US Open Report

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Jerry Balsam


Enjoy the Grandstand While You Can


The US Open’s beloved Grandstand court is slated for demolition. In my first visit to this year’s tournament, on the day that Andy Roddick celebrated his thirtieth birthday and announced his retirement, I camped out on the Grandstand – in the shade – and barely visited any other court. It felt just like home, as a favorite usher, ageless in dreadlocks, was back yet again.

Grandstand: Nicolas Almagro (ESP) (11) v. Philipp Petzschner (GER)


On paper, this first-time meeting should have been an easy win for Almagro, who was 49-16 on the year, as against Petzschner’s 8-13. Petzschner has two Grand Slam doubles titles – Wimbledon in 2010 and the US Open last year – and he has a big serve and forehand, but he has only one tour title in singles. Almagro, on the other hand, while a clay specialist (his 12 titles and six runner-up performances have all come on the surface), is competent on hard courts, having made the last 16 at the Australian Open the last three years. Almagro hits a powerful one-handed backhand, almost always with topsin, while Petzschner drops the second hand off his backhand and slices the stroke most of the time. Almagro constructed points to hit as many forehands as possible and dictate play.


Almagro went up a set and a break and looked ready to cruise, but Petzschner, featuring high socks and a backward baseball cap, began to turn the tide by breaking back, digging out of a 0-30 hole with the help of a brave serve-and-volley on second serve, and breaking again to take a 3-1 lead in the second set. Almagro fought off two set points in the 2-5 game and screamed in triumph when Petzschner failed to serve out the set at 5-3. Almagro, resplendent in orange, looked to be back in control, but he was abruptly broken at love when he served to get into a tiebreak, and the match was tied. It would get worse for the Spaniard, as the third set went on serve till the twelfth game, when Petzschner sandwiched an Almagro double fault with a great approach shot that Almagro could not handle and a big cross-court forehand to steal a break and take a lead of two sets to one.


Perhaps cognizant of all the comebacks from two-set deficits at this year’s Open, Almagro did not panic at the prospect of needing to win the fourth and fifth sets. He took an early break in the fourth and served out the set. The players exchanged breaks early in the fifth set. During the fifth game, a security guard persistently yelled at fans to keep moving on the stairwell, until the fans in the Grandstand collectively shushed her. One imagines that this type of thing does not happen at Wimbledon.


The decisive break came in the seventh game, as Almagro surged ahead with a swinging forehand volley and a missed forehand from Petzschner. Almagro offered his loudest roar of the day in response to this success, and eventually, using new balls, he served out the match at love before collapsing to the court in relief.


Final Score: Almagro d. Petzschner 6-3 5-7 5-7 6-4 6-4

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Grandstand: Carla Suarez Navarro (ESP) v. Agnieszka Radwanska (2) (POL)

It was a day for Spaniards with one-handed backhands: like Almagro, Suarez has a beauty of a backhand, finishing high to maximize her topspin.


Radwanska, the Wimbledon finalist, was something of an unknown quantity, in light of her shoulder issues. She fell behind early when Suarez broke serve for a 2-1 lead, and she began to show frustration when she fell behind by 4-2. Under the best of circumstances, Radwanska is not the hardest striker of the ball, and she was looking fragile against Suarez. Though Radwanska broke back and got to 4-4, she dropped the next two games to surrender the first set.


Suarez grabbed an early break in the second set, too, and then Radwanska turned the match around. Not only did she start hitting harder, but she used drop shots and lobs to run Suarez mercilessly. Suarez was serving up a set and 3-2, but that proved her high-water mark. She was tired and, before long, utterly spent, bending over and holding her knees to catch her breath. It was not a particularly warm day, nor humid; instead, it seemed Suarez was not in condition to run with her Polish opponent. Radwanska’s game is all about guile, and she ran Suarez to exhaustion, ripping through ten consecutive games to take the match.


In a tribute to the human spirit, we saw a ballboy with a prosthetic leg working the match. He seemed unhindered by the physical challenge.


