By Skip Schwarzman
Following from last year’s dispatches from Flushing Meadows, more notes from a day at the US Open. I admit to being an opinionated bastard about pretty much everything, but especially tennis. These are not match reports, but rather commentary regarding what I did see of the matches we attended, and what occurred to me as we watched.
We, in this case, means my friend Graham P and myself. Graham’s from Glasgow, Scotland, and has never been to the US Open before. We’ve known each other for decades, having taught tennis together for years in Oxford, England, where we worked for our common friend Jonathan Markson.
Philipp Kohlschreiber vs Alexander Zverev
I wanted to see Zverev, and Kohlschreiber is always great to watch; steady, competitive, all court-ish, and a fab one-handed backhand. He won’t disappoint even in losing.
The trend towards taller tennis players makes sense if for no other reason than the need to have a strike zone that matches where heavy topspin balls jump. Zverev, all of 6’ 6” (and 18 years old, a big reason to catch a bit of his play), can stand reasonably close to the baseline and handle the high bounces of Kohlschreiber’s juiciest shots. Phillip, on the other hand, is forced to stand further back more often given that he’s 5’ 10”. Or he has to jump, which he does often.
Including on his serve. It appears that he does so only in order to make up for his relatively shorter frame, but Graham notes his penetration into the court is a good 18” more than Zverev’s. Neither of them plays serve-and-volley, but Kohlschreiber’s technique does make it easier for him to pounce on any return that’s short.
On another note: when did they change the rules, and why didn’t anyone tell me? Who knew a fist pump was required in order to collect a point you’d otherwise won? It certainly seems that way watching Zverev. The guy can’t feel good about a winner without the pump. It’s kind of sad in a funny way. Or funny in a sad way. I’m not sure which.
Speaking of serve-and-volley, Alex Z. does it twice and wins with nicely struck, crispy forehand volleys. I don’t know about you, but if almost every time I tried a particular tactic I won the point, and in fewer shots than most other points I won, I’d do it pretty often. Or at least semi-regularly. Clearly I’m in the wrong, as Zverev doesn’t volley a whole lot. *scratches head*
The older German takes the match 6-4 in the fifth, after taking the third 6-0 and dropping the fourth. Credit maturity for the win. At one point Kohlschreiber is serving at ad in, and Zverev runs wide for a forehand and cracks it down the line. And out. For no real reason. Sheesh, kid, hit it back crosscourt and make the guy earn his hold. My guess is he’ll learn. He’s got a lot of game, and while there are plenty of potential potholes in any 18-year-old’s future, his road forward looks to be a promising path.
Kokkinakis, on the court next to us while watching the two Germans, is playing Gasquet and takes the first set. I remark to Graham that better players know that in five set matches there’s time for ebb and flow, and nothing is written in stone as early as the end of the first set. This is entirely unlike my apologizing to Graham on Sunday when, as his doubles partner, I dropped my first service game, at which time he told me there was plenty of tennis to come and we’d have chances to get it back. Graham is often smarter than me.
Mona Bartel vs Tsvetana Pironkova
Yes, Graham is frequently smarter than me, but not about this match, about which we were equally dumb(founded). We joined this battle early in the second set after Pironkova had won the first 7-5. Barthel was totally dis: disengaged, disenchanted, disinterested, disgusted, plus any other use of the prefix dis you can think of. She’d bang a ball (and man, can she crack the cover off the ball) and basically refuse to run for anything. Surely she was going down, and quickly.
She won, 5-7 7-5 6-1. Go figure.
Andrea Petkovic vs Caroline Garcia
I take Graham to the Grandstand to experience a truly great court that’s soon to be demolished. We have to wait for the changeover to get in. He says we should be glad this isn’t the 18 minute Murray/Federer Wimbledon game. We wait for at least 10 minutes. He accepts responsibility.
Petko is a dogged fighter. She doesn’t move like Garcia, or hit the ball with the same ease as her younger French opponent, but she is intensely into every point. Put that together with her obvious intelligence (if you don’t follow her on Twitter, you should) and overall Weltanschauung (worldview), and you have to love that she’s part of the WTA cosmos.
As for her tennis today, it’s hard to understand how she justifies a backhand down-the-line, which misses by a lot, when there’s no way she’ll pull it off. I suspect it’s because like many players today she’s sometimes done it, and the occasional success validates the choice regardless (inaccurately IMO) of the more usual outcome.
(Full disclosure: in her post match interview I think I heard her say she had to concentrate on hitting to Garcia’s forehand. Maybe that informed her shot selection. Still, one has to weigh individual shot selection against keeping the ball in play, no?)
At one point Petkovic comes to the net behind a short ball, having hit a topspin forehand approach (sic). She gets passed. But when the ball goes by her she’s only one step inside the service line. That’ll never work. It does happen a lot today, though, on a number of courts, as players haven’t really learned to balance big mid-court balls with closing out the net. To get to the net you have to hit one ball in what we should call No Person’s Land, but you can’t hit two of ‘em and succeed as a volleyer. (See: Roger Federer’s positioning now that he’s reincarnated Vitas.) If you want to rip a ball and move in you’d better be quick like a bunny to get up there and be well-positioned.
Meanwhile, I’m enjoying this match but having deal with the latest scourge to afflict our fair land: manspread. The guy next to me clearly believes seating is an Oklahoma-land-rush kind of thing, and that whoever claims the most territory first owns it. I don’t mind rubbing thighs a little in theory, really I don’t, but I’ve carefully surveyed the extended boundaries of my seat and they’re being overrun, no two ways about it. This guy would never have made it with the Palestra’s 13” seats.
Plus, and I kid you not, he’s making speaker cell phone calls with his iPad, and holding it up so the other person can see the tennis points! The end of civilization is upon us.
Last Saturday we took Graham to see a Phillies game. When we explained that a bouncing ball to the shortstop was routinely thrown to first base for the out, he asked why the batter bothered to run. My explanation is that it’s the same as getting the ball back one more time tennis, regardless of how poorly you hit it: you never know when they’re going to flub the play. More than once Petkovic jags back a ball off a tough get, and Garcia misses the next shot. “That’s why they run like mad to first base,” become a mantra for the day.
You know the joke about the 500 pound gorilla on the golf course? Tees off on a par 6, hits the green in one. Pulls out his putter. Hits it 600 yards. At this stage in her career Garcia has a bit of 500 pound gorilla in her. Not a whole lot, perhaps just the right amount in that it’s not so much that it can’t be tamed and exploited in her career arc, which would be good. At this moment she isn’t profiting from it, however.
At 5-5 in the third, Petkovic serving at 30-all, second serve, Garcia goes big. Misses. Why, why, why? Momentum is as momentum does. I can understand pressuring a server, making them pay for missing their first serve, but not at the expense of failing to put the ball in play at such a critical juncture.
Garcia also catches her service tosses quite a few times. Five times in one game by my count. Is it me, or has this become a trend? Is Venus Williams the trendsetter? I think so. It’s not a good trend.
Petkovic toughs it out, 7-5 in the third.
Nicolas Mahut versus Sam Querrey
We go out to enjoy Court 17, a court whose construction a few years ago paid homage to the Grandstand in recognizing that bigger is not always better. As, shall we say, more mature players, Graham and I have a soft spot for Mahut stylistically. Beyond that, I think he’s deserving of every good thing that comes his way: no spring chicken yet he’s still working hard on his game, by all accounts is a nice guy, and he’s due a whole bunch of wins just for losing The Big One against Isner.
On the other side of the net is Mr. Laconic. I wish Sam well, but it’s hard to be more excited about his results than he is, which seems to be never. I know that’s not true. Seems that way, though.
After one point won by Querrey I applaud, and call out “Allez!” Graham compliments me on splitting my allegiance.
Querrey rifles a forehand inside out, trying to find Mahut’s backhand. The Frenchman backs up and hits an inside-in forehand, finding some angle to the outside even with the narrow space available, and wins the point. Then he does what any self-respecting club league player knows to do: the walk-away. “Yup. Yeah. I do that all the time. No biggie.” Turning your head away and not looking at the opponent is key to a successful walk-away. Mahut executes perfectly.
Mahut takes it in three, 7-6 7-6 7-5.
Marcos Baghdatis versus Steve Darcis
The first point we see as we arrive at Court 6 is a Darcis serve to Marco’s deuce box. Baghdatis is very unhappy about the in call. Hawkeye is either not on Court 6 or not working; we see one camera next to us marked Hawk-Eye, but no others.
Regardless, it highlights what is, to me, the biggest problem with Hawk-Eye: it’s not on every court. How can we have sport conducted with different rules at the same tournament? I suggest to Graham that if three World Cup matches were held concurrently at one site, and one had instant replay and two didn’t, there’d be riots. He agrees. Case closed. ITF/ATP/WTA: Hawk-Eye on every court or not at all. Get it done.
(This doesn’t even begin to address how better players, more accustomed to playing with instant review on the show courts, are more experienced with using challenges than lower ranked players who’re usually assigned to outside courts. Not fair, not fair!)
Baghdatis retires due to injury. Darcis, coming back from his own injury plagued year-after-beating-Nadal, gets the W and lives to fight another day.
Alize Cornet versus Kurumi Nara
Just as we take our seats, Cornet has gone missing. Oh, of course! She had lost the second set moments before and had to take a bathroom break.
What, players didn’t pee 12 years ago? McEnroe wet his pants in that six-hour Davis Cup match against Wilander? And what about the umpires? They don’t get bathroom breaks, and they’re on court just as long as the players.
I can’t say that’s what made the crowd anti-Cornet, but that’s definitely the vibe. Alize clutches her left thigh, stretches her right leg, two times or more walks around on her right ankle as if she’s twisted it, generally looks as if she’s about to faint, and plays lights out points time and again. I know some people find that amusing, or entertaining, but to me it’s bush league stuff. I’ll give her this: she is a tough competitor, with great ball control and a wide variety of shots (she hits some gorgeous slice forehands to reset points), but she demeans her talents with her antics.
Nara prevails 2-6 6-4 6-4. They share a warm-ish embrace at the net.
We’re out of there at 10:15 PM. That’s enough for one day. We’re back tomorrow with both day and night tickets. Doubles day.