By Skip Schwarzman
Before I begin with what I saw Tuesday, at the US Open, two housekeeping notes, of sorts:
First, let me say that I’ve been all but a professional ranter about the “convenience fee” charged by Ticketmaster for US Open tickets (and others), especially in light of how there are fees charged per ticket even when you’re downloading them and printing them yourself. The last I knew, and this was years ago, the USTA saw $60M from the Open. You’d think they could absorb the Ticketmaster fees.
Well, I take it back. Mostly. Full disclosure: I made the most amateurish mistake today by taking my ticket for Thursday and leaving the Tuesday ticket safe in my Manhattan hotel room. But I used my Ticketmaster app once I arrived at Flushing, spoke with a wonderfully helpful fellow named Dustin, and had a ticket waiting for me at Will Call. (I can’t say this would happen if I didn’t have a Ticketmaster account, where my purchases are logged, so keep that in mind.)
Anyway, the $3,741.87 I’ve paid in convenience fees over the years paid off. Kinda. Still … thanks, Ticketmaster.
Next, a slight word of caution about what follows. Sometimes you go to the Open (in my experience) and no matter how hard you try to find matches that catch fire, that have a spark, it eludes you all day. Such was Tuesday. I enjoyed myself, and saw some great points, but no edge-of-your-seat barnburners. It happens. So the commentary is even less match-reporting than I’ve done in the past, and more a series of observations.
(Of course, as I write this as Steve Johnson just won his 5 set match against Evgeny Donskoy, and I didn’t go to that one. Such is life.)
Grigor Dimitrov vs Inigo Cervantes
Folks, high viz clothing is here to stay. At least until next year. Yellow, shocking pink, orange, it’s all on view and all looks like there are teeny LED bulbs inside the clothing. And by the way, the ball kids (some pretty old kids in this group) have it on their kits as well.
Dimitrov is wearing a yellow top that looks more like a runway marker at LaGuardia than anything we’re used to on a tennis court. His shorts have the same coloring on the front, fading to white as the color moves down from the waistband to in front of his quads and inside the thigh.
But he’s displaying another, minor trend that I suspect we’ll see more of: his shorts are virtually sheer where they’re white. I mean, you can’t avoid noticing the color of his undies, they’re just right there. The yellow front maintains decency, but the rear view is, well, quite a view.
Dmitrov wins, 6/2 6/4 7/6(7).
Heather Watson vs Richel Hogenkamp
I’m here to see Watson, and to find a seat for the following match, Nicolas Mahut against Philipp Kohlschrieber. I see three points of Watson/Hogenkamp and two things jump out at me:
- There’s a master’s thesis waiting to be written about why the WTA is filled with players who hit a mostly flat ball, while on the ATP tour juicy spin is the order of the day. Sure, there are exceptions, but for the most part the women hit laser beams and the men make the ball egg-shaped. How come? You’d think that the lower average height of the women would promote using more spin, to let them hit up more to clear the net and then bring the ball down. But no, that’s not how it’s working out these days. I’m at a loss for explanations.
- Watson’s skirt is sheer, like Dmitrov’s shorts. Her kit is wholly coordinated, with some bike short kind of clothing as part of the look so there’s no sense of exposure like with his shorts, but there’s definitely sheer fabric involved. Trend? I’m thinking Yes.
Being a Brit, Watson enjoys no home court advantage, but there are plenty of her countryfolk in attendance, and their support is expressed frequently and (for Brits) rather loudly. There’s no Dutch contingent doing the same for Hogenkamp, however. It must make it tough, the other player is no more at home than you, but she’s got a cheering section.
Watson comes up with some physical problem, though, perhaps nothing more than running out of gas on a hot day, and though she served for the second set she ends up losing in two, cheering squad or no.
I will add that towards the end, as Watson’s exhaustion convinced her that playing a bunch of bet-it-on-one-roll-of-the-dice drop shots was the way to go, Hogenkamp ran one down, and flipped it back at Watson who promptly returned it with a netcord that dropped straight downwards, winning her the point. Hogenkamp gave the ball a soccer kick in frustration and was given a penalty warning. It was completely unnecessary.
One other thing: it’s nice to see how the slice forehand has become a staple of the pro game. It’s partially a response to players wanting to hit the ball with an open stance, but can’t when on the dead run, and they’re less comfortable with the front foot crossing as they hit. It lets them get the racquet face pointing back into the court while running wide, too (a western grip won’t do that), but the idea that if a slice backhand helps you regain positioning then why not a slice forehand is a good one.
Hogenkamp beats Watson 6-2, 7-5.
David Goffin vs Jared Donaldson
The big draw here is Donaldson, the 19-year-old American currently ranked 122. I’m stunned, however, to see that Goffin is even more slight than I’d ever thought from seeing him on television. He’s almost teeny. It’s amazing. I can barely contain myself from bringing him a plate of pasta on the changeover.
I’m a little underwhelmed by Donaldson, who at this stage appears to be a player in the Robin Soderling mold: banging huge and pretty flat from both sides, tending to stand well back of the baseline, with even bigger serves. Yes, he’s still 19. That bears repeating.
