Wednesday, September 11, 2013

The Rearview Mirror: The 2013 US Open

by Savannah

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via Elsa/Getty Images North America)

In a bruising conclusion to tennis's Grand Slam season, Rafael Nadal overcame Novak Djokovic in four sets, 6-2, 3-6, 6-4, 6-1, to win the U.S. Open. The turning point in the match came in the eighth game of the third set, when Djokovic failed to convert a triple break point after Nadal had slipped and fallen. When asked how he kept his nerve in the moment, Nadal said, "I was sipping on Cava back in Mallorca, as I am wont to do, when I was startled by a passing lark. In the moment I dropped my glass, and it clattered upon my tile floor, yet did not shatter. And I said to myself, 'Rafa, did the glass break?' And then I said, 'No, Rafa, the glass did not break.' And then I said, 'Rafa, is Rafa not stronger than glass?' And then I said, 'Yes, Rafa. Rafa is stronger than glass.' And that's when everything changed for me."
Quote found on

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via Clive Brunskill Getty Images

The conversation has changed. I read a lot of comments about how dull the 2013 US Open was and asked myself what tournament they were watching? It couldn't be the one I was privileged to see that ran from August 26 to September 9 2013. A tournament that saw the death throes of US Mens tennis even as US women are poised to make a big splash in the next three to five years. There may be a kid laboring in a public park somewhere trying to make the best of his game but you can bet the USTA will never find him.

It saw the end of the illusions being harbored in Australia about it's women's tennis (Samantha Stosur) and it's men's tennis (Bernard Tomic).

Victoria Duval US Open 2013 photo 0bdc1462-309d-4f99-80e6-02dd8ba4f87e_zps590129b0.jpg
via Matther Stockman Getty

It couldn't be the tournament that saw a young Haitian American girl named Victoria Duval captivate the crowd on Louis Armstrong Stadium on a cool summer night bringing the crowd screaming to its feet with a masterful dismantling of one of the top women players in the world.

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via Getty Images

It certainly wasn't the tournament that had tennisheads ranting on Twitter about being unable to watch two fifteen year old girls, a young Croatian named Ana Konjuh and a young American named "Tornado" Alicia Black.

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via Maddy Meyer Getty

The same malcontents wanted to see a kid named Borna Coric play. He's all of sixteen.

Max Mirnyi and Andrea Hlavackova US Open 2013 photo a6594580-6f6d-4390-bb16-2f6e597ddaff_zpse331eb95.jpg
Robert Deutsch, USA TODAY)

Not only did Andrea Hlavackova win the Mixed Doubles title with Max Mirnyi but she had the audacity to turn around and win the Women's Doubles title partnering with Lucie Hradecka.

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Matthew Stockman Getty Images

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via David Cummings AP

Adding insult to injury a couple of geezers named Leander Paes and Radek Stepanek won the trophy most of the US commentators had already given to the Bryan twins.
An aside. The USTA really needs to rethink the demands put on US players by the US Open series. As you know the Europeans only come for the Premier or Masters events so it falls on US players to pick up the slack and bring in paying customers. The Bryans, loyal to their Federation had played a lot of tennis coming into the US Open. They did the best they could do.

But that's an aside.

I don't like to write the Grand Slam reviews right away because when they're over, especially when this one is over, there is such a let down. For two weeks there was wall to wall tennis. Two and a half if you count the Qualifying event which is now streamed. There are tournaments this week and Davis Cup at the end of the week but it's hard to get too enthusiastic right after a Slam ends.

Not writing right away also gives you time to think. And I kept coming back to these people who kept saying that the US Open was a bust. I tried to see how they could say that after everything that happened but I realized what was motivating them. An era has died. The final nail was hammered into the coffin of the tennis of the 1970's, 1980's, 1990's and early 00's.
It's gone. There will always be serve and volley but it's not the only way to play any more. The iconoclasts of this new era aren't wedded to the courts and play they demanded. The racquet's won't let them live in the past. And not everyone is happy about it. I never thought I'd see players sliding on hard courts but they are right? It's going to change the hard court game. Has changed it. Our players can't slide on dirt let alone a hard court. It's not supposed to be done is it?

You hear the nostalgia for the old days in the commentary booth, especially when you're listening to the men and women considered the top of the heap in the United States. They can't analyze what's going on on court because they're too busy trying to make the viewer see the play through forty year old lens. What is happening on court is incomprehensible to them so they joke among themselves, talk about incidents that happened when they were in their prime, anything but describe the modern tennis game.

There are exceptions. Chanda Rubin and Taylor Dent are excellent commentators but the only way you heard them was if you watched online streams. I don't mean to slight any of the Tennis Channel commentators but I don't have that channel so I can only go by what I had access to. Chanda and Taylor have no problems talking about the modern game and breaking it down so even those who think they know it all see the game in a different light. That is what commentary is supposed to be about.

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Jaime L. Mikle/Getty Images

An old sports show in the United States had a slogan that has now become a cliché. During the opening credits the narrator, Jim McKay, would talk about "the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat".

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via Getty

To see grown men and women leap for joy because their hard work, their physical pain, and yes their loneliness and their sacrifice has not been for nothing is something that brings tears to the eyes of many tennis fans, especially this one. When you have two players who have been maligned, called cheats, malingerers, accused of not being loyal to the sport that has made them rich, when you see them come back from what could have been career ending injuries and illness and despite all the noise focus on the goal they've set for themselves and fight through seven matches to win, this is what people pay to see, want to see. It's this that makes tennis great.

It's not treason to cheer for a player from another country. It's not being divisive to point out the way some players are treated. These arguments are made by those who are upset that tennis has moved out of the country clubs of the United States, Britain and Australia and into the world. Tennis has been embraced by the world and it's time for those who ruled in the past to realize the parade has moved on and that they need to get over it. It's you who have to adjust not the rest of the world. The era of the player who rolls out of bed and onto the court is over. If that's the kind of player you want to create fine. They can play each other in what amount to second tier tournaments.

The rest of us will cheer for who we like when we like and how we like. Hopefully one day you'll join in the fun.

End Note

I haven't forgotten the other matches and players. Here is a list of the winners I haven't listed above.

Boys' Doubles
Kamil Majchrzak / Martin Redlicki
Girls' Doubles
Barbora Krejčíková / Kateřina Siniaková
Wheelchair Men's Singles
Stéphane Houdet
Wheelchair Women's Singles
Aniek van Koot
Wheelchair Quad Singles
Lucas Sithole
Wheelchair Men's Doubles
Michael Jeremiasz / Maikel Scheffers
Wheelchair Women's Doubles
Jiske Griffioen / Aniek van Koot
Wheelchair Quad Doubles
David Wagner / Nick Taylor


Jon Wertheim dropped a bit of insider information that seems to have gone unremarked upon.

Off the court during the U.S. Open, a fierce battle was fought between the WTA and four "joint events" (outside the Slams) that disburse equal prize money. While the purses are equal at these events, under a seldom-mentioned agreement, the WTA repays the tournaments for the shortfall in commercial benefit compared to the ATP. The terms of that agreement were renegotiated last week. According to multiple sources, the agreement is close to being finalized. (Discuss: Does this not give the lie to equal prize money? I can pay my kids the same allowance of $10 and technically say it's equal wages, but if my wife then reimburses me $4 because one child does fewer chores, is it disingenuous to claim parity?)

The answer is yes, it's disingenuous.

I also wonder why not much attention has been paid to this arrangement by fans or media. It's always possible that I missed some commentary but I think this is a pretty big deal, especially since the WTA is going to be based in Asia for most of the remaining season.

That alone deserves a full column of it's own. I just wanted to plant that seed in your mind.


Karen said...

