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.
Wednesday at the US Open began with an upset in Louis Armstrong, where China's Shuai Peng defeated fourth-seeded Agnieska Radwanska in straight sets, 6-3, 6-4. The unseeded Peng has Radwanska's number here in Flushing-Meadows; the 28-year-old sent Radwanska home in the second round of the 2010 US Open, too.
Radwanksa is the highest seed on either side to exit this year's tournament. She was considered to be one of the favorites after receiving a favorable draw to the semifinals, however, Peng had other plans. Now Germany's Angelique Kerber is the one to watch for what was believed to be Radwanska's semifinals spot.
But wait, it doesn't end there.
The upset bug bit again moments later when Sloane Stephens lost the first match of the day on Arthur Ashe. The American, my tennis crush, fell to Johanna Larsson, the 96th-ranked player in the world.
What is going on with the women???
Michael Jordan was Roger Federer's special guest last night at Federer's centercourt match with Marinko Matosevic. Jordan, who admits to knowing absolutely nothing about tennis, couldn't help but laugh when Federer pelted Matosevic in the back with a tweener.
Federer and Jordan spent some time together Monday evening, talking about life and being awesome at their respective sports. Then Federer took the court Tuesday night in the brand new Jordan Brand tennis shoe, the first of its kind.
Yesterday, 15-year-old Catherine Bellis shocked the tennis world when she defeated 12th-seeded Dominika Cibulkova, 6-1,4-6, 6-4, in what is by far the biggest upset in the first two days of the 2014 US Open. The California native entered the match ranked 1,208th in the world, some 1,195 spots behind Cibulkova, the runner-up at this year's Australian Open. The surprise victory makes Bellis the youngest player to win a US Open match since 1996.
So who is this Catherine Bellis? Here are 10 things to know...
1.) Her nickname is 'CiCi.'
Her middle name is Cartan, so Catherine Cartan... CiCi... makes sense to me.
2.) She was born in 1999.
The same year that gave us The Sopranos, Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?, Fight Club, The Matrix, and the debut of Britney Spears.
Andre Agassi and Serena Williams won the 1999 US Open.
3.) She is from San Francisco.
Now she lives in Atherton, California. You may spot her at Stanford Mall, one of her favorite hangouts with her friends.
4.) She won the USTA Girls 18's National Championships.
Bellis earned her wild card spot in the Open's main draw by winning the USTA Girls 18's National Championships earlier this month, defeating Tornado Alicia Black in straight sets.
5.) She loves Ellen Degeneres.
In her post-match press conference yesterday, CiCi was asked what talk show she would like to be a guest on. She said, "I love Ellen. I think would like to go on Ellen."
Your move, Ellen.
6.) Kim Clijsters is her idol.
Growing up, Bellis loved watching Clijsters. She admired her confidence, her game, and how she carried herself.
7.) She plans to keep her amateur status.
Bellis plans to attend college so she is prepared for life without tennis, should anything go wrong. The $60,000 she would've banked for the win as a professional hasn't even entered her mind.
8.) She's so over Justin Bieber.
She used to like him when she was younger, she claims, but that was a couple years ago. She's sooo over Bieber Fever now.
9.) She likes to cook and watch movies.
And play tennis, obviously.
10.) She faces Zarina Diyas in the second round.
Diyas, a Top 50 player, needed only 15 games to win her first round match over Lesia Tsurenko. At 20 years old, Diyas is also a youngster trying to make a name for herself on the tour. It'll be the first meeting between the two.
Tuesday, August 26, 2014
This isn't exactly breaking news here, but in case you hadn't heard, food can be a little pricey at the US Open. A typical stadium lunch of burger and fries for two on the grounds will run you around 40 bucks, and that's one of the more affordable options.
Luckily, the generous people at the Chia Co. are giving away free Chia Pods to US Open goers. With one full serving of sun ripened chia seeds mixed with your favorite fruits and coconut milk, it is the perfect snack to overcome hunger while taking in that third match of the afternoon on Arthur Ashe.
Well, that's what I initially thought, before regrettably taking my first (and last) bite. That is what the Chia Co. wants you to think and that is what I would've written had I walked past the Chia Pod refrigerator without trying a sample.
