Hanging Out with Judy Murray’s Boys

September 1, 2013


My first stop on Sunday was Armstrong, where ninth-seeded Stanislas Wawrinka, he of the beautiful one-handed backhand, was taking on the former Australian Open finalist Marcos Baghdatis. The two 28-year-olds had met twice before, with Wawrinka winning both times – on a final-set bagel at Indian Wells in 2008 and in four sets in the second round of last year’s Australian Open.


Baghdatis drew first blood with a break of serve when Wawrinka was playing passively, but Wawrinka broke back right away and later grabbed a 5-3 lead with a second break, when he took the lengthy game on his seventh break point. The second set went smoothly for Wawrinka, as he broke serve in the first and seventh games. His fans, clad in T-shirts spelling out “STAN” (see photo; for a full array of photos, click here), surely expected a quick conclusion to the match.


The third set, however, went on serve, with Wawrinka saving a set point when he served the twelfth game. Baghdatis raced to a 5-0 lead in the tiebreak and dropped only one point on his way to capturing the set. The majority of the fans seemed to be rooting for Baghdatis, or at least for a longer match.


Baghdatis immediately went up a break in the fourth set, but lost his edge when a double fault enabled Wawrinka to level the set, 3-3. The set went to another tiebreak, with Wawrinka hitting a backhand passing shot for a winner when Baghdatis served at 4-5, setting up two match points. Baghdatis saved both, the first when Wawrinka sprayed a forehand long and the second with a backhand pass down the line. A third match point followed, but Baghdatis saved it with a forehand volley. Serving at 7-7, Baghdatis pulled an easy backhand wide for the crucial mini-break. Wawrinka, who had served some balls hard and some softly throughout the match, cranked up a 133-mile-per-hour bomb up the middle on his fourth match point. Baghdatis couldn’t handle it, and Wawrinka had a 6-3 6-2 6-7(1) 7-6(7) win.


My next stop, with a tinge of regret, was Ashe. I had a loge box seat behind the court in section 160, which is a good seat by Ashe standards (see seating chart here), but not so much by ordinary tennis standards. Since the loge boxes rest above two tiers of luxury suites, they are far from the court (see photo), albeit closer than the nosebleed “promenade” seats.


The match featured the defending champion, Andy Murray, against Florian Mayer of Germany, who is about a month from his thirtieth birthday. Mayer’s Wikipedia page captures his playing style:


Mayer is known for his unorthodox style of play. He has a long backswing on his forehand and backhand and uses a lot of different slices and spin on his backhand side. He is also known for his jumping backhand dropshots which catches many of his opponents on the backfoot.


While Murray enjoyed a 2-0 career record against Mayer, their most recent meeting, in Madrid this year, went to two tiebreaks. Murray had just won a first-set tiebreak before I arrived, but all I saw was a regulation beat down, 7-6(2) 6-2 6-2. Mayer may have quirky slices and misdirection plays, but Murray has more of them, and much more. That was enough Ashe for me, and I hastily retreated to the field courts.


On my way, I passed a plaque (see photo) in honor of Slew Hester, who got the National Tennis Center built. A closer look at the photo reveals that the third name under the legend “CITY OF NEW YORK” is that of the then borough president of Queens, Donald Manes. Manes memorably committed suicide in 1986, while under investigation for corruption. The “special expediter” cited on the plaque (and one can only guess what services were performed to earn that title), the late Hy Zausner, was the founder of the Port Washington Tennis Academy.


My destination was Court 17, where Andreas Seppi, the twentieth seed, had lost the first two sets to Denis Istomin before taking the third. These two have gone to war before. Istomin beat Seppi in the first round of last year’s Wimbledon, 8-6 in the fifth. Seppi exacted revenge this year, defeating Istomin, an interesting character, in five sets at both the Australian Open and Wimbledon. Overall, Seppi held a 5-1 lead in the series. The always-interesting Jeff Sackmann notes that these two players are the first pair to go the full five sets in every best-of-five match they’ve played with a minimum of four such matches: “Two pairs of players (Thomas Muster and Albert Costa, and Guillermo Canas and Gaston Gaudio) have met three times in a best-of-five and reached a decider each time, but no two players had ever gone four-for-four.”