Savannah, I know you are a fan of the modern game, but when one of the proponents of said modern game complains excessively about what the modern game has done to his body & when everyone talks about how hard it is to play on hard courts, what do you make of said individual playing a 54 shot rally on hard courts? Is that the modern game? Is this what fans are supposed to sit and watch and be entertained by and then have to listen to players complain about the struggles with their health?

When Serena Williams says that moving from clay to hard courts is not a difficult thing to do because of the slowness of the courts, how is that beneficial to players who want to have a long and fulfilling career?

There should be variety in tennis. Frankly, to my mind if the USTA wants to ever have its male players compete and win big titles, then they need to create a surface that is suited to their playing style. Why not create an advantage for your style of tennis? Why should the USTA continue to go along with the rest of the world and slow down its surfaces. Who does it help in the end, certainly not its own players.

As for the issue of equal prize money and backdoor agreements, someone needs to show Stacey the overnight rankings for the women's USO final as compared to the men. For 2 years running they beat out the men in terms of ratings. Maybe she should take that to the bargaining table the next time around

Savannah said...

Karen I would agree with you except that the US players aren't even dominant on the surface they're groomed to play on. All but one that is. It's like that woman said when we were leaving the Taylor Townsend Qualifying match: American players are weak between the ears. They don't have the drive and determination players from other countries do.

I would add that they're told they're stars before they've done anything on the main tour. They come to the court with no idea how to create point or think their way through a match. They make beautiful shots but they don't have beautiful games.

The dangers of hard courts aren't new. It's just that players are talking about it more and are less willing to sacrifice their bodies playing on concrete.

The other reason the Europeans don't come to the States until or unless they have to goes back to the USTA's attempt to force them to play more hard court tournaments to try and give US players an advantage. The resistance has been high since then.

I urge you to read the John and Patrick McEnroe interview done just before the US Open and then read the one Chris Evert and Cliff Drysdale did the day before. The difference in outlook is stunning and is why I kind of cut Chris some slack unless she goes wayyyy over the edge. Once you read that interview you can't listen to him call a match. He doesn't want to know about the modern game and is acting as if all he needs to do is ignore it and it'll go away. That's not a good attitude to have.

A 54 shot rally on a hard court? Goes right along with sliding on a hard court. The game will not stay the same. It can't.

Randy Burgess said...

Savannah - nice wrapup with some morsels for thought.

I have read that sliding on hard court is made possible, in part, by the composition of tennis sneakers these days. Don't know how true this is. But I have also read that it's a dangerous skill to master and not something that rec players should contemplate. I've seen Federer, Nadal, and Djokovic slide quite often, but do other top players, e.g. Del Potro, Serena, etc.? I don't remember seeing them slide, but maybe that's because I wasn't watching for it.

It's also interesting to hear you mention Taylor Dent so positively. I did nearly all my viewing via the U.S. Open stream, so I got a hefty Dent dose. What I'd say is that although I'm predisposed to like him as a person, I'm ambivalent about his commentary: he does way too much cliched hyping for a guy who is supposed to be offering veteran insight. Did someone in management tell him it was his job to hype?? By contrast, I watched one match (I forget which) where Jimmy Arias was commenting, and found him not only very low key (what a blessing) but unusually insightful. I wish Taylor would follow that model and leave the BS hype to the likes of Ted Robinson, John McEnroe, etc.

Prize money for ATP vs WTA - now there's a Pandora's box. Hopefully someone will open the lid further & let the craziness out for all to see. But as you know it doesn't help that the WTA is so ass-backwards about how it promotes the sport. And along those lines, one more complaint about Dent: During a men's match I was watching, he actually came out and said he is in favor of on-court coaching and wishes the ATP would follow suit! And that it would be "exciting" or some such to have the coaches miked up as they are on the women's tour! Excuse me while I throw up. One of the reasons I respect Serena is that she is never out there slumped in her chair allowing some man to yap garbage in her ear. She plays on her own power.

