US Open Report

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Jerry Balsam


Gimme Shelter


With the temperature remaining ridiculously high, as well-documented by Stephanie Myles, the trick was to stay in the shade and drink plenty of water. I accomplished this with help from my uncle, who arrived early to save me a seat in the Grandstand under the overhang. Sitting together, we could drink water with abandon, knowing that a seat would be saved while we attended to biological requirements. By 10:30, the seats under the overhang were all gone, while one could have parked a tractor-trailer on the sunny side of the court.


One of my favorite features of the day on the Grandstand was the familiar usher, seen year after year, who ferries spectators in and out of the seats on the shady side. He’s got distinctive dreadlocks, and one of the fans noted that we all get older from year to year, but he seems to stay the same. He does his job with a smile and manages pretty well to keep fans from blocking the aisles and views during play. He certainly had his hands full at the ends of matches, as young fans clamored for good positions to get autographs on their giant tennis balls.


Regardless of the quality of the matches, the shaded portion of the Grandstand was going to be the place to be till late in the afternoon. As it happened, two of the three matches I saw there were pretty good.


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.


Grandstand: Aravane Rezaï (FRA) (18) v. Beatrice Capra (USA)


The teenager Capra was lucky to make the draw as a wild card, as documented at the Open’s Web site. I didn’t see much chance for her to win, but I certainly hoped she would, knowing that Rezaï had met with and presented tennis racquets to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Maybe Ahmadinejad doesn’t really mean his blood-curdling threats. Maybe he does not have, and never will, the means to carry them out. Rezaï’s national pride aside, however, why take a chance on palling around with a dictator who could carry out genocide?


Capra jumped to an early 2-0 lead, but two double faults helped Rezaï break back. Throughout the match, Capra had the yips on her service toss, which she must have caught twenty times. She also took periodic short breaks with her back to the court, presumably to compose her thoughts and visualize the next point.


Rezaï went up a break for a 3-2 lead, and Capra, playing excellent defense, later broke back for 4-4. That was a theme for the match: Rezaï, who worked Capra’s backhand most of the time, hit harder and went for winners, while Capra retrieved and tried to draw errors. When Rezaï served at 5-6, she went up 40-15, but Capra fought back to deuce, then reaching set point with a backhand down the line that, according to Hawk-Eye, just clipped the sideline. Rezaï dumped a backhand into the net and the first set suddenly belonged to the youngster.


Rezaï quickly went up two breaks in the second set, which she took easily, 6-2. As the third set began, Capra barely held serve in the first game, as Rezaï pushed her around the court. Capra went up a break, 3-1, but Rezaï broke at love to get back on serve, 3-4. In the eighth game, Capra went up two break points when her forehand down the line caught two lines, as shown by Hawk-Eye. Rezaï saved both, the latter with a brave backhand down the line for a winner. Later in the game, Capra earned a third break point with a crosscourt backhand winner, and then Rezaï double-faulted to hand over the game. Capra, to raucous applause, served out the match without showing any fear, dropping only two points in the final game.


The score sheet showed that Rezaï had won 94 points and Capra 91, symbolizing Rezaï’s greater strength. On this day, at least, Capra had the right stuff. Next up: Maria Sharapova.


Final Score: Capra d. Rezaï 7-5 2-6 6-3


Grandstand: Nikolay Davydenko (RUS) (6) v. Richard Gasquet (FRA)


A reader of my opening dispatch reminded me that my brief bit on Davydenko omitted to refer to him as “the Gambler,” as I have done in prior years. Before we get into our discussion of his second-round match against Gasquet, let’s remedy that oversight. For his part, Gasquet has had his own problems with tennis officialdom, but the allegations in his case did not go to the integrity of the sport. Since his time off, Gasquet has had problems climbing back up the rankings, but on this day he looked like the Top Ten player he once was.


The Frenchman played with wonderful variety, occasionally sneaking in behind second serves kicked high to Davydenko’s backhand, throwing in many drop shots (without much success, it must be said), winning cheap points on his serve, and using his versatile backhand as an all-purpose weapon. Though he plays well behind the baseline when receiving serve, he still finds chances to come to the net, where he is quietly effective.