But the truth is, the Chia Pod is possibly the worst thing my taste buds have ever encountered, and I've done some things, people. It's awful. Repulsive. Let's put it this way: If I were on a desert island with an infinite supply of chilled Chia Pods at my disposal, I would burn it all so the smell would ward off predators and then accept my imminent fate of death by starvation. Life isn't worth living if Chia Pods are the only means of survival. Therefore I can't imagine eating one to hold me over until dinnertime at the US Open.
Sadly, I continue to see Chia Co. employees stocking the refrigerator, or what I like to call, "The Ice Chamber of Packaged Farts." Are people really eating these things? If so, I don't believe it. I won't believe it. Impossible. I will eat the socks off Ivo Karlovic's sweaty feet after a five-set match before reaching the point of desperation where I peel back another lid on one of those bowls of berries and wolf urine.
I think I've made my point.
Simply put, don't eat the free Chia Pods at the US Open. This guy knows:
“These chia seeds taste like tilapia.” “Um, don’t you mean tapioca?” “No, I mean tilapia."— Jon Wertheim (@jon_wertheim) August 26, 2014
Yesterday was not a banner day for American tennis. With a chance to make waves and get excitement and energy flowing through the USTA Tennis Center grounds, Donald Young and Bradley Klahn both came crashing to the ground, winning one set combined and (in Young's case) giving the fans little besides temper tantrums. It was a depressing start to our nation's championship and one that hurt American tennis fans and television executives alike. But as a Bahamian janitor once said to me after he accidentally turned the power off on my radio show in the middle of a live broadcast in Nassau, "don't worry about the mistakes of today, tomorrow is a new day." It didn't calm me down then (we were never able to get back on the air), but it gave me peace as applied to American male tennis going into today.
And as we sit here in the mid-afternoon, the early results are mixed. Two Americans took the court in loud green shirts (there are those that argue the proliferation of neon shirts in tennis is a bad thing...those people are the worst and if adequately represented by the photographer sitting next to me whining at this very moment, smell like salmon) and the result was mixed. Sam Querrey won a hard-fought five set victory over Maximo Gonzalez (an Outer Courts favorite last year), that saw the young American bounce back from a number of heartbreaking opportunities which he nearly let slip away. Gonzalez, a clay court specialist whose style is essentially that of a tennis backboard, made nothing easy for Sam, but by putting together a string of top-notch service games in the final set, Querrey was able to squeak away with the victory.
Jack Sock was not so lucky. After an uneven performance that saw him down two sets to one, Sock retired with a foot injury before the start of the fourth. It was a tough ending to the summer for Sock who seemed finally on the cusp of making a big move to the Top 40 with a draw that gave him a potential path to the Round of 16 and a career-making match with Milos Raonic. Instead, Sock found his tournament ended in the same way as the other hot American of the summer, Donald Young, with a disappointing performance in front of a lackluster crowd on the Grandstand.
As a longtime fan of Kentucky football, I know the pain and strife of cheering for something that is in the midst of a long struggle. But American men's tennis has become downright putrid. While there are some young players that give hope (Noah Rubin being one and he too got smoked in three sets today...but let's just look past that for a moment), the "now" generation is decidedly a bust. John Isner is a Top 10 player without any Top 10 results and the rest of the American roster can best be summed up by a description of a fellow fraternity member of mine in college....they "exceed in mediocrity." It was only 25 years ago that 22 of the top 50 players in the world were American. Now that number stands at three and may dip to one after this week.
Of all the major sports in the world, America's stature in men's tennis is likely the worst relative to other countries of all. It is depressing for those of us yearning for the days of Sampras, Agassi, Courier and Chang, or even reminiscing of the so-so years of Roddick, Martin and Blake. Hopefully something new will be on the horizon (maybe James Donaldson, who I am going to watch take on Gael Monfils this afternoon), but for now, all we have are a couple of big serves, some green shirts and the best double entendre name on tour. It is a sad state of affairs.
