Court 11 Becomes the New Graveyard
by Jerry Balsam

The first Thursday of the US Open offered beautiful weather and a full day and evening of tennis. My evening would have gone later, but ten sets played in Arthur Ashe Stadium pushed the start of the night session back at least an hour and a half, adding thousands of people milling around the grounds and making it impossible to get onto the smaller field courts for the final matches of the day session.


With reports that the US Open is selling 60,000 seats a day, and assuming that means 23,000 seats to Ashe multiplied by two sessions, that leaves about 14,000 grounds passes. It’s great that so many people are interested in and able to watch tennis in New York, but it also means that the grounds are very crowded these days, and it’s no simple matter to get into one of the field courts or the ever-popular Grandstand.


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.


Grandstand: Robert Kendrick (USA) v. Tommy Haas (GER) (20)


By 10:40, when I entered the Grandstand, the desirable seats in the shade were filling up. I managed to grab one in the penultimate row and settled in for something of a throwback match: neither player is afraid of the net, and Haas hits his backhand with one hand. On the other hand, both players are hipsters — Haas at 31, Kendrick closing in on 30 — featuring the backwards baseball caps so popular with the kids these days.


Kendrick wore an elaborate bandage that went from just below his left knee to wrap around his calf. He has a big serve, clearing 130 mph on occasion, and likes to hit his forehand. Kendrick avoids hitting backhands, but when they are inevitable he alternates a two-hander with topspin and the Mats Wilander one-hander with slice.


The tone was set early, with Kendrick fighting off five break points in the third game and two more in the fifth before Haas was able to cash in. The break sufficed for Haas to serve out the set, 6-4, though he did have to stave off two break points in his 4-3 game. In addition, we all had questions about the Hawk-Eye replay technology in the final game of the set. At 15-0, a Kendrick shot was called out. He challenged the call, and it took a long time for the technology to kick in. When the simulated replay was finally shown, the ball was rendered about a foot inside the court, which no one, Kendrick included, would claim to be accurate. The point was replayed, and Haas won it, serving out the set at love with an ace.


Kendrick changed from a predominantly red shirt to white for the second set. It didn’t help, as Haas broke in the seventh game — the crucial seventh game, as the announcers like to say — and Kendrick angrily spiked his racket to the court, dislodging the vibration damper. As Haas tried to serve out the second set, he fell behind 0-30 and eventually faced two break points, but he climbed out of the hole and concluded this set, too, with an ace.


In the third set, I counted five break points that Kendrick saved. (For the match, Haas converted only 2 of 18 breakers, while Kendrick was 0 for 4.) The players went to a tiebreak, which went as follows:


  1. Kendrick serves and volleys, nets a forehand volley for the mini-break. (1-0, Haas.)
  2. Haas hits a backhand approach shot down the line and follows up with a crosscourt backhand volley. (2-0, Haas.)
  3. Kendrick nets a forehand. (3-0, Haas.)
  4. Kendrick throws a changeup on the first serve, going with a kicker to Haas’s backhand. Haas nets the return. (3-1, Haas.)
  5. Kendrick’s second serve is called wide. He successfully challenges the call and is credited with an ace. (3-2, Haas.)
  6. Kendrick’s backhand return of Haas’s second serve finds the net. (4-2, Haas.)
  7. Haas makes his first serve, Kendrick’s forehand return is netted. (5-2, Haas.)
  8. Haas’s forehand passing shot clips the tape and drops over; Kendrick rushes forward to retrieve the ball and flicks a forehand crosscourt for the winner. (5-3, Haas.)
  9. Kendrick has Haas moving side to side but then nets an inside-out forehand for another mini-break. (6-3, Haas.)
  10. With Haas serving again, he finds his way to net, and Kendrick’s crosscourt backhand passing shot sails wide. (7-3, Haas.) Game, set, and match.


