A wild day at the US Open

Inexplicably, I managed to snag tickets to the Men’s Semifinals at this year’s US Open. I’m thankful I did, because yesterday was one hell of a day.

I was doubtful there’d be any play, since the weather forecast called for rain all day (due to the remote influence of Hurricane Hanna). But the overcast skies refrained from drenching us, and I found myself back in Arthur Ashe Stadium, ready to watch Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, and Andy Murray battle to get into the finals.

Double bonus when tournament officials let people in the nosebleed seats (like me) move closer to the court — most likely because the forecast kept people from showing up. There was also another possible reason: rumors were circulating that tournament organizers would move one of the matches to the smaller Louis Armstrong Stadium, so the two matches could be played simultaneously, increasing the likelihood that both matches could be completed before the worst of the weather hit. I was desperately hoping that wouldn’t happen, but I put it out of my head for the moment.

First up: Federer vs. Djokovic. I watched as my all-time favorite athlete (Federer, in case you didn’t know by now) took the court to play the guy who crushed him in the Australian Open semis earlier in the year and thrashed Andy Roddick two nights ago.

The crowd was firmly pro-Federer, not only because Federer’s struggles this year have courted the collective sympathies of the crowd, but also because Djokovic had drawn the ire of other players for his frequent (and possibly strategic) injury timeouts. Before his match with Djokovic, Roddick made some hilarious and slightly off-color remarks at a press conference. Djokovic wasn’t amused, and after he had beaten Roddick, he ill-advisedly got a little loose-lipped in front of a full house at Ashe. The crowd, needless to say, found this less than charming and responded appropriately.

Back to the match. I’ll be honest — I didn’t think Federer would win. Since he got knocked down by mono, he’s been a step slower and not as crisp in his ball-striking. And the younger players like Djokovic and Nadal (who has since usurped the #1 ranking) have taken advantage. I thought that Djokovic’s great court-coverage, balance, and deep groundstrokes would overwhelm Federer.

Not only was I pleasantly surprised, but I was treated to a nearly three-hour extravaganza of exquisite shot-making from the man known to Argentinian tennis enthusiasts as “El Reloj Suizo” (“The Swiss Watch”). Federer was sublime. If it weren’t for a brief blip that cost him the second set, Federer might have finished this one off in straight sets. He lost only four points on his serve in the first set and committed only one unforced error in the fourth set.

Djokovic kept things competitive until 5-all in the third set, when Federer broke him for a chance to serve for the set. Then, in the first point of the ensuing twelfth game, Federer pulled off one of the most astounding shots I’ve ever seen…and I got to see it live. I was looking like an idiot, leaping from my seat and screaming at the top of my lungs (and most likely pissing the hell out of the Djokovic supporters sitting next to me).

I won’t bother describing the shot. See for yourself. It’s hard to see at first, but watch the replays, and it will be clear what happened and just how special this shot was…

Former player Todd Martin described the shot as an “overhead lob”. If you play tennis, you’ll know how backwards that sounds. That shot, to me, was the breaking point for Djokovic. Federer served out the set and ran away with the fourth, as Djokovic grew tired and frustrated.

Final score: Federer over Djokovic 6-3, 5-7, 7-5, 6-2. A few highlights of the match can be found here.

Then things got a little interesting. Let me backtrack…

After Djokovic won the second set, an announcement was made that the Nadal-Murray match would indeed be moved to Louis Armstrong stadium. Understandably, the crowd started booing. I joined in. My first thought was this: how the hell are they going to handle all the people that will undoubtedly pour out of Ashe Stadium when this match is over and descend upon Armstrong like a swarm of locusts??

By the time Federer had won the third set, the scoreboard update let us know that Murray had taken the first set, 6-2. Whoa!! That I didn’t expect, especially since Murray is currently 0 for 5 in matches against Nadal. I knew Murray had gotten physically stronger and fitter, but when I saw highlights showing Murray blasting 130 mph serves by Nadal, I was shaking my head in disbelief.

Anyways, I made the decision to stay with the Federer match until its conclusion, and after it was over and Roger gave his post-match on-court interview, I left Ashe and headed for Armstrong, knowing full well I probably wouldn’t get in.

I know the locust simile I just used is cliched, but trust me, it’s entirely apropos. Hundreds of people were crowding around the tiny openings to the gates of Armstrong. Police and tournament groundspeople were trying in vain to stymie the tide. It was pandemonium — yelling, screaming, pleading. The officials did their best by lying and saying that they’d close the gates for good if people didn’t back off.

I decided for the moment to retreat from the mob and watch the match on the giant jumbo-tron screen on the side of the stadium. Murray had a break point at 5-all in the second set, but squandered it, and the set went to a tiebreak. Anyone who knows tennis was likely thinking the same thing: of course Nadal will win this tiebreak and level the match. It’s what he does.

But no! Murray continued to serve well, and his court movement was impeccable. He capitalized on Nadal’s tendency to linger behind the baseline and hit big, flat groundstrokes at extreme angles (a strategy Mardy Fish tried against Nadal in the last round, but couldn’t pull off with consistency). I was amazed that Nadal’s strokes were beginning to falter. Down 6-5 in the tiebreak, Nadal was now serving down a setpoint. Murray returned his serve to the deuce court, Nadal’s backhand side, and Nadal did the unthinkable — he committed an unforced error, sending the backhand wide and giving Murray a two-set lead. I couldn’t believe it.

I decided to take another crack at getting into Armstrong. I was angry that tournament organizers not only put throngs of fans in an awkward position, but also made life difficult for the police and groundspeople. Of course, I was one of the fans trying to push and shove his way into Armstrong, but at the same time, I sympathized with the guards who were pushing back against us, barking and screaming at full volume.

One guy behind me started chanting pseudo-populist slogans about “the people” uniting and refusing to be divided. Funny that he was dressed like a well-to-do middle-aged professional on the cusp of a comfortable retirement.

Trying to squeeze into the gates was uncomfortable, but so much fun. The atmosphere was electric. Somehow, I found it fun to see people unified in complaint and frustration. It helped that they were all as passionate about seeing a tennis match as I was…not something I get too often in my day-to-day life.

Long story short (I know, too late): after about a half-hour, I made it in to Armstrong and took another 10 minutes to find a seat. I sat down and got comfortable, ready to watch Nadal, who I was seeing for the first time live…

Drip…drip…drip…

Oh, hell no! I started to feel droplets on my neck. Around me, I saw umbrellas emerging all over the stadium. Nadal and Murray took their seats as the match was momentarily suspended. Please, let this pass.

But finally, the promised deluge reared its ugly head. The official announcement was made: all matches were cancelled for the remainder of the day. I was crestfallen…

…until they announced that tickets for the day’s matches would be good the next day when the matches resumed! Yay! So I get to go to watch the completion of the Nadal-Murray match today — this time, they have the good sense to put the match in Ashe.

Yesterday was, without a doubt, one of the most fun days of tennis I’ve ever experienced.

I’ll be back with an update after today. Allez Roger!!

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1 comment so far

  1. Juan Bracho on

    Dear Richard:

    As you know I have been teaching for 30 years now and read thousands of tennis articles. Your insight and humor and passion are definitely enjoyable to read. I remember when you were 11 years old asking me the difference between top-spin and slice!!! Call me!


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