What we learned from a great two weeks at the Open
The fans came in record droves, the rain didn't come at all, the top seeds won and the Djoker got away. Cleaning out the notebook from a generally excellent 2007 U.S. Open.
• Roger Federer
won the men's title again, playing well when he had to. This Greatest Of All Time (GOAT) discussion is in danger of becoming moot.
• Justine Henin --
and it's no longer Hardenne, Dick Enberg --
finished off a convincing two-week Federer impersonation when she beat Svetlana Kuznetsova
in the women's final.
• After deploying all the right moves during the first six rounds, Novak Djokovic
couldn't catch a break in the final. But saying that he captured the public's affection during this event would be an understatement.
• Though the threadbare "bottom half" of the women's draw lived down to expectation, credit Kuznetsova with winning six straight matches. Still, consider this: she won $700,000 as the runner-up and she only had to beat one top-30 opponent along the way.
• Awfully nice tournament for David Ferrer
. He doesn't play the prettiest tennis, but he grinds, hustles and never quits. Hard not to admire the guy. One could say the exact same thing about Nikolay Davydenko --
at least while there's been no guilty verdict on these match-fixing allegations.
• The good news for Andy Roddick
: he was able to summon perhaps the best tennis of his life -- much better than when he won the title four years ago -- for his quarterfinal match against "Darth Federer," as someone in his camp facetiously called him. The bad news: he was still unable to win a set.
• Speaking of which, I'm not sure I can recall watching a higher quality women's match than Henin-Venus Williams
. The women's game took a beating this tournament, from round one through a lackluster final. But I thought it was largely undeserved. The women's matches committed that cardinal American sin: they didn't look good on television. The majority of the matches were fine, it's just that the featured night matches were usually unsightly blowouts.
• Speaking of hard to recall ... the men's doubles draw was memorably weird. The Bryans lost early. So did Jonas Bjorkman
and Max Mirnyi
. Mark Knowles
and Daniel Nestor
faltered in the final Grand Slam together. Most of the top seeds lost early. In the end, Julien Knowle
and Simon Aspelin
took the title.
• The women's doubles draw was also mottled with upsets. Nathalie Dechy
(playing her 47th consecutive Major!) and Dinara Safina
won the title beating Yung Jan Chan
and Chia-Jung Chuan
in the final.
• Ricardas Berankis
of Lithuania, best known as Roger Federer's practice partner, took the boys' title. Kristina Kucova
of Slovakia beat Agnieszka Radwanka
's sister, Ursula
, in a third-set tiebreaker to win the girls' event.
• Max Mirnyi
and Victoria Azarenka
beat Meghann Shaughnessy
and Leander Paes
to win the mixed doubles. Speaking of Shaughnessy, we're wishing a speedy recovery to Meghann's cousin, Alise
, who suffered a concussion when she was elbowed by a rude fan.
• As much as we try not to conflate Venus and Serena Williams
, it ought to go acknowledged that, on the heels of little sis' debacle, Venus was exceptionally sporting after her loss to Henin.
• Anyone want to dispute that Venus Williams is the second-best player in women's tennis right now?
• Big tournament for Serbia. Apart from the on-court results, were any three players more endearing and personable than Jelena Jankovic
, Novak Djokovic and Ana Ivanovic
• For the two of you who have yet to see it, here's Novak
• When the USTA decided to stage the women's final on a Saturday night, they expected the Williams sisters to be the ratings darling. Who would have guessed that neither sister would even reach a final for five years running? By the way, look for a Sunday start next year.
• Assorted shout-outs: David Ferrer
, Anna Chekvatadze
, Hyung Taik Lee
, Juan Monaco
, Shahar Peer
, Aggie Svavay
, Aggie Radwanska
, Tamira Pazsek
and Feliciano Lopez
• The most successful player in tennis is a twentysomething European. And it's not Roger Federer. Esther Vergeer
, who has not lost a MATCH since 2003, successfully defended her title in the Wheelchair event. Shingo Kunieda
of Japan took the men's title.
• Rafael Nadal
gamely played on when he was visibly less than 100 percent physically, but he once again underachieved during the North American hard court swing. Might be nice if he cut back on some of those appearance-fee Opens, so he'd be more fresh for the big ticket events in Canada, Cincy=, and New York. Then again
• I saw one player brandishing a book during this event and it was....Janko Tipsarevic
• Tons of you asked why the Slams don't seed in the conventional one-versus-eight, two-versus-seven style to which we're accustomed from NCAA pools. The best answer we got: Scattering the seeds the same way each time creates a risk that the same matchups will emerge time and again. (This presupposes, of course, that the rankings don't change.) I agree, though, that there is something counterintuitive about one-versus-five in the quarterfinals (a la Federer and Roddick), and I would encourage the ITF to consider traditional seeding.