Gasquet took the first break of the match in the sixth game, when he earned break point with a beautiful backhand down the line and then won the game on a Davydenko error. He saved a break point at 4-2 and served out the first set, closing with a huge down-the-line backhand and an ace.


In the second set, Gasquet saved three break points in the fourth game and broke in the seventh, holding serve the rest of the way to take the set 6-4. The third set was a runaway, with Gasquet breaking for a 2-1 lead, saving a break point to hold for 3-1, breaking again for 4-1 with a screaming crosscourt forehand, saving three break points at 4-1, and — after a hiccup of consecutive double faults at triple match point — ending the contest with a service winner.


I’m counting this as the second good match on the Grandstand. Though it was not close, Davydenko is a formidable player, and it was an excellent win for Gasquet. What’s more, it was good to see Gasquet playing up to his capabilities. It looks like he may be headed for an entertaining all-French match against Gaël Monfils.


Final Score: Gasquet d. Davydenko 6-3 6-4 6-2


Grandstand: Robin Söderling (SWE) (5) v. Taylor Dent (USA)


The third match cannot be called particularly good, though I enjoyed it because I like Söderling and all the Swedes. Objectively, the most entertaining aspect of the match might have been Söderling’s Swedish fans, wearing yellow shirts and chanting, often in Swedish, but sometimes not. One memorable chant provided the opening lyrics to KC and the Sunshine Band’s That’s the Way (I Like It).


Before the match began, fans were murmuring that Dent seemed a candidate for the Mardy Fish Diet. Both players serve hard: Dent topped out at 143 mph on the radar gun, Söderling at 142. But there is so much more to Söderling’s game, which explains why he could win 61% of his second serve points and 60% of Dent’s. When Dent’s serve-and-volley mojo was working, it all looked so easy. Much of the time, though, Söderling was able to send the serve back with plenty of mustard on it, making problems for Dent whether he came in or stayed back. In the latter instance, Dent got played out of rallies fairly quickly, because he just doesn’t have the speed to cover the court the way his peers do.


It would be a waste of time to describe pivotal points in the match, because Söderling was just better. Instead, let us recall some vignettes.


In the sixth game of the second set, Dent got tangled up while running to his forehand to hit a passing shot. A ball boy had to wipe up the court afterward, because of the puddle of sweat left by a fallen Dent. In the third set, I noticed that Dent has a tattoo on his left triceps, which showed when his sleeve rode up. (His clothing was by Wilson, which I did not realize still made clothing.) In the fifth game of the third set, Dent bounced an overhead into the stands, hitting a fan in the face. A ball boy brought the fan an ice bag, and Dent sent him a racquet by way of apology, which drew a nice round of applause. After the match, as is traditional on the show courts, Söderling autographed three balls and hit them into the stands. Rather than hitting one ball each to three different sides of the court, he hit them all to his chanting fans, who had sat on the sunny side of the stands. This drew some hoots from the other fans.


Final Score: Söderling d. Dent 6-2 6-2 6-4


Court 16: Michaela Krajicek (NED)/Marie-Eve Pelletier (CAN) v. Monica Niculescu (ROU)/Shahar Peer (ISR) (13)


After the third match had concluded on the Grandstand, the worst of the sun was behind us, so I ventured to the field courts. On Court 16, the seeded team of Niculescu and Peer took on Krajicek, a former top 30 singles player (and half-sister of Richard), and Pelletier. Both Niculescu and Peer are steady ground-strokers, which matters in women’s doubles, where players tend not to serve and volley. Niculescu, a right-hander, hits with two hands on both sides, so her forehand is cross-handed. Krajicek served big and was powerful off the ground, but missed a lot of volleys, while Pelletier, a tour journeywoman, looked very solid at the net. Krajicek seemed to enjoy herself, even allowing herself an occasional smile.


The match featured a superannuated ball boy — spectators debated whether he should instead be called a “ball man” or “ball grandfather” — who was nimble on his feet. With the light fading by the time he came out, there was a limit to how good a shot I could get of him with my camera, so this one will have to do. Trust me, he was not young.