Monday, August 25, 2014
The US Open got underway today with a bang as a gorgeous day in Queens led to large crowds and a festive atmosphere at the opening day of our nation's championship. For those of us here at the Outer Courts, it was our return to the world of tennis coverage and we were happy to be back. The US Open greeted us by, for the second year in a row, denying our attempts to sit in the media center and telling us we would have to take up residence in the cafeteria. As we made ourselves comfortable amidst the journalists chowing on their per diem, we had wifi problems (it didn't work) and seat problems (we had no chairs) that got us a late start. But like champs, we persevered, got out onto the grounds in time to see a future star (Nick Krygios) and a guaranteed meltdown (the Donald Young volcano). A great first day it still would be. There were no major upsets and the day lacked a real defining match, but there were some fun moments that got the tournament on the sporting map (all of you who had Kimiko Date-Krumm as the first US Open player to go viral on the national sports blogs, cash in your chips now). With that in mind, here is what you missed if you missed it:
Venus Wins the Golden Girls Matchup
When I was a kid, my favorite television to watch on the down low was "The Golden Girls." While most of the sexual double entendre jokes went over my head at the time (in hindsight, that was a pretty risqué family show), Bea Arthur, Rue McClanahan, Betty White and the girls were still twice as entertaining as women half their age and certainly worth my eight year old interest. Unfortunately, the same level of entertainment wasn't exactly available today on Arthur Ashe, where Venus Williams (age 34) held off Kimiko Date-Krumm (age 43) in three sets in somewhat of a snoozer. But while Krumm's age never ceases to amaze (her footwork is legitimately better than 50% of the players I have watched here), the story of the day was the bee that plagued the matchup. For two minutes, one lone bee took hold of the proceedings, irritating Venus and causing Kimiko and a number of the US Open staff to shuffle their feet quickly. The resulting video went viral and is probably the lasting image of Day One
It is once again proof of the old adage of comedy, there is little funnier than watching people run away from animals that scare them (I believe there was a "Golden Girls" and maybe even an "Empty Nest" episode with this premise). After the bee attack Date-Krumm's game went South, suggesting that if she really wants to have an edge, before Venus takes on Tamia Bacsinszky in the next round, she should look into what animals that may terrify the Swiss player (my guess is a spider would do the trick).
Nick Krygios Gets It Done
If you are a tennis fan, by this time you know the story of Nick Krygios. His massive amount of hype after his Juniors success, followed by his run at Wimbledon this summer has made him the "next big thing" for virtually everyone that follows the sport. Beating Rafa Nadal will make sure everyone wants to see your next performance, but as anyone who has ever watched a comedy movie sequel can attest, the second act is always the hardest. For the third straight Grand Slam, Krygios drew a seeded player and once again he gave a solid performance, taking down 21st seeded Mikhail Youzhny in four sets. Krygios completely overpowered the Russian, blasting his serves up to 138 mph and running him around the court for the vast majority of the match. Krygios struggled a bit with returns, but his service game was on point, as was his ability to move a crowd. Court 17 was raucous for the young Australian, showing near unanimous support for the entirety of the match. If tennis needs a new star for the next generation, Krygios has the charisma to make it happen and with a draw that looks favorable (only Andreas Seppi and possibly Tommy Robredo stand in the way of a Round of 16 berth), this could be the second consecutive major where Krygios becomes must watch television and the future of men's professional tennis.
American Males Take Off With a Thud
If you are an optimist about the state of male tennis (and if you are, you must be an optimist about everything in life), then you saw the Draw for this year's Open and thought, "there are some places for some Americans to make some noise." Two of the players with the best shot to inject some Red, White and Blue 'Murica! noise were Donald Young and Bradley Klahn, who were both blessed with winnable opening matches and seeded players in the 30s on the horizon in the second round. With so much promise in the NYC, it was thus even more disappointing to watch both players crash and burn on Day One. Klahn's loss wasn't a complete disaster as he gave Andrey Kuznetsov a battle for four sets and simply missed opportunities to pull the slight upset. But Donald Young's (the second highest ranked American in the world...a sad fact in and of itself) performance was a complete train wreck, losing in straight sets to Blaz Kavcic, while embarrassing himself with his antics in the process. Drew has already written below about the match and I agree with most of what he said. However I find watching Young in situations like today simply depressing. He is completely unable to go through any adversity without spewing F-bombs and cursing in the general direction of his family. His loss culminated today in a rant (aimed at his mother of all people) in which he said, "I can't play with this f***** bitch ass racket." Whether the racket was bitch ass or not, the play certainly was and it helped culminate a day one for Team America we would like to forget.
Seeded Women Struggle But Get Through
Three top ten seeded ladies dropped a set in Round One, but found a way to get the victory. The biggest upset was averted early, after #2 seeded Simona Halep overcame a first set tiebreaker loss to young American Danielle Rose-Collins to win in three. (6-7, 6-1, 6-2). Rose-Collins threw Halep off with her power, but wore down in the end, to keep the bottom half of the women's draw from crumbling before our eyes. While they won the first sets, poor performances in the second caused Angelique Kerber and Caroline Wozniacki to have to go three in first round matches that should have been much easier. Both women found their footing in the third (with Wozniacki being helped by an injury default from Magdalena Rybarikova), but their shakiness was still evident. The day ended with 25th seeded Garbine Muguruza as the only seeded casualty, but it was very close to being a much worse day for the top of the women's field.
Andy Murray/Robin Haase
It was awful and I have already written about it once below. Let's just never speak of it again.
Biggest Surprise: Matthias Bachinger
If you are the type of person who religiously follows the US Open Qualifying Tournament (and my hope is that you are not), then you would have likely been surprised to find out that 235th ranked Matthias Bachinger qualified for the main draw with three straight set wins. The 27 year old German has never won a Grand Slam match, had not qualified for one ATP Tournament this year and has watched his ranking steadily slip since making the Top 100 in 2011. However Bachinger put forth one of the best performances of the day, taking out Radek Stepanak in straight sets. With many suggesting Stepanak could be an upset pick over Andy Murray, Bachinger's win raised quite a few eyebrows, giving the German a chance to truly shock the world when he plays the man with the golden urine later this week. We will learn more about him later this week, but for now salute Matthias for a job well done (pictured below in a contemplative state)
Biggest Disappointment: Vasek Pospisil
This was supposed to be the week that the Pospisil exploded on the scene. With a very favorable draw and a hot streak like no other, the 19th ranked player in the world was supposed to find his form, get to the round of 16 and give Stan Wawrinka all he wanted in a match that announced another top 20 player was here to stay. False. Instead, Pospisil lost to Simone Bolelli in five and gave up an open side of the draw that had his name written all over it. Pospisil may have been tired after his magical summer, but this question still lingers. While his Wimbledon Doubles title win is special, his streak with Jack Sock impressive and his trip to the finals in Washington DC important, when it is all said and done, how do we rank a player as rising who has lost in the first round of the last two Grand Slams? Vasek that was not one crunchy pickle.
What's On the Horizon
Tomorrow the first round continues with a few matches of note. Roger Federer takes the court at night versus Marinko Matosevic who may or may not reach eight total games in the match (I will take the over...slightly). The Grandstand will be rocking for Gael Monfils/Jared Donaldson, as the Tour's most entertaining player takes on the 17 year old phenom looking to make a name for himself. That match will without question have the best crowd and likely produces the best chance at excitement on Day Two. The women get going with Serena Williams/Taylor Townsend in a match that won't be close, but is still worth your time if for no other reason than to realize how charming young Taylor can be. And we at the Outer Courts are excited about the debut of our man Ivo Karlovic, seeded 25th and ready to take on the Jarknado, on Court 4. We will be here to take you through all of it (hopefully with working Wifi and a place to sit down) tomorrow. See you then.
Once upon a time, Donald Young was a tennis prodigy destined for greatness. He had a Nike deal worth enough money to buy the US Open reliable Wi-Fi with plenty to spare. He was the future for American tennis, the next in line, they said.
Today, he is not that. Not at all. Today, he is hard to watch. And today, he lost in three straight sets to Blaz Kavcic, the No. 92 player in the world.
Raise your hand if you've heard of Blaz Kavcic. Exactly.
Now I'm no tennis coach (shocker, right?) but I think I found part of the problem that is keeping Young from reaching even a fraction of his potential. It's his family. They're holding him back and I've witnessed it firsthand in consecutive US Opens, sitting directly behind them in his losses.
Don't get me wrong, I'm sure his Mom and Pops are lovely people. Or maybe they're not. I don't know and I don't care, really. But I do know they are the last people who need to be sitting behind Young during his matches. They need to be high in the grandstands or at home on the couch because it's clear they are a distraction. He is CONSTANTLY looking to them for approval, or as someone to cry to when things go wrong. The latter being the most frequent from what I've seen.
