy for so many others to simply throw in the towel?
Wednesday, August 27, 2014
Today was a special kind of awful at the US Open. If you were one of the (many by looking at the crowds) people who skipped Day Three of the draw, consider yourself lucky. Thanks in large part to the Open's insistence on a three-day kickoff for the Men's First Round, we were treated to a day where the biggest male name on the Order of Play was Stan Wawrinka, and he went on after 10 pm. In short, there was very little to see and even less to get excited about. But don't fret, what there was to see, we saw. The highlights:
The Sadness of Cramping
It was hard not to feel sorry for those male players asked to start today, as they not only were given a draw that gives them less rest time than their fellow competitors, they also were handed the hottest day of the Tournament to hit the court. It showed early, as three of the players forced to play in the most intense heat had to withdraw with heat-related problems. Marcos Baghdatis was headed for a large defeat (and was dealing with a leg injury), but the withdrawals of Ivan Dodig and Steve Johnson were especially unfortunate. Dodig was in an intense fifth set with Feliciano Lopez, tied at one game apiece and playing well. Yet the heat took its toll and he was forced to retire, making his strong effort up to that point for naught. Even worse, American Steve Johnson was up two sets to one in a match that he was controlling, when his body began to lock up and cramp so badly that he struggled to stand. Similar to Lebron James in the NBA Finals (but with much less public scorn on Twitter), Johnson was unable to move for stretches of time, losing points and games in delay penalties (which were resoundingly booed by an American crowd not having the attitude being shown by the chair umpire). Johnson's desire to of last to a changeover and a longer medical break was not helpful and he left the worst way imaginable...with the lead, in a match he could have won. Johnson had a perfect draw and like Americans Donald Young and Jack Sock, an opportunity existed to make some noise. But the result was still the same, another disappointing loss for the Red, White and Blue in the summer heat.
Sloane Stephens Wilts and Then Takes the Heat
On paper the Sloane Stephens loss to Johanna Larson on Arthur Ashe Stadium was bad enough. Up a set and 3-0, Stephens seemed to be cruising and an exciting third round match with Jelena Jankovic looked on the horizon. But then the heat and pressure began to hit Sloane, and she quickly fell apart. She sprayed shots all over the court, her serve slowed to a crawl and Larson took control of the match, winning 12 of the final 14 games. It was a disappointing loss for Stephens, who not only played poorly but complained afterwards about no longer having "fun" on the court. However as bad as the loss was, the treatment she took from tennis pundits and fans afterwards may have been even worse. Howard Bryant of ESPN.com was the harshest, but not alone in his views:
Stephens' current gear is enough to have a nice life, but nowhere near enough to be a great player. She has a commitment decision to make
— Howard Bryant (@hbryant42) August 27, 2014
After that performance and press conference I've concluded: this country has too much money. Hard to be hungry if you're well fed.
— Howard Bryant (@hbryant42) August 27, 2014
America is so affluent our only hope is the driven (Serena, Agassi, Jordan, Jeter, etc) will carry us because we can live well at half-speed
— Howard Bryant (@hbryant42) August 27, 2014
Strong statements from a national writer, especially for a young woman that has up to this point, had a solid record in Grand Slams (and there is much to unpack there in his very broad statements...possibly for another day). But the sentiment behind his comments may not be totally off. Sloane spoke not of wanting to get to an elite level but instead,"I'm not too worried about ranking or winning a tournament or anything like that, just focusing on myself and mostly just enjoying myself out there."
While those words might be understandable for a young woman Sloane's age, it would be hard to comprehend them coming out of the mouths of McEnroe, Agassi, Graf or Serena. Sloane is supposed to be the next great female American hope...but whether she has the drive to make it happen? After today that may be an open question.
Sharapova is Loud and Rocky, but Survives
I know for the average tennis fan, grunting has become an accepted part of the women's game (but make no mistake, it is ridiculous, as we will address at some point down the line), but there is no one that grunts quite like Maria Sharapova grunts. It had been since last year at Indian Wells that I had experienced a Sharapova grunt show live, and in person the sound is almost overwhelming. It is easy to lose track of the shots, the points and generally the whole purpose of your life, while falling into the rhythmic sounds of a woman that seems to be giving birth to a baby walrus every two to three seconds. For the vast majority of the second set, Sharapova and her opponent Alexandra Dulgheru played even, if not exciting, tennis that slowly hypnotized me into a daydreaming slumber, in large part due to Sharapova's sounds. How a woman that beautiful can make such noises is beyond me, but I digress.
