US Open Report

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Jerry Balsam


Who’ll Stop the Rain?


It’s a tradition that the US Open gets held up by rain. As Brad Gilbert has pointed out till he’s blue in the face – as blue as the US Open courts – it makes no sense for the USTA to spread the first round of the men’s singles over three days and then cram the final two rounds into two days. No sense but economic sense, that is. If the weather is not perfect, which it rarely is, the players are put through a second-week ordeal that makes the end result more about survival and the luck of scheduling than sheer merit. That this is considered an acceptable state of affairs says more about the weakness of the ATP than the strength of the USTA’s position.

As expected, my final visit to the US Open in 2012 was substantially affected by the rain, which perhaps is only fitting, as my tickets were substitutes for the rain-out on the second Tuesday of 2011. This time, however, the tournament finished a match on Ashe, so the tickets will not roll over to 2013.

Grandstand: Julia Goerges (GER)/Kveta Peschke (CZE) (11) v. Sara Errani (ITA)/Roberta Vinci (ITA) (2)


As is my wont, I started on the Grandstand, where I got to watch four games before the rain started falling at 11:25. Goerges, a tall 23-year-old, hits the cover off the ball, and Peschke, fourteen years older, is an accomplished doubles player who won Wimbledon last year. The three players other than Peschke all wore the same Nike outfit. During the little I saw of the match, the Italian duo, who won Roland Garros this year, were much nimbler, and they led 3-1 when play was halted.


In a strategic move, the Italians, having won the toss, deferred the decision – and then Goerges and Peschke elected to receive. Clearly, this was not a men’s doubles match.


Errani has had such a breakthrough year that it’s a mystery how she suffered the loss of a golden set at the hands of Yaroslava Shvedova. Vinci, whom I recall partnering Sandrine Testud, has the one-handed backhand that goes naturally with serving and volleying – and with looking comfortable on a doubles court. In the four games I saw, Vinci was the only player to follow her serve to net, and the only one to hold serve.


The Italians, who were slated to face off in the singles quarterfinals, each sported a star tattoo above her left wrist. I could not judge whether these were permanent or a removable lark.


During the rain delay, I repaired to the Chase lounge, which operates during the rest of the year as the National Tennis Center’s indoor facility. Later in the day, during another rain delay, I took a photo of Cousin David posing in the lounge with the women’s singles trophy. David wondered why the men’s singles trophy was not available. The answer: Chase sponsors the women’s singles.


By the time the doubles match had resumed, I was on Armstrong to watch the singles match discussed below. The Italians ended up advancing.


Final Score: Errani/Vinci d. Goerges/Peschke 6-2 7-6(2)

·     ·     ·

Armstrong: Richard Gasquet (FRA) (13) v. David Ferrer (ESP) (4)

Coming into this fourth round match, Ferrer and Gasquet had met eight times, with each match ending in straight sets. The bad news for Gasquet was that he had won only one of the eight, and that was four years ago. Maybe the sense that the conclusion was foregone was what led a spectator in the second row to bury his head in a tabloid.


More bad news for Gasquet: after never dropping serve against Steve Johnson on Sunday, he was broken in the opening game of the Ferrer match. More breaks would follow.


The dogged Ferrer blunted Gasquet’s brilliance by retrieving would-be winners and extending the point till Gasquet erred outright or hit a short ball that made him vulnerable to attack. In prior years, Gasquet would serve in the 130 mph range, but he rarely broke 120 mph in this match. Ferrer’s serve is not particularly imposing under the best of circumstances, so both players had a chance to break.


In the first set, Gasquet began the 5-5 game, having broken and been broken twice each, by letting a passing shot go, thinking it would sail long. It did not, and he was in an immediate hole, from which he failed to emerge. Ferrer held at love to close out the set.


Gasquet took a 4-2 lead in the second set, as he ran down a drop volley and passed Ferrer to loud cheers. When it came time for Gasquet to serve for the set, at 5-3, he had trouble making first serves, and he was broken at 30. Still, Ferrer fell behind 0-40 in the next game, and ran out of challenges to boot. Withal, the Frenchman could not break through. First, Gasquet netted a backhand, then Ferrer hit a drop volley that Gasquet could barely touch, and finally Gasquet failed to return an 86 mph second serve. At deuce, Ferrer shanked a forehand to set up a fourth set point, but Gasquet then missed a passing shot into the net. In retrospect, this was his last chance. The players held for 6-6, and then Ferrer ran away with the tiebreak, 7-2.


The third set was halted by a rain delay at 2-2. After play resumed, Gasquet reached break point on Ferrer’s serve in the seventh game, but missed a backhand and allowed Ferrer to hold. I finally gave up and went home after another rain delay, and it was not until after nightfall that Ferrer got the one break he needed to close out the match.


Final Score: Ferrer d. Gasquet 7-5 7-6(2) 6-4

·     ·     ·

Because this dispatch is short on the tennis, I would like to recommend three books I read on a recent vacation.


Ben Macintyre’s Operation Mincemeat is the second in a trilogy of World War II tales of spy craft and deception. Without slighting the terrible cost of war or the hard life of the man who became the crucial corpse in his story, Macintyre tells his story with élan and a sense that he has found the one corner of the struggle that was just plain fun.


The great baseball analyst Bill James branched out to write Popular Crime, a study of tabloid murders and their social implications. He offers reasoned judgments (Lizzie Borden did not kill her parents) and some social engineering (prisons should be much smaller and have ten different levels of security, giving inmates an incentive to behave themselves and graduate to easier conditions). James is a deep thinker who does not toe a particular political line. His writing is accessible and entertaining. All this adds up to a combination that works quite well outside the realm of his expertise.


Finally, there was The Free World, by David Bezmozgis. He had debuted with Natasha: And Other Stories, a collection of short stories about the life of Soviet Jewish émigrés who found themselves in Canada. The Free World is a prequel, set in Rome as the émigrés prepare for life in a Western destination yet to be established. A recurring theme throughout the novel is the generation gap between a Soviet war hero who still believes in communism and his playboy son who had triggered the family’s decision to emigrate. The characters live because we can understand their conflicting motives.


You may want to try one or more of these books during the tennis offseason – well, if there were a tennis offseason.