Fifty thoughts from the U.S. Open
Me? I'd like to see a list of search terms from the 2011 U.S. Open. It would read like a Mad Libs game gone nuts: Egg, Fish, Young, Crack, Hindrance, Cramps, Keys, Crankypants, Luck, Earley, Rain. There was also some fine tennis. Cleaning out the notebook from a wet and woolly U.S. Open that, even by tennis standards, was more than a little bizarre:
• Your men's winner, Novak Djokovic, was as good advertised. In winning his third Grand Slam event of 2011, he has already turned in one the best seasons in tennis history. And he did it with Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal as contemporaries. If you can't hit through a guy and you can't hit around him, how exactly do you beat him?
• Sam Stosur is your women's champion, and damn if she doesn't deserve it. Her run culminated with a rout of Serena Williams in the final, a win that, one hopes, does not feel the least bit marred by her opponent's repugnant behavior. But the Aussie's run also included a third-round victory over Nadia Petrova in the longest women's match in tournament history; a recovery from losing the longest women's tiebreaker in major history, against Maria Kirilenko in the fourth round; and a three-set win in an "everything-to-lose-nothing-to-gain" semifinal against 93rd-ranked Angelique Kerber. Good on her, as they say in her parts. Consider this
• Serena Williams disgraced herself.
Over the years, Serena has gotten a lot of passes and "yeah buts" and "extenuating circumstances." This time? There's an unmistakable sense that she lost fans and credibility in equal measure on Sunday night. Serena announces she's dedicating the final to the memory of 9/11. Then she berates a foreign umpire (who made the correct call), threatened her and called her "unattractive inside." Slapped with a code violation, she responds: "A code violation because I expressed who I am? We're in America last time I checked!" Just galling. Period.
• Nadal reached still another Grand Slam final -- and played well once he was there in a match of tremendous quality. But he has yet to solve the Djokovic riddle, having lost six in a row to the world No. 1. Djokovic is to Nadal what Nadal is to Federer?
• After eight days, this tournament was riding high, filled with gripping matches, robust crowds, heartening stories and scant controversies. After that, the deluge. The rain came and the good karma left. The USTA has to realize that it's not operating from a position of strength.
• Caroline Wozniacki possesses the defense to remain at the top of the game for a long, long time. Caroline Wozniacki lacks the offense to win majors.
• At least until the rain came, the story of the tournament may well have been
• Taking advantage of Bob and Mike Bryan's first-round loss to Ivo Karlovic and Frank Moser -- both the biggest and most underrated upset of the tournament -- Jurgen Melzer and Philipp Petzschner won the doubles title. But add Petzschner to the detention list for
• At around 5 p.m. on Saturday, it looked like Roger Federer stood a darn good chance to win his first post-30 Slam and his first major of 2011. Then, of course, he squandered a pair of match points -- on his serve -- never recovered and lost to Djokovic. For all of his numerous successes, Federer's fate at the last three U.S. Opens must sting intensely. Federer is coming in for a beating over his
• Jack Sock and Melanie Oudin
• In the juniors, American Grace Min outlasted top-seeded Caroline Garcia to win the girls' title and Oliver Golding of Great Britain beat top-seeded Jiri Vesely in the boys' event. For unmatched juniors coverage, follow
• What a strange tournament for Andy Roddick. He won his first match and then raised eyebrows (and hackles) with
• Even before the rain, there were a lot of gripes about the scheduling. I don't get too worked about this. It's a no-win job and many folks forget about the time zones. Here's something to bear in mind. If Nadal takes the court at, say, 9 p.m., It's 3 a.m. in Spain. Actually, bad example. People are probably still awake there. If Federer plays at 9 at night, it's 3 in the morning in Switzerland. For this reason alone, it makes sense for Americans to play the night session.
I was, though, struck by this line in
• In a tournament that had plenty of weird moments (such as Roddick's "
• Ana Ivanovic, Maria Sharapova, Andy Murray and Juan Martin del Potro: Can any win another (or
• Um, when did Maria Kirilenko turn into the best volleyer in the women's game? And never mind the points she won with net play. She also won scads of points -- including one down match point in that
• Great hardcourt summer by Fish. But you suspect he'd happily give up the titles, the wins, even the defeat of Nadal in Cincinnati, for one defining run or even a signature win at a Slam. He came up short again, losing to Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the fourth round.
