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This year marks my third year attending the US Open. I’ve been a tennis fan for years, but never considered going until 2009, and I’m not sure why. That was also the first year I attended the Legg Mason Tennis Classic in DC, so maybe it encouraged me? Anyway…
Friday morning started badly. Baltimore’s downtown was a mess as streets were closed for the Grand Prix. MLK Blvd was a parking lot at 6am as I tried to get to the train station. I was glad I took my usual bus and gave myself an hour’s cushion rather than sleeping in, because if I’d tried catching a later bus, I would have missed the train. On the train: screaming infant + child watching DVD without earphones –> I relocated to the cafe car…where I got to listen to a guy bloviate about securitization; the downfall of society; and how the WSJ’s approach to politics and finance is his guiding principle to life. I was kicking myself for forgetting my earbuds.
Quick trip to drop my bags at the hotel, then it was the E line to the 7 out to Mets-Willets station, and the walk into the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. The 7 was full of tennis fans, and I love the boardwalk onto the grounds.
Having a plan
It’s always a good idea to either look at the order of play before you go or to buy a copy of the draw sheet on your way in to the grounds, so you have a game plan. You probably won’t stick to the game plan (well, you might but I never have) but it’s good to have at the outset, otherwise the size of the crowd and the number of things to see and do can be distracting and bewildering — outer courts, practice courts, booths, show courts, etc.
My plan for Friday: check out Del Potro-Junqueira on the Grandstand, then Lopez-Pospisil on Court 8, and then back to the Grandstand to see Daveeed Ferrer playing James Blake, with a detour to the courtyard in front of Ashe to catch a little bit of Mahut-Nadal. But walking through the gates, I could hear the announcement that the Grandstand was full, and people were only being let in on a one-in-one-out basis; JMDP has huge fan base in NYC and a lot of Argentines (Argentinians?) were there showing support for him. So instead I went out to Court 15 for an Iberian doubles match: Marcel Granollers and Marc Lopez (Spain) were playing doubles against Ferreiro/Machado (Brazil/Portugal). Granollers has been on the ATP circuit for a while and has had some success playing doubles, and won his second singles title this year in Gstaad. Lopez is another doubles player; he’s the guy Rafael Nadal had played doubles with on the rare occasions that he has played in the last couple of years, usually Indian Wells and Miami. They won the first set, lost the second, came back to win the third. (I thought all the majors did five sets for men’s doubles, but apparently not.)
Granollers and Lopez on Court 11
After the doubles, back to the Grandstand, where Peng Shuai and Julia Goerges played a pretty close match. In the end, Peng was the better player and won, 64 76(1). I ended up leaving midway through the second set when it seemed like Peng was in control, heading out to the Lopez/Pospisil match on Court 8. That court is very much an outer court, with aluminum bleachers only three rows deep on one side slightly taller bleachers on the other; no seating on either end. Pospisil is a promising, young Canadian player, and Lopez is one of the Spanish Armada. He’s often been accused of not making the most of his talent (huge lefty serve) and being distracted by looks/fashion. (He is terribly pretty.) Lopez struggled with his first serve through out the match, and there were a lot of great rallies, but experience won over youth. Pospisil had a significant crowd; they were perhaps the most obnoxious crowd I’ve ever encountered at a tennis event, even more so than the J-Block. I missed exactly what was said, but there was a pretty snarky exchange between Lopez and a few fans as Lopez won the tiebreak in the third set and then the fourth set, 57 64 76(3) 76(5).
F-Lo serving to Pospisil
Then back to Grandstand to see the very end of the Ferrer/Blake match. Blake is hugely popular in NYC, which meant the Grandstand was full and there was a line, but it moved pretty quickly. Got to see about half of the last set, which Ferrer won easily. Then over to Armstrong to watch Sam Stosur play Nadia Petrova. *sigh* Poor Petrova, I think her clothing sponsor hates her. The current kit looks okay from a distance and is better than the last couple of disasters, but diagonal ruching and horizontal rows of color blocks are not flattering. Stosur choked the second set away, but held on to win in the end.
I had a ticket to the day session on Ashe for Saturday, but wound up not spending any time there. The early matches did not intrigue: Wozniacki’s game bores me, and I expected Cilic to be completely over matched by Federer. I was somewhat interested in seeing Serena Williams play Victoria Azarenka, but Azarenka’s peculiar (forced and weird IMO) sound effects put me off — I tend to put her matches on mute. (I put a LOT of matches on mute, either to avoid the grunting or so I don’t have to listen to JMac blather.)
