My third and final visit to this year’s US Open came on another dry and beautiful day. Yet again, I got caught up in a five-setter, which meant that I did not spend as much time as I would have liked checking out the juniors or doubles action. I’ll have to make that a resolution for next year.
September 4, 2007
Stanislaw Wawrinka v. Juan Ignacio Chela
Men’s Singles, Fourth Round
Louis Armstrong Stadium
No one thinks too much about the tall and gaunt Juan Ignacio Chela, the twentieth seed, but he’s a formidable competitor who had just come off a five-set win over Grand Slam-shaky Ivan Ljubicic. In today’s match, he faced Stanislas Wawrinka, a stockier player who strikes both his forehand and one-handed backhand with abandon. If you just watched the two players without peeking at the scoreboard or knowing anything about their respective rankings, you would assume Wawrinka to be the better of the two. His groundstrokes are more penetrating, he serves bigger, and he just looks harder to handle. But Chela is good at keeping the ball in play, and he gives himself an advantage by playing close to the baseline rather than hanging back in the Andy Roddick style. He also brings back memories of Marcelo Rios — or, if you will, Marat Safin — with his “jump shot” on high two-handed backhands.
In the first set, after Wawrinka grabbed an early break of serve at love, Chela broke back, and the players remained even till Chela served at 4-5. He quickly fell behind 0-40 with a double fault. When Chela worked his way to net on triple set point, Wawrinka challenged him to make a low forehand volley, which he parked in the net. The second set was all Chela, as he broke early and late, serving it out for 6-2.
In the third set, the players broke serve in four consecutive games. At one point, the second ball that Wawrinka stowed in his pocket dropped to the court, resulting in a let. After that, Wawrinka took only one ball on first serve, lest it happen again. Keep that moment in mind, because it was to play a role in a later match. After the rash of service breaks, the players held till the tiebreak. Chela fell behind quickly but recovered the mini-break with a nice combination of backhand volley and forehand volley and then secured two points on his serve for a 4-3 lead. The serve went to Wawrinka, who shanked a backhand to fall behind 3-5. Chela returned the favor when serving at 5-4, dumping a forehand into the net. He then did the same with his backhand, to give Wawrinka set point on his serve. Chela came up with a big backhand down the line that elicited a Wawrinka forehand into the net. After the players changed ends at 6-6, Chela got a look at a second serve. He moved all the way over to hit a forehand, and got what he wanted: a 91 mph serve that he ripped down the line for a clean winner and set point on his serve. Having created this opportunity, Chela made no mistake, pouring in a 119 mph serve to Wawrinka’s backhand, which the Swiss player returned into the net. Chela having secured the set, Wawrinka tortured his racket, banging it hard against the court.
At this point, one could not be blamed for thinking Wawrinka toast. Instead, he broke serve three times in the fourth set, cruising to a 6-1 win. So now it was the fifth set: prior to the tournament, Wawrinka had been 8-0 in career fifth sets, while Chela was 1-8. Form seemed to hold as Wawrinka raced to a 2-0 lead, resulting in a warning from the chair for Chela after he slammed his racket in frustration. But Chela broke right back and then held for 2-2. Chela reached break point in the seventh game, and Wawrinka hit an apparently safe kicker — only 80 mph — on his second serve. The ball went long, and Chela had the decisive break. Though Wawrinka saved a match point at 3-5 and came out dancing like a boxer before Chela (to whom the trainer had ministered during the change-over) served for the match at 5-4, Chela closed out the match at 15. Wawrinka added another racket slam to his quota for the day as he tasted the bitterness of his first loss in a five-set match.
I strolled the grounds to catch a little bit of junior action before repairing to Arthur Ashe Stadium for the final points of a rejuvenated Carlos Moya’s win over the exciting young Ernests Gulbis. At match point, the players engaged in a head-to-head shootout at the net, which Moya won, celebrating by collapsing on his back. With that, it was time for the final match of the day session on Ashe.
September 4, 2007
Novak Djokovic v. Juan Monaco
Men’s Singles, Fourth Round
Arthur Ashe Stadium
I had seen Novak Djokovic’s very difficult second-round win
over Radek Stepanek; now it was time for the third seed to face the twenty-third
seed, the Argentine Juan Monaco, in a fourth-round match. I had never seen
The first set ended abruptly. After an early exchange of service breaks,
The feeling in the stands was that, after a tight first set, Djokovic
would now assert himself in the second. Not so fast!
Well, maybe not. The trainer worked on Djokovic’s back after the second
set. (This was a familiar sight from the Stepanek match.) Though Djokovic broke
serve in the first game,
2. Djokovic evened the tiebreak at 1-1 with a big forehand down the line.
5. Djokovic lined up a forehand passing shot;
6. Djokovic tied it up with a 125 ace up the middle.
7. After the players changed ends, Djokovic hit a drop shot and started a
cat-and-mouse game at the net, which concluded with his backhand volley down the
line. The shot was called wide, and Djokovic challenged. Hawk-Eye showed the
ball just millimeters wide, and
10. With Djokovic serving at 4-5,
11. In tight parts of matches, Djokovic bounces the ball incessantly
before serving. This time, he went for 25 bounces with his left hand, and this
is not counting the preliminary bounces with his racket. It seemed to work, as
he poured in a 128 mph first serve, followed by a big forehand.
14. Djokovic again went for 25 bounces — does he have an internal clock
that tells him he’s reached the key number? — and nailed his first serve at 128
mph. A long rally ensued, ending when Djokovic hit his forehand long. Despite
the devastating interference call,
After the third set, the chair umpire invited the remaining fans to move
down to the loge. This was not entirely an altruistic gesture by the USTA,
because they also wanted to help prepare the stadium for the night session,
which would now begin even later than planned. During the fourth set, we were
treated to some apt musical selections during the change-overs: the Rolling
Stones’ cover of Time
Is on My Side and
I left the premises at about 7:45 p.m., not realizing that I could have caught the conclusion of a mixed doubles semifinal on Armstrong, with Victoria Azarenka and Max Mirnyi, whom I’d seen defeat the top seeds in round 1, advancing over Zi Yan and Mark Knowles. It was a relatively early night for me, considering that the diehards who stayed till the conclusion of the night session and Rafael Nadal’s loss to David Ferrer did not see the final shot till 1:50 a.m. Though it has been little remarked, I believe that Nadal’s defeat finally puts Roger Federer ahead in the points race for the year 2007.
This concludes my in-person experience at this year's US Open. Next year, I’ll have to make more time for doubles and juniors — really.