One of the things my daughter and I always look forward to is our trip to the US Open. We don't go every year - for instance we didn't go last year, but with the promise of good weather and the chance to see tennis players in a way you don't see them during a match plus the ability to go to any court with the exception of Ashe, who wouldn't take a chance to roam the grounds of the National Tennis Center for free. Of course the food isn't free and is being sold at regular price but you can still have a nice time.
The one thing about going during Qualifying is that the diversity of the tennis audience in terms of age, ethnicity, race and gender is on full display. There are lots of large families too, families that couldn't afford to buy a seat for themselves and their children during the regular event but can take a subway or drive out and let the kids run around without getting lost in a crowd. Of course if everyone got hip to the deal the Qualifying Tournament offers that may be less of an option in the future but for now it's great.
What's so good about Qualifying? Just think about being able to say that you saw Player X during Qualies and knew he or she was going to be good in a few years? Or that so and so walked right by you close enough to say hello to? Or that you were so close to Ernests Gulbis that you know he's fluent in US curse words? Very fluent.
What did I take away? That Tommy Haas' intensity never lets up? That Angelique Kerber has a quirky service motion that I never saw watching her on television? That Svetlana Kuznetsova is not as bulky as she appears on television? That Tomáš Berdych's legs look like they belong to two different people?
I guess it's best to start at the beginning.
We walked in to people heading towards the Grandstand so we followed the herd. Richard Gasquet was hitting with Milos Raonic. I'd never seen either man live so we sat for a few minutes. There was another hit going on on Armstrong so we walked across the connection and found Li Na hitting with Svetlana Kuznetsova. Li is taller than I thought she was. I've seen Sveta in person before. In fact we saw her play when she won the US Open in 2004. She wasn't too happy with how she was hitting yesterday. We watched them until they finished and went out to get something to eat and stretch our legs.
Gasquet and Raonic were still hitting so we stayed on Armstrong and watched Angelique Kerber hit with Agniezska Radwanska. I never picked it up on television but during her service motion Kerber comes to a full stop before hitting the ball. That gave me my theme for the day and any other matches or hits I watched i was paying attention to the service motion. If you're at the pro level you should be able to hit adequate to excellent ground strokes no?
I also noticed that Aga's serve is really all over the map. Sometimes it's very good. At other times you have to make sure that Ana Ivanovic hasn't dyed her hair blonde. Once she's got the ball in play she does her thing. It's getting it in play that is an adventure.
The other player we watched was the young US player Grace Min. I don't know when Grace developed her lower body to the extent she has but her legs, specifically her thighs, are almost on a Berdych level. Too bad she spent the first set defending her second serve since her first serve was shit. We left because we thought the other woman would win and were totally surprised that Min won the match. Either she got her serve together or her opponent didn't know what to do with the gifts she was being given.
Later I saw the end of the Tomáš Berdych and John Isner hit. From his ankles to his knees Berdych's legs look like any athlete's. After his knees these thighs just appear out of nowhere. They're wider than his calves and jut out at a weird angle. I'm sorry I didn't see the whole affair but I did see Isner get mobbed by the kids with the big autograph balls and hang around for a long time.
Tommy Haas hit with Fabio Fognini and I don't think Tommy is quite over Hamburg. As you can imagine these hits can take on the intensity of a real match and this was one. Fabio was trying to keep it light but Haas was having no part of it. I kept thinking to myself that Tommy is 35. If he's working this hard during a hit what will he have left for the tournament.
After Haas and Fognini came Jeremy Chardy and Ernests Gulbis. By the end of the hit I knew more than I ever wanted to know about Gulbis thanks to how hard he was sweating. I mean i now know all I need to know about Ernests. I hope I'm being clear. These two didn't play as intensly as Haas forced Fognini to. They were working on certain shots and talked to each other about what they would practice. I wonder why it is that when people learn a different language they learn the curse words first? He's well on his way to learning English.
On our way to see Taylor Townsend Nicolas Mahut walked by with his team. He's a bit taller than I thought he was.
There was a line to get on Court 11 where Taylor was playing Chanel Simmonds of South Africa. Simmonds had won the first set and Townsend the second. We got seats during the beginning of the third set. Townsend was up 4-1 and with the crowd behind her it looked as if Taylor was cruising into the main draw. And then the sky caved in.
Taylor should've gotten a break for 5-1. Instead she was broken and she went to pieces mentally. She also started, as my mother used to say, puffin' and blowin'. Physically she was spent and mentally she was fried. Her play after that made absolutely no sense. She was still hitting great shots but with no rhyme or reason. We saw Katrina Adams leave after the debacle began but before the end of the match and if we'd had any sense we would've left too. Instead we stayed along with most of the crowd hoping that Taylor could pull herself together. It wasn't to be however.
On our way out one woman was ranting about the mental fragility of US players and that until they developed the mental toughness needed to overcome adversity during a match we wouldn't have any players able to compete at the top levels. Sloane Stephens is still struggling with this along with the US men.
I've you're laboring to breathe in a third set you're not fit. Don't get me wrong. Taylor is quick and can chase balls down early in a match as long as she is able to stand still and move side to side or forward as necessary and on her terms. What her opponents have become wise to is that all they have to do is wait her out, get to a third set. Once there it's done and dusted for Ms Townsend. If you add the mental fragility to the lack of conditioning you're a sitting duck for any opponent who has the patience to wait you out.
With that our day was over. We had a great time and got to see players we don't normally try and see once the tournament has begun or that we only see on television during week two.
I recommend anyone who can to come in for Qualifying.