Instead, I went out to Court 17 and settled in for another morning of Spanish tennis. Got there in time to see Juan Carlos Ferrero wrapping up his practice session, then stayed for the ladies match (Carla Suarez Navarro vs. Silvia Soler-Espinosa, the last remaining player to come through the qualifying rounds). The ladies’ matches tend to have noticeably smaller crowds than the men’s matches, unless the woman on the court is Serena Williams. I sat in the first row on the ad court baseline; Suarez’s team sat behind me, although I didn’t realize it at first. Soler-Espinosa choked during the first set but came back and gave Suarez a hard time in the second.
Juan Carlos Ferrero, Court 17, receiving serve from Granollers
And then it was Juan Carlos Ferrero vs. Marcel Granollers; the first set was pretty close, but Granollers called for a trainer between sets and seemed to need a massage of some sort. (Face down on the court looks a little uncomfortable, no matter how shiny and new the court is — and Court 17 is brand new.) Serving at my end, Granollers was grimacing through his service motion and I wondered how long he would last. The answer: not much longer. (He and Lopez ended up withdrawing from the doubles as well, and the word is that he may have pulled or strained an abdominal muscle.)
From there, over to the Grandstand to see Petkovic’s new dance after she beat Vinci, and to see her get the announcer do the dance as well 😀 Then Tommy Haas vs. Juan Monaco; Haas took the first set but then became a UFE machine. And then it was time for Jo-Wilifried Tsonga vs. Fernando Verdasco. Verdasco is incredibly frustrating as a player; he’s got a huge forehand and a good serve that seems to disappear at times. He’s a head case, really, and I wonder if he’d do better with a primary coach other than his father, or maybe with less reliance on the Adidas Player Program, or maybe just a sports psychologist. He played a pretty good match here, but Tsonga was just on fire and his serve was unbreakable.
As an aside, Adidas and K-Swiss seem to be in a “Most Heinous” competition for the colors and geometric patterns of their kits. Most tennis players are in good shape and are fairly good looking, but their color choices make everyone look washed out or overpowered. Magenta and maroon do not go together, Adidas, and pea green and fluorescent green should be used in limited combinations, K-Swiss. (Monfils could pull it off but Pospisil could not.)
I didn’t have a ticket for Sunday but decided to stay an extra day and get one. Rafa Nadal (my favorite player, FWIW, in case I haven’t made that clear in earlier posts) was playing David Nalbandian, another player I like and one who has given Nadal a run for his money on hard courts. But the cheapest ticket available was $383 for Ashe, while $65 day passes were available. Apparently even if the tickets are sold out online in advance, the USTA releases 1,000 grounds passes on the day of. The box office opens at 9am; I got there at 9:30 and there were still plenty for sale. I was ambivalent about watching part of the Nadal-Nalbandian match on the big screen in the courtyard in front of Ashe: I could’ve watched it at home for free; but it was Nadal and Nalbandian! I ended up grabbing a seat at midcourt on Armstrong and staying there all day.
A nice surprise — David Ferrer and Gilles Simon were practicing on the Armstrong, preparing for their upcoming matches since both were scheduled for the second match of the day on their respective courts (17 and Armstrong).
First up were Flavia Pennetta and Peng Shuai, whom the announcer insisted on addressing as Shuai Peng. It was a really close match, and the crowd was very into it. The conditions were pretty hot and muggy. Serving for the match, up 30-0, Pennetta leaned against the back wall and dry heaved, then came back to serve after getting a time violation warning. Her arms must’ve felt like noodles, and she ended up being broken and then going down 2-6 in the tie break before coming back to win. The crowd absolutely loved her, especially when after being sick and getting the time warning, she rolled her eyes and grinned, then tossed the ball up to serve.
Flavia Pennetta on Armstrong
Then Del Potro vs Simon. I have a soft spot for Del Potro, as mentioned above, stemming from the first couple of matches I saw him play live back at the LMTC in 2009: he joked with opponents and the crowd and was just so personable. He seems like such a laid back, soft spoken guy, and his wrist injury early in 2010 really put the kibosh on what looked like a promising year to follow his first major win at the US Open in the fall of 2009. He played a great match, especially in the first and fourth sets — I really thought he was going to push the match to a fifth set, and he looked utterly gutted as he left the court.
Del Potro winding up to return
Isner was heading on to Armstrong when I left; I don’t really care for his serve-reliant game, so I figured I’d head back to the hotel to watch the night matches on TV. Wrong! They weren’t televised! No Andy Murray beating of Feliciano Lopez! Apparently college football rules ESPN, even in NYC where the tennis was being played. It wasn’t until I was back that I learned that the Stosur-Kirilenko afternoon match was rescheduled for after 7pm on the Grandstand — I absolutely would have stayed for that, and was disappointed to miss it since my twitter feed described an amazing match.
You can probably find these elsewhere, but I’ll repeat them anyway.
- bring sunscreen lotion, not aerosol, and apply it frequently
- bring a hat or visor of some sort
- cellular service and wireless access for smartphones is extremely spotty, and the tournament app probably won’t load or will time out while you are on the grounds
- if you’re on the grounds all day, ration your phone use because there are no outlets to be found for recharging
- it’s actually faster to take the E train out to 74th & Broadway and transfer to the 7, because the E is an express, but you’ll end up standing for the last few stops of trip on the 7
- if you are staying through the night session, bring a jacket or hoodie, even if it’s a pain to schlep around — you’ll be glad you have it when the wind kicks up and the temperature drops after the sun goes down
- do not bring a backpack — unless you encounter a very lenient bag inspector, you’ll be walking back to the entrance and paying $5 to check your baggage
- bring a bottle of/for water, and food or snacks that are easily carried
- print the draw or buy the little pamphlet printed daily; I like the daily printed one for the additional information provided, but the printout from the tournament’s website works just as well
- for the money, the daily grounds pass, available the first week, is much more bang for the buck than Ashe tickets
I have a love/hate relationship with the fans at the US Open. Especially when you are checking out the matches on the outer courts, you’ll find incredibly knowledgeable fans, people who know about tennis, who play tennis, who watch tennis, who know about the players and their games. And you’ll chat with random strangers about what you love about doubles, or how you’re skipping Federer on Ashe because it’ll just be another beat-down and it looks like a better match will be going on out on Court 17, and maybe get dared by a random stranger to call out to Feliciano Lopez that he’s muy guapo the next time he’s serving at your end of the court (no, I did not). But you’ll also encounter people who think “set your cell phone to vibrate” and “no flash photography” don’t *really* apply to them. And spectators who take the match serious to the point of yelling some pretty offensive things to their favorite player’s opponent (like the Pospisil fans). The crowd at the Haas-Monaco match was a little nasty, too, especially with all the “break time” cat calls.
The food vendors were both great and terrible. The food court on the grounds offers a variety of foods, deli, Asian, crepes, paninis, burgers, fries, chicken tenders, with a variety of soft and alcoholic drinks. Had a great chicken and spinach crepe from one of the stalls there. And individual carts hawking water, ice cream, nuts, etc., can be found all over the grounds. Sadly, the vendors within the stadiums (Ashe, Armstrong, the Grandstand) provided the slowest service I’ve ever experienced at a sporting event: it took 41 minutes for the 10 people in front of me to get their burgers/chicken tenders/fries; and they ran out of bottled everything (water, tea, gatorade) by 3pm. Maybe they were waiting for more to be delivered? I don’t know, but I was not impressed.
While I saw a few umpires I recognized (Eva Asderaki, Carlos Ramos, Fergus Murphy), I didn’t see Mohammed Lahyani or Kader Nounni (sp?), and wondered if I was just missing them on Ashe, but it turns out that about half of the best umpires were boycotting the US Open because of its lousy pay (that rate isn’t enough to pay for a hotel in NYC for a night, let alone food and transportation). h/t OntheGoTennis
I think I’m probably going to take a break from the Open next year; I’ll be going to Indian Wells, and probably a day or two of the WTA and ATP tournaments held in August in the DC area, which will give my budget a break and also let miss the tournament a little, and appreciate it more.
Other tennis related things
Have you subscribed to Beyond the Baseline? It’s the reimagined SI tennis blog, run by Forty Deuce.
Check out this HuffPo piece and gallery on Tio Toni, in which he says that right now Djokovic is just playing better than Rafa.
All photos by jmcbks except the first photo, as noted above. Ignore the time stamp — my camera is several hours ahead for some reason, and I can’t find the manual to figure out how to fix it.