September 01, 2002

Highlights from the U.S. Open: More Tennis than You Can Possible Imagine! Boy, that was a ton of tennis fun. Before I run through our day, here's a little background on the logistics involved at the Open, definitely my favorite sporting event, more like a county fair than a spectator sport. The grounds in Flushing consist of 18 courts, including the Arthur Ashe Stadium (where the main events are held), the Louis Armstrong Stadium and connected Grandstand, and 15 other courts of various seating capacities (ranging from full bleachers to a couple rows of seats), plus the practice courts. Other than our reserved seats in the upper regions of Ashe Stadium, we could sit anywhere we wanted to watch any of the nine or ten matches taking place at any time. Scoreboards around the grounds keep you updated, letting you head over to check out a good match in progress.

We led off with the Kim Clijsters (7) vs. Vera Zvonareva match in the Grandstand, a train wreck of a match in which the high-ranked Clijsters played about as bad a first set as I've seen, including double-faulting break points in two straight service games. In the second set, Clijsters regained her composure and started playing well, while at the same time Zvonareva, a fiery young Russian (who was born on my 13th birthday), just completely lost her shit, taking a questionable call and a few bad shots and weaving them into a display of racquet-smashing, heavens-cursing anger and self-loathing that made me fall instantly in love with her. In-match coaching is banned in tennis, and you had to think that a few calming words might have settled her down enough to help her take a match she was obviously capable of winning. In any case, we left after Clijsters took the second set in a match she would eventually win 1-6, 7-5, 6-4.

We headed over to watch Venus Williams (2) thoroughly demolish Martina Muller, a 77th-ranked German who no chance of giving Venus any sort of challenge. I know about the whole "on any given day" credo that makes sports worth watching, but with the entire stadium rooting on every one of Venus's terrific shots, watching as she returned every one of Muller's best-hit shots with almost no effort — well, I'm surprised Muller won the three games she did in the 6-1, 6-2 match.

After that, we headed to our not-all-that-terrible seats in the main stadium to watch the rematch of last year's controversial Lleyton Hewitt (1) vs. James Blake (25) match. It was a psyched crowd watching the American take on the defending champ, with large contingents of both face-painted Americans and Australians cheering on their man. Blake took advantage of some uncharacteristic late lapses by Hewitt in an exciting first set to take the first-set tiebreaker. The next two sets weren't nearly as good, as Hewitt wore down Blake to go up two sets to one. Watching this match really made me understand the decline of the serve-and-volley game; it wasn't so much Hewitt's booming serve that made Blake's visits to the net so unsuccessful, but how when Blake did go to the net Hewitt would either hit a remarkably hard passing shot down the line for a winner, or directly at Blake, leaving Blake no time for anything but a reflexive, soft return. Blake made something like six straight unsuccessful net approaches before abandoning the strategy in the second set.

I wanted to see some doubles, and a glance at the scoreboard showed that the New York Times front-page coverboys Amir Hadad of Israel and Aisam ul-Haq Qureshi of Pakistan had taken the defending champs Wayne Black and Kevin Ullyett of Zimbabwe to a third-and-deciding set. Now, here's part of the Times's report on the match:
Hadad and Qureshi drew another warm welcome from a near-capacity crowd. The fact that Hadad, a Jew, and Qureshi, a Muslim, could play together despite all the nationalistic and religious implications earned them as many fans in New York as it did in London.
As I said, I can't vouch for the kind of welcome they received, but when we arrived for the deciding set there might have been 200 people in the Grandstand (far less than there had been for the earlier Clijsters match), and we were able to walk down to two of plenty of open lower-level seats in the third row. The crowd may have been somewhat for Hadad and Qureshi, but it a low-key, casual crowd, and the only indications of anything of interest about the match were a higher police presence and a sardonic cheer of "C'mon guys, do it for world peace," after another poorly played point. Black and Ullyett won the error-filled set 6-2.

In a bit of a surprise , Blake had taken the fourth set, so we rushed back to the stadium for the fifth, but by the time we got to our seats Blake was down 5-3 in a set he would lose 6-3. After that, we caught a couple of games of Martina Navratilova's doubles match, as well as a little mixed doubles before we were completely tennised out, as I imagine you are by now as well.
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