As for the actual match, Maria was on the ropes for most of the first half, as Dulgheru, competing in her first major since the 2013 Australian Open, made no mistakes in playing her "brick wall" game. Sharapova could find no rhythm outside of her vocal sounds and after dropping the first set, had to fight off two key break points early in the second to stay in the match. But Sharapova steadied her game, got the key break in the second and then rolled, winning the final set in a walk. It was a long match (nearly 2 1/2 hours) for Sharapova, who is looking at a tough draw upcoming with Sabine Lisicki and Caroline Wozniacki upcoming. However she survived, and will live to grunt another day.
Match of the Day: Andrea Pekovic over Monica Puig
As is often the case in the early rounds, the Outer Courts have provided most of the drama here at the US Open and today was no exception. The Pekovic/Puig match on Court 11 was so strong that ESPN switched its coverage there for the final set, showcasing the slugfest to a national audience. While the match was solid throughout, it finished with one of the more exciting tiebreakers in first round history. Pekovic got up early 3-0 and Puig followed by running off five straight points to take a 5-3 lead. But Pekovic stabilized, took the last four points and won the streaky tiebreak 7-5. Monica Puig was distraught afterwards and said it would be awhile before she could get over this one, a showing that may be the best match on the women's side so far.
Surprise of the Day: Alexander Kudryavstev
It is unlikely going into the day that you probably thought much about Alexander Kudryavstev. In fact, I can say with no reservation that in my entire life up until late this afternoon, I had never thought once about the Russian ranked #145 in the world. And why would I have? He has been a professional since 2003, but has only played in one Grand Slam in his career, has never been ranked in the Top 100 and has only found his way into an ATP event main draw this year once. However today he got his name on the lips of many (ok few...it was on Court 4), who saw him take out his fellow Russian Evgeny Donskoy in five sets. Now he faces another fellow Russian in the second round, Teymuraz Gabashvili, a player he has beaten before in a match that would be a great test for the Scripps Howard Spelling Bee kids. I didn't know Alexander before and I probably won't know him after, but today Alexander has taken the mantle of the best Kudryavstev I have ever known.
Disappointment of the Day: Agnieszka Radwanska
The only upset of a top ten seed in the tournament so far came today as Radwanska went down rather easily at the hands of Shuai Peng in straight sets. Peng was nearly seeded in this Tournament and the draw was tough early for Radwanska, but still this result is a disappointment. It is now the fourth year in a row that Radwanska has not played to her seed in the US Open and one has to wonder if she will ever find her groove in New York.
That is a wrap on the slowest day of the US Open fortnight. We now have half of the women through to the third round and one male into the second round (raise your hand if you had Slovenian Blaz Kavcic for that honor). Tomorrow is a little better with Djokovic, Serena and Murray on Ashe Stadium. But in general the tournament really won't get kicked up a notch until Friday. So sit back, relax and take tomorrow as one more day of rest. We will kick into gear soon after.
The Outer Courts was denied access to the media room, again, so we're the rare breed of written/print media without a place to write and/or print. Like last year, we are confined to the cafeteria when working, hoping to catch a couple waves of Wi-Fi from the Media Center across the hall.
Is it convenient? Of course not. It's not easy to write in the noisy cafeteria with chunks of lettuce and straw wrappers everywhere. Not to mention, we have to sit back and watch during the 'Media Happy Hour' everyday when they all storm the cafeteria, our office, to drink and be merry at 6:00. We can't partake in the free adult beverages because we're not cool enough, I suppose. But we wouldn't have it any other way, because the cafeteria has become our home, the official Outer Courts US Open office. We get first dibs on the fountain drinks and we will sabotage the ketchup dispenser if anyone looks down on our lowly 'T' badges. ('M' badges have all the fun.)
So, yeah, electricity, internet, seating, stats, and vodka crans aren't always available, but the 'T' badge comes with one perk the press will never receive: We get to sit courtside with the photographers in the pit during matches, right up on the action. BOOM. Take that, written/print media losers. Put that in your free cocktail and write about it.
Today, I took advantage of our premium seating on Arthur Ashe during the Lleyton Hewitt/Thomas Berdych and Maria Sharapova/Alexandrea Dulgheru matches, and it was awesome. I caught a ball, worked on my tan, and almost got Sharapova to look at me.
Of course, I got some pretty aggravated looks from the actual photographers -- you know, the ones that carry cameras and stuff -- but I chummed it up with some of them and always offered up my seat if I felt I was in the way.
At one point the pit was packed with photogs and I was right in the middle of them in the front row with my arm fully extended, iPhone 5 in hand, taking out-of-focus shots to send to my friends on SnapChat. I wish I had a photo of me amongst all of the professionals and their ginormous lenses to see just how out of place I really looked. I felt ridiculous.
