NEW YORK -- Serena Williams, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray played on Monday at the U.S. Open. Roger Federer is back in action on Tuesday, as is Caroline Wozniacki. But let’s talk about the other caste, the overlooked journey folk, the vast working class that provides the scaffolding for tennis. This has been a good tournament for the rank-and-file, particularly on the women’s side, where top seeds are more rare than vacant seats on the Grandstand court.
There are dozens of players on draw sheets who can walk the grounds unnoticed. They don’t get paid by the millions to wear certain brands of clothes and shoes. If they’re lucky, they receive free gear. If they’re really lucky, when they play on a show court, they make a few extra bucks with a one-day-only patch, ironed on to the tennis uniform.
To invert Joyce Carol Oates' line about boxing, we speak about playing
tennis, but so many players work
tennis. It’s not talent but a hard-nose professionalism that sustains their careers.
The working class is essential to the enterprise, just like at the U.S. Open as a whole. Well-hidden from the luxury suites, there is an entire infrastructure ecosystem here, a battalion of forklifts, honest workers operating industrial-sized HVAC units and hauling metric tons of trash. The ice in those mojitos didn’t get delivered by itself. Someone has to clear away those half-eaten lobster rolls.
Likewise, without the hundred-plus colleagues in the field, where would the heft be in winning a Grand Slam title? How would tournament organizers fill all of those sessions? Stars exist on the outer edge of the bell curve; it’s the folks in the middle who make the standouts stand out.
On Labor Day -- that annual American tribute to the worker -- we say thanks. To all of the Casey Dellacquas and Kaia Kanepis and Philipp Kohlschreibers, to the army of doubles players whose names casual fans don’t (and never will) know: Thanks. Thanks for your hard work.
First, I have zero sympathy for anybody who lives in a town that is barely two hours away from both Venice and Florence. Second (and on a serious note), why did Sara Errani have to antagonize the entire tennis community by being rude to the crowd at the end of her victory over Venus Williams in the third round? And what is up with players who beat Williams and then react as if they had just won the whole thing (see Maria Sharapova at the Australian Open last year)?
-- Charith Nag
• I agree wholeheartedly on your first point. You’re not bargaining from a position of strength when you have the good fortune of going back to Italy after your tournament.
I spoke to Errani after the match and, without apologizing, she was sheepish about the whole affair. In so many words, she said she acted on impulse. Whatever the Italian is for “heat of the moment,” that’s what it was. I’m inclined to give her a pass. And, yes, even at 34, Venus arouses great celebrations when she is beaten. I attribute this to the fact that she is still regarded as an intensely dangerous opponent.
I thought the coverage of the U.S. Open’s first week was excellent. Good work by you and the Tennis Channel/ESPN teams. I do understand that the first week of a Slam is a bit of an embarrassment of riches, with so much tennis happening at one time. Having said that, it struck me as odd that on Friday afternoon, Louis Armstrong Stadium was packed for the Williams sisters' doubles match but ESPN chose to focus airtime on the sparsely attended Tomas Berdych/Martin Klizan match on Arthur Ashe Stadium. It seems that there was no clearer empirical evidence of what the public would like to watch. Am I missing something behind the scenes here?-- Aaron Mayfield, Chicago
• If you can indulge this TV speak, the folks “in the truck” have a million decisions to make. Most are sound. Some come in for second-guessing. But there are a gazillion factors -- especially at the U.S. Open, where there are three different networks. There are rights issues and sponsor issues and personnel issues. I agree that the Williams sisters are a bigger draw than either Berdych or Klizan. But singles > doubles.
After watching young American men and women at the U.S. Open, here's my observation: Many appear to have the athleticism, ball-striking ability, fitness and even strategic approaches to compete with the best in the game. However, there seems to be a common missing element from their games. Donald Young, Christina McHale, Jack Sock and Sloane Stephens -- to name just a few -- all seem to just "not know how to win.” They all seem to lack the ability to elevate their games at crucial moments, make subtle adjustments based on the flow of the match and maintain their poise late in sets when it matters most. What are your thoughts?
-- Jim Marolt, Minnesota
• I’m not sure if that breaks down by nationality. My concern is a certain homogenization, especially on the men’s side. Big serve. Big forehand. A backhand that isn’t up to code. Poor return game. Lack of nuance. Lousy results on clay.
What should I do with my Bernard Tomic stocks? There is only so much I can buy or hold based on potential. Has Tomic the Tank Engine derailed, even before it really got started? His issues with entropy and discipline are well documented, and I would think if the problems are clear, someone in his camp would have come up with solutions.-- Deepak, Beverly Hills, Calif.
• I wouldn’t dump the entire haul, but I would begin the divestment process. He’s still too unreliable, both emotionally and physically. His combustible father is still heavily present. He’s almost 22 -- hardly ancient, but sufficiently old that the “he just needs to mature” trope can no longer be used. I think it will be interesting how he reacts to the emergence of Nick Kyrgios. There’s a newer and flashier model of Aussie now on the market. Does this galvanize Tomic to innovate and step up the professionalism?
• The great Ivan Himanen is back with a young Mirjana Lucic (pre-Baroni) and Uma Thurman: