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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Indian Wells Daily Preview: The Women’s Semifinals

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Ons Jabeur celebrating her quarterfinal win on Thursday evening (twitter.com/BNPPARIBASOPEN)

Friday evening will host the women’s singles semifinals.  The first features two Major champions: Jelena Ostapenko and Victoria Azarenka.  The second includes two good friends who are both looking to achieve their first WTA 1000 final: Ons Jabeur and Paula Badosa.

 

Also on Friday, the last two men’s singles quarterfinals will be decided.  Will Stefanos Tsitsipas and Sascha Zverev prevail against two players making their Masters 1000 quarterfinal debuts, setting up a blockbuster semifinal on Saturday?

Each day, this preview will analyze the two most intriguing matchups, while highlighting other notable matches on the schedule.  Friday’s play gets underway at 11:00am local time.

Jelena Ostapenko (24) vs. Victoria Azarenka (27) – Not Before 6:00pm on Stadium 1

Azarenka is a two-time champion of this event, though prior to this fortnight, she was only 2-2 in the desert since her last title run in 2016.  Injuries have derailed her progress throughout this season, but she has been in fine form this tournament, not dropping a set through four rounds.  Ostapenko was just 4-3 lifetime at Indian Wells before this year, and was a modest 23-15 on the season when she was withdrawn from the US Open due to undisclosed medical reasons.  But this past month, she’s gone 9-2, and is a win away from her third WTA 1000 final.  Their only previous encounter came two years ago at Roland Garros, when Azarenka prevailed in straight sets.  Like most Ostapenko matches, this will mostly be decided by her winner-to-error ratio.  When she starts making errors, she can become awfully negative real fast.  But based on her current form, I expect Jelena to remain confident, and dictate her way to Sunday’s championship match.

Ons Jabeur (12) vs. Paula Badosa (21) – Last on Stadium 1

With Thursday’s quarterfinal win, Jabeur will officially become the first Arab player (male or female) to debut inside the top 10 on Monday.  It’s been an incredible season for Ons, who has accumulated 48 wins, and is 8-1 over the last three weeks.  Badosa is now into her second WTA 1000 semifinal of the year, equalling the feat she first accomplished in Madrid, her country’s biggest tournament.  Paula has consecutively defeated three of 2021’s best players without dropping a set: Coco Gauff, Barbora Krejcikova, and Angelique Kerber.  These two friends played earlier this year at another American WTA 1000 event, when Jabeur outlasted Badosa in Miami 7-5 in the third.  Infused with the excitement of making her top 10 debut, I expect the more experienced and eclectic Ons to find a way to overcome Badosa, and to play in the biggest final of her career come Sunday.

Other Notable Matches on Friday:

Stefanos Tsitsipas (2) vs. Nikoloz Basilashvili (29) – Tsitsipas leads their head-to-head 2-0.  Both matches occurred on hard courts in 2019, and both were quite tight.  Basilashvili ousted Karen Khachanov in the last round.

Sascha Zverev (3) vs. Taylor Fritz (31) – Zverev is 3-1 against Fritz, though they are 1-1 on hard courts.  Their most recent meeting on this surface went to the American, two years ago in Basel.  This week Taylor upset the two top-ranked Italians: Matteo Berrettini and Jannik Sinner.

Friday’s full Order of Play is here.

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Grigor Dimitrov Praises ‘Surreal’ Achievement Ahead Of Indian Wells Semis

Grigor Dimitrov hailed his recent career milestone as he moved into the Indian Wells semi-finals.

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Grigor Dimitrov (@atptour - Twitter)

Grigor Dimitrov has praised his recent career milestone after reaching the Indian Wells semi-finals.

 

The Bulgarian overcame Miami Open champion Hubert Hurkacz in three sets to reach the semi-finals at Indian Wells.

Dimitrov backed his win over US Open champion Daniil Medvedev in style to reach his first masters 1000 semi-final of the season.

However reaching the semi-finals wasn’t the only achievement as he sealed his 100th masters 1000 win of his career.

Speaking after the match Dimitrov described it as ‘surreal’, “I didn’t know until everyone started mentioning it now,” Dimitrov said in his post-match press conference.

“Really I’m very humbled. It’s such an amazing thing. I’m so thankful to everyone, to everybody that is in the team, that has worked in the team. Last but not least my family.

“It feels like I want to say surreal because I never thought turning pro that I’m going to have let’s say a hundred matches at such a level. I’m very fortunate to be able to put myself in that position over and over, especially throughout the tough years, injuries and so on.

“It clearly means a lot to me. I really appreciate it. I’m very, very humbled on it. Like I’m smiling inside. I’m smiling inside. I think it’s a beautiful thing. I’ll keep on going hopefully another decade.”

Dimitrov’s first masters 1000 win came against Marsel Ilhan in 2011 at Cincinnati and the Bulgarian’s only trophy at this level came in 2017 when he beat Nick Kyrgios in the final of the same tournament.

Now Dimitrov will look to win his second masters 1000 title of his career as he takes on Cameron Norrie in the last four on Saturday.

Norrie currently leads the head-to-head 1-0.

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Indian Wells Daily Preview: Two Women’s Quarterfinals Feature Four of 2021’s Best Players

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Angelique Kerber is a defending finalist at Indian Wells (twitter.com/BNPPARIBASOPEN)

Angelique Kerber has won 20 of her last 24 matches.  Anett Kontaveit has claimed 16 of her last 17, which includes two titles.  Paula Badosa is 38-15 on the year, and 8-3 against the top 20.  Ons Jabeur is on the cusp of becoming the first Arab player to reach the top 10.  Which two of these four impressive performers will reach Friday’s semifinals?

 

Also on Wednesday, the first two men’s singles quarterfinals will be contested, with significant implications as to who will qualify for next month’s ATP Finals.  And in the doubles, the final two men’s quarterfinals will be played, alongside the women’s semifinals.

Each day, this preview will analyze the two most intriguing matchups, while highlighting other notable matches on the schedule.  Thursday’s play gets underway at 11:00am local time.

Ons Jabeur (12) vs. Anett Kontaveit (18)  – Not Before 3:00pm on Stadium 1

A win today would guarantee Jabeur’s top 10 debut next week.  But that will be a tough ask against the WTA’s hottest player of the last two months.  Since adding Dmitry Tursonov as her coach, who previously guided Aryna Sabalenka during her rise to the top of the sport, Kontaveit has been on fire.  She was the champion in both Cleveland and Ostrava, with her only loss coming at the US Open against another of 2021’s best players, Iga Swiatek.  Anett has not dropped a set through three rounds, though Jabeur has been dominant as well, allowing her last two opponents only eight games across four sets.  Ons has taken both of their previous tour-level encounters, and she’s the last person not named Iga to defeat Kontaveit.  Two months ago in Cincinnati, she outlasted Anett 7-5 in the third.  But based on Kontaveit’s current level of confidence, I give her the slight edge to advance after what I expect to be a tenacious battle with some grueling rallies on these slow-playing courts.

Angelique Kerber (10) vs. Paula Badosa (21) – Not Before 6:00pm on Stadium 1

This will be the first career meeting between the three-time Major champ and the 23-year-old Spaniard, who has had a tremendous year despite a terrible start.  Upon arriving in Melbourne, Badosa tested positive for COVID, which forced her to spend three weeks in full quarantine.  But she’s now vying for her fifth semifinal of the season, and her first since May.  Kerber had a pretty miserable season until June, and even pondered retiring from the sport.  However, she has been an entirely different player since the grass court season.  Her only losses since mid-June have come against world No.1 Ash Barty, or fellow lefties (Leylah Fernandez, Jil Teichmann).  But these court speeds are not conducive to Angie’s game.  They are playing more at the speed of a clay court, and that’s never been her best surface.  By contrast, Badosa thrives on clay, compiling a record of 17-3 this year.  In the last round, Paula defeated Barbora Krejcikova in straight sets, and Krejickova has been one of 2021’s toughest outs.  I like Badosa’s chance of achieving her fifth semifinal of the season.

Other Notable Matches on Thursday:

Diego Schwartzman (11) vs. Cameron Norrie (21) – Schwartzman easily dispatched of Casper Ruud on Wednesday.  Norrie has won three consecutive three-setters this fortnight.  Cam leads their head-to-head 2-1, which includes a four-hour, five-set victory at last year’s US Open.

Hubert Hurkacz (8) vs. Grigor Dimitrov (23) – Hurkacz was a semifinalist here in 2019.  Dimitrov pulled off an incredible comeback on Wednesday, after falling behind a set and two breaks against top-seeded Daniil Medvedev.

Su-Wei Hsieh and Elise Mertens (2) vs. Shuko Aoyama and Ena Shibahara (3) – When these two teams met in the Wimbledon semifinals, Hsieh and Mertens prevailed 6-3 in the third.

Rohan Bopanna and Denis Shapovalov vs. Aslan Karatsev and Andrey Rublev – This quarterfinal features three players in the top 15 of the Race to Turin singles rankings.  The last time Karatsev and Rublev teamed up, this past March in Qatar, they won the title.

Thursday’s full Order of Play is here.

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