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50 parting thoughts from the 2016 U.S. Open

Jon Wertheim gives his final 50 parting thoughts from the 2016 U.S. Open in New York, where Angelique Kerber and Stan Wawrinka won the titles.

NEW YORK – Fifty parting thoughts from the 2016 U.S. Open, where Angelique Kerber took home her second major title of the season and Stan Wawrinka won his third career Grand Slam title.

• Angelique Kerber is both your women's champion and your new No. 1 ranked player. She is also the women's 2016 MVP and, after Saturday's title, a likely Hall of Famer. In this event she won with poise and fitness and defense and lefty craft. But not power. For the entire tournament she hit seven aces in seven matches. As we wrote the other day, young players, understandably, dream of becoming Roger Federer or Serena Williams or Rafael Nadal. But a more practical player to emulate might be Kerber, who simply wrings all she can from her game. Good for her.

• As he has in his career (and this year, and this tournament) Stan Wawrinka went from good to great on Sunday. After dropping the first set in the final against Novak Djokovic, Wawrinka elevated his game, used the crowd to his advantage and—for the third straight year—won a major, this time the 2016 U.S. Open. Wawrinka may be 5-19 in his head-to-head against Djokovic. But three of those five wins came at Grand Slams.

As it happened: Stan Wawrinka beats Novak Djokovic in U.S. Open final

• Karolina Pliskova, the runner-up, had one of those tournaments when everything went from black-and-white went to Technicolor. She beat both Williams sisters, showed off flat power off the ground to match her booming serve and played a strong first-time major final. She's now No. 6 and who wants to bet she won't be ranked higher this time next year?​

• When he retires, Novak Djokovic will likely recall this as his strangest major. He was injured; so were many of his opponents. And while this enabled him to advance, he was never able to find a real rhythm. That bit him in the final, when he couldn't finish off Wawrinka. Djokovic will hang onto his top ranking. And you can hardly call a two-major season a disappointment. But the aura has really diminished since Paris.

As it happened: Angelique Kerber beats Karolina Pliskova to win U.S. Open final

• What a year for the Murray clan. This time, we're talking Jamie who teamed with Bruno Soares to win the doubles, beating Spaniards Pablo Carreno Busta and Guillermo Garcia-Lopez in the final. In women’s doubles Lucie Safarova and Bethanie Mattek-Sands beat Caroline Garcia and Kristina Mladenovic in the final.In their first Slam since their split, Martina Hingis (with CoCo Vandewghe) and Sania Mirza (with Barbora Strycova) each lost to Garcia/Mladenovic, but the all-French team wasn't able to win their second Slam title of 2016. Instead, Mattek-Sands/Safarova notched their third major title together after winning the Aussie and French Opens in 2015.

• Playing together for the first time, Laura Siegemund and Mate Pavic won the mixed beating Rajeev Ram and CoCo Vandeweghe in the finals. G’Day Mate: Pavic and Siegemund split $150,000 for the title. Before this event, Pavic had won barely $500,000 for his career.

• I feel guilty even mentioning juniors without linking the peerless coverage of Colette Lewis. (Note the presence of 10 American girls in the round of 16.) On Sunday, Canada’s Felix Auger-Aliassime defeated Serbia’s Miomir Kecmanovic to win the junior boys’ singles title, while American Kayla Day beat Viktoria Kuzmova to take home the girls’ singles title.​

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• Pity that Andy Murray’s smashingly successful summer ended with a whimper. Or a gong and then a whimper. In the quarterfinals, Murray was undone by some sound issues on the big court—nothing an audio engineer and 50 weeks can’t solve—and fell in five sets to Nishikori.

• For all intents, Serena Williams’s strange year ended Thursday with her semifinal loss to Karolina Pliskova. Coming off a three-Slam season in 2015, winning only one-third of that total this year is a letdown, especially when coupled with a disappointing Olympics. If you’re Serena—who, all together now, turns 35 soon—the consolation from 2016, apart from winning Wimbledon, is this: you played deep into all four majors. It’s not as though her game has gone into to steep decline. Just a few matches here and there—sometimes battling injury, sometimes not—and this year could have been much different.

• The good news for quarterfinalist Juan Martin del Potro: he is back in the conversation. And his ranking will soon get him into any draw. The less good news: It is still unclear whether a player with his backhand can win Slams. Beat anyone on a given day? Sure. Have the durability to make it through seven rounds with a mediocre backhand? Problematic.


• In her first round match, Caroline Wozniacki was two points from losing to Taylor Townsend. This would have cemented a dismal year for Woz and pushed her ranking dangerously close to triple digits. Wozniacki rallied and didn’t lose again until the semifinals. A reminder that a few points here and there don’t simply determine the outcome of a match; in a Butterfly Effect kind of way, they can have a great impact on an entire tournament.

• It was hard not to feel Roger Federer’s absence, both abstractly and tangibly. But this event was hardly Christmas without Santa. New attendance records were set. Television ratings didn’t fall off a cliff. There were still plenty of players well worth watching. This augurs well for the future. When Federer finally departs, the tennis firmament will be depleted. No question. And there will be a transition period and perhaps even some economic downturn. But the sport will persist, new champions will emerge, the “decorum standard” set by the Big Four may even survive as well. Such is the life cycle of sports.

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• Martina Navratilova often makes the (excellent) point that we talk about players struggling to close matches and assume it befalls the young and callow. Recognizing their own career mortality, it’s the older players who really battle nerves. Venus Williams lost her match in Rio, 4-6, 6-3, 7-6(5). She lost at the U.S. Open (to Karolina Pliskova) 4-6, 6-4, 7-6(3). Silver lining: Venus Williams—like her sister but for different reasons—is an absolute crowd favorite. Ambivalence long a thing of the past, Venus now engenders universal affection. So often sports fans lament they didn’t know what they had till it was gone. In this case, there is a recognition and appreciation.

• Credit the USTA with completing the roof project, which was a savvy image enhancement even if it can't be justified on a P/L statement. As the USTA’s Danny Zausner, told Carillo and me: “There’s no financial model that shows the roof making any financial sense.” It came in handy during the first week. And one suspects that the noise is nothing a sound engineer can’t remediate before next year.

• More credit to the USTA:

a) The shot clock idea reminds us of the behavioral economics principle of “Nudge.” Even if it’s problematic in practice and doesn’t solve the problem of slow play, the clock has the effect of habituating players to speed up.

b) The U.S. Open free grounds admission for Community Day.

c) Chef Billy Strynkowski is taking his entire staff at the players’ restaurant to the courts so they can see the athletes they’re feeding.

d) The naming of the media room in honor of Bud Collins, who had presence in his absence

e) Above all….

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• The “NG,” as it was short-handed, the New Grandstand, is a terrific court. Perfect size. Perfect sightlines. Some nice architectural touches. (Plus, an adjacent oyster bar.)

But—even if it comes at the expense of taking a few dollars off the table—the USTA needs to make it open seating. As it is now, the lower bowl seats require a ticket so, mimicking a larger issue in the sport, the real fans bunch together up top while the courtside seats (i.e. the seats that show on television) lie vacant.

• Larger point: I had a social, friendly no-holds-barred talk with the proverbial “high-ranking executive” who basically asked, “Why do you think we the USTA has this terminal PR problem?” My response went like this: there are so many good and decent people in the organization. No one is behaving with evil intent. But, not unlike a trust fund kid—who is ultimately benign but lived a sheltered existence—the sloshing money becomes a social distortion, and too many decisions get made that show a lack of common sense and/or perspective and/or compassion. This is a prime example. Die-hard tennis fans fly in from all over the country to come to this event. They are sitting in the rafters while seats below them go unused all day. And the takeaway message is this: their passion is less important than revenue. In tennis terms, money d. soul.

The good news for the USTA: this is an easy fix. Open the seating so the real fans on your third court can sit close to the action, which has the added benefit of conveying the intimacy on TV. Roofs aren't cheap. And debt service is debt service. But this is a common sense decision.

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• Jared Donaldson was a revelation this event. A bit of a forgotten man among the young Yanks—he had to qualify for the main draw—he impressed with his serving as well as his returning. He’ll now be in the top 100 and receiving “automatic ins,” which means everything to a player trying to ascend.

• Whatever happened to….match fixing? On the first day of the first Slam, we had this “bombshell” report about the rampant corruption in tennis. It seemed like this would, at a minimum, be a story that would vex the sport this season. It’s barely surfaced since. You could blame this on a fawning media’s lack of vigilance. Or inept investigators. And administrators disinclined to turn over any rocks. But I think this is a better explanation: there was a realization that, while match-fixing and especially point-fixing undeniably exists and should be punished brutally, it’s predominantly (if not altogether) confined to lesser events. It’s like saying that professional baseball has a steroids problem. But it’s not the majors; it’s rampant in the Canadian independent league.

• We really like Naomi Osaka. And not simply because she uses phrases like “freaked out” and “yikes” in her post-match syntax. Age 18, Osaka won two matches at three majors in 2016 (and didn’t play Wimbledon) and had Madison Keys at 5-1 in the third set before retreating.