Here are my top ten occurrences--the good and perhaps not so good--in ascending order, at the U.S. Open:
10. Coco and Kristie--sounds like a cereal...has pop and crackle: Two young Americans--Coco Vandewegh and Kristie Ahn--provided early round interest. I found Ahn's potential to be especially good, and I liked her court demeanor. She gave Dinara Safina a respectable two sets. Vandeweghe was equally unfortunate in her draw. She played Jelena Jankovic in the first round, but then she ran over to the junior side and won the U.S. Open.
9. Goodbye, USA Network: I never thought I would get a bit emotional about the USA Network's farewell after 25 years of covering the Open, but I was kind of touched by it.
8. Has it really been 40 years?: The celebration of the 40th anniversary of the Open Era was fun--both at the USTA Billie Jean King Tennis Center and on the U.S. Open website. Several stars, however, were conspicuous by their absence.
7. Ask me anything...: For the first time in a long time, I called the top four players--those who would reach the semifinals--on both the men's and women's sides. Certainly, I should never get a job with a sports network...
6. The return of Anna-Lena Groenefeld: Anna-Lena Groenefeld has had her share of problems, both physical and emotional, over the last few years. As a rule, players who fall off the charts do not come back, or when they do, they do not regain their footing in the rankings. There are exceptions, of course, and Groenefeld may turn out to be one of them. After hanging around in challengers for a long time, she showed up at Flushing Meadows and made it all the way to the round of 16. And she took out 11th seed Daniela Hantuchova and 17th seed Alize Cornet along the way. Pretty impressive.
5. Hurricane Gustav: Gustav, who arrived unseeded--like his predecessor, Katrina--became a major player in this U.S. Open. Fortunately, we arrived in our hotel in Birmingham the evening before the Open began. We even had two televisions, so it was comfortable viewing. But the situation brought back so many memories of Hurricane Katrina...sitting in a small room in central Louisiana, watching the Open on a poor quality TV and then sometimes switching over to see the horrific images of New Orleans.
When we returned from our Katrina evacuation (the day the semifinals were to be played) we had no cable, but we had electrical power. The restaurant down the street--which has multiple televisions-- assured me I could watch all of the U.S. Open I wanted to, but the local affiliate had pre-empted it. The Open was nevertheless available on a satellite network, but--try as they might--the owners of the restaurant could not get connected to that network. They tried various methods and even made some phone calls on my behalf, but they were never able to get the connection. Our telephone was going in and out around then, but it was in often enough to justify my dialing onto the Internet and following the semifinals and finals on the electronic scoreboard. I missed Kim Clijsters' win.
This time around, we learned that our power was restored late in the week, but not our cable service. The same restaurant assured me that there would be no problem, since the local affiliate had not pre-empted CBS's programming this time. But in the meantime, Hannah blew into New York and messed up the schedule at Flushing Meadows, so I had no idea what was going to be shown when. But I got lucky: We were able to see the first men's semifinal, and when we arrived home, our cable service had been restored. I was sick and exhausted (still am), but I got to watch the other men's semifinal and the women's final. Unfortunately, though, I now associate the U.S. Open with hurricanes and evacuation.
4. Who says Williams sisters matches are boring?: Actually, I said it. But I didn't say it during the U.S. Open quarterfinals. I was on the edge of my seat during the entire match, and was sorry when it was over--not because of the outcome (a victory by either sister would have been fine), but because I wanted to see more and more.
3. The power of faith: I never doubted that Jelena Jankovic would make it to the final of a major; in fact, I expected her to make it to the final of the U.S. Open. And though the outcome was not what she or her fans hoped for--and though she has work to do on that serve to get to the next level--it had to feel at least a little exciting to be one of the last two women standing in a major tournament. And it had to provide some confidence for the future.
2. This losing thing is a drag: Sick of failing to qualify to play in even one tour-level tournament, Frenchwoman Julie Coin--after years of trying--won three U.S. Open qualifying matches and got into the main draw. Now, finally getting into a main draw after multiple attempts, and having that main draw be one of the four majors, then winning in the first round--that is a big story in itself. But Coin wasn' t content with that piece of mid-level drama: She introduced herself to the tennis world by proceeding to eliminate the top-seeded player in the second round. Coin, number 188 in the world, defeated Ana Ivanovic, thus creating the biggest upset in Grand Slam history. In her first-ever tour event.
The rest of the story is also compelling: Coin lost in the third round to Amelie Mauresmo, but she played quite well, leaving with a very respectable scoreline of 6-4, 6-4. She is now reconsidering her thought of retiring from professional tennis.
1. 2 sets of thrills, 1 set shy of a classic: The women's final was almost all one could have hoped for. Almost, because it did not go to three sets; and almost, if you happen to be a Jankovic fan. But even with its limitations, this was the best U.S. Open final in years, complete with incessant breaks of serve, near-misses, wonderful rallies, big momentum changes, brilliant shots, grumbling to the umpire, smiles, screams, heartbreak, and the two most fiercely dramatic players on the tour. It can get better than that, but not much.