A Day at the US Open

I was incredibly excited to attend the US Open when I was in New York last week.  After attending the French Open back in 2010, I thought I knew what to expect at a major tournament, but it was a constant sensory overload of tennis, in a really great way.  I talked some coworkers into going with me, and we took work off on Tuesday to watch a full day of action.  I arrived before the gates opened so that I could save front row seats on the grandstand court (the third largest court), because it promised some of the best early matchups.

First we saw former world #1 Ana Ivanovic take on Elina Svitolina.  Since this was the second day of the tournament and still the first round, most of the matchups featured seeded players against heavy underdogs.  Ivanovic played well and won in straight sets (6-3, 6-2), and later on in the tournament she’d make it to the quarterfinals before losing to Serena Williams (who I expect to win the tournament today).

Just like my experience the weekend prior in Cincinnati, it was so much fun sitting so close to the action from the baseline.  Fortunately some colleagues saved our seats so that in between matches I could walk around the grounds.  I was able to see lots of matches being played on every side court, including Tomas Berdych (ranked #7, and eventual semifinalist), Ivo Karlovic (used to be ranked in the top 20, but really interesting to watch because he’s almost 7-feet tall), and former world #1 Lleyton Hewitt practicing and cracking jokes.

We hustled back to the grandstand court to watch Frenchman Jo Wilfried Tsonga (ranked #6 in the world) take on Karol Beck.  Tsonga is an imposing figure, but also a crowd favorite due to his demeanor and sense of humor.  He won his match in straight sets and looked quite dominant.  It was disappointing that he’d be upset in the next round, but it was likely due to a knee injury that had been bothering him this summer (he pulled out of the Cincinnati tournament due to rest the injury before the US Open).

Next, we headed into Arthur Ashe Stadium, the largest tennis venue in the world, just to go in and see where are actual seats were located.  Ashe is such a huge stadium, that it’s really not a great place to watch tennis, because you’re just too far away from the action.  Fortunately, buying a ticket for the stadium gives you access to all the other stadiums and grounds, so early in the tournament, very few people are in Ashe, since it’s more fun to see the action closer on the other courts.

I was really happy we popped in though, because I got to watch Andy Roddick play for a bit.  Roddick announced the next day that he would be retiring from professional tennis after the US Open, so this was the last time to see him play.  Roddick eventually lost in the 4th round, and he’ll always be known for a career that was good, but not great, having never led US tennis like his predecessors, Andre Agassi and Pete Sampras.  Roddick was just never as good as his contemporary greats, like Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal.  Still, Roddick is a hall-0f-famer, and one of the coolest things about his career was his commitment to playing for his country in the Davis Cup, a yearly tournament that pits nation against nation.  Erik and I travelled down to Birmingham, Alabama to see the US play Switzerland in the Davis Cup in 2009, and we saw Roddick, James Blake, and the Bryan Brothers dominate. Also, Roddick and I are BFFs after we hung out at the GQ Super Bowl party, so I’m sad to see him go.

I made it a point to stop and watch a match on every single court throughout the day and here are some of the highlights from the day session:

