I’m going to do a longer post on my trips to the US Open, but I’ll just stick to yesterday’s final for now.
I’ve been to quite a few sporting events — mostly hockey games. My favorite team, the Philadelphia Flyers, are known for having an incredibly rabid (and obnoxious) fanbase. I went to a game at the Wells Fargo Center where the Flyers came back from a 2-0 deficit against the Chicago Blackhawks to win in overtime. With the Flyers chasing a playoff spot after a lackluster start to the season, the atmosphere was absolutely incredible when the captain, Claude Giroux, tapped in the game-winning goal. (I do feel sorry for the lady in front of us, whose shirt was the unfortunate landing spot for a cup of beer tossed into the air by our drunk, excited neighbor.)
I’ve been to a lot of games like that, and I’ve been to some amazing tennis matches, too. But being there for the US Open final between Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic was in a whole other league. The crowd was living and dying with everything happening on court. I’ve never experienced that kind of virtually unanimous support and excitement at a sporting event. I could feel, too, as I screamed my lungs out cheering for Federer enough to lose my voice by midway through the second set, that he needed the support against Djokovic’s impenetrable tennis. You could feel that it was keeping him going. As Federer later said, it was thrilling. I certainly had goosebumps, and I’m as jaded as they come. Because of how special that experience was, the outcome stopped mattering to me.
Q. You played an outstanding match. You were playing so well. Is there consolation in that, or just disappointment that you weren’t able to maybe convert some of those break points and come away with a win?
ROGER FEDERER: Yeah, I mean, there is definitely consolation it’s been a great stretch all the way for many months now.
Also to receive the crowd support that I did receive. I don’t consider that normal. I always say. Say like it feels like you’re winning, as well, but I felt like I was sort of up in the score, they kept me going, and that’s definitely one of the reasons I still keep playing, because of these moments, goose bump moments. It’s great.
Yeah, surely I am very disappointed. Like you said, I had my chances on my racquet. I should never been down in the score the way I was. But Novak did a great job of fending them off, and, you know, all of that.
It was a tough night, but still, I don’t know, thrilling at the same time.
Q. With the half roof, was it louder than you have ever heard? Different noise at night now with the crowd?
ROGER FEDERER: Hard to say. They were unbelievable tonight. Were they better than ever? Possibly.
Was it louder than ever? Maybe. It was unreal.
As for the guy who actually won the tournament, I’m sure it sucked for Novak Djokovic to go up against that. But he kind of got the last laugh, taking home the trophy and all. Djokovic handled himself flawlessly in that tough spot. He not only didn’t cave under ample Federer pressure on his serve, but he also resisted the urge to antagonize the unfriendly crowd — something that’s probably not helped him on his quest to be loved by tennis fans in the past. By ignoring that the crowd was so heavily partisan, he earned some goodwill with those fans, as hard as it is to believe from watching the match. But most importantly, he won.
— Basia (@BasiaNF) September 14, 2015
I think the biggest mistake to make in observing these matches is to think that the crowd “hates” Djokovic. Sure, there were people in that crowd who despised Djokovic. There were people in the crowd, too, who despised Roger Federer. There were people behind me yelling “SERBIA” during Federer’s service motion, or shouting “FINISH HIM” when Djokovic had a break point in the fourth set. There were chants of “NOLE! NOLE! NOLE!” at inopportune times. It happens. It happened a lot against Djokovic more than usual that night. But most of the people around me just really, really wanted Federer to win because his opportunities are slipping away. Djokovic fans will feel that way someday when he begins to fade, and he will pick up plenty of the kind of desperate support that comes only late in a popular player’s career.
The crowd support was indeed personal, but it was personal in supporting Federer. The crowd would’ve behaved exactly the same with an entirely different opponent standing in the way of Federer’s 18th Grand Slam title. On a broader scale, I think tennis needs to get over worrying about what’s happening in the stands. If the tennis community wants the sport to thrive, more casual fans will be there acting like they do at any other sporting event — like idiots sometimes. Let’s take an example from Djokovic and not make it a bigger story than it is. And cheers to Novak, because I like him more today than I did before. His greatness on-court speaks for itself.
