Sunday, September 8, 2019

My U.S. Open top 10

Here, in ascending order, are my top 10 U.S. Open happenings:

10. Higher and higher depths: Having ESPN Plus is a great thing--first, because one can choose among all of the matches being played, but also because the commentary, though certainly not perfect (too many mispronunciations), is way better than the mess that is on ESPN. But as the tournament winds down, the ESPN commentary team is all that's left for the big matches (besides wheelchair and juniors), so we're stuck with it.

We were subject to the exceedingly annoying fake dramatics of Tom Rinaldi. Then there was the rush to turn interviews with Elina Svitolina into discussions of Gael Monfils (Chris McEndry, to her credit, tried to put a stop to this). Of course, there was the usual list of mispronunciations (and hey--U.S. Open, maybe your match announcer could learn how to pronounce the players' names?), and who knows how many minutes' worth of useless comments.

During the final, Chris Fowler kept repeating that Andreescu's victory was "unbelievable." This stuck me as odd since I had picked her as the most likely player to win the tournament. Do these people even watch tennis? Best of all, though, was Chris Evert's assertion that a player had reached "higher and higher depths"--and that is exactly how I would describe ESPN.

9. Still hot: Coco Gauff made it to the third round, defeating Anastasia Potapova and Timea Babos. She was done in by Naomi Osaka, who allowed her only three games, but Coco, at 15, is still quite impressive.

8. Tennis in the age of You-Know-What: I used to think of the U.S. Open crowd as an example that should be followed by, say, the French crowd, which can be really rude--or the British and Australian crowds, which can be really sexist. But the crowd at this year's Open was a disgrace. People sauntered in and forced the players to wait before serving. They yelled both during points and just as a player was serving. They applauded faults. They were horrible.

7. You'll remember me this time: Taylor Townsend has game, and serious tennis fans know it. The 23-year-old U.S. player was a standout in juniors, but--as is so often the case--her junior accomplishments did not translate to the tour (the USTA did her no favors, either). But Townsend had a memorable U.S. Open experience, taking out Wimbledon champion Simona Halep in the second round, then giving eventual champion Bianca Andreescu a head-turning fight when she continued her habit of rushing the net--over and over. She took a set off of Andreescu, too, but was unable to stop her in her pursuit of the title.

6. Patience is a virtue:  27-year-old Kristie Ahn, ranked 141 in the world, got a wild card into the U.S. Open main draw this year. Eleven years ago, she got in through qualifying, but lost in the first round. That was the last time she was able to get through qualifying. Ahn, realizing the importance of the occasion, gave that wild card a workout. In the first round, she took out 2004 U.S. Open champion and 2019 Cincinnati runner-up Svetlana Kuznetsova. In round 2, she defeated the talented Anna Kalinskaya, and in the third round, Ahn defeated 2017 French Open champion Alona Ostapenko. She kost to eventual semifinalist Elise Mertens in the next round, but the drama of the Stanford graduate's U.S. Open run was one of the best stories of the event.

5. Diede de Great just got greater: Top wheelchair singles seed Diede de Groot got quite a fight from 2nd seed Yui Kamiji in the final, but she prevailed, 4-6, 6-1, 6-4, and in doing so, defended her 2018 title. de Groot has now won seven singles majors (last year, she just missed attaining a Grand Slam), and has completed a Career Slam in both singles and doubles.

de Groot and her partner, Aniek Van Koot, the top doubles seeds, also won the doubles title, defeating Sabine Ellerbrock and Kgothatso Montjane in straight sets in the final. This is de Groot's third consecutive U.S. Open doubles victory.

4. Miss USA with knee socks: We like to talk about the inspiring qualities of tennis players who overcome great obstacles, yet often missing from that conversation is perhaps the queen of overcoming obstacles--Bethanie Mattek-Sands. Mattek-Sands has fallen down (sometimes literally) and gotten up so many times, yet she always returns to the court to play her old-school brand of tennis. At the U.S. Open--where she wore a pop Americana kit, one of my favorite BMS outfits of all time--she and partner Jamie Murray defended their mixed doubles title. And they did it by upsetting top seeds Chan Hao-Ching and Michael Venus in straight sets.

3. So close: Serena Williams, after returning from giving birth to her daughter, made a run to the 2018 Wimbledon final and was defeated by Angie Kerber (she said that one didn't count because of the state of her body). She then lost the 2018 U.S. Open final to Naomi Osaka, and the 2019 Wimbledon final to Simona Halep. This time around, she lost the U.S. Open final to Bianca Andreescu.

Clearly, there is pressure on Williams that has never existed before, and that pressure has to do with her advancing age and her quest to achieve a statistic that has many fans in a frenzy. There's no doubt that Williams is playing extremely well (though it's also unfair to assume that she would win every final if she were in a calmer state of mind). The Serena Watch will be intense in 2020, as the great champion seeks to win more majors.