Final score: Haas d. Kendrick 6-4 6-4 7-6(3)


Grandstand: Caroline Wozniacki (DEN) (9) v. Petra Martic (CRO) (Q)


I stayed in my good seat for the second match on the Grandstand. Wozniacki, 9th in the world, is a prodigious groundstroker, particularly off the backhand side. Martic, a qualifier, is listed at 5’11” and 139 pounds. I have to be careful how I say this and some other comments below, because a friend has berated me for circulating too many articles related to health care that talk about obesity: there is no way Martic weights 139 pounds. She is Hantuchova-thin. For what it’s worth, the pre-match photo of Martic shown on the scoreboard rendered her a brunette; mirabile dictu, on court she was blond. A spectator surmised she had spent a lot of time in the sun this summer.


Now for the second comment I must render with care. Wozniacki wore a frilly tennis skirt that is part of adidas’s Stella McCartney collection, the Dane having replaced Maria Kirilenko on this endorsement deal. The middle-aged women sitting near me were discussing the outfit intently. One said at first that she did not like it, but then said it was growing on her. She added, however, that the skirt makes one’s posterior seem larger and thus, though Wozniacki can carry it off, if Serena Williams were to wear this outfit, “it would be alarming.” Hey, I’m just reporting here!


Ah, yes, the tennis. Martic makes her life more complicated with a high ball toss, so that she does not strike her serve at the apex of the toss. On second serves when break point rolls around, that has to be difficult. Wozniacki’s backhand is so good that, in contrast to today’s players who will backpedal halfway across the baseline to hit a forehand, she will often go with the backhand on a ball hit up the middle. Martic serves harder than Wozniacki, but Wozniacki probably does everything else better.


Wozniacki broke for a 3-1 lead, saved three break points to extend her lead to 4-1, and got to 5-1 when Martic double-faulted at 15-40. I left after she closed out the set, 6-1. Wozniacki put up a bagel in the second set to close it out.


Final Score: Wozniacki d. Martic 6-1 6-0


Armstrong: Kevin Kim (USA) v. Sam Querrey (USA) (22)


When I entered Armstrong, Kim — who is not as physically imposing as Querrey but serves just about as hard — was serving at 5-7 5-6. He held to force a tiebreak, which went as follows:


  1. On his serve, Querrey pulled a forehand wide for a mini-break. (1-0, Kim.)
  2. Kim’s crosscourt forehand pass went wide, returning the mini-break. (1-1.)
  3. Querrey’s backhand return of a second serve went long. (2-1, Kim.)
  4. With Querrey serving, Kim’s crosscourt forehand pass was wide. (2-2.)
  5. Querrey worked Kim’s backhand and then hit a crosscourt forehand for a winner. (3-2, Querrey.)
  6. Kim dropped a mini-break, netting a backhand. (4-2, Querrey.)
  7. Kim dialed up his first serve at 130 mph, and Querrey’s forehand return landed in the net. (4-3, Querrey.)
  8. Kim reclaimed the mini-break with a forehand pass. (4-4.)
  9. Kim nets a backhand pass down the line. (5-4, Querrey.)
  10. Kim puts away an overhead. (5-5.)
  11. Querrey grabs a crucial mini-break and set point with an inside-out forehand to Kim’s backhand, eliciting an error into the net. (6-5, Querrey.)
  12. Kim saves set point on Querrey’s serve with a crosscourt backhand pass. (6-6.)
  13. Querrey double-faults (one of only three in the match, against 15 aces). (7-6, Kim.)
  14. Kim retrieves a Querrey drop volley with a forehand crosscourt pass to win the set. (8-6, Kim.)


I couldn’t find a seat in the shade, so I moved along.


Final Score: Querrey d. Kim 7-5 6-7(6) 6-4 6-4


Court 11: Anastasia Rodionova (AUS) v. Sabine Lisicki (GER) (23)


The strange events on Court 11 began for me with the second match of the day. It was a play in three acts, and I arrived at the conclusion of the first. In that first act, Rodionova, now playing for Australia though born in Russia, extended to a surprising 6-3 3-0 lead. Lisicki has been battling shoulder problems, but she was still a major favorite, ranked 25th in the world, while Rodionova, more a doubles specialist, is a qualifier ranked 139th.