Istomin wore neon shirts: first orange (see photo), then yellow, changing his shorts to match (see photo).


Seppi enjoyed the cheers of a voluble Italian rooting section as he broke serve for a 4-2 lead in the fourth set. He served out that set, 6-3, and the players trudged on to yet another fifth set. Istomin dug out of a 0-40 hole to hold serve in the third game and then broke Seppi’s serve for a 3-1 lead. In the next game, Istomin saved three more break points – and then he broke for 5-1. Finally, without much drama, Istomin served out the match in a love game, with the final tally being 6-3 6-4 2-6 3-6 6-1 (see photo of Istomin’s victory celebration). The fifth set was a statistical rout, 31 points to 17, but query what would have happened had Seppi done better than 0-for-6 on break points. Istomin had only three break points, and he won two.


I stayed on Court 17 for doubles, as Jamie Murray and John Peers faced off against Brian Baker and Rajeev Ram. Baker’s hard-luck story of repeated injuries is well-known. His partner, Ram, a practitioner of the one-handed backhand and frequent serve-and-volley (see photo of his backhand volley technique), had seen off the sixteenth seed, Fabio Fognini, in the first round of the singles at a loss of only five games. The American duo’s opponents had not distinguished themselves in singles, which must be especially frustrating for the left-handed Murray, who not only is Andy’s older brother but looks remarkably like him.


This would be a classic doubles match. Unlike the nouveau style, all the players followed serve to net, with the exception of a few times when Baker stayed back on his second ball. The players poached (see photo of Murray reaching for a backhand volley), lobbed, and hit angled drop volleys. Serve was broken only once (though there were nine break points, six held by the team that was to win), when Murray served in the closing game of the first set.


Murray’s serve was a story in itself. He caught his toss on what must have been more than twenty occasions, providing a reminder of Karol Kucera’s famous US Open win over Andre Agassi in 1998. He begins his service motion with his front (right) foot well behind the baseline and then creeps forward with the toss (see photo). Twice, he was called for foot faults. Sitting on the baseline, I could see that the calls were indubitably correct. Another idiosyncrasy is his practice of leaving his right hand dangling when he is the net man. Almost all players hold the throat of the racquet with the non-dominant hand. In fashion news, each team wore a matching tennis outfit, with one variation: the “cool kids,” Murray and Baker, wore black socks (see photos of Murray and Baker).


After Murray and Peers dropped the opening set, they had to save a match point in the second set when Peers served at 4-5 30-40. Murray’s poach with a forehand volley averted the crisis, and the set went to a tiebreak, where Murray and Peers cruised, 7-2. In the third set, Baker saved two break points in the sixth game. There were no further break points on the way to the decisive tiebreak, in which Peers served with five match points, at 6-1, in part because of two excellent service returns he had hit to set up mini-breaks. But Peers double-faulted and then Baker hit a winning service return down the line, so the serve returned to Baker at 3-6. He saved a third match point when Peers missed a service return, but the match ended abruptly when Murray returned serve with a lob that may have been inadvertent but was certainly untouchable. Murray and Peers, who had defeated the Bryan brothers in the Houston final earlier this year, advanced to their first Grand Slam quarterfinal with a 5-7 7-6(2) 7-6(4) victory.


Fatigued from a long day in the heat and humidity, I left for home at 8:15 p.m., missing the ends of two singles matches still underway – the five-set win for Marcel Granollers over Tim Smyczek and Mikhail Youzhny’s four-set dismissal of Tommy Haas – not to mention Ekaterina Makarova’s later upset of Agnieszka Radwanska. You can’t see it all when you attend the US Open, but you can see plenty.