2. Fire and ice: Elise Mertens had success with her former doubles partner and long-time friend, Demi Schuurs, but the they split because the Belgian star wanted to concentrate on her singles career and didn't want to commit to playing doubles at every event (Schuurs plays doubles only). So Mertens teamed with Aryna Sabalenka and this year, they won the Sunshine Double. Now, they've won the U.S. Open, defeating Ash Barty and Vika Azarenka in the final. The calm, low-key personality of Mertens combines well with the intense, sometimes goofy, persona of Sabalenka.

1. She the North/She the Boss: I don't know why anyone is surprised (certainly some commentators were) that Bianca Andreescu won the U.S. Open. Her victory certainly didn't seem inevitable to me, but it did seem very highly likely. The 19-year-old Canadian deserves the title "phenom" more than anyone I can recall in a long time. It's hard to describe Andreescu because she is so many things--a good server, hard-hitting, dramatic, inventive, instinctive, and mentally tough (while not always seeming to be so).

As I noted earlier in the week, I was concerned that Andreescu's perhaps unconscious need to have problems to solve would get her into trouble. But as the tournament progressed, she became more proficient at solving those problems. Also, after watching her for a while, it becomes clear that what may appear to be Andreescu's "frustration" face is more like her 'I have to figure this out" face.

A year ago, most people had never heard of the Canadian star; she wasn't even in the top 200. At the beginning of this season, she held a ranking of 153. Then she won Indian Wells. And then, in Miami, she sustained a shoulder injury which kept her off of the tour for a few months. Andreescu's junior career was plagued with injuries, and one hopes that she'll figure out a way to keep them at a minimum.

When she did return to the tour, it wasn't long before Andreescu won the Rogers Cup, defeating Serena Williams in the final when Williams had to retire. So there was a certain poetic satisfaction in having the two of them meet in the U.S. Open final. Now, Andreescu is the first Canadian in history to win a singles major

By now, most fans have heard that, when she was a kid, Andreescu wrote herself a U.S. Open prize money check (she didn't cash it, of course; rather, she added to the amount every year, to match the annual increase). This is akin to a young Roger Federer's having practiced falling to his knees in anticipation of one day winning Wimbledon. It is a mindset which few have. Andreescu credits her mother, Maria, with helping her to develop it. Such a skill is supposedly available to all of us, but few are able to live it. So far, Bibi Andreescu has shown quite a mastery of it.


colt13 said...

Pretty good writeup, as usual.

The crowd didn't bother me, except for that random fan that kept yelling "Let's go Serena" right before she served.

Even with the fact that she had never won a match there, Andreescu was one of the favorites. Plus even if you go by stats, and not the eye test, which she obviously passed, the last 3 years, IW/Miami winners have reached at least one slam SF at worst, and Andreescu had not gotten one.

Diane said...

Thank you :)

Indeed, Andreescu should have been called as a favorite, based on her performances, but you know how the tennis media are: they see what they want to see.

Todd.Spiker said...

Even more strange regarding the ESPNers "surprise" was that Brad Gilbert had picked Andreescu to win the title before the tournament (and then to win the final in straights once the match-up was set). I think they can't help themselves but to play to the Serena fans & casual tennis watchers who only know her, Venus, Sharapova and maybe one or two others, especially in the late stages of a slam.

It's one of the problems with the network's coverage: they assume the majority of the audience knows nothing about the sport. It goes along with having most of their "experts" not seeming to really follow the sport except when they're broadcasting it, and then having to play catch-up over the two weeks.

For a network that tends to dig into the minutiae of nearly every (esp. team) sport it covers, it's often embarrassing (I often have to turn away, if I'm not in the mood to get angry, when other ESPN shows air highlights or talk about the sport because I know I'm about to be awash in misinformation and false realities by people acting as if they know what they're talking about, but really don't) to see it try to put tennis in something of a spotlight, only to fail miserably while seeming to not even realize that they are.

Shriver, echoing how her opinion of Radwanska changed a few years ago, noted during (or after) the final that she hadn't seen Andreescu play much (though she'd won two of the biggest non-slam titles of the year), but then was eventually extremely complimentary of her once she had. Maybe if she/they knew these things beforehand they'd help more people be knowledgeable about the up-and-coming players rather than just the ones who've been around for a decade or two.

Novel concept, I know... :/

Diane said...

I’d forgotten that BG had picked Andreescu in straight sets. Now I remember thinking—Oh no, I’m in agreement with Brad Gilbert on something!

Anyone who was objective and paying attention would have picked Bibi as a favorite to win it. Those qualities are very rare on ESPN, and not exactly abundant on Tennis Channel.