Time and time again in today's first round exit, Young would look to his family after a lost point. It's almost as if he was more concerned with their reactions than the actual scoreboard. I understand his parents coach him and coaches can offer some much-needed guidance during a match, but Young couldn't go two minutes without glancing over to the front row at Mom and Dad when his attention and focus should've been on Blaz Kavcic and the match he let slip away after winning the first four games. Mom and Dad can't make a difference from the bleachers, so why does Young, now 25 years old, feel the need to look their way so often?
Furthermore, when Young looks toward his family, it's often followed with a flurry of language not suitable for our younger readers at The Outer Courts. My mother would drag me off the court by the earlobe at the mere thought of some of the things he spews his mother's way at any given moment during a match. The seating around the Youngs should come with a warning sign or an '18 and over' policy. Check IDs at the top of the stairs to be safe.
It's a shame, too. Young should be one of the most likable guys at the US Open. He is America's second highest ranked player on tour and he's from Chicago, the city that gave us Michael Jordan, deep dish pizza, and Family Matters. Every American likes Chicago, therefore every American should like Donald Young. Sadly, that's not the case. Not until he grows up and channels his emotions toward winning instead of slamming rackets and yelling at his parents in the first row. If they were to move out of sight, I believe we'd see a better Donald Young on the tennis court, maybe even a likable one.
An unwanted guest swarmed into Arthur Ashe Stadium during the second match of the day, a first round meeting of 19th-seeded Venus Williams and Kimiko Date-Krumm of Japan. The intruder, a bee with a strong liking to Date-Krumm, caused a delay in the action in the match's third set. Date-Krumm was attempting to serve but the flying insect would not give her space.
After well over a minute of ducking and dodging its flight path, the ball kids came out and defused the situation by waving towels. It looks like a ball girl makes the catch with a two-handed technique:
Unfortunately for Date-Krumm, her time at the 2014 US Open didn't last much longer than the bee's as she lost to Venus in the opening round. (There's a fly trap joke in there somewhere.)
And so you know, it took everything I had to avoid a terrible bee pun in the title.
After a seven month hiatus, the Outer Courts are back here live in Flushing, Queens, returning to the tennis scene with reckless abandon. When Drew and I got off the 7 train and began the walk to the Billie Jean King Tennis Center, a warm and fuzzy feeling entered our hearts yet again. We are back home, where the air is hot, the patrons are drunk and the tennis is (in Round One) mildly interesting. As we eased back into our role as outsiders in the tennis world, it was very kind of the USTA to once again forget to give us a seat in the media room and to allow us the good fortune of writing in the cafeteria once again. It isn't a real tennis column unless it is written next to an overweight photographer engulfing the lunch special (today it was chicken wings).
There was however little time for sentimentalities as major action blasted into our senses the moment we arrived when the ground buzzed with news that Andy Murray found himself locked into a battle with Robin Haase. Longtime tennis fans will remember that these two played in one of the more boring and nauseating five setters in the last decade, bringing the crowd to its knees in agony in this very tournament in 2011. What Murray/Haase may lack in emotion or sex appeal, it makes up for in ridiculous moments and thankfully today was no different. After winning the first two sets rather easily, Murray hit a cold streak like his countryman Ricky Gervais (can we all acknowledge that since "Extras" he has not only not been as funny, but he is becoming unlikeable and insufferable...ok, we are all on the same page, good), dropping eight straight games along with a set and a break in the process. Full on panic mode hit Armstrong Stadium, and Murray began to cramp, leading to some speculation that the former champion could be in real trouble.
However just when all hope looked lost for the Brit, the physical ailments flipped as potassium began to flow through Murray's muscles and Haase hit the skids. The Dutch player whiffed on a key shot, only to follow it up with a strange body contortion that had him grimace in pain. At the changeover, Haase asked for a medical timeout and was refused the request by the chair umpire. Madness ensued, as Haase became irate at not being given the opportunity to recover and he proceeded to lose the final three games in an act of counterproductive protest. John McEnroe called the set one of the oddest he had ever seen on the match telecast, as the bizarre swings of momentums and injury issues perplexed everyone watching.
