No tournament mints stars quite like the U.S. Open does. Score a few big victories and the agents start to circle, the shoe company reps sit courtside. Two years ago, Melanie Oudin -- then a winsome American teenager with inspirational sayings scrawled on her shoes -- won some gripping matches. By the tournament's middle weekend, she was being courted by morning television shows, signing new endorsement deals and flouncing around Manhattan in a limo and courting invitations to lucrative exhibitions in the offseason. She turned into a pumpkin by the quarterfinals. But by the then the
moneymaking celebrity machine has achieved velocity and she had plenty of earning star power.
Last year Ryan Harrison, another American teenager -- handsome, poised, with a streak of confidence -- upset Ivan Ljubicic, a seed who was once a top five player. At another event, this would have been a solid win end of story. But this was the U.S. Open where everything is magnified. So Harrison was suddenly playing in front of a packed house on Grandstand, hailed as the next big player of note. His
earning star power was surging.
The flip side of this
moneymaking star-making apparatus: For the ambitious player, a lousy showing at the U.S. Open represents a huge missed opportunity to make money an impression. Harrison was back on the show court this year, christening the tournament at 11:00 a.m. Hype and potential and anticipation trailed behind him like invisible rudders. Though Harrison's opponent, Marin Cilic, the 27th seed, is no slouch of a player, a win would have added still more wattage to Harrison's earning star power.
Harrison, though, played like, well, a teenager. Which is to say, impatiently, erratically and with more than a touch of irritability. After losing the first set, he served for the second and a chance to level the match. He was broken handily and was soon down two sets to none. Serving for the third set and a chance to claw back into the match, he was broken handily again. In the tiebreaker, he held a set point and couldn't convert it. He ended up losing to Cilic 6-2, 7-5, 7-6 (6). It was barely 1:00 PM on the first afternoon of the tournament, and he'd been eliminated.
Around the same time Harrison walked off one show court, Petra Kvitova walked onto another. Kvitova may have won Wimbledon eight weeks ago, but a strong showing at the U.S. would really consolidate her
earning star power. Unfortunately, Kvitova, like Harrison, let the opportunity slip by. Looking like a player still uncomfortable with the mantle of Grand Slam champion, she fell in a straight-set upset to Alexandra Dulgheru. It marked the first time a defending Wimbledon female champion has ever lost in the first round of the U.S. Open. Yet it scarcely caused a ripple. Perhaps because Kvitova still lacks marketing star power. She and Harrison both earned $19,000 for their troubles. But there's no telling how much they left on the table.
Toward the end of the afternoon session, the Young British player, Heather Watson, had a chance to augment her
earning star power, paired as she was against Maria Sharapova, the biggest earner star of them all. Watson won the first set and hung with Sharapova for 5-5 in the second. But then, as if both players remembered their roles, Watson retreated and Sharapova asserted herself. By the third set, it was all over but the shrieking. Watson was left to ponder a fine match but, ultimately, a lost opportunity. To Sharapova's delight, and also that of her sponsors, agents, the networks, and the tournament itself, Sharapova moved on.
Another day, another dollar.
• The USTA was in an unwinnable spot here. Either Serena takes the third spot and a dangerous precedent is established -- whereby the tournament deviates from the rankings -- or, despite being the clear favorite, she is seeded in accordance with her ranking. (Which means that she's on a path to play a top four seed in the third round.) To her credit, Serena was asked about seeding today and took the high road.
• Ah, yes, the
I can't top that. But off the top of my head:
1) Alex Bogomolov. Two years ago, he was giving tennis lessons, running a $40,000 debt on his Amex Card and known mostly as the ex-husband of former tennis player and
2) They were Austria's answer to the Bryan Brothers. Sandra and Daniela Klemenschits were twin sisters who forwent singles careers to play doubles alongside each other. Slowly but steadily, they were ascending the ranks. Then in 2006, they
3) Grigor Dimitrov: (Who may be eliminated by the time this posts) His results have been all over the place, but the salon believes this kid could be a Grand Slam champion in the future.
4) Michael Llodra: Villagers, come and behold: a serve-and-volleyer!
5) The Indo-Pak Express: Sam Qureshi and Rohan Bopanna.
• I'd say it's worth reading. Is it as gripping and bracingly candid as Andre Agassi's
• At the time of the cut-off -- six weeks ago -- neither was ranked sufficiently high.
• Racket back. Early preparation. Low to high. Scratch your back on the overheads. Follow through. You know, the usual. Seriously, the week before a Slam, "practice" for most players entails getting a feel for the court and trying not to get hurt. In addition to passing up a piscatorial pun, the great Mark Bittman, blogging for the New York Times, observed Mardy Fish practicing with Federer and was rightly unimpressed by the rigor of the session.
• The Empire State Building will be illuminate in yellow tonight in honor of the U.S. Open.
• Three Japanese players retired within the first three hours of the tournament. Kei Nishikori, age 21, has nine career retirements already. Who's his coach, anyway?
• If you missed it, here's
• Michael Lack, Nesquehoning, Pa.: "If for a single game the entire crowd would grunt along with perpetrator(s), I'm reasonably sure player's audio affront would be quelled forever."
• Steve, New York City: "Hey Jon: Did you see this?
• In case you missed it
• Scott Humphrey of Pflugerville, Texas. "In the men's qualifying draw, the sixteen winners represented twelve different countries. Monaco, Turkey and Tunisia, which were previously unrepresented in the men's draw now each have a player. Two countries, Canada and Ireland, went from zero to two representatives each in the men's draw."
• John W. Sellers of Royal Oak, Mich: "Separated at birth: