How the US Open Became the Biggest, Boldest Tournament in Tennis - UBITENNIS
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How the US Open Became the Biggest, Boldest Tournament in Tennis

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TENNIS US OPEN — We’ll borrow those familiar lyrics, about making it here, making it in the Big Apple, the city that never sleeps—or shuts up. They’ve made it here, created an event that fits the city like a traffic jam on Lexington Avenue. And truly, it doesn’t matter if they make it anywhere else. Art Spander for bleacherreport.com

 

US Open: All the interviews, results, draws and OoP

The United States Tennis Association has a tournament that’s seemingly endless, incredibly noisy and wonderfully exciting, perfect for New York, perfect for the most boisterous and unavoidable of the four Grand Slams.

Wimbledon is quiet lawns and British reserve. The French Open, Roland Garros, is clay courts and long rallies. The Australian Open is half a world and what seems like a zillion time zones away.

The U.S. Open is a captivating 15 days of a celebrity-watching, T-shirt-selling, beer-guzzling sport that is just a shade less important than the Yankees, and that’s about as significant as anything can be.

The Open is a party where tennis balls are pounded, Champagne is poured and kosher corned beef sandwiches (at $14) are served.

The Open is a tournament where jet planes roar overhead, rock music plays during changeovers and where from the upper levels of the main stadium you can see the most famous skyline in the world, including the Empire State Building and Chrysler Building.

There’s nothing quite like the Open where, with the main arena, Arthur Ashe Stadium, holding around 23,000, the crowd count for the two weeks—this year, an extra day—surpasses 700,000. In contrast, capacity for Wimbledon’s Centre Court is 15,000, and the total for the fortnight is 491,000.

But it’s not just size that separates the Open from the other three Slams; it’s temperament. It’s fanaticism. In this city where the tabloids call the Jets “Gang Green” and the Yanks “The Bombers,” tennis players call the Open unique—because it is.

“New York has their own character,” said Victoria Azarenka of Belarus, a former No. 1 in the women’s rankings. “I love the fans here. They are very honest, and I love that. You know they like you. They love you. If they don’t like something, they’ll boo. That’s what makes it very passionate and exciting. Plus, I have been dreaming to play here even as a kid, to be on the big stages.”

This is the Big Apple, the biggest of stages. This is where Michael Jordan shows up to watch Roger Federer because he and Federer have a new expensive pair of Nike shoes.

This is where, during the Open, the buses are turned into billboards, with photos of Azarenka on some and Bob and Mike Bryan on others.

This is where Alec Baldwin has a front-row seat in the north end of Ashe Stadium, and on opening night, he reached up and grabbed a ball hit long.

This is where matches last until 2:26 a.m. local time, such as the five-set thriller on Monday night (and Tuesday morning) where Kei Nishikori outlasted Milos Raonic.

The Open similarly is a tribute to a man named Arlen Kantarian, who’s now in his 60s. He understood—he still understands—what moves the needle and the masses. Kantarian, for a start, had a major role in having Michael Jackson perform in the halftime show of the 1993 Super Bowl.

He knows how to get attention. The man ordered the cement courts painted blue, when they were always painted green, “Because at one time they were grass,” he said.

He knows how to get people into seats—or merely standing around, eating, laughing, shouting and having a grand, old time.

“Arlen wanted Disneyland with nets,” said Chris Widmaier, managing director of corporate communications for the United States Tennis Association.

He got that and more. He got an event that with its noise, its celebrities, its after-midnight action is quintessentially New York.

Kantarian is now CEO of Kantarian Sports Group, but for eight years, until 2008, he was the chief executive officer of professional tennis for the USTA, the organization that runs the Open.

They say that late-night match in 1991 when Jimmy Connors, at age 39, pumping his fists, screaming at the chair umpire, which had non-fans switching to the telecast, is what made the Open.

That worked for the purists. But you need more than purists. You need the public.

The late Bill Veeck, who owned the Cleveland Indians and then the Chicago White Sox—he came up with all kinds off oddball drawing cards (beer night, disco night)—said if he had to depend on baseball fans for support he’d be out of business by Mother’s Day. He had to have the non-fan. So did tennis.

The Open was merely the U.S. Championship when it was played at Forest Hills, New York for decades. It moved to the current location at Flushing Meadows, the old 1964 World’s Fair site, in 1978, three years after night play was introduced. Kantarian, who had been with the NFL and at Radio City, arrived in 1990.

