There’s a hell of a lot to unpack from the 2018 version of the US Open that completed a week ago today so this might be a pretty long post.
The Shot Clock
The USTA has been pushing hard for a shot clock and it was unveiled during the US Open series this year.
Long story short it was a bust. The matches did not become shorter; instead they lasted about the same time as they do elsewhere. So, what was/is the point? It really looks more and more as if the shot clock is aimed at players who take time to think about their next shot instead of gripping and ripping, a style favored by US players. Tennis is much more exciting when you know a player has a strategy and that if it’s not working he/she takes time to work out a different one and try it out. They’ll never admit that their big idea is a waste of time (no pun intended).
Three vs Five Set Slams
This idea, like the shot clock, should be quietly put to bed. This seems to be an idea pushed by those who believe the upcoming generation is not able to focus long enough to make a best of five set match interesting. That sounds like a problem that needs to be faced by Federations, training facilities and coaches not Slams. Again, this is a solution looking for a problem.
The New Stadiums
They finally got it right. The new Louis Armstrong Stadium is a work of art. It’s fan friendly – there are vents built into the structure to allow as much heat as possible to escape during a match. I read that some players complained about the acoustics on court but that was not a complaint I heard a lot. Yes, there are more paid seats in this larger stadium but the “cheap seats” are really one of the best bargains at the Open. AND if you go in via the right gate you will be in shade for your entire stay. Compared to the other new stadiums and courts that is a blessing. Also you can see the tennis quite well which of course is the reason you’re there in the first place.
Take, for example, Court 17. If any court was designed to maximize the torture both fans and players this is the court. There is literally, no shade for any living thing until late afternoon when the sun starts to go down. If being roasted to death is your thing this is the court for you.
Then there’s the new Grandstand.. It’s not as bad sun wise as Court 17 but it’s better to visit that court in the late afternoon.
As most of you know the outer courts, smaller courts nestled into a leafy environment have been replaced with modern concrete ones fully exposed to the sun. There really isn’t a bad seat in them but again, bring plenty of sunblock and a big hat or an umbrella.
Last year Chase Bank set up a cooling center where preregistered fans could escape the heat and grab a free bite to eat. This year the free bite to eat was gone and replaced by offerings of fruit and soft drinks. There are also big screen tv’s in the lounge area as well as rest room facilities. The only grumble I had was that there was nothing good for this diabetic to eat. So after cooling off it was off to the AmEx pavilion to get my bracelet and to Armstrong.
The Nike Pavilion
This is sorely missed. Part of the fun of going to the Open was buying the latest shirts, hats or other gear trademarked with the logo of your favorite player. Yes it was expensive but when you consider the Open is already an expensive vacation for many people dropping a lot of money on casual wear you will have for a long time was worth it.
I don’t know why Nike is gone. Its space has now been taken over by Mercedes Benz. They have some fan centered things set up inside that pavilion but if you want a souvenir you can wear all you can buy is USTA stuff. Generic, boring USTA stuff. The same stuff they’ve been selling for years. I hope the situation can be worked out so that no matter who your fave is you can buy replicas of their gear without paying shipping charges.
As usual the USTA made money. The crowds were bigger than ever. As usual there was drama. I’m going to try to go step by step in somewhat chronological order, starting with the heat.
The best innovation of this tournament was the heat rule being instituted for ATP players, something I’m sure will be replicated for the Australian Open. Anyone who has attended the US Open can tell you war stories about their battles with the heat and humidity of New York City in the summer. There was one year where no matter how much water you drank you didn’t have to go to the bathroom. But I digress.
It was no secret that the weather that prevailed during Fan Week was not going to last. To go a bit off topic a big shout out goes to Katrina Adams for giving this week a name and scheduling events for the many fans who come to watch not only the Qualifying Tournament but see the top players walking around and drop in on practice sessions to see what players and their coaches are working on and how that work translates to their match play.