Rodionova wore a support on her left ankle, while Lisicki wore a protective device on her left hand. Shortly after my arrival, Lisicki turned up the heat, making the second act the polar opposite of the first. From a 0-3 deficit in the second set, she won six straight games to tie the match, and then she raced out to a 5-2 lead in the third. As things got more and more dire for Rodionova, a fan shouted encouragement, often using the terminology: “Anastasia, you’ve got it!” As Groucho Marx would say, “Who are you going to believe, me or your own eyes?”


In this case, the fan’s fantasy proved, in the third act, reality-based. Lisicki had two match points while serving at 5-3 in the third. Rodionova saved both, one on a Lisicki double-fault, one of ten on the day. Rodionova eventually broke to get back to 4-5, held for 5-5, and broke again for 5-6. Serving for the match, Rodionova reached ad in. She drew a short forehand, which she gingerly put into the open court for the win. I couldn’t understand why she pushed the ball so gently, till I saw that Lisicki, trying to change directions from her forehand corner, had collapsed to the court in pain. Had Rodionova missed the short forehand, it would have been deuce, but the match would have been over anyway, because Lisicki was badly injured. She eventually left the court in a wheelchair, to generous applause from the fans.


Stephanie Myles, covering the Open for the Montreal Gazette, has criticized Rodionova as a “certifiably crazy lady” who has “no clue,” because she did not assist Lisicki and did participate in a post-match interview. I don’t know Rodionova’s reputation on the tour, but I didn’t think her behavior was untoward. She walked toward Lisicki to acknowledge her condition, but what could she really do for her? An Australian report quoted Rodionova, who still travels on a Russian passport:


“I was kind of scared to come to her,” Rodionova said when asked about Lisicki’s fall. “I felt really bad. I didn’t really know what to do, and that’s definitely not the way I wanted to finish the match. I feel sorry for her. It’s sport, but I don’t want anyone to be hurt. I hope she gets better and that it’s not a really bad injury.”


That’s certainly the way it looked to me, sitting right behind Court 11. The report further states that Lisicki broke her ankle, whereas CBS says it was a sprain. Either way, it was a horrific sight, and I don’t think anyone present, including Rodionova, wishes Lisicki anything less than a full recovery.


Having seen Lisicki’s terrible injury, I began to wonder why this sort of thing doesn’t happen more often, particularly on hard courts. It renews my appreciation for Roger Federer’s movement, recently analyzed in the New York Times and depicted in a multimedia display. Federer’s fluidity does not merely save him from wear on the joints and consequent injury, but it also obviously separates him from most of his opponents and helps him win matches.


Final Score: Rodionova d. Lisicki 6-3 3-6 7-5


Court 11: Robin Soderling (SWE) (12) v. Marcel Granollers (ESP)


The next match featured the current Roland Garros finalist, the man who turned Federer’s year around when he defeated Rafael Nadal, and a player I’ve watched at the Open since he got frustrated in junior play by Stéphane Bohli five days before 9/11. Before the match began, I previewed for young Cousin David, now a US Open veteran, the big serve that Soderling would be throwing down. David was not too impressed by the opening offering, which clocked in at 120 mph. The final two of the first game were at 136 and 135, which I think got David’s attention.


Granollers had other problems. He called for a trainer, who worked on his lower back. Soderling sat impatiently, pumping his legs like his French Open victim Nadal does on changeovers. Granollers gamely continued, and was able to serve at 120 mph, but he could hardly move, looking like an old man sending back soup in a deli. After Soderling got to 40-0 in the third game, Granollers had had enough, and he retired.


Final Score: Soderling d. Granollers 2-0 ret.


After the untimely end of Soderling v. Granollers, there was a delay of over half an hour till the next match on Court 11. Cousin David and I took the opportunity to stroll the grounds, where I took a picture of him standing with an image of Rod Laver. It was one of my great thrills to shake Laver’s hand at the Open in 1999, when he and a contingent of Aussies came to Court 11 to watch Wayne Arthurs play a second round match against a young countryman named Lleyton Hewitt. At the conclusion of the match, a leather-lunged fan exhorted the crowd to salute the greatest player of all time (this was pre-Federer), and we gave Laver a rousing ovation.


