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?