Big matches sold out. It was New York after all, a metro area of 18 million. Kantarian, a marketing whiz, tapped into the area’s soul and wallets.

Under his watch video screens were installed, the courts were painted blue instead of green, opening night became a ceremony of songs and flags, the tower of the Empire State Building became a light show, the plaza was upgraded with fountains and a reflecting pool and food stands were opened seemingly everywhere.

And as Neil Diamond sang, thank the Lord for the nighttime.

“Night tennis gives you that gladiator impact and that sheen you get on TV from the lights,” Kantarian told Bill Simons of Inside Tennis.

“It’s the crowd. It’s a New York thing, like the old night crowds at Yankee Stadium. There’s a Broadway element, a celebrity factor, a Wall Street factor. The high drama of seeing two gladiators under the lights is something New Yorkers really take to.”

The No. 7 subway runs to Flushing Meadows from Grand Central Station. It’s the stop for Mets games at Citi Field (go north) and tennis games at the Billie Jean King Center (go south). Some days, and nights, there are guys throwing strikes one place and women serving aces in the other.

The Open is the last fling of summer, a burger to be devoured, a sporting contest to be appreciated, a day in the sun or under the moon to be enjoyed, a memory to be retained.

If you’re looking for quiet at a tennis match, well, as they yell at you here, “Fuggedaboutit,” “In New York people can make noise at a tennis match,” Serena Williams said when she appeared on CBS’ Late Show with David Letterman prior to the tournament.

“It’s great for the crowd. You really want the crowd really involved. It’s great for the competitor, and as a player you’re sitting there, you hear the noise.”

You either accept it, get used to it or avoid it.

Bjorn Borg couldn’t handle New York and New Yorkers (one of whom is John McEnroe, who beat Borg twice in the 1980 and ’81 finals; Borg also lost twice to Connors).

A competitor must go with the flow, meaning hold up on a serve until the next 737 from LaGuardia five miles away climbs into the sky and embrace the commotion and comments.

A few hundred yards from the south entrance to the grounds is the Unisphere, a 12-story stainless steel globe presented to the ’64 World’s Fair by U.S. Steel.

Once inside, past the cement barriers and police cars with the flashing red rights, is the garden commemorating Ashe, the late tennis star. Along the marble wall is a saying from Ashe, who died in 1993, “From what we get, we can make a living; from what we give, however, makes a life.”

Then looming ahead is the stadium, where construction of the long-awaited roof is about to begin. There’s a giant video screen with matches underway, complete with loudspeakers so you can hear everything from balls bouncing to Maria Sharapova’s grunting.

“The place is just full of energy,” said Sharapova. “Yeah (the fans) are just loud and passionate. You just feel the sports lovers are there.”

And that’s along with the food lovers and beer drinkers and autograph seekers. The WTA has a booth where patrons can get signatures, if not from the very top players.

If they’re not lined up for autographs, the fans are waiting to buy merchandise or deli sandwiches. There was no wait the other afternoon to buy a glass, at $24, of Moet-Chandon.

“We tried to ‘up’ the entertainment level,” Kantarian once explained. “Tennis is always the main theater, but that doesn’t mean you can’t create what we call sideshows to capture a broader audience. We’ve had everybody from Diana Ross to Whitney Houston to Simon and Garfunkel to Harry Connick Jr. We’ve surrounded the grounds with more energy.”

More energy and more fans.

“There are amazing moments,” said former champion Venus Williams, “when the crowd is screaming and it’s four-all in the third set. But there is also the hospitality, and then there is the airplanes and the wind constantly swirling. It’s definitely different.”

And it’s definitely New York.

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Jannik Sinner: “Rafa Nadal is superior in his head and knows exactly what to do and when to do it”

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Jannik Sinner made a major breakthrough season in 2020 winning his maiden ATP title in Sofia becoming and reached his first Grand Slam quarter finals at Roland Garros in his debut at this tournament at the age of 19. He has become the youngest player to win an ATP Tour title. 

 

“After the final in Sofia I felt emotional. I am human, but I feel the emotions inside me. I was very happy but I know that I have to work very hard. Before the victory ceremony I was a bit angry as I was still trying to understand why I had lost the second set. It was a strange season. I would have liked to play more matches and learn more about the life on the Tour and how to train with the biggest players on the circuit. I am now feeling more comfortable than last year”, said Sinner.

The Italian player is the first debutant beat Alexander Zverev en route to reaching the Roland Garros quarter final since Rafael Nadal achieved this feat in 2005 en route to his first French Open title. 

He lost to Rafael Nadal in the quarter finals in Paris after playing at great level in the first two sets. En route to the quarter final in Paris Sinner beat David Goffin, Benjamin Bonzi, Federico Coria and Alexander Zverev. 

“Rafael Nadal is superior in his head. He pulls very hard but above all he understands the decisive moments. He knows exactly what to do and when to do it. It’s really something else a tennis player. What I am missing to get there ? Well, the blows and the body, as well as the body. Let’s say a little bit of everything. The doctor said I still have to finish growing and developing. The truth is that I have to improve myself in every aspect, both physically and mentally. It takes time to get there”, said Sinner in an interview to the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera. 

Sinner was disappointed about Zverev’s comments after their match at Roland Garros. 

“I respect Zverev a lot because he has got more experience on the circuit, and he is great player. However, I do not respect his statements after his defeat to me at Roland Garros. He contradicted himself a lot. He said he had fever, but in the third and fourth sets, he ran more than me”, commented Sinner. 

Sinner became the youngest quarter finalist at a Grand Slam tournament since Bernard Tomic at Wimbledon 2011 and at Roland Garros since Novak Djokovic in 2006. The player coached by Riccardo Piatti earned the biggest win in his career when he beat Stefanos Tsitsipas en route to his his maiden third round at Masters 1000 level in Rome.

Jannik has reached his career best ranking at world number 37. 

In the interview Sinner talked about his passions outside tennis.  

“I like to go karting and play football every now and then. I cheer on AC Milan because my first roommate was an AC Milan fan and he also and he also made me passionate as the days went by. In general I also follow the chairs on Netflix and I believe that in Australia. ”, said Sinner. 

Sinner talked about his relationship with Riccardo Piatti. 

“Riccardo is my coach, but also a good friend. We talked about tennis all the time. During the lockdown we watched a lot of past tennis matches together”. 

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ATP Finals Day 8 Preview: Championship Sunday

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Dominic Thiem earned his 300th career victory yesterday in London (Ella Ling/ATP Tour)

Today either Dominic Thiem or Daniil Medvedev will win this event for the first time.

 

A year ago, Dominic Thiem was just a few points from winning this tournament, going down in defeat to Stefanos Tsitsipas in a third set tiebreak of the championship match.  Thiem went on to reach his third Major final at January’s Australian Open, but couldn’t hold on to a two-sets-to-one-lead.  At the next Slam, he would finally win his first Major title, in a dramatic, nerve-wracking five-set final against Sascha Zverev.  For the second consecutive year, he’s reached the championship match of this event after beating two of “The Big Three.”  Thiem defeated Rafael Nadal in a high-quality affair during round-robin play, and overcame Novak Djokovic in yesterday’s semifinals despite blowing four match points in the second set tiebreak, and despite going down 0-4 in the final set tiebreak.

A year ago, Daniil Medvedev came into this event on a 29-4 run, a stretch that saw him win three titles and reach six consecutive finals.  But the fatigued Russian went 0-3 in his ATP Finals debut.  In this abbreviated 2020 season, he did not advance to a tournament final until just two weeks ago, when he won first title in over a year at the Paris Masters.  Now he’s on a nine-match winning streak, having gone undefeated in the round-robin stage.  And just yesterday, he earned his first victory over Rafael Nadal in comeback fashion, after Nadal served for the match in the second set.

Dominic Thiem (3) vs. Daniil Medvedev (4)

Thiem is 3-1 against Medvedev overall, 2-1 on hard courts, and 1-0 indoors.  Their first meeting was two years ago in Daniil’s home country, where Dominic survived 7-6 in the third.  Last summer in Canada, Medvedev easily prevailed, losing only four games.  And in this year’s US Open semifinals, Dominic was victorious in straight sets.  Neither man will be fully fresh today, coming off semifinal matches just 24 hours ago against the top two players in the world, each of which approached three hours in length.  Thiem’s encounter with Djokovic seemed slightly more draining, both physically and emotionally. 

When they met two months ago in New York, Medvedev got off to a terrible start, losing the first set 6-2.  He struck almost twice as many errors as winners, winning only 65% of first serve points and a dismal 25% on his second serve.  But this week he’s served excellently, averaging 79% of first serve points won.  And some easy service games have enabled Daniil to apply more pressure to his opponents’ serve.  The result has been an average of over three breaks per match, Comparatively, Thiem has broken his opponent’s serve only once per match.  But an underrated aspect of the Austrian’s game is his ability to protect his own serve.  Outside of his dead rubber against Andrey Rublev, Dominic has only been broken two times in three matches.  And that includes clashes with two of the sport’s all-time great returners: Nadal and Djokovic. 

Thiem should be slightly favored based on their head-to-head, as well as his considerable edge in experience.  Regardless of the winner, let’s hope these two men provide us with an extended, enthralling encounter.  With the Australian tennis summer in doubt, it may be quite awhile before we see professional tennis of this caliber.

Doubles on Day 8:

In the doubles championship, it’s Wesley Koolhof and Nikola Mektic (5) vs. Jurgen Melzer and Edouard Roger-Vasselin (7).  Yesterday in the semifinals, Melzer and Roger-Vasselin came back from 1-7 down in the match tiebreak and saved a match point to advance.  Koolhof and Mektic prevailed on Saturday in straight sets.

Full order of play is here.

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ATP Finals Day 6 Preview: Novak Djokovic and Sascha Zverev Play for the Final Qualifying Spot

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Novak Djokovic hasn't won this event since 2015 (Ella Ling/ATP Tour)

The winner will join Rafael Nadal, Dominic Thiem, and Daniil Medvedev in Saturday’s semifinals.

 

Djokovic is a five-time champion of this event, yet is looking to avoid failing to advance out of the round-robin stage for the second straight year.  Zverev was the champion here two years ago, and is vying for his third consecutive semifinal.  Friday’s other singles match has no implications on the semifinals, as Daniil Medvedev has already advanced, while Diego Schwartzman cannot.

Novak Djokovic (1) vs. Sascha Zverev (5)

Zverev has a chance today to achieve what very few top players have: an even or better head-to-head record against Novak Djokovic.  Sascha is currently 2-3 against Novak, and 1-2 on hard courts.  They played twice at this event in 2018, with Djokovic easily prevailing in the round-robin stage, and Zverev avenging that loss a few days later in the final to win the biggest title of his career.  Their most recent encounter came last year at Roland Garros, with Novak winning in straight sets.  Notably, all five of their matches have been straight-set encounters, with none of the 11 sets even reaching a tiebreak.  So based on their history, grabbing the first set today will be extremely crucial.  Djokovic appeared unwilling to play long rallies on Wednesday against Medvedev, and admitted during his post-match press conference that he wasn’t feeling 100%.  Zverev hasn’t played his best this week either, but was able to tough out a three-set victory over Schwartzman two days ago to keep his advancement hopes alive.  If Djokovic is feeling fresher today, his 40-4 record on the year makes him a clear favorite.  If not, and if Zverev can limit his double faults, Sascha’s indoor hard court prowess makes him fully capable of eliminating the world No.1 from this tournament.

Daniil Medvedev (4) vs. Diego Schwartzman (8)

On Thursday, having already qualified for the semifinals, Dominic Thiem seemed rather uninterested in supplying resistance to Andrey Rublev.  In today’s dead rubber, which comes just 24 hours prior to the semifinals, will Medvedev fight to defeat Schwartzman?  Daniil knows he has an appointment on Saturday with Rafael Nadal, which he can safely assume will be a grueling task.  So I’m sure he’ll be looking to avoid an extended battle today.  And Schwartzman will be keen to not go 0-3 in his ATP Finals debut.  Medvedev is 4-0 against the Argentine, having won eight of nine sets played, which includes a straight-set win just two weeks ago at the Paris Masters.  Under normal circumstances, Daniil would be a strong favorite. But we’ll see how motivated the Russian is today, especially if Diego gains an early advantage.  These two men have a contentious history, going back to their intense battle in January at the ATP Cup where Schwartzman felt Medvedev was taunting him.  Diego would surely enjoy gaining his first win against Daniil.  And despite their lopsided head-to-head, that’s entirely plausible.

Doubles Matches on Day 6:

Mate Pavic and Bruno Soares (1) vs. John Peers and Michael Venus (6).  The winning team will secure the last remaining semifinal birth.

Marcel Granollers and Horacio Zeballos (4) vs. Jurgen Melzer and Edouard Roger-Vasselin (7).  This is a dead rubber, as Granollers and Zeballos have already advanced, while Melzer and Roger-Vasselin have been eliminated.

Full order of play is here.

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