Now it is forty years since Laver won his second Grand Slam, and the International Tennis Hall of Fame has an exhibit at the Open with some memorabilia associated with that achievement, including the spikes Laver wore on a wet court for his final against Tony Roche and the rackets he used at the time. I recommend that spectators at the Open take a moment to visit the Hall of Fame exhibit — or, better yet, see the full collection at the Hall in Newport, Rhode Island.


Court 11: Shahar Peer (ISR) v. Carla Suarez Navarro (ESP)


When the players were introduced, Suarez got some polite applause, and the stands erupted for Peer. This was essentially a home match for her.


Peer has fallen from a peak of No. 15 in the world. She is a tenacious and clever groundstroker, but her serve doesn’t reach 100 mph and sometimes is within the speed limit, and her play in the forecourt leaves a lot to be desired. For her part, Suarez features a beautiful one-handed backhand, increasingly rare on the tour. Of the players I saw on this day, she and Haas were the only ones with the one-hander, unless you want to count Dudi Sela, of whose doubles match on Court 5 I had seen a snippet.


Peer broke serve twice for a 3-0 lead, but Suarez retrieved one of the breaks just as the lights were coming on at 7:00 p.m. When Suarez held to draw within 3-2, it looked like it would become a tight match. She was not to win another game. Perhaps the crusher for Suarez came when Peer raced to a 15-40 lead on Suarez’s serve to open the second set. Suarez recovered to deuce, but Peer got back to ad out, and then clinched the break at the conclusion of a long rally. From there, it was off to the races, and Peer finished the match in barely an hour.


I’ve described Court 11 as a graveyard. While Peer’s win was a mild upset, that doesn’t fully explain the disappointment for Suarez. The match was played on her 21st birthday. The good news for Suarez is that she’s now eligible to drink in New York State, and she probably wanted a stiff one last night.


Final Score: Peer d. Suarez Navarro 6-2 6-0


With the grounds flooded with fans, I now caught a few snippets of matches, which I’ll mention briefly.


First, I saw the final game of Novak Djokovic’s routine win over the big-serving southpaw qualifier Carsten Ball in Armstrong. As Djokovic prepared to serve out the match, a crackling noise emerged from the speakers, and a photographer picked the wrong moment to scurry out of the pit, onto the court, and back into the pit nearer the baseline. Djokovic was not amused, but he closed out the match and then tossed his shirt into the stands along with the traditional three autographed balls.


I caught a little bit of Mahesh Bhupathi and Mark Knowles finishing up their match on Court 13 against James Cerretani and Lovro Zovko.


I saw the end of a super-tiebreak in which Cara Black and Leander Paes, the second seeds, escaped match point to defeat Patty Schnyder and Wesley Moodie on Court 8. Schnyder netted a very makeable volley on match point for her team, and then Black and Paes ran the table.


Finally, I saw a couple of games on Court 5 between Zi Yan and Mariusz Fystenberg and the all-Romanian team of Monica Niculescu and the veteran Andrei Pavel. The Sino-Polish team eventually came back from a one-set deficit to win in a super-tiebreak.


I wanted to try to get into Court 4 to see the conclusion of the four-setter between Phillip Kohlschreiber and Somdev Devvarman, but it was impossible to get in, so I left the grounds at about 8:45 p.m.


This year, the USTA is offering free streaming video of play on Ashe, Armstrong, the Grandstand, and Courts 11 and 13. I doubt this will be free for long — Wimbledon is already charging for its video — but the technology, already pretty good, will only improve. When it gets good enough that a viewer can effortlessly move from court to court and watch matches in high definition (albeit putting up with master-of-the-obvious Barry McKay announcing, “That’s a fault”), will the urge to come out and see the matches in person be as great? It’s hard to predict, especially the future, but I think live tennis will continue to hold great appeal. I’d like to think that spectators will have a better chance to get from court to court at the Open, but for now overcrowding is symptomatic of a fundamentally healthy game.