An Appetizer on Day 1 of the US Open

August 26, 2013


I met three relatives for the night session on Day One of the 2013 US Open. Two of them had had day session tickets and put in quite a long day on the grounds. When I arrived at the venue, just after 6:00 p.m., the security line was not too long, notwithstanding this year’s post-Boston addition of metal detectors. I hustled through the crowds to Court 6 on the periphery of the grounds, where Dudi Sela was playing against Andrey Kuznetsov. Court 6 is on the periphery, but close enough to Ashe that we heard and saw the fireworks (photo 58 in this album) that were part of the delayed opening night ceremony. I would end up never entering Ashe and thus never seeing one of the night matches for which my ticket qualified me. It’s almost a point of pride to avoid Ashe.


Sela, a diminutive 28-year-old journeyman who topped out at No. 29 in the world in 2009, hits the increasingly rare one-handed backhand (photo 14). Kuznetsov, 22 (photo 29), won the junior title at Wimbledon in 2009 and reached a ranking high of No. 68 this March.


As I arrived, Sela was finishing up a 7-2 win in the first-set tiebreak. My family advised me that there had been six breaks of serve in the set. This would set a pattern.


Sela went up an early break in the second set when Kuznetsov got a short ball on his forehand off a Sela mishit, and he pulled it wide. Kuznetsov broke right back, and then broke himself with a series of errors to give Sela a 4-2 lead. Sela held serve the rest of the way and bagged the set, 6-3.


Kuznetsov was the first to draw blood in the third set, going up 4-2. When he served for the set at 5-3, however, Sela broke, passing after Kuznetsov made the mistake of returning a drop shot crosscourt and leaving the court open. Serving at 5-5, Kuznetsov fell behind by 0-40 when the umpire overruled the linesman on the baseline and called Sela’s lob good. He dug out of the hole, however, and the players found themselves in a tiebreak. This time, Kuznetsov jumped out ahead to a 5-0 lead and won the tiebreak, 7-2.


The players took bathroom breaks after the third set. When they walked back to the court, Kuznetsov looked a bit gimpy. This was deceptive. In the fourth set, Kuznetsov was the first to break, but Sela broke right back for 3-3. After Sela held for a 4-3 lead, there was a long delay. A trainer came out and worked on Sela’s legs (photo 66) while Kuznetsov sat with a towel over his head (photo 67). Evidently cramping, Sela resumed play but no longer sat down on changeovers. Sela held serve after being treated but was broken at 5-5, and then Kuznetsov served out the set, 7-5.


It looked like Sela was done. I expected him to fall behind early in the fifth set and then retire when he could not move anymore. Instead, he broke serve for a 3-1 lead when Kuznetsov netted a backhand volley. From that point on, no one held serve. When Sela stepped up to serve for the match at 5-3, Cousin David – now a teenager, once the boy who asked (five years to the day earlier) whether Sam Querrey and Tomas Berdych had their tennis clothing picked out by their mothers – said that Sela would win the match, but not on his serve. That’s exactly what happened. Kuznetsov broke at 15 to get to 4-5. In the tenth game, he reached 30-30, but Sela whistled two winners down the line, first a forehand and then a backhand, for the win, 7-6(2) 6-3 6-7(2) 5-7 6-4. In all, the players broke serve 21 times in 55 games. Sela won 187 points to Kuznetsov’s 183, and the match took a minute short of four hours.


Overcome with joy at his win, Sela fell on his back (photo 99) before greeting Kuznetsov at the net (photos 117-19). One can understand why. Sela’s career record in Grand Slam matches is 13-22, and he had not picked up a win at a major since the first round of the US Open two years ago. The payday and rankings boost are not insignificant for, to borrow a phrase, a foot soldier of tennis – and who’s to say whether Sela will ever win another match at a major?


Wanting to wake up in time for my day job, I decided to go home at 9:15 and gave Cousin David my night session ticket so he could go to Ashe and watch Roger Federer. He caught the very end of Serena Williams’s match, which ended quickly enough (notwithstanding the late start to the opening night ceremony) for the USTA to put the night session in the books. Immediately thereafter, the rains came, and I ended up not missing much at all.


Pro tip: In days gone by, the US Open would throw open the gates late in the afternoon, permitting spectators to walk the grounds without a ticket. That policy is no longer in place, at least formally, but if you arrive with a night session ticket, you pass through the turnstile without having the ticket scanned. Scanning takes place only if you enter Ashe. Thus, in theory – not that I would recommend such a thing – a person could buy a night session ticket online, print out multiple copies, and share them with friends, all of whom could roam the grounds and watch the end of the day session.