1. Tennis can be heartwarming.
For what it lacked in star power (i.e. Serena), the ladies final more than made up for it in charm and happiness. This may have been the feel good match of the year — even for Roberta Vinci, who took her loss to teen roommate and countrywoman Flavia Pennetta as the victory that it was, in the larger sense. While much has been made of the Serena-Venus relationship, this was a good reminder that many of the players on the tour do grow up together, so while their matches may not be as fraught as the intra-Williams ones, they have their own difficult dynamics to navigate.
Not only was the personal dynamic between the two finalists compelling, but the variety each of them brought to the style of play was also fun to watch. The slicing and net play that Vinci employed against Serena wasn’t quite as spot on during the final, but she hung tough in the first set, until Pennetta found her range on her groundstrokes. While we will likely return to regular programming (i.e. power tennis) in the near future, I enjoyed seeing the variety that Vinci, in particular, brought to the final.
That Flavia Pennetta got to call it a career (at the US Open, she is playing the rest of the year) with a Grand Slam trophy gives the ladies’ tournament a storybook ending — even if it isn’t the one that everyone thought it would be two weeks ago. Hopefully she can use some of the prize money to disabuse Fabio of his jorts.
Just leanin’, wearing jorts and a backpack. pic.twitter.com/PgYZaO02Mz
— Courtney Nguyen (@FortyDeuceTwits) September 12, 2015
2. Tennis can be thrilling.
It’s not all that often that one can call a four set match thrilling — but the men’s final certainly was that. Even though Novak in the end was able to hang on with some superlative shotmaking (those lobs!), Roger had more chances to take a lead in this match than in their two Wimbledon finals. But, like at Wimbledon, Novak’s steadiness and Federer’s own flat play prevented Federer from taking momentum after winning the second set. That Novak was able to survive and push forward speaks to his confidence level and ability to avoid errors when it matters. Roger, on the other hand, will have more to chew on after this match. He got into far too many crosscourt backhand rallies with Djokovic and was repeatedly beaten as he lunged in the forehand corner — but seemed unable or unwilling to escape that pattern. Despite not imposing his game, he had plenty of opportunities to break Novak late in the third set and possibly serve it out, and chances to even up the fourth set right up until the very end. While in the past two Slam finals they’ve played, Djokovic’s survival rested more on his superlative play in key moments, tonight Federer’s execution was more often than not to blame. But what he lacked in accuracy, Federer more than made up for in fight — continually pushing Djokovic and creating break chances, which made for a compelling match from the first point to the last.
It isn’t all bad news for Federer. He walks away from the last two Grand Slams losing finals to the one player he probably can feel ok about losing to right now. He has improved upon last year in just about every aspect of his game, and 2013 seems like a universe ago. I’m sure he’d rather talk about SABR than retirement any day. Surely, he will be disappointed at the chances he let slip away, but, ever the optimist, he will also be pleased that he is continuing to create opportunities for himself.
As for Djokovic, the win machine rolls on in dominant fashion and shows no sign of stopping anytime soon. He didn’t always play his best, but he just kept going until he won the last point. His place in tennis history is only growing and that will only win him more fans going forward, and deservedly so. He’s answered every question but one: did he actually check Boris’ social media before he hired him?
3. Crowds cheer for their favorites.
Everyone has their favorites — that is what makes sports compelling. Apathy doesn’t sell tickets, and over the past two weeks, thousands and thousands of people came to the US Open to see…Novak Djokovic. He is an extremely popular champion in his own right. What he is not…is more popular than Roger Federer. I find the “nobody loves Novak” storyline doesn’t fairly reflect the fans who do support him, nor does it accurately portray his reality. A dominant number one player is going to face crowds going for the underdog, and crowds going for an older champion making a run — even a non-Federer one. Tonight he faced someone who was both…and Roger Federer, to boot.
As a long time tennis watcher, I can fairly say that no champion has ever received the level of public support Roger Federer has. Part of it is the aesthetic appeal of his game — as tennis become more a game of endurance and movement, an aggressive player whose game relies on making winners is going to get cheers. Part of it is the painstaking effort he has put into his relationship with his fans and with the tennis community. And part of it is just because — love him or hate him, it is undeniable that Federer has made an emotional connection with a large number of fans that defies rational or scientific explanation. It just is.