After the match however, no one cared about Haase (and few cared before), but many questions as to the health of Andy Murray filled the pressroom. After being asked if there would be any lingering effects (Murray said there would not) and if this had been an issue in the recent past (it had not), Andy was asked about what could have been the cause of his trouble in the 4th set:
Andy Murray says he doesn't think he was dehydrated. Had to urinate after the match. "Not to be too graphic, but it wasn't, like, brown."
— Tom Perrotta (@TomPerrotta) August 25, 2014
So there you have it. Andy Murray doesn't know what happened, but he knows it isn't dehydration. Following the tennis, he was able to inform us that his urine is not brown (on a side note, I didn't know that a symptom of dehydration was brown urine...I have been dehydrated before and I remember nothing about my urine except that there was very little of it...but maybe the symptoms are different in England, what with the metric system and all) and he thinks he will be fine in the next round when he runs up against Qualifier Matthias Bachinger. That is good to here as a US Open without Rafa Nadal needs all the star power it can get, and a healthy Andy Murray is good for business. Thankfully however Andy has left us with a horrendous and grotesque image in our head to tide us over until his next match and kick off the 2014 US Open with a bang. With two more weeks of matches upon us, we can only hope that we will be fortunate enough to have Andy continue to keep us updated on all of his bodily functions with such specific and unnecessary details in the days to come.
Following his five-set loss to Benoit Paire, 24th-seeded Julien Benneteau told the media... I have no idea what Julien Benneteau told the media. Not a clue. I was in Interview Room 3 for his post-match press conference but the language barrier kept me from understanding a single word he said. I just nodded my head and pretended to comprehend the entire thing -- I don't think I fooled anyone, either.
Benneteau, surrounded by French reporters, spoke only in his native language, one I should know if not for Mrs. Klym's 8th grade French class falling right around my daily nap time in school. I chose to catch up on sleep after lunch instead of paying attention to her Ouis and Avoirs. Then last year, I gave the language another shot via a bootleg copy of the Rosetta Stone, but again, it went nowhere. I've just accepted I will never visit Paris or add La Règle Du Jeu to my Netflix queue.
As for the match, the all-French showdown went down to the wire with Paire taking the fifth and final set, 6-4. He advances to face Pablo Carreno Busta in the second round, while Benneteau, a semifinalist last week in Cincinnati, bids adieu to Flushing Meadows.
To bid adieu means to say goodbye, I believe. Double-check that.
Sunday, August 24, 2014
Good news, tennis fans! The Outer Courts, everyone's favorite tennis blog, is back on site in New York City for the US Open in 2014. The good people at Tennis Channel invited us up to the concrete jungle for a second year of Open coverage and we happily accepted the invitation because we get to stay at the Waldorf Astoria for two weeks while doing what we do best: blogging about tennis and taking the dirtiest trains to obscure and potentially dangerous locations for dinner. It's what we were born to do.
This year we're fresh and ambitious after a very slow and quiet season for The Outer Courts. We kicked off the year with coverage of the Australian Open (from Kentucky), but have been away from the game ever since. Don't worry, though; the rust will wear right off once the action gets rolling Monday afternoon. I expect we'll be hitting our stride faster than you can say 'Agnieszka Radwanska.'
Speaking of Ms. Radwanska, she gets things rolling in Louis Armstrong in the first match of the day on the second biggest stage. Morning radio obligations will likely keep us from catching that one, but I've got eyes on a front row seat for Andy Murray vs. Robin Haase when Radwanska/Sharon Fichman is finished. I think that's where my 2014 Open will begin, while Matt plans to bounce around the courts waiting for that Blaz Kavcic/Donald Young showdown. He has that one circled on his draw, for some reason.
Our other Day 1 scheduled activities include:
-- Pray we have a seat in the media room this year
-- Find a seat near an outlet in the cafeteria when we don't have a seat in the media room
-- Look for Ivo Karlovic
-- Spend an absurd amount of money on US Open merchandise we'll rarely wear
-- Selfies at the opening ceremony
So check back early Monday afternoon for the finest US Open coverage you'll find on the internet. I can assure you you will get two weeks of tennis perspective and analysis unlike anywhere else. Will we have an in-depth breakdown of Jana Cepelova vs. Maria-Teresa Torro-Flor? Of course not. But if Donald Young throws a racket or Maria Sharapova misses a grunt, we'll be there.
Talk to you tomorrow.