US Open Report

Monday, September 6, 2010

Jerry Balsam


Trust Us, We’re the Transit Authority


As is the practice with these dispatches, my report is supplemented by photos, the full album of which may be accessed by clicking here. Italicized hyperlinks in the report refer to individual photos in my album.


My last visit to this year’s US Open took place on a beautiful Labor Day evening. The gates are supposed to open for the night session at 6:00 p.m., but the long line did not start moving till after 6:15, and it was about 6:30 by the time I was on the grounds. Fortunately, Armstrong and the Grandstand were not full, so the tournament organizers allowed holders of night tickets to watch the day matches there.


Armstrong: Robin Söderling (SWE) 5 v. Albert Montañés (ESP) (21)


My first stop was Armstrong, where the big Swede, after losing the first set to probably the only player in the top twenty-five I’d never seen, had taken the second and was preparing to serve for the third. Montañés, closing in on 30, has played nine career finals, all on clay, losing the first four and then winning the next five. Like the two Spanish lefties I’d seen on Sunday, Montañés, a right-hander with his baseball cap on backwards, hits a one-handed backhand. With Söderling’s heavy ball jumping above the Spaniard’s shoulders, Montañés often found himself hitting the backhand as a semi-jump shot. It was not unlike what Nadal does to Federer’s backhand. Söderling regularly punished the ball into the corners, and it was all Montañés could do to stay in points.


Söderling served out the third set at 15 just after my arrival and then jumped to a 3-2 lead in the fourth set when he cashed in his third break point of the game. Montañés made his last stand when Söderling served at 4-3, scrambling back from 40-15 to deuce with effective counterpunching, but the Swede took six of the next seven points to hold serve and break again to close out the match. He is looking very strong.


Final Score: Söderling d. Montañés 4-6 6-3 6-2 6-3


Grandstand: Bob Bryan/Mike Bryan (USA) (1) v. Mardy Fish (USA)/Mark Knowles (BAH) (15)


In retrospect, my next stop offered a poor waiting-on-line/watching-tennis ratio. There was about a fifteen-minute wait to get into the Grandstand. When I got in, the Bryan brothers were up a set and 4-3, preparing to receive serve from the veteran Knowles, who had just turned 39. He opened with two double faults and was broken at love, and then Bob Bryan served out the match at love, so I saw a grand total of eight points in this contest. All in all, not a great day for Mardy Fish.


Final Score: Bryan/Bryan d. Fish/Knowles 7-5 6-3


Grandstand: Liezel Huber/Bob Bryan (USA) (1) v. Lisa Raymond (USA)/Wesley Moodie (RSA) (7)


The schedule called for two mixed doubles quarterfinals to start no earlier than 6:00 p.m. One involved Bob Bryan, and the other included Mark Knowles, so I felt confident there would be a mixed doubles match on the Grandstand after sufficient rest for Bryan and Knowles. Sure enough, at about 8:15, the scoreboard announced that Bryan’s match would take place after 8:45 on the Grandstand.


Somewhat to my surprise, I saw on the US Open iPhone app that the Knowles match would be on Court 11. I had thought that the organizers would use Armstrong for one of the matches, but I suppose they wanted to shut down that stadium for the night. (For the record, Knowles did better in the mixed, as he and Anna-Lena Groenfeld knocked out the second-seeded team of Cara Black and Leander Paes, 6-3 6-4.)


I saved a box seat in the Grandstand, imagining that the place would fill up to some extent. I needn’t have been so punctilious; at most, there were perhaps 200 fans watching the match, one of whom was Wayne Bryan (in a blue warm-up suit and white baseball cap), father of the twins. It was worth getting up close to see this match, as four doubles specialists in their thirties offered touch and strategy to spare. The net players applied pressure on their opponents, stationing themselves toward the middle of the court and threatening to poach. The women were not afraid to come in, with Lisa Raymond almost always following her serve to net and Liezel Huber occasionally doing so. I also noticed things I had not seen before, such as the tattoo above Raymond’s left ankle and Wesley Moodie’s wedding band. Moodie is more than a head taller than Raymond, while Bryan and Huber are closer in height.