I don’t know how the men’s final sounded on TV or how the commentators described the crowd noise. It is absolutely true that the crowd was vociferously pro-Federer. And given that he was fighting off break points from the first game, there was an edge of desperation to it at times. But what can’t be discounted in accounting for crowd behavior is the dynamic between Federer and Djokovic fans during the match — many of the pro-Federer cheering surges were part of a competitive dynamic between the fanbases. And I would venture to guess that some — though I’m sure not all — of the less sporting cheering (which happened regularly on both sides, it must be said, though the larger Federer faction’s was proportionately louder) came from the intra-crowd enmity as much as anything. Also, people were waiting for hours in the rain and imbibed (many concessions ran out of alcohol and food). It was a tense and charged up atmosphere before the first ball was struck and only grew as the match went on. At least that is what I saw on the ground (and by on the ground, I mean in the nosebleeds).
In the end, it’s a sport and fans have favorites — a crowd that applauds everything equally and genteelly is long gone in the rearview window of tennis history. So, I’m not sure that the hand-wringing about fan partisanship makes sense. No one would question it if the crowd were cheering for an American player, since home team advantage is expected, nor would anyone in another sport bat an eye over tonight’s crowd allegiances. Here, I’d say it’s the proportions more than the partisanship itself that surprised people — but this has been the case in Federer matches for over a decade, so I’m not sure why it is a surprise now as he plays into his 30s. And I think tennis has moved far enough past its country club days that it can stop scolding crowds for cheering for their favorites rather than just golf-clapping for good play.
(Anyway, Eva Asderaki-Moore had it under control and apparently was calling the lines by herself tonight — she deserves praise for her poise and eagle-eye, but shouldn’t we also be concerned that the linespeople missed that much in a final, no less?)
For what it’s worth, as much as he may seem to rue his not-most-favorite status at times, I’m sure Novak Djokovic is happy with his three Grand Slam trophies in 2015 and ten overall, with the future looking just as bright. If being the villain in tonight’s passion play was the price for his trophy, he wasn’t sad at having to pay it. And, at this stage in his career, the adrenaline of having that kind of crowd support and being in the hunt for titles is what keeps Roger Federer in the game. So, with that in mind, it would be nice if we could spend less time on the “unpopular Novak” and “crowds favor Roger” storylines and more on the incredible tennis that we were lucky enough to see.
4. It’s been a dramatic two weeks.
From the early injury withdrawals and heat illnesses, to Serena’s quest for the calendar year Grand Slam, to Genie Bouchard’s terrible accident, to tonight’s compelling but draining final, it seems that those Nike hijinks were a long time ago. I could use a laugh, and I suspect some of you could too. I know PseudoFed has gotten a lot more glory, but Pseudo McEnroe could tweet this picture of Boris a thousand times, and I’d laugh every single time.
Boris is a walking police sketch let’s be honest. pic.twitter.com/55snDq45jO
— Pseudo McEnroe (@McEnroeTweets) September 14, 2015
For now, I think I am just going to watch this llama video and relax. Until Davis Cup next weekend, clearly.
1. We could all afford to be a little more Italian
My goodness, this women’s final was a turn up for the books, wasn’t it? The end result being…Flavia Pennetta is the US Open champion. Let me repeat that: Flavia Pennetta is the US Open champion. I needed to say it twice, just to confirm in my own head that it’s really true.
I would never, EVER, have predicted this when action was kicking off two weeks ago. Aside from being fully on the Serena train, my upset choices would have been Halep, Azarenka, Kerber or Stosur. There can only be one winner though, and a slam champion is a slam champion. Pennetta earned her place in the tennis history books, and good on her for doing so.
That said, the final was a bit of a snooze tennis-wise. All the action happened in those semi-finals, and it was a great deal of action, so perhaps it’s a big ask that two first time singles slam finalists put on a great show.
What WAS hugely entertaining was how much they both embraced the occasion. Their post match friendliness and wit was beautiful to behold.