• Even controlling for exuberance, it's hard to not be at least guardedly optimistic about the showing of the
• On the men's side, the tournament was barely a few hours old when Ryan Harrison was dispatched by Marin Cilic and handed the nickname "Mr. Crankypants" by Mary Carillo. There was a lot of discussion about Harrison's behavior and implosions. I think there's a world of difference between self-flagellation (a victimless crime) and abusing officials. And after seeing so many Americans who are genial souls but not exactly "foxhole guys," it's hard to get too worked up about a kid who wants it so badly, he belts balls out of the stadium.
• The opposite of "Crankypants" ... How do you not like Andrea Petkovic? A grounded yet eccentric player who's having the time of her life as she tries to push the borders of her limits.
• John McEnroe to Dan Patrick in last week's
• The most underrated battler in tennis? Here's a vote for John Isner.
• Kerber lost in the first round at Wimbledon to Laura Robson. Her career earnings after eight years on Tour were less than $850,000. In reaching the semifinals, she earned $450,000.
• When Djokovic beat Janko Tipsarevic in the fourth round, he moved to 12-1 against the next best Serbs. Meanwhile, Nadal's record against his next best countrymen, Fernando Verdasco, David Ferrer and Nicolas Almagro? It's 32-4.
• The Edward R. Murrow Award goes to the intrepid scribe who asked Serena Williams: "I'm liking the nail polish that you have on. How is that going for you?"
• As usual, lots of mail came in about the TV commentary. As usual, I am admittedly conflicted, having worked for the Tennis Channel. As usual, the same characteristics you find appealing, someone else finds appalling. And vice versa. "Martina Navratilova is too harsh." "Martina Navratilova doesn't mince words." "Brad Gilbert is an inarticulate boor." "Brad Gilbert makes it fun with his energy and nicknames and analogies to other sports."
• And this deserves condemnation. Unfortunately this is going to sound more pedantic than intended, but note to the on-court announcers: When you ask unimaginative, boring questions, you get unimaginative, boring answers. The worst culprit: the leading questions that ask for a degree of emotion. "How excited are you by this match?" "How relieved were you to win that tiebreaker? How gratified are you to be back in the top 10?" The inevitable answer: "Oh, very excited/relieved/gratified. It's definitely a great feeling." An exception: the ever-improving Justin Gimelstob, who could give tutorials here.
• The newcomer that made the biggest impression? Court 17. The fun and intimate court -- christened by Donald Young and Jacques Sock, among others -- may resemble a Sea World venue, but it still takes some of the seating pressure off the other outside courts. Well-played, USTA. Not so well-played, USTA: When Nadal cramped in a post-match news conference, you ordered out the media and photographers. Then you display the video on your site -- prominently -- later that evening? Poor guy was embarrassed enough as it was. That's some weak sauce, as the kids say.
• Esther Vergeer won the women's wheelchair title. In other news, the sun rose in the East. She's now up to 18 consecutive Grand Slam singles title and 429 straight singles wins. Novak Djokovic is a journeyman by those standards.
• People saw that Serena beat fourth-seeded Victoria Azarenka 6-1, 7-6 and surely used it as another reason to bash the state of the women's game. Go back though and watch that first set and marvel at Serena's level of play. That should be the take-away, not the No. 4 player's inability to offer resistance to No. 28.
• In his third-round match against Federer, Marin Cilic was given a time violation warning at a crucial juncture. He then double-faulted. Given that anyone with a stopwatch on his or her phone can plainly see that players often violate this rule -- and that enforcement is, at best, erratic -- can we just
• Long as we're in the neighborhood ... 1) We need to establish a "best practices" regarding asking the chair whether it's advisable to challenge. If the umpires are -- wink, wink -- encouraging players to exercise a challenge, why not either make the overrule or stop limiting the video appeals? 2) If you invoke the hindrance rule when Serena yells "Come on"! mid-point -- and you should -- you must also invoke it when players grunt at ear-splitting volume.
• This may have been my favorite quote of the tournament. Asked about boisterous spectators in suites talking during her first-round match, Azarenka told
• Let's get this straight: Wozniacki is happy to
• Consider this a get-well-soon to Venus Williams. While her sister remains a polarizing figure (largely by her own doing -- both good and bad -- I submit), within the Republic of Tennis, Venus has clearly moved from "controversial" to "beloved and revered." Last week, player after player spoke of her class and dignity. There seemed to be genuine concern among administrators and media. Your mail -- which has been quite mixed in the past -- was uniformly supportive, caring and warm.
Here's a sample, courtesy of Charith of Bangalore, India: "In 2005, as a 19-year-old who had recently enrolled in medical school, it was a dreadfully difficult phase. But if there is one thing I fondly remember about that summer, it is Venus Williams. I was always a big fan of Venus, but at Wimbledon 2005, I fell in love. With a resolve so stubborn and indestructible, I saw her hang on by the flimsiest of threads, trailing Lindsay Davenport for most of the match, but never backing down. If Davenport was relentless, Venus was equally unrelenting, if not more so. There are few things as awe-inspiring in women's tennis as the sight of a healthy, hungry Venus in full flow. How many players today bring to the court the athleticism, power and belief that we were so accustomed to from Venus all these years? It is almost certain beyond doubt that we have seen the last of this true champion. I am not a writer, certainly no tennis expert. But I do hope to God that tributes after tributes get written about this wonderful champion, recognizing the 'tiny' role she played alongside her sister in revolutionizing the game as we know is played today."
• Good thing Nadal survived the middle weekend. In anticipation of the Shanghai event, Nadal handed in his passport as part of the visa application process. Unfortunately, he forgot to pose behind a white backdrop, as required. His visa was rejected and his passport wasn't returned until the matter was resolved the next business day.
• Before his memorable interview with Fowler, Roddick muttered to a courtside attendant, "If he's there. I'm walking out." The "he" is John McEnroe, who has chapped various American players with critiques.
• Who knows if it's cause-and-effect, but more credit for the USTA for the 10-and-under soft balls initiative. (Getting Andre Agassi and Steffi Graf to help with the campaign doesn't hurt either -- and, yes, that was Julien Howard in the commercial.) I have two kids in this demographic and these balls are great. The USTA has sunk millions into so many other ambitious and optimistic programs and then, seemingly, cut bait. (Who's been to a "Tennis Welcome Center" lately?) Let's hope this one sticks.
• "Who's Nadal playing?" asked the woman on my train.
"Nicolas Mahut," the man said. "You know, the guy that played the three-day match at Wimbledon."
"I remember that," she said. "What amazing stamina!"
I thought of this couple when Mahut retired after two sets in the second round against Nadal.
• Sock got some great advice from his camp before taking the court on Ashe against Roddick in the second round: "Keep your eye on the ball and not on Brooklyn Decker." Speaking of Sock, keep an eye on his coaching situation. His aide-de-camp, Mike Wolf, missed the U.S. Open caring for his ailing father who, sadly, died during the event. We hear he's uneasy about flying, which can be an impediment for a coach of a tennis player. It's unclear who will coach Sock going forward. Presumably he'll play the game and work with USTA coaches (availing himself to funding and wild cards), but he still could use a full-time coach, the way Harrison has.
• As a player, Brad Gilbert never retired from a match. His charge, Kei Nishikori, is 21 and has retired from nine matches. That's a lot of "rip cords," as a certain broadcaster might say.
• Last year Alex Bogomolov Jr. was $40,000 in debt on his American Express card, paying off a few grand here and there to avoid total bankruptcy. By reaching the third round, he made $55,000. (Nod to Josh of Melbourne.)
• Most referees hate being public figures. (Which is one reason
• Gael Monfils may never win a Slam. But,
• They call them "lucky losers" for a reason. After Robin Soderling pulled out, Rogerio Dutra DaSilva took his place in the draw and then won his first match when Louk Sorensen retired. RDDS, ranked No. 322, lost his next match to Bogomolov but walked off with a $31,000 check.
• If you lose in the first round of singles, doubles and mixed doubles, you still walk away with nearly $30,000.
• Bittersweet tournament for Ireland. Conor Niland qualified but drew Djokovic in the first round and retired down 0-6, 1-5. Sorensen qualified but then retired from his first round match as well.
• One of the highlights of my tournament was spending some time with Indiana alum Dick Enberg, who worked his final U.S. Open. Oh, my.
• A final racket clap to new SI.com tennis producer Chris Sesno, who needed no wild card and proceeded to break through in this, his first major.