My being underwhelmed only highlights my poor analysis of the situation: I expect Goffin to out-consistency the youngster, and I am wrong. Goffin, perhaps like Watson, seemingly runs out of gas and gets blanked in the 4th set.
Donaldson gets the win vs. Goffin, 4-6, 7-5, 6-4, 6-0.
Bernard Tomic vs Damir Dzumhur
We get good seats in what’s being called the Old Grandstand (there’s a new one), which has been a favorite court of many for a long time. On this hot day, we grab seats in the shade and settle in, hoping to see some of what makes Tomic such a unique player.
Sadly, what we got was a display of miserable, contemptuous tennis. Earlier, I’d watched Alexandr Dolgopolov start his match against David Ferrer, and as Tomic’s match began, I thought I was seeing some of the same: a player who has to have things be interesting in order to remain engaged in the point, let alone the match. But Dolgopolov, who retired after only 11 games, plays with joy and pleasure. Tomic exudes disdain for any show of real effort. Dzumhur made the dropshot a major part of his attack (sic), and it’s obvious why: not only does Tomic not have great wheels (not the only player like that), but he’s also not interested in trying to run down balls. He’d make an outrageous shot and follow it up with the most lackadaisical, no footwork, no look stroke you’ve ever seen. And he’d walk away from that kind of result with nary a care or disappointment in his bearing. Had that been the only match of the day, I’d have insisted we get our money back.
Aussie Aussie Aussie, Oy Vey Oy Vey Oy Vey.
Dzumhur gets the W against Tomic 6-4, 6-3, 4-6, 7-6 (Tomic lost the breaker 0-7!) Andrew says, “If this were baseball we’d be yelling, ‘Yer a bum!’ as he walked off the court.”
Dominic Thiem versus John Millman
I wanted to see both of these guys. Thiem for the obvious reasons (having never seen him live and up close), and Millman because he’s having the summer of his career. No, he’s not won titles, but he’s posted his most consistent results at age 27, with a 2016 record of 19 wins and 18 losses.
Millman turned pro in 2006 without fanfare. It’s fair to call his career one of a journeyman to date, though not the strongest of those, either. His career W/L is 26-34. Not great, but not horrendous; it does means that pre-2016 he was 7-16, keeping in mind that these are main tour match records. But consider his earnings, in round numbers: $416,000 this year and $917,000 for his career. That’s just crazy. Almost half of his entire winnings have come in the most recent part of his 10 year career.
Much has been made about the recent increases in prize money at the tour’s big events, and overall it’s all good news. But the supporting tours – Challenger, Satellite, WTA125, and ITF – pay a pittance of the main tour money.
Actually, “pittance” might be overstating the case.
Take an ITF Men’s Circuit $10,000 level tournament: if you divide the prize money equally amongst a 16 player field (and of course the money is not divided equally), it comes to $625 a player. For a week. With travel. And lodging, And, oh yeah, eating. Compare that with the PGA, which is the most usual compare/contrast sport for tennis given that it’s also an individual sport and played professionally worldwide: as of today, the 66th-ranked PGA player has made $1,524,160 in 2016!
That might be worth two exclamation marks.
Clearly, golf has done something right where tennis has done something wrong. Forget changing the scoring, eliminating five set matches, putting players’ names on the back of their shirts, or multi-colored courts; if we want to see the best tennis possible, and for it to attract top young athletes and viewers, too, then we need a competition structure that lets players earn a living while developing their game.
Facing Millman was the polar opposite of his story, a highly-touted young player who is delivering the results forecast by all those who oohhhh’d and ahhhh’d over him on his debut. Thiem is seeded 8th at the Open, and watching him play against Millman it’s easy to see why: during the warmup…eh, not much to separate them. Once someone was keeping score: a very different story. Thiem cracked every ball, usually with super high RPM topspin. (And again, totally unlike almost every WTA player.) Millman’s forehand and serve penetrated, but his backhand hasn’t anywhere near the potency of Thiem’s (rightly) vaunted shot, and Thiem’s footwork is sufficiently better and quicker than Millman’s, getting him into position to hit it more assertively, more often.
The distance between the top 10 and No. 66 was evident.
Yet we might have walked away from this match too soon. It went five sets. Maybe I didn’t give it enough time to percolate. Thiem and Millman just played in Cincinnati, where Thiem won 7-5, 6-1. Did Millman come into this match having seen that he could do better, and how? Maybe I saw Thiem’s hot hand and when it cooled off Millman was right there, steady-as-she-goes. Clearly Millman didn’t fall away, he hung in and took advantage of whatever was available. While the last set’s score makes it seem like it was routine, and again I didn’t see it, you have to think Millman’s disappointed that the biggest win of his career was close enough to taste, but didn’t pan out.
Thiem moves on, beating Millman 6-3, 2-6, 5-7, 6-4, 6-3.
I’m back at the Open on Thursday. Second round matches and some doubles, here I come.