When there’s always time for banter pic.twitter.com/JuLpdCAszJ
— WTA Reactions (@WTAreactions) September 12, 2015
Vinci’s slick “I can have the trophy? I played good, no?” was a perfect final word from her after her wonderful post-match interview upon defeating Serena.
Then, Pennetta swept in with the greatest mic drop in tennis history. Retiring, trophy practically in hand, from the sport. There was some confusion, but she will indeed finish the 2015 season before hanging up her rackets.
After a long career fighting at the highest levels, it is great to see a player like Pennetta going out on a high none of us would have expected. If you gotta go, that’s the way to go.
2. Novak Djokovic will not let a SABR get under his skin
Djokovic is the best player in the world. We all know this, but sometimes I feel like I just want to say it over and over again. He is the best player in the world. There are times when he looks unbeatable, like that story about Wawrinka lifting the French Open trophy couldn’t possibly be true. But the fact is, he IS human, he DOES suffer nerves, and occasions (or *cough* crowds) CAN get to him.
That is what made this final all the more impressive. Federer had a very dodgy first set, but really upped his game for the rest of the encounter. The crowd were hugely pro-Federer, although I note Anusha’s measured, wise words about the crowd debate above and will not dwell on this too long. Novak didn’t let it get to him, even though it must surely have been frustrating.
I saw people describing Djokovic as “classless” for fistpumping at the crowd upon winning points – I don’t think that’s fair at all. When a stadium of people are rooting against you, you have two options: 1) go quietly into the night, 2) accept that the crowd are against you, and fight back like you would any other opponent.
That takes presence of mind, great dignity, and bucket loads of class. End of discussion. Everyone chill.
Oh, and Federer used the SABR thingy. And yes, it was kinda cool when he hit winners off it. It’s still not his invention or anything particularly new. But it’s good that he’s mixing up his game and working new things into his repertoire. Clearly, he’s been watching Bartoli matches.
3. This was a really good US Open
Anyone else think this slam was kind of weird but also kind of brilliant?
I feel like the last few days, men’s final aside, were a little bit off. Other than that though, the quality of tennis was generally high and there were some really brilliant encounters to savor. I think it’s fair to assume that Kerber vs Azarenka will not be usurped as the match of the year, unless the WTA / ATP Finals throw up some really amazing matches.
It was nice to see Eugenie Bouchard playing solid tennis again, albeit a shame that a badly lit locker room put an end to her run. It was good to see Kevin Anderson finally break his R4 curse, and make the quarter-finals after a spectacular win over Andy Murray. I was glad Marin Cilic made the semi-finals, even though his last match was hampered by injury and he was barely able to win a game.
Looking back, there were many stories and many ‘moments’ that made this slam a really fun one to follow.
I sincerely hope you all enjoyed it as much as I did, and I hope that our little daily summaries here at The Changeover have been fun and informative.
1. It’s been a tumultuous two weeks for me, for reasons much bigger than the tennis, and I’ll admit to being a bit burned out by it all. I’m so thankful for Amy, Andrew, and especially our new edition Anusha, for keeping things going this fortnight as I translated into my new life in DC.
Everyone has said such beautiful things already, and this post is so long, that I’m going to cop out a bit and just try and sum up what I’m feeling. I hope to write about Flavia this fall, and I wrote about The Djokovic Era at Wimbledon, so this is just for the bullets.
I am heartbroken for Serena, I am ELATED and touched by Flavia Pennetta, I am awed by Novak Djokovic and I am oddly proud of Roger Federer.
I will remember this fortnight for Donald Young’s comebacks, Kevin Anderson’s big moment, the Kerber/Azarenka match, the Sister Act, Mardy’s bravery, Roberta Vinci’s on-court interview, and Flavia’s #micdrop. I will remember Fabio’s upset a little and his jorts a lot. I will remember Eva Asderaki-Moore’s history, and I will always, always remember #blamedrake.
I’ll forget most of it, because that’s just how life works, but I look forward to an offseason of reflection and an Australian Open that will come far-too-soon and yet not-at-all soon enough.
And I look forward to learning things again, and sharing them with you guys, come January.