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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Simona Halep ‘Happy To Be Back’ Amid Uncertainty Over US Open Plans

The Romanian still has reservations about her future plans after taking her first international flight in five months.

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World No.2 Simona Halep admits the prospect of travelling from Europe to America will be ‘mentally tough’ as she ponders whether or not to play at the US Open.

 

The reigning Wimbledon champion is set to return to competitive tennis in the Czech Republic where she will play her first tournament in five months at the Prague Open. Halep was originally due to make her return in Palermo but withdrew from the event due to ‘travelling anxiety’ despite being assured she wouldn’t have to go through quarantine. Speculation has mounted in recent weeks about if the Romanian would travel to the US Open later this year with the 28-year-old confirming she will make her final decision after Prague.

“I haven’t made the final decision yet,” AFP quoted Halep as telling reporters during a virtual press conference on Sunday.
“The travelling from Europe is a little bit tough with changing flights — we don’t have straight flights — so it’s going to be tough for me personally, mentally,” she told a video conference.
“I don’t want to put myself into that stress. As I said I haven’t decided yet, but the conditions are tough for me at this moment.”

Three members of the top 10 on the women’s Tour have already pulled out of the New York major, which will be played behind closed doors for the first time in history. Ash Barty, Kiki Bertens and Elina Svitolina have all withdrawn from the major due to concerns. In comparison, only one member of the top 10 on the men’s Tour, Rafael Nadal, has withdrawn specifically related to COVID-19 concerns.

Prague is Halep’s first international trip after being in lockdown in Romania since February. A country which reported 1,378 new coronavirus cases and 50 new related deaths on Friday in what was their highest 24-hour figure since the pandemic began.

“I’m a bit nervous but things are very controlled here and very safe so I feel safe,” she said upon arrival in the Czech capital.
“I’m happy to be back, I’m happy to be healthy.”

It will be double duty for Halep in Prague. Besides being the top seed in the singles draw, she will also be playing the doubles alongside local favourite Barbora Strycova. Who reached the semi-final of Wimbledon last year before losing to Serena Williams. It is the first time ever the two are playing alongside each other on the Tour.

“I’m sure we will have fun. I’m sure that she will understand if I miss easy balls at the net, and I hope we’ll enjoy it.” Halep commented on their collaboration.

Halep will start her singles campaign against Slovenia’s Polona Hercog.

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REPORT: Madrid Open To Be Axed Amid COVID-19 Concerns In Latest Setback For Tennis

Hopes of Spain holding their top tennis event in 2020 are over.

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The world of tennis is set to suffer another severe blow with multiple media sources confirming that organisers of Spain’s most prestigious tennis tournament will officially cancel their event on Tuesday. 

 

The Mutua Madrid Open will be removed from the 2020 calendar following a meeting involving tournament owner Iron Tiriac. Recently doubts have been cast on the event after local health officials called for it to be suspended due to a spike in COVID-19 cases. Although the final decision was up to Tiriac and his team. It had been due to take place between September 12 to 20, following the conclusion of the US Open. 

“We have to be realistic now, we have to accept that health is always the priority. We must not endanger anyone, neither the fans, nor the players, nor the staff, all those who come to Madrid in September,” tournament director Feliciano Lopez told L’Equipe over the weekend. 

Spain has seen their rate of COVID-19 cases rapidly rise since the country ended its lockdown. According to El Pais, the number of cases recorded within 24 hours is eight times the amount compared to 40 days ago. Rising from 334 (June 20) to 2,789 (between July 29 and 30). On Friday July 31st there were 3092 new cases in the country in what is a post-lockdown record.

Held at the Caja Magica, the Madrid Open is a key event for both men and women. It is currently classed as a Masters 1000 for the men and as a Premier Mandatory for the women. Last year each of the singles champions took home €1,202,520 in prize money. It was originally set to be played in May but was postponed due to the pandemic.

The demise of Madrid this year is another setback for what is becoming a rapidly thinning 2020 tennis calendar. Within the past two weeks China has confirmed that they will not be hosting any tournaments this year, Japan’s scrapped it’s premier women’s event and the Italian Open has been advised to not allow any fans to their event this year. 

As a result of the latest development, only two WTA clay-court events will take place after the US Open leading up to Roland Garros. They are both set to get underway on September 21st in Rome and Strasbourg. As for the men, Rome will be their only point of call. 

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Serena Williams leads a high-quality line-up in Lexington

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Twenty-three time Grand Slam champion Serena Williams will be the top seed at the inaugural edition of the Lexington Open from 10th August 2020 on the same week as the Prague Open. The Lexington Open will be the first US tournament of the US hard court season, which will continue with the Western and Southern Open and the US Open, which will be held in the same venue at Flushing Meadows in New York. 

 

Serena was very close to tie Margaret Court’s record of 24 Grand Slam titles, but lost four times in a Major final after giving birth to her daughter Olympia. 

The US legend will play her first match since she hepled the US team beat Latvia in the Fed Cup last March in Everett. There Serena beat Jelena Ostapenko but she was defeated by Anastasija Sevastova. 

Williams will lead a star-studded line-up, which features this year’s Australian Open finalist and former Roland Garros and Wimbledon champion Garbine Muguruza, Aryna Sabalenka, Sloane Stephens, Johanna Konta, Amanda Anisimova and Yulia Putintseva, Ons Jabeur, Victoria Azarenka, Heather Watson and US rising star Cori Gauff. 

Sabalenka won two consecutive editions of the Wuhan tournament in 2018 and 2019, in Shenzhen in 2019, the WTA Elite Trophy in Zhuhai in 2019 and the Doha final in 2020. 

Stephens won her first Grand Slam title at the US Open in 2017 and reached the final at 2018 Roland Garros. She finished runner-up to Elina Svitolina at the 2018 WTA Finals in Singapore. The US player lost to Canadian teenager Leylah Annie Fernandez in Monterrey in her last WTA Tour match before the pandemic. 

Amanda Anisimova won her maiden WTA title in Bogotà in 2019 in her first professional tour tournament on clay. Last year the young US player beat Simona Halep en route to becoming the youngest semifinalist at the French Open since 2006. This year Amanda lost to Serena Williams in the semifinal in Auckland last January. 

Johanna Konta reached the French Open semifinal and the Rome Final in 2019. The British player enjoyed her best year in 2017, when she won the Miami title and reached the Wimbledon semifinal rising to her best ranking at world number 4. 

The Top seed Open will be the first WTA tournament to be played in the United States since the coronavirus pandemic swept across the United States. The Kentucky tournament will feature a 32-player singles draw and a 16-player doubles field. 

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