After baking in the sun for a few hours and pretending to be a line judge, I moved to the area behind the players where the ground is at eye level. I must say, it felt a little creepy when the women were playing but I did not complain when Bae, I mean Sharapova, was on my end.
As you can see, it is a very unique view of the action that not many people are able to experience. It's also dangerous if you're not on your toes when a low screamer comes bouncing your way. Heads up at all times or you may lose an eye. (If I were to lose an eye, I would have to rely on Wanda, the head of the salad bar, to treat the injury. Only 'M' badges can receive treatment from the medics on site. 'T' people, we have to fend for ourselves.)
You know, at the end of the day, life's not so bad as a writer without a desk, a photographer without a camera. I think we wear the badge well.
But, man, those drinks look really good right about now.
|M's waiting to get their free drink on.|
|The guy next to me got two, just to rub it in.|
It is hard for Roger Federer to disappoint me. For most of my adult life, Roger Federer has been one of the few constants in terms of sports fandom for me in a world where my partisanship generally shifts with the wind. What they don't tell you when you start covering sports is that actually getting to know the people you once idolized can make it significantly harder to view them objectively. Sometimes the players you once loved simply cannot be admired once you get the behind-the-scenes lowdown on their off-the-court persona. Spend too much time in a locker room (or worse) a media area and you might find out that the tv personality that entertained you or the player whose heroics you once cheered is actually a complete turd, with little redeeming value beyond their chosen sport. It can be a sad realization.
But that has never happened to me with Federer. In fact, the few interactions with Roger Federer have made me only like him more. Along with my beloved Kentucky Wildcats, Roger Federer is the only athletic entity from which I have never wavered. In the "Outer Courts" first ever tournament appearance at Indian Wells, we met Federer at lunch and after some nervousness, got up the courage to ask him if he would come on our Kentucky-based UK basketball post game show. Any rational human would have understood if he said "no I am busy" or "I don't know anything about UK basketball and don't know you two goobers so I will have to pass." Instead, Federer just smiled at the absurdity of the request and agreed to come on for what were the most exciting 15 seconds in Kentucky since Rick Pitino decided to hit an Italian restaurant after hours. He was in short, as perfect as I had hoped as his grace on the court was matched with his kindness and generosity off of it.
So with that as a backdrop, it pains me to say I simply cannot get behind this "Federer is Betterer" campaign that I see all over the US Open. Look I get it. We all love puns. My favorite comic strip (if it is still indeed a comic strip) is "Frank and Ernest", a series that exists solely to make stupid punny jokes based on plays on words and the like (read some of the best on their website...I guarantee you laugh at least once). And I understand that because Federer's name ends in the odd "Ur" sound, it is hard to make it rhyme or do the kind of things that we like to do with our favorite stars. But to come up with "Federer is Betterer," is to not only throw out the laws of grammar but also create a cringe-inducing slogan that makes one look moderately illiterate if you wear it in public.
This idea traces back to a Wilson ad campaign that seems to start with the premise that as good as Federer is (he is "better" than everyone), there is still another level to reach (the "Betterer") and the new Wilson racket is hitting that level. A series of "Betterer" commercials came out, the first of which is below:
The problem with this entire enterprise can be seen in this commercial. The comedy is corny (see they are smart and you can tell because they all have on dorky glasses!!!!) and even Roger seems to be mildly amused at the awfulness of it all. It's as if the ad campaign creators were late coming up with the final idea, someone heard a child say the word "Betterer" (not knowing it was not an actual word) and then they said, "THAT'S IT....HE IS BETTERER!!!" And the awfulness then came to fruition. However if all we had to worry about were these snippets, it would be fine. But Nike has now taken up the mantle of "Betterer" and is making the t-shirts you see at the top of this post. All over the US Open grounds I see these shirts for sale (although interestingly enough, not actually on any human beings) and every iteration of the phrase makes me cringe slightly more.
I don't begrudge Roger making money and I certainly am not against silly slogans that are plays on his name (you are talking to a man with an "Advantage Federer" and "Roger That" t-shirt). But this is Roger Federer and some dignity must remain. This is a man who brought an unprecedented level of elegance and grace to the game and who it has been said, when seen in person can almost elevate the sports to a religious experience. His strokes are perfect...his footwork is perfect...even his hair is perfect. That person, an individual who seems to operate on a higher plain of style and panache than the rest of us simply can't walk around with people saying he is "Betterer." It isn't just.
I am sorry Roger...it had to be said.
His arm appears to be growing a tennis ball.