• In the past, we've made no secret of our fondness for Oracene Williams
. But her claims to "Best Tennis Parent" are being challenged by Jelena Jankovic
's mom, Snezana
, who reacted to her daughter's quarterfinal defeat with a smile that said, "Darn, but what a great match."
• Yuri Sharapova
may not be a model of decorum. But he got a bad rap for "leaving" his daughter's box during her loss to Agnieszka Radwanksa
. Yuri simply moved back two rows; he didn't bail on his daughter as was universally reported.
• That said, for a player who looked like she was on the verge of dominating tennis a year ago, Sharapova is suddenly at a crossroads.
• Lots of you asking about the appropriateness of Radwanksa's darting around during Sharapova's service motion. Let's put it like this: I wouldn't recommend this behavior at a club match. It was fairly bush league, I thought. But when your opponent shrieks selectively during the match, I suppose you're entitled to take a hit from the gamesmanship pipe yourself. (To her credit, Sharapova took the high road when asked about Radwanka's unique returning tactics, before slyly adding, "It will be interesting to see if she does it again next time I play her.")
• You feel for Somdev Devvarman
. The University of Virginia undergrad beat John Isner
to win the NCAA title last May. Isner gets a wild card, takes a set off of Federer, wins $43,000 and ought to start getting into main draws. Devvarman doesn't even get a wild card into qualifying and he is back at UVA.
• How do we count the ways we love Fabrice Santoro
? Let's leave aside the unbelievable shotmaking and touch for now. You have to admire anyone who plays in a pastel Lacoste shirt with a patch for Budget Rental Car ironed onto the sleeve. Also James Blake
tells him, "It's amazing what you're doing at your age." Santoro responds: "Thanks, my son." Fabulous Fabrice, by the way, tied Agassi's record by making his 61st Grand Slam appearance.
• Think the women's draw was uneven? You should have seen the boys' draw. Hours after losing to Feliciano Lopez
, Donald Young
, seeded second, pulled out of the event, leaving only one of the top six seeds in the bottom half of the draw.
• Nice tournament for Hawkeye, which has come to feel less like a gimmick than a regular part of the tennis packaging. The replay innovation will be coming soon to Redding club of the Premier League.
• So, easily a dozen of you wrote to me (and, for that matter, to NBC's Web site) complaining about the J-Block. I had always assumed this was a harmless cheering section of Connecticut Brahmins, adding some energy to James Blake
's matches. I checked out the "block" for myself and, at the risk of sounding like Claude Raines
, I was shocked by what I saw and heard. "Cheers" included "lock-and-load on him, James." Fabrice Santoro was told that "France sucks." Santoro was also asked: "Where were you during the war?" Tommy Haas
was treated to a quick countdown as he prepared to serve. A fan in a neighboring box accurately yelled, "You guys are acting like bullies."
Hey, we're all for more volume and enthusiastic cheering. We're all for "beering up" a gin-and-tonic crowd. But yelling "France sucks?" Yeesh. Especially given that decorum is Blake's stock-in-trade, it was surprising that his cheering section seems to have so little of it.
• Roger Federer's Nike deal is expiring soon. Stay tuned for some drama on this one.
• Who's more opportunistic -- and we mean this as a compliment -- than Nikki Pilic
? First, he has an eye for talent, spotting both Djokovic and Ernests (singular) Gulbis, the young Latvian who broke out this tournament. But he is also the Bora Milutinovic
of Davis Cup tennis. He was once Germany's captain. Two years ago he coached Croatia to the Cup. Now we're told that he's working in an advisory role with the Serbian team.
• Fractious as the tennis world is, here's a point of uniform agreement: The ATP's human computer, Greg Sharko
, is an invaluable resource. In both the press room and, I learned, the television compound, the guy is universally respected, admired, and, most important, relied upon. For all the empty suits worrying about sponsor plugs, logo designs and branding initiatives, here is an absolutely indispensable administrator. Why then was he not in New York? Whatever the reason, he was missed. And tennis was worse for it.
• This is a virtual cut-and-paste from years past, but the sentiment is unchanged. In the interest of full disclosure: I did some work for USA Network during the Open. (Thanks to the many of you who wrote in critiquing my performances.) But in all objectivity, you wish all the Slams were covered this thoroughly and honestly. Next year, let's give Tracy Austin
some more competitive women's matches.