In the first set, a Peer lob bounced over the back fence and into the bushes. No ball boy, elderly or otherwise, retrieved it. After a ball change, I deemed the ball up for grabs and searched for it in the bushes, thereby obtaining a nice keepsake of this year’s Open. The ball still had that fresh-from-the-can smell.


After Niculescu and Peer took the opening set in a tiebreak, they went up early in the second set, and Peer served for the match at 5-3. She was broken at 30 and threw her racquet to the court in frustration. While Krajicek would smile, Peer never broke her game face. (Interestingly, her nail polish matched her outfit.) Peer’s frustration was short-lived, as her team broke Pelletier at love in the tenth game, with Peer, who had been cleverly effective at net throughout the match, ending things by burying an overhead. (While this match was going on, I also caught glimpses of the adjoining court, where Cara Black and Anastasia Rodionova defeated Alberta Brianti and Urszula Radwanska, who were substituting for Victoria Azarenka and Dinara Safina. Black is one woman who still relishes the serve-and-volley in doubles.)


Final Score: Niculescu/Peer d. Krajicek/Pelletier 7-6(4) 6-4


Court 4: Liezel Huber (USA)/Bob Bryan (USA) (1) v. Su-Wei Hsieh (TPE)/Bruno Soares (BRA)


I next caught the tail end of a match featuring the top seeds in the mixed doubles, Huber and Bryan, who overpowered Hsieh and Soares. One fan kept calling Bob Bryan “Mike,” which seemed funny at the time. In any case, Bob’s big left-handed serve was an unfair advantage for his team, even though he stayed back most of the time, presumably to cover lobs.


Final Score: Huber/Bryan d. Hsieh/Soares 6-4 6-3


Court 14: Elena Vesnina (RUS)/Andy Ram (ISR) (6) v. Raquel Kops-Jones (USA)/Eric Butorac (USA)


My final stop was Court 14, where the sixth-seeded team of Vesnina and Ram went to the wire with Kops-Jones and Butorac. When I arrived, Vesnina (who had nearly beaten Sam Stosur in the singles) and Ram (who earlier in the day had lost his men’s doubles opener in an 11-9 final-set tiebreak to a team featuring his countryman and erstwhile partner Yoni Erlich) were up a set and on serve in the second. When the set went to a tiebreak, Vesnina and Ram raced to a 3-0 lead, with two mini-breaks, but the Americans took six of the next seven points. Vesnina and Ram saved two set points to get to 6-6, but dropped the set when Ram missed a forehand volley and Butorac put away an overhead.


The split of the first two sets sent us into a match tiebreak, where the winner is the first team to ten points with a two-point advantage. The American team seemed a shoo-in, grabbing the first five points, but then Vesnina held her two service points, and Butorac, a big southpaw, dropped his two thanks to excellent lobs from Ram and then Vesnina. Ram put his team in front, 6-5, by holding his two serves, and his swinging forehand volley gave his team a mini-break and seven consecutive points, for a 7-5 lead. The momentum shifted back, with the Americans getting to 6-7 and then taking both points off Vesnina’s serve. While this was going on, the Brazilian fans on Court 13 were shouting themselves hoarse rooting for Thomaz Bellucci against Kevin Anderson. Now Butorac had the match on his racquet, but Kops-Jones missed a backhand volley to level the score, 8-8. Butorac’s ace gave his team a match point, which Ram saved by backing up his serve with a forehand volley. Ram followed with a service winner to give his team a match point at 10-9. With Kops-Jones serving, Butorac netted a forehand volley, and the match had ended on the final streak of points: three to Vesnina and Ram.


Final Score: Vesnina/Ram d. Kops-Jones/Butorac 6-4 6-7(6) [11-9]


The match ended just short of 9:00 p.m., and I was tired from a long day in the heat, so off I went to the subway. It was well after I returned home, at around 10:30, that the match on Court 13 came to an end. The Brazilian fans must have been devastated, as Anderson came back from a deficit of two sets to one and defeated Bellucci in a final-set tiebreak. At the US Open, there are no Isner-Mahut scenarios. Then again, if Isner and Mahut had played their epic in this heat, there would be no Isner or Mahut.