Suarez turns 24 on September 3, but she will not get to celebrate her birthday at the Open this year. She may want to run a few laps on the big day.


Final Score: Radwanska d. Suarez Navarro 4-6 6-3 6-0

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Grandstand: Sam Querrey (USA) (27) v. Ruben Ramirez Hidalgo (ESP)


Querrey has made a nice comeback from injury to be seeded at the Open. Ramirez Hidalgo, a clay court specialist with a hitch in his service motion, has edged into the top 50 once in his career and, at age 34, had just won his first match ever at the US Open. This did not shape up to be a close match, and it wasn’t. In a workmanlike effort, Querrey overpowered his opponent without ever facing a break point. As if to summarize the futility of Ramirez Hidalgo’s task, the match concluded with his double-fault.


Ramirez Hidalgo has quirks: he likes to hike up the sleeve on his right arm and he covers his ponytail with a backward baseball cap. The most memorable event in the match occurred when Querrey bounced an overhead into the stands and a fan caught the ball in his porkpie hat. The crowd booed the ballboy who demanded the return of the ball and cheered when he gave the fan another ball as compensation.


Querrey looked solid, serving very big and working effectively both off the ground and, occasionally, at net to finish a point. Tomas Berdych will undoubtedly present far more of a challenge, putting aside Querrey’s first-round romp over the Czech in the first round in 2008, but Querrey made no mistake in dispatching a lesser opponent.


Final Score: Querrey d. Ramirez Hidalgo 6-3 6-4 6-3

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Grandstand: Vera Dushevina (RUS) v. Sara Errani (ITA) (10)


If what counted in tennis was being physically imposing, this would have been a mismatch. In fact, it was, but not in the manner that appearances suggested.


Dushevina is 5’11” and regularly breaks 110 mph on her first serve. (Her second serve slides into the mid-seventies or even high sixties, but that’s another story.) The Roland Garros finalist, Errani, is listed at 5’5”, and that’s probably being generous. But Errani does not miss balls, and she can keep a rally going until a big hitter either errs or gives her a chance to take over control. Errani repeatedly wrong-footed Dushevina, threw her off with drops shots, chips, and lobs, and won cat-and-mouse games at net.


Dushevina remained remarkably composed for a player who was getting pasted. Unlike her opponent, she does not grunt when hitting the ball, and she did not show frustration other than occasionally tapping her racket against the court. Having lost the first eight games of the match, she threw in a serve-and-volley play. That didn’t work, either, and she was down 6-0 3-0 before finally getting on the scoreboard with a break of Errani’s serve. That small triumph was all Dushevina would get. When Errani reached match point on Dushevina’s serve, the Italian hit a would-be winner that was called out. Errani challenged the call and, following a Hawk-Eye review, it was reversed. Dushevina petitioned the umpire for a let, but it was not happening, and that match was over.


Final Score: Errani d. Dushevina 6-0 6-1

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Court 11: Nuria Llagostera Vives (ESP)/Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez (ESP) (8) v. Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova (RUS)/Lucie Safarova (CZE)


I had a bit of energy left to leave the Grandstand and watch a little more tennis. If you want diminutive, Llagostera, at 5’1”, is your candidate. Her partner, Martinez, is close to six feet tall and loves to – imagine that! – serve and volley. The Spanish team’s opponents were both seeded in the women’s singles and present an imposing sight: the left-handed Safarova and the right-handed Pavlyuchenkova each standing 5’10”. The Russian-Czech team looked like more dangerous players during the few games I watched, perhaps as the Williams sisters, who are unseeded in doubles, regularly mow through Grand Slam draws. I left the grounds at 8:40 p.m. for the subway home, and later learned that it was the seeded Spanish team that had prevailed. There is not much I can say about this match, but at least I can say that I had visited a court other than the Grandstand.


Final Score: Llagostera Vives/Martinez Sanchez d. Pavlyuchenkova/Safarova 6-4 6-4