  • American Sam Querrey, playing on Louis Armstrong (the second largest court) lost the first set but eventually won.
  • Juan Monaco (#11 in the world) played an epic five-set match against Guillermo Garcia-Lopez, which we watched until its conclusion.  After dropping the first two sets badly to Monaco, G. Garcia-Lopez (who we began calling G. Ga-Lo, say it aloud a few times to get it) fought back to win the next set and then took set four in a tiebreak.  The crowd was really into it, with lots of Spain vs. Argentina flair, and when the fifth set went to a tiebreak, we were on our feet.  Garcia-Lopez, the clear underdog, won, which made the match even more fun.  The US Open is the only grand slam tournament that lets the final set be decided by a tiebreaker.  The other tournaments make the players continue to play it out in normal format (which can lead to crazy long matches like this), but the US Open doesn’t do that to help (TV) scheduling.
  • Seeded American Christina McHale losing to Kiki Bertens in the last match of the night.
  • Alexandr Dolgopolov (seed #14) playing young American Jesse Levine in five sets.  Late in the evening I had yet to make it over to the brand new Court 17, a small circular stadium with a really fun vibe, so I literally sprinted over when I learned (via the awesome US Open phone app) that Levine had surprisingly won the first two sets and was up two breaks in the third set (4-1).  You can only enter the courts during changeovers, which occur after odd-numbered games have been played, so I barely got inside before the match had a chance to conclude.  Since it was the last scheduled match on Court 17 that night, I was relieved that I hadn’t missed my chance.  Little did I know that the match was hardly close to over.  Dolgopolov broke back and won the next five games to take the third set 6-4.  He then won the next two sets to pull out the victory, to a stunned crowd.  It got pretty intense with the fan interaction since it was late in the evening (and clearly people had been drinking), and there was a great deal of heckling both players, as there was a lot of people rooting for the American but many others rooting for the more accomplished Ukrainian.  I felt horrible for Levine after that loss, since he had a big upset in the palm of his hand and it disappeared mainly due to Dolgo stepping up his level of play significantly and playing with reckless abandon successfully.
  • Nicolas Mahut (of the marathon five-set Wimbledon match linked to above) took Philipp Petzschner to five sets but eventually lost.  Mahut sure must love that the US Open lets you play that fifth set tiebreak!
  • American Vania King fell in straight sets to Yaroslava Shvedova.  We were rooting hard for King, who is a college friend of one of our coworkers, but she couldn’t compete with her opponent’s power.  King excels more in doubles.
  • #14 seed Maria Kirilenko easily dispatched Chanelle Sheepers
  • Former world #1 Jelena Jankovic had no trouble beating Kateryna Bondarenko
  • We only got there in time for the last few games, but it was exciting to watch young Americans Jack Sock and Steve Johnson defeat the #1 doubles team of Max Mirnyi and Daniel Nestor.  After losing the first set badly, the US duo won the second set in a tiebreak and get a couple breaks to win the third set 6-2.  The small crowd that had found the match over on Court 4 were lively, cheering on the upstarts.  Mirnyi and Nestor are probably two of the best dozen men’s doubles players ever, but have been around the block at ages 35 and 40, respectively.  Sock and Johnson would unfortunately lose in their next match, but it was a huge win regardless.   Sock, playing in his first US Open as a 19-year-old wild card, won his first two singles matches, upsetting a seeded player in the process, before losing to another top seed in a hard-fought match.  Johnson, playing in his second US Open, also won two matches before losing to a seeded player in the third round.  Expect big things from Sock (and maybe Johnson) in the future.
  • In a battles of the Czechs, Andrea Hlavackova defeated Klara Zakopalova
  • I actually saw bits of all three matches on Court 7.  Ivo Karlovic (referenced above) lost to Jimmy Wang (who is a full foot shorter than him), Dominika Cibulkova (seeded #13) defeated Johanna Larsson (who I saw in Cincinnati), and Marcos Baghdatis topped Matthias Bachinger in five sets.
  • Stanislas Wawrinka (who I’ve now seen play three times (Davis Cup, Cincinnati, and now)) defeated Sergiy Stakhovsky

One nice thing about a day session ticket at the Open is that you can stay through the night session.  During the first week of the tournament, there are so many matches to be played that the evenings always have matches happening on the side courts.  Later in the fortnight, the night session only features a couple matches on Ashe, so I took advantage of the opportunity and stayed on the grounds until there were only employees left.

I hung out behind the ESPN broadcast booth, which was on the air until 11pm, and I got to meet Hannah Storm, Brad Gilbert (who signed my hat), and Pam Shriver (who used my DonorsChoose.org pen to sign some programs for the other 3 fans that were still there.  I made Hannah laugh and had a nice Purdue vs. Notre Dame exchange with her.  On that note, I took one more stroll around the grounds and headed back to the train.

It was such a great experience, fun to go with some of my great coworkers, and I hope to do it again next year if my work schedule allows.  Two grand slams down, two to go!

Jo Tsonga warming up.  I love the shirt.


Ana Ivanovic


Ivanovic serving



Ivo Karlovic, all 6’ 10” of him


Tsonga during his match




Lleyton Hewitt warming up


Looking at the grounds, you can see a few of the side courts and Court 17 in the distance


Halfway to our seats at Arthur Ashe.  Roddick looks so tiny down there!


American Sam Querrey


Jelena Jankovic (in pink)


My colleague Dave at the Court of Champions walkway


Vania King


Maria Kirilenko




Jack Sock (right) and Steve Johnson with the huge doubles upset!



Daniel Nestor (foreground) and Max Mirnyi


Jesse Levine


Alexandr Dolgopolov, who makes same crazy faces when he hits the ball (and always gets some air)



Good night, Billie Jean King National Tennis Center


No comments: