Sunday, September 10, 2023

My U.S. Open top 10

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

10. California, here she comes: Unseeded Katherine Hui, an 18-year-old from the U.S., won the junior girls title, defeating 9th seed Tereza Valentova of the Czech Republic in the final. Hui is on her way to Stanford, where she's sure to get an enthusiastic welcome from the tennis team. The 8th-seeded Romanian team of Mara Gae and Anastasia Gureva won the doubles title, defeating Sara Saito and Nanaka Sato of Japan.

9. At least the players were good: I'm not going to go so far as to say that the U.S. Open crowd is now ruder than the French Open crowd, but it has certainly reached the French level. It never used to be that way, and it's really discouraging to hear cheering over double faults, yelling during points, and the constant "calling" of lines. As for the commentary--well, ESPN remains even worse than Tennis Channel; some things never change.

8. The predictable and the unpredictable: First there was the heat, which brought back memories of days at the Australian Open, when players were given IV fluids on the court, and were sometimes removed in wheelchairs. This situation isn't going to improve, so more attention will need to be paid to protecting the players. 

Then there was the issue of having the women use the heavier tennis balls. Some of the players had been asking to use these balls, and the WTA did have reservations about it, but this year, they were introduced in the women's game. There needs to be more discussion about this issue, and I'm sure there will be, but Marketa Vondrousova has already stated that she believes that the balls caused the elbow injury that resulted in her withdrawal from doubles competition. (This was especially unfortunate because her partner was Barbora Strycova, playing in her final tournament.)

And of course, there was the matter of the environmental protesters that showed up during the semifinals and disrupted play. Three of them were easily escorted off of the grounds, but they fourth had glued his feet to the stadium floor, and play was interrupted for 49 minutes.

7. A bittersweet observance: 2023 marks the 50th anniversary of the U.S. Open's providing equal pay to women and men, so there was an on-court celebration which honored both the anniversary and WTA trailblazer Billie Jean King. Michelle Obama delivered a down-to-earth and inspired speech, and it was all very nice, and yes, all the majors now (finally) pay players equally, but.....there are only four majors a year. The rest of the season, the pay disparity is offensive. And while players like to honor BJK and thank her, what would be really useful would be for them to emulate her and the Original Nine. The sad truth is that equality must always be fought for, not just talked about at ceremonies.

6. Rolling to number 20: Diede de Groot won her sixth U.S. Open singles title, her 20th singles major, and her third consecutive Grand Slam (not a "Calendar Grand Slam") in New York. It's enough to make your head spin. She wasn't able to win her sixth U.S. Open doubles title because her partner, Jiske Griffioen (they were the top seeds), had to retire during her singles semifinal match and was unable to play. The 2nd seeds, Yui Kamiji and Kgothatso Montjane, got a walkover, and thereby won the title.

5. Consistency? Czech. Brilliant shot-making? Czech.: Her shoulder was generously taped, and she also sustained an elbow injury, but Wimbledon champion Marketa Vondrousova nevertheless backed up her London victory (as the only unseeded player to ever win Wimbledon) with a U.S. Open run to the quarterfinals. She was stopped by a very in-form Madison Keys, but being in the final eight was an emphatic follow-up statement.

French Open finalist Karolina Muchova did one better and made it all the way to the semifinals. Coco Gauff stopped Muchova's run, but it was a beautiful run to watch, and the third set of that semifinal--thanks to both players-- was just thrilling. A (finally) healthy Karolina Muchova's game is a thing to behold.

4. Storm damage: As if there weren't enough disruptive things already going on at the U.S. Open, Tropical Storm Alona blew in right about the time that defending champion and world number 1 Iga Swiatek was set to play her round of 16 match. Ostapenko, the only player on the tour who was undefeated (3-0) against Swiatek, defeated her yet again, not only knocking her out of the tournament, but also knocking her off of the top of the rankings, and assuring that Aryna Sabalenka would become the number 1 player in the world. 

After wreaking her havoc, Tropical Storm Alona dissipated (with some help from Coco Gauff, in the quarterfinals), as storms do (and as this one frequently does).  

3. What did you say your name was?: Anna Danilina and Harri Heliovaara had never met when they found themselves in the referee's office, hoping that they could somehow enter the mixed doubles competition. The pair--she, from Kazakhstan--he, from Finland--decided to take a chance on each other, and what a decision that turned out to be! Danilina and Heliovaara won the mixed doubles title, and--to make their victory even more dramatic--they defeated top seeds Jessica Pegula and Austin Krajicek in the final. As a bonus, they were both utterly charming during the trophy ceremony.

2. When it pays to take a chance: Gabriela Dabrowski and Erin Routliffe played together for the first time in Montreal this year, and now, just a few weeks later, they've won the U.S. Open. The pair defeated 2020 champions Laura Siegemund and Vera Zvonareva 7-6, 6-3 (that first set tiebreak was riveting). During the trophy ceremony, each woman thanked the other for taking a chance on her. This is Dabrowski's first major title in women's doubles--she has two mixed doubles titles. And this is not only Routliffe's first major title--it's the first time that a woman from New Zealand has ever won a major title of any kind.

1. Holding a racket or holding a mic, Coco gets it done: She won DC, then she won Cincinnati, but instead of being tired, Coco Gauff was simply fired up by the time she reached New York. In fact, she was speeding around the court like a woman on a mission, which is exactly what she was. Defending beautifully, displaying an upgraded forehand, and solving problems like a boss, Gauff got the better of tough opponents like Caroline Wozniacki, Alona Ostapenko, Karolina Muchova, and Aryna Sabalenka. And when she won the U.S. Open, she used the microphone not only to show gratitude and graciousness, but also to "have a word" with those who have had low expectations of her.

At just 19 years old, Gauff has the poise--both on and off the court--of a champion. She was last year's French Open runner-up in both singles and doubles, so it shouldn't have surprised anyone that she took it a step farther and, this time, got the big trophy. We can only look forward to what our new champion will achieve next.


Todd.Spiker said...

#7 is very on point. The 50th anniversary of equal pay coinciding with the tour's own 50th anniversary season has led to an odd year of what has felt like rather empty celebrations, not only considering the huge pay disparity outside the slams but also because many players have spent the year embodying anything but the ideals that the Original 9 espoused at the founding of the tour. Pretty discouraging all around. :/

Speaking of discouraging, I hadn't realized until de Groot's speech that the Paralympics schedule would yet again mean no WC competition at next year's Open. She won her Golden Slam -- a publicity boon for WC sports -- because of the '20 Olympic/Paralympic cancellation and (better) rescheduling of the event in '21 that allowed players to play the U.S. Open, as well.

Not in 2024, unfortunately. It seems an incredibly shortsighted way to handle what is probably the most important, non-Paralympic, mainstream/high profile para athletic event (the US *and* the other three slams) on earth.

Tropical Storm Alona. :)

Diane said...

I feel bad for de Groot—and all the players—because of what appears to be just another stupid decision. It’s hard to believe that they couldn’t have worked this out again. And I agree that the majors comprise super high profile para-athletic events.