Karen: Regarding a surface that would somehow be more suited to the current crop of U.S. men, I don't think I'm following you. What possible surface would make better players out of the likes of Jack Sock, Donald Young, Ryan Harrison, Sam Querrey, and yes, even John Isner? I don't see surface as their problem. Frankly, out of all this lot, I respect only Isner at present - and that because he seems to have finally realized that he must put it all on the line with each match and not play timidly every other match as he was wont to do in the past. I find myself missing Mardy Fish - not that Fish was ever going to win a Grand Slam or even come close, but he was so much more inspiring to watch than a Sock or a Harrison.

Savannah said...

Randy I'm glad I missed all the cheerleading Dent was doing especially about on court coaching which seems to be a fave of the US tennis establishment right now. Maybe because none of our players can think their way out of a paper bag let alone through a set of tennis?

I've never been more discouraged about US prospects. Watching Sloane go through the motions of practicing while her USTAPD coach did nothing but stand and watch what Serena, Patrick and Oracene were up to told me all I need to know about what is going on.

Arias is one of my least favorite commentators. I think he cheerleads for the US players as well.

There seems to be a press blackout of some kind re the WTA and prize money. The best known fan site for the WTA hasn't even mentioned what Wertheim said. Curious.

No doubt sliding on hard courts is dangerous but since she's learned to slide Serena does it every now and then.

As for the surface speed I agree but when your players can't win on it unless they're playing lower ranked players the problem is more than surface speed. US players, except for Serena, performed horribly at the US Open. Isner played so much tennis coming into the Open it was no surprise that he did poorly in New York.

The WTA is in dire straits. I'm going to hold off writing about the women's Asian swing until it's just about over, maybe before Beijing. It's going to be hard to see any matches but I do want to try so I can see how fans turn out there. Up to now it's been horrid.

Karen said...

Randy, a surface that is geared to the US style of tennis, i.e. very fast hard courts was what I was getting at.

Savannah, don't look for stadiums being filled during the Asian swing. As we saw last year, both Tours suffered from empty stands. Frankly, I don't think it has anything to do with marketing etc., I think it has to do with people just not having that extra dollar to pay for a ticket to go watch tennis. Why pay money to see someone that makes you fall asleep during the match.

Word on the street is that Federer must have been paid a hefty sum to actually be playing doubles with a Chinese guy during Shanghai. Frankly, if tournaments want to drum up support they will need to cough up money to get people like Serena, Pova etc to play doubles with the local talent. I think everyone should seriously think of doing that.

Ditto on Jimmy Arias. Insufferable

Savannah said...

One thing I found out during my visit to US Open Qualifying. Li Na is pretty tall, about 5'8". Many of the Asian men aren't that tall and we've seen European men like the Rochus brothers suffer for being short. I'm not saying that Yao Ming has to play tennis but I think it's a problem.

Karen I wasn't aware that Federer was playing doubles let alone doubles with a local man in Shanghai.

You also make a point. A lot is being made in the West of the new prosperity in Asia but not that it is concentrated very narrowly.

That is what makes me wonder why the WTA is putting all of its eggs in the Asian basket and why I'll be paying attention to attendance.

Randy Burgess said...

Karen, a little off-topic, but since you brought Federer's name up - what do you think of his decline? I have a hunch this is not a topic that will interest Savannah, but for better or worse it was one of the lesser storylines at the Open.

My own impression is that whether it's physically or mentally or both, Federer is finally "done and dusted" as Robbie Koenig would say. I could tell the moment play began against Tommy R. that Federer was once again due for a dismal outing. Against Mannarino he had once again seemed sharp - but that was a false hope. The real Federer showed up against Tommy and it was ghastly to see.

I wouldn't be troubled by Fed's decline, except that I not really a fan of any other player just now. I enjoy the occasional match out of the blue - e.g. I was lucky enough to see the first set of Duval-Stosur - and I am very fond of Delpo and a big admirer of Serena. But no man and no woman at the moment has the kind of beauty to his or her game that once drew me to Federer.

Ah well, maybe someone will unexpectedly emerge in either the men's or women's tour and get my attention once more. I can only hope.