A predominant strategy in the match was to lob the woman, especially on return of serve when the man was serving. Raymond did it twice, successfully both times, to help her team to 0-40 on Bryan’s serve in the opening game. Under the no-ad scoring rules used in mixed doubles, this meant four break points rather than three, but Bryan and Huber scrambled out of the jam to hold serve.


Huber was the first player to lose serve, but Moodie was broken at love in the sixth game to level the match. When Moodie served at 4-5, he got to 40-30, but no-ad is dicey: Raymond missed a forehand volley to make it deuce, and then Moodie missed a forehand volley for the break and the first set. (I should note that when no-ad scoring is used in men’s doubles and women’s doubles on the regular tour — it is not used in these events at the Grand Slams — the receiving team decides who will receive serve on the deciding point. In mixed doubles, the no-ad rule is that the receiver on the deciding point is of the same gender as the server, so you can’t have the receivers deciding to have the man return the woman’s serve.)


Moodie was broken yet again in the second game of the second set, but he and Raymond stayed alive by breaking Huber in the seventh game. In the eleventh game, Huber fell from 40-0 to deuce, but she held serve when Bryan put away the second volley. Raymond stared down two match points in the next game, with Huber missing a service return and then hitting a return that Moodie spiked with a high backhand volley to force a tiebreak.


Bryan gave his team the first mini-break with a reflex volley for a 2-0 lead, and then Moodie missed a backhand volley to make it 3-0. Huber and Bryan ran away with it after that, closing out the tiebreak, 7-3.


This was perhaps my favorite match of the tournament, as I sat right behind the court and enjoyed the artistry of players who do more than pound groundstrokes. The fans who were wandering the grounds would have enjoyed this contest.


Final Score: Huber/Bryan d. Raymond/Moodie 6-4 7-6(3)


Ashe: Jürgen Melzer (AUT) (13) v. Roger Federer (SUI) (2)


At the conclusion of my fourth and final visit to the Open this year, I made my first foray into the seats at Ashe (nosebleed seats, at that). When I arrived, Roger Federer was up two sets, but Jürgen Melzer had just broken serve to start the third.


Federer quickly jumped to 0-40 on Melzer’s first service game and broke back on his second chance, putting away a weak drop shot with his backhand. But Federer struggled on serve as the set went on. In the long fifth game, he saved four break points, and three more in the seventh. Along the way, he seized the decisive break in the sixth game, hitting a crosscourt backhand volley winner at deuce and then taking the game when Melzer netted a forehand volley. Federer did not falter when he served out the match, going up 40-0 and then head-faking Melzer before passing him with a forehand into the open court.


Final Score: Federer d. Melzer 6-3 7-6(4) 6-3


Someday, Federer’s run of winning major titles will end. Perhaps it already has, and there is no shame in winning sixteen. I’ve made the mistake of writing him off before, and I’m wary of doing so again. Still, on current form, I think Söderling has a real chance against Federer in the quarterfinals. He is hitting a very big ball, and he now has the experience of beating the great man in a Slam. If Federer is to get by Söderling, I think it will be with guile. Söderling is not great at pressing the advantages provided by his big serve and groundstrokes, and he may not be able to pound Federer into submission without venturing successfully into midcourt and the forecourt. But Rafa Nadal’s chances to get to the final have to look good now that Andy Murray (whom I constantly pick to win majors, and who constantly fails to do so) is out of the tournament, and I think he would be a strong favorite if the dream final with Federer were to materialize.


As I say good-bye to this year’s US Open, I regret that I did not have an opportunity to watch any juniors. In past years, I’ve seen the junior versions of Söderling, Richard Gasquet, Marcos Baghdatis, and Gaël Monfils, among others. Söderling was out of sorts, and he got tuned by the future journeyman Stéphane Bohli. When I saw the widely hyped Gasquet, I knew he would be good, but little did I know that his opponent that day would also become a top twenty player. That was John Isner. Next year, I hope to see some more future stars.


The fans streaming to the subway after Federer’s win were offered a speedy 7 train to Manhattan, the so-called Baseball Express. The public address announcer explained that the doors on the train would not open for a while, because the crew had to get on board first. He added, to the appreciation of the cynical and subway-weary New York crowd, “Trust us, we’re the Transit Authority.”