Back to the weather. New York City government had been issuing heat advisories since the weekend. Still it took the spectacle of those “manly men” dropping like flies to make officials jury rig a heat protocol for the men. It doesn’t matter why they did it. It matters that they did. We went on Wednesday of week one, the “cooler” of the first few days and it was miserable. Armstrong’s vents work fine if there’s a breeze. If there isn’t one you bake in there too. Not like you would in Ashe but it gets quite warm. We made it through one match and decided to try and find some shade in the food court and eat before leaving.
The officials also took the health of junior players into account and began to start their matches in late afternoon instead of late morning when there is no escaping the brutal sun and heat.
There isn’t much to say about the draws, especially since the tournament is long over. I thought that they were par for the course these days where one part of the draw is murderer’s row and the other is a cake walk. I’ve seen worse. The good news is that the ITF has decided dropping the number of seeds from 32 to 16 is a really bad idea.
When the Umpire Becomes the Story
One fan site I like has a thread that documents the “best” racquet destructions for the calendar year. The winners of this little “contest” are mostly men. And yet despite their antics the men rarely face any consequences.
Then we had the unbelievable display by Karolina Pliskova. She didn’t like calls made by the chair umpire during her match vs Maria Sakkari. As she walked ahead of her opponent according to tennis protocol she began to hack away at the supports of the chair the umpire was seated in. Yes, the umpire was sitting in her chair while an enraged player hacked away at its foundations. Pliskova’s opponent needed to execute some fancy footwork to get out of the way of the flailing racquet and avoid injury herself. Was there outrage? Threats of a boycott? A heavy fine? None of that happened. Her rampage was not condemned and there were no demeaning cartoons published in the wake of her attack on the chair umpire. If the umpire had not been in her seat this would’ve been a different situation but the umpire was in her seat and faced potentially serious injury from either the player herself or as the result of her damaged perch collapsing. But tennis officials felt it was a justified reaction I guess and Ms Pliskova the elder was fined $4,000 and her reputation remains intact among tennis officials and journalists, at least publicly.
Fast forward to the Women’s Final at the US Open. A player, frustrated with herself, broke her racquet. That is a common occurrence in tennis, especially by ATP players as has been mentioned. She was given a warning. While she was putting herself back in position to play her coach made a gesture that she couldn’t see and the player was given a coaching violation.
Let’s stop here a minute. I watch a lot of tennis and have for a very long time. Back in the day Justine Henin looked to her coach for guidance no matter if she was serving or receiving serve. If she was on court her coach was visibly coaching her. She was never ever given a coaching violation.
Actually you don’t have to go to the past. Sloane Stephens coach does the same thing Henin’s did. He even talks to her throughout the entire match. He’s been shown doing this whenever she plays. Never has Stephens been hit with a coaching violation. But one gesture from Serena Williams coach, one she didn’t even see, caused her to be assessed a coaching violation.
If you’re new to tennis and don’t know the history of the Williams family and the sport that they play better than almost anyone in two tennis generations I’ll give a Cliff Notes version of what they’ve been subjected to.
From the time they began to dominate the sport both Serena and Venus Williams were accused of cheating in some shape form or fashion. Either their father was dictating who would win or lose if they were playing each other, or that something else was irregular about their ascent. There were whispers of doping yet neither has ever failed a drug test. There is excessive drug testing while other top players are rarely tested. And the tests have found nothing. Their medical records were hacked and it was shown that after serious injury medically approved drugs were part of the treatment of said injuries and approved under the TUE process. But some have sought to characterize this as cheating.
Knowing this background it makes perfect sense that Serena would bristle at being labeled a cheater when illegal coaching seems to be all right for some players. The family has worked very hard to maintain public cool in face of the false accusations hurled at them over the years but sometimes enough is enough. Pointing a finger at someone and defending your honor are categorized as “aggression” towards the chair umpire while an actual physical attack that could’ve resulted in physical harm to an umpire was excused as a fit of pique.
For some reason the anger of African American people is seen as more threatening than a physical attack by a European player. This blog is not the place to get into the whys of that but it has to be mentioned as a possible explanation for the reaction of the chair umpire who has been cursed at by male players from top to bottom and has never given a game penalty against any of them. If a man had done what Serena did there would’ve been some head shaking and nothing more.
Where do we go from here? Thanks to Carlos Ramos who hasn’t done a major men’s match in ages, all chair umpires are going to have to become “sticklers” for the rules and apply them equally whether the player is male or female, number one in the world or number one hundred in the world. The rules will have to be applied whether the player is a main tour staple or a junior just beginning a professional career. The rules must be applied whether the player is a favorite of tournament officials (yes that happens kiddies) or not.
During Davis Cup play on Sunday September 16 Marin Cilic broke his racquet to pieces on a red clay court. I asked if he got a warning, a point penalty or a game penalty. I haven’t gotten an answer.
A few years ago I was half asleep watching a stream of the junior tournament held before the YEC in Singapore. I had heard about a player named Naomi Osaka and figured I could get a glimpse of her before falling asleep. Imagine my surprise when I saw her. I stayed awake for that match and her winning match in that tournament. As best I could I followed her progress after that.
When she came to New York to play the US Open in the Main Draw we saw her on the old Grandstand court. We were impressed and became bigger fans.
Last Saturday she was the better player but I was afraid that her confidence would waver, something I’ve seen happen to her before, and that the match would go three sets. Instead she held her nerve and at the age of 20 won the 2018 US Open. I can’t tell you how happy I am for her and her family. I thought she’d accomplish a Slam win in another couple of years but I’ll take it.
Congratulations to her, her father and mother, her coach Sascha Bajin, and her team from Japan. Knowing tennis the Japanese members of the team will become household names.
More than a million more people watched the US Open Women’s Final than watched the men’s final. As much as tennis seems to hold a grudge against the Williams family the casual fan they claim to be trying to attract tunes in to watch either sister play. I know in my family my younger sister who never watches tennis always watches when a Williams sister is playing. This year she’s decided she likes Naomi too.
It’s too bad that outside of the Slams finding women’s tennis is practically a full-time job. I broke and subscribed to WTA TV because despite its lousy platform it’s the only way to be assured of seeing women play tennis. The streaming platform for men’s tennis, TennisTV is superior in every way. It was foolish for the WTA to leave that platform and have nothing decent to replace it with.
It’s going to be interesting to see how Aryna Sabalenka does in Asia. Those are hard court tournaments and with proper pacing and rest between events she can continue to impress with her play. The same can be said for Maria Sakkari. Neither woman fits into the mold the WTA prefers it’s players to fit into but both had excellent summers and can do major damage as tired players move on to play in Asia.
I’m starting to be concerned about the career path of young Cori Gauff. Believe me I understand the financial pressures of tennis on a “regular” family and that it would be nice to recoup some of the money that has been invested in a child’s career. Gauff has great potential. At 14 she is still growing and promises to be taller than Venus. Parents see the success of Venus and Serena and want it without realizing that Richard Williams and Oracene Price stuck to a plan about their daughters. Neither one of the sisters played a lot of junior tennis and so they were in their late teens when the began to play on the main tour. I for one am glad Cori’s success has been limited. It means that she will have to continue to grow and play more mature tennis as she does so. The fact that so much talk centers on Cori and not Whitney Osuigwe is telling.
Another potential US star is Amanda Anisimova. At 17 she is being given the star treatment by both the USTA and the WTA. I see that she can hit the ball hard and has a highly developed forehand like most US players but when faced with someone who is not going to let her dictate play, who is going to ask her the difficult questions during a match she falls apart.
The big star on the men’s side during the Open was Stefanos Tsitsipas. At 20 he is already ranked in the top 20 after a great summer and should be looking ahead to the European indoor and Asian outdoor events to try and move up the ranks leading up to the Australian Open in January. He has an interesting game and if he is managed correctly on and off court has the potential to become a star of the men’s tour.
There was one other youngster who impressed me. His name is Thiago Seyboth Wild. He’s 18 and was born in Brazil. He convincingly beat the boy who won both the French Open and Wimbledon boys crowns, Tseng Chun Hsin. He’s got a big game but he’s not a ball basher or serve bot. Remember you first heard about him here.