• Back to Venus, we love how she deals with adverse calls. More often than not, she looks at the chair and calmly asks. "Did you see it out?" When the chair nods, she forgoes a replay and resumes playing, as if to say I trust you. If you saw it out, that's enough for me.
• Nike wins the "Most Risque Advertising" Award: An image of Serena Williams, clad in a shirt, adorns a building outside Penn Station. The caption: "Are you staring at my titles?"
• This from my colleague Dick Friedman
: One of the tropes I frequently have heard uttered in the first week of the tournament is some variation on this: "If he/she stays healthy, I could easily see him/her being a top-20 player." By my unofficial count, that means that within two years, the men's Top 20 will have 453 players and the women's will have 329."
• Now that the summer is over, can we please reconsider the trappings of the U.S. Open Series? In typical USTA lily-gilding fashion, it's a fine idea that's been tarnished by ego and overkill. Want to create a cohesive summer TV package? Great. Want to build some continuity and buzz heading into the Open? Swell. Want to rope in more sponsors? Go nuts.
But the players privately snicker at the "Series" concept. No one is changing their schedule to accommodate these events. (If you thought the fields were bare this year, wait 'til 2008, when these events have to compete with the Beijing Olympics.) And the separate rankings and the laughable bonus pool is money wasted. Federer enters two mandatory ATP tournaments and wins the men's pot? Give us a break. And imagine how much good that $1 million would do if it were added instead to purses at challenger events.
• If my math is right, the highest-ranked male to miss the event was Sweden's Robin Soderling
, out with a wrist injury. Particularly if Soderling isn't playing, the U.S. has to be considered a heavy favorite to beat Sweden in Davis Cup play next week.
• Dear Nasonex: I appreciate the need for a cute animal mascot to liven up your product. And while I don't get it, I can live with this choice of a talking bumblebee. But you lose me when you give the aforementioned bee an unintelligibly strong Spanish accent.
• Does any company do cooler tennis promotions and commercials than American Express? No. (If you can't attend the U.S. Open, watching it at the "tennis theater" Amex sets up in my neighborhood in Madison Square Park is the next best thing.) But if I had a dollar for every time I saw McEnroe's "You're Not Evil" commercial, I wouldn't need a credit card. (And honk if you're like me and can't get that vaguely Bavarian jingle out of your head.)
• Crazy summer for Frank Dancevic
. He's home in Canada, first "out" of the Indianapolis main draw. A player gets hurt and Dancevic makes the show. He DRIVES from Niagara Falls to Indy, picking up his girlfriend in Detroit along the way. He reaches the final, beating Andy (Burrito Supreme) Roddick in the process. Dancevic then reaches the quarters of the Montreal event and suddenly he's a top-70 player. However, because the U.S. Open draw cut-off is in mid-July, Dancevic has to qualify, despite a ranking higher than 35 other players. He qualifies, draws Marat Safin
in round one. Give that man a Molson.
• She didn't get the fanfare of Justin Gimelstob
(much less Tim Henman
) but a tip of the cap to Corina Morariu
, who retired quietly after her last match. One of those people who make the tennis firmament a more pleasant place. Same for Paola Suarez
and Nicole Pratt
, who also played their final Open.
• Remember Gilles Muller
, the buck-toothed kid from Luxembourg (Smiths reference) who stunned Roddick two years ago? The dude lost in the first round of qualifying.
• As Federer was playing Feliciano Lopez
in the fourth round, his interview with Charlie Rose
was allegedly running on PBS. For those who missed it, I think you can download here: charlierose.com
• How's the "feasibility study" on the roof over show courts going? Never mind rain, this was 14 days without a cloud.
• Want to feel old? Iva Majoli
was in the "Champions" draw. And props to Rob Dixon
of Toronto for noting that Hana Mandlikova
's nationality is now Australian.
• From the "just-asking" department: Can Mary Joe Fernandez
and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
switch the spelling of their respective "Joes."
• The responses, pro and con, kept coming re: my surprise that Federer didn't know who Althea Gibson
was. Let's agree to disagree and end this one on a light note. Manuel Herrmann
of Frauenfeld, Eastern Switzerland, wrote to me: "The Sonntagszeitung published a great little anecdote you may not have heard of: When Aretha Franklin
was informed that Federer said that Althea Gibson was "before his time" she reportedly answered: "Who said that?"
• On a final note of shameless promotion, I have a book coming out later this month on the wild world of pool hustling. If you're interested you can check it out here
Have a good week everyone. And we'll be back with a regular mailbag a week from Wednesday.