Check back daily throughout the US Open as our resident blogger,
James LaRosa, offers up his humorous and poignant take on the
world of tennis live from the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center
in Flushing, New York.
Catch up on James' past grand slam blogs as well as his weekly column, LaRosa's Sweet Spot (new columns every Wednesday)
| LaRosa's Sweet Spot
Q&A with James
Day 15 - Sep 14, 2009 - 10:00PM EST
It's Day 44 of the '09 US Open, and you know what that means: THE DUNLOP AWARDS! And I'm passing them out in dramatic through-the-legs style yo, so check it.
Accepting for Breakthrough
Breakthrough Performance (Male): John Isner and Marin Cilic made big noise, but JUAN MARTIN DEL POTRO's was a sonic boom. Like, dominate-Rafael-Nadal-in-straight-sets-and-follow-it-up-by-rocking-Roger-Federer-in-a-5-set-final-that-snapped-the-Swiss's-5-year-US-Open-streak-to-win-his-first-Grand-Slam sonic boom. WHAT? He did it with the most frightening forehand on tour, and nerves of steel. He didn't start that final looking so tough, but when Roger was serving for the second set something clicked, Super DelPo arrived and he wasn't going anywhere. The Argentine's elevated himself to a whole other level, all at the ripe old age of 20. Juan Martin, you can say all the Spanish you want to, I ain't mad atcha. Can I ride in that Lexus with you? I'll hold your $1.85 mil check.
Comeback Queen: KIM CLIJSTERS! She wasn't even ranked coming in because she didn't play the required three tournaments. So she rode a wild card all the way to the trophy, downing both Venus and Serena along the way to successfully defending her '05 title and becoming the first mom since Evonne Goolagong almost thirty years ago to win a Slam. In typical US Open fashion, the women's final itself was less exciting tennis than it took to get there, but Caroline Wozniacki acquitted herself quite well in making Kim earn it. And earn it she did. There's the usual chatter about what a woman coming back from retirement and winning a Slam like this says about the rest of the tour, but let's not forget how brilliantly Kim returned from injury in '05. The woman is a champion. I'll hold your $1.6 check, too. Jada can play with the envelope.
Best Match (ATP): Oh this is gonna be a controversial one. You want me to say the final. But as dramatic as it was, the first set and the last featured only one player. For pure quality from start to finish, that goes to TAYLOR DENT/IVAN NAVARRO, a match that was actually more ferocious than the 6-4, 5-7, 6-7, 7-5, 7-6 (9) scoreline suggests. Over the course of four hours, the serve and volleyers accounted for a combined 255 net rushes and 191 winners that kept the packed Grandstand on its feet. It also had the tournament's fastest serve, with Dent ripping a 147 mph-er. But it was his 138 mph serve that broke the strapping on the net and caused a 7-minute delay. Not bad for a guy with a bad back.
Best Match (WTA): Melanie Oudin's win over Maria Sharapova was the bigger headline, but OUDIN/DEMENTIEVA was the bigger match. Facing a US Open Series champ who many pegged to win it all, Oudin came out of nowhere and played through cramps, a thigh injury and tears to electrify Arthur Ashe. And sell a dumpload of garish sneakers. Runner Up: PENNETTA/ZVONAREVA. No ball-bashing here, both players mixed it up with power, precision and (gasp) incredible point construction, forcing even Jimmy Connors into grateful submission.
Worst Match (WTA): Sadly, MELANIE OUDIN takes this one too. So much was built into her QF clash with CAROLINE WOZNIACKI that when it actually went down, it went down in flames. The American was spent, emotionally and physically. By the time the moonball rallies kicked in, the writing was on the wall. Whether Oudin's little sis could spell it or not.
Worst Match (ATP): NADAL/GONZALEZ. Again, no real fault of either player, but wind, rain and abdominal tears turned what should have been a juicy quarterfinal into a soggy mess. Punctuated by one gnarly 6-0 third set collapse by the Chilean that even I'm going to need to see a psychiatrist over.
Breakdown Performance (Male): Tied: THE TWO ANDYS. Roddick has struggled to find his form post-Wimbledon, but this is the US Open man. Murray meanwhile just fell apart, once again bucking the odds and getting bounced before his time. Both lost to guys who'd go on to lose in the next round. Wah wah.
Breakthrough Performance (Female): Poor YANINA WICKMAYER. She comes out of nowhere to make it to the US Open semifinals and still has to play second fiddle to CAROLINE WOZNIACKI, who outsteadied the competition to make her first Grand Slam final. And somehow even she has to play second fiddle to MELANIE OUDIN, who caused the two noisiest upsets of the tournament in Dementieva and Sharapova. By the time Mel booked her spot in the quarters with a knock-out of Nadia Petrova, she was already an international sensation. Time will tell how she handles the weight of expectations, but at this U.S. Open, there was no bigger story.
Oh, but wait…
...Biggest Meltdown: SERENA WILLIAMS. Her match against Kim Clijsters was poised to be the best match of the tournament, with monster rallies and (at least Belgian) guts left all over the court. Until it literally came to a violent, screeching halt. Spurred perhaps more by the frustration of being outplayed, Serena's tirade made sure none of the replays from the match would feature any actual tennis. Runner Up: Vera Zvonareva, who literally came apart at the seams in her fourth round loss to Flavia Pennetta.
Breakdown Performance (Female): Dinara Safina. Every match was a three set grinder that was as exhausting to watch as it seemed to play. By the time Petra Kvitova (who?) finally put her down, it was all but a mercy killing. Rest up and come back swinging Dinara, if only to spare your fans any more of this agony. Runner Up: Victoria Azarenka, who has no exhausting climb to the top to blame on her colossal collapse against Francesca Schiavone.
Brilliance in Marketing: One word. BELIEVE. Runner Up: American Express and Stella McCartney, for hitching their wagons over the summer to Caroline Wozniacki.
Cockroach Award: Ugh, this MELANIE OUDIN wins everything! But no one came back from back-to-back-to-back first set losses with more spunk than the 17-year-old. Runner Up: FLAVIA PENNETTA, who saved 6 match points in that Zvonareva match.
Best Use of a Microphone: Taylor Dent, who took to the ump's Mic to thank the crowd for their support. The high-fiving sprint around the Grandstand was just gravy.
Worst Use of a Microphone: Brad Gilbert, who commended Juan Martin del Potro on dressing like "a physical specimen" after deeming his Wimbledon and French Open outfits "too fruity-looking." Perhaps Brad should've just gone the whole nine and offered him a Wrist Assist? Commentator Fail.
Best Quote: Serena's tirade may not be fit for print but it's already a hit at parties. It's the 2009 Snakes on a Plane. Runner Up: "Shocking. Shocking that she said that." A deadpan Maria Sharapova, in her post-loss presser, after being told Jelena Jankovic said Oudin had no weapons and that she wasn't too impressed with her.
Biggest Variable: Rain. Would the Serena/Kim match have played out the way it did without that agonizing delay? Would Black & Huber been able to come back after Stubbs & Stosur won the first set? Would Fernando Gonzalez have crumbled so fantastically against Rafa? Would Rafa have even made it as far as he did without the break? Like how many licks it takes to get to the center of a Tootsie pop, the world may never know.
That about wraps it up for this decade, folks. Check back Wed. and every Wed. for the Sweet Spot. On behalf of—
What? WHAT? I'm (bleeping) going to take this (bleeping) blog and shove it down your (bleeping) throat, I swear to God. What? Are you serious? I never said I was going to kill you--!
Hello peoples, it is Dunlop here. We experience the, how you say, technical difficulties. Hvala for spending the time with us. See you soon!
Dunlop and James
Day 14 - Sep 13, 2009 - 2:30PM EST
The clouds have parted once again, and now the women will have their day. On Ashe, the de facto women's final kicks off between defending champion Serena Williams and Kim Clijsters, also a defending champion of sorts, returning to Flushing Meadows for the first time since winning here in '05.
Now, for all the love and respect Kim Clijsters has earned in her ferocious return to the tour, no one expects her to pull off the win here. Including myself, having started off the day giving a radio interview basically giving my thoughts on what she should wear during her media victory lap (something tasteful for Letterman, go a little crazy for Regis & Kelly…). Still, if anyone's going to challenge Serena, who's been playing lights out tennis this U.S. Open, it's Jada's mom.
Kim holds to open. Half the battle. Serena follows suit. As we head into the first changeover, we're on serve, but Kim's looking just a bit sharper. I'm getting the feeling her best stroke yet is her luck at winning the coin toss and serving first, keeping the pressure on Serena to hold.
One happy Mom.
It starts to drizzle, but these women aren't going anywhere. Refs are going to have to drag them off. A stark contrast to the upper decks of Ashe, which are sadly empty. Ditto out front where fans are normally camped out in front of the big screen. Anyone who wants to see this match is inside.
We trade breaks, but both are earned, not coughed up. Until one is downright gifted by a clearly nervy Serena. Is it the occasion? An opponent returning her shots with interest? Either way, it comes at the worst time, costing Serena the set. She takes it out on her racquet. Code violation, Serena Williams.
At this point I'm both thrilled and terrified for Kim. An angry Serena is not one you want to face, and sure enough she breaks Kim to start the second set.
But wait, Kim breaks back.
At this point Serena is almost looking like a rookie. It's like she ran into a ghost she didn't want to see. Which is crazy considering Serena holds a 7-1 H2H on her. But Kim's showing some mental toughness she frankly isn't totally known for, and she's being rewarded big time. A challenge on one of Kim's aces is met with a roar. And it was ruled in Kim's favor. This crowd is behind her right now.
4-3 Kim, and a ton of break points. Could she actually pull this off? Nope, not yet anyway, as Serena fights them all off with a slew of aces. How can Kim hold after that? Uh, easily, at love. Serena obliges by doing the same. High-quality stuff.
(Meanwhile, there's something going on over on Armstrong. Wozniackmayer or Wickiacki, I dunno. The girl who beat Oudin is up a set and a break.)
Back on Ashe, Clijsters holds at love to go up 6-5. No double faulting problems on this court. John McEnroe suggests that their struggling colleagues take a couple years off to have a baby. An epidemic of young mothers sweeps the ladies locker room.
Serena serves for a tiebreak and finds herself down 15-30. Second serve. Foot fault! Wow. The timing couldn't be worse. It gives Kim double match point. Oh. Oh dear. What is happening. Serena is going at the lineswoman. I can't hear what she's saying but she is pissed. The ref comes out. It's suddenly bananas on court and Serena is screaming at the lineswoman, "I did not say I would kill you, are you serious?"
I don't know about you but this is all happening is crazy slow motion for me.
All I know is Serena's already got a code violation for smashing the racquet so this can't go anywhere good. It goes there fast as Serena gets a point penalty for telling the line judge she's bleeping going to take a bleeping ball and shove it down her bleeping throat. On match point! Just like that, a match delayed and delayed by rain is suddenly, abruptly, over.
Serena heads right to a dazed and confused Kim to shake her hand. Kim does not want it to end this way, and I don't blame her at all. She deserves better than this after such a spectacular performance.
Serena leaves the court to boos and Kim is left to give perhaps the most awkward, anticlimactic on-court interview of her career. This woman came back from having a baby and she's in the U.S. Open final! Big news! Sadly, it'll be Serena getting all the headlines tonight as she would wind up indeed, at least figuratively, dragged off the court by the refs.
Johnny Mac says a foot fault so late in a match is a bad call. I disagree. Rules are rules. However, to not be able to challenge a foot fault call, especially at such a critical moment, is beyond dreadful and could make anyone lose their minds (youtube that Jesse Witten clip I mentioned earlier in the blog for exhibit A, B and C). Hopefully, as Serena inspired Hawk-Eye with that Capriati debacle years ago (maybe the U.S. Open just has it out for her?), she'll inspire officials to find a way to challenge these calls as well.
A crazy end
Even if it was a bad call, it was a worse reaction by Serena. There's no place for that on the Grand stage. And still. I imagine what would've happened had it been a male player doing it, say Andy Roddick. Everyone would still think he made a ridiculously boneheaded move and cost himself the match. But the next day, people would laugh. The guys who cover "real" sports at ESPN. The late night comedians. Andy would be a rock star, driven immediately to Radio City Music Hall for the obligatory MTV Video Music Awards appearance tonight where he'd take Will Ferrell aside and threaten to bleeping shove this bleeping popcorn-looking award down his bleeping throat. Then they'd make out.
What I'm saying is, she had to face the consequences in the moment. Because you just can't do that and people need to see you can't do that. But she's got to be allowed to move on. It was a boneheaded move. Next.
So as dramatic as her exit was, equally fascinating will be what's 'next.' How she recovers in the PR department. Not to mention how she'll fare on the court in her quest to finish the year No 1. Serena lost not only the match and her shot at the title, but also her shot to reclaim the top spot from Dinara Safina (who can't seem to give it away at this point).
Fernando Gonzalez's implosion earlier in the day is a quaint memory. As is Serena's victory lap (though she may still need to figure out what to wear on Letterman and Regis & Kelly). I won't make the same mistake in calling the final. Kim should certainly win, but that Wozniackmayer is one tough cookie.
Tomorrow: Where in the world will this crazy train called the women's draw let off? And the men's semifinals! Will it be another Federer/Nadal final, or will we see yet one more twist in the saga that is the 2009 U.S. Open? Stay tuned.
Update: In one more twist, Nadal is thumped in straight sets to Juan Martin Del Potro
Day 13 - Sep 12, 2009 - 7:00PM EST
Under my Umbrella...
By now you've worn down your copy of "U.S. Open Rain Delay Music," and if you hear Dick Enberg sing "Umbrella" one more time you're going to take a racquet to your skull, Youzhny-style.
You want tennis and you want it now.
You're not the only one. You think CBS wants to air Connors/Krickstein from 1991 one more time? Or that the US Open tournament director Jim Curley wants to hold a press conference to face a firing squad over how this scheduling mess could've been avoided? (They're seriously considering a roof. Like, more super duper seriously than last year.)
Well, Mother Nature finally decided to throw everyone a bone and part the clouds for Rafael Nadal and Fernando Gonzalez. Not in enough time to avoid a second consecutive Monday men's final, but hopefully we can get this match, grinded to a halt two days ago, off the docket.
The fact that this QF was interrupted in the middle of a second set tiebreak is what Cliff Drysdale would call 'delicious.' Add to that Rafa's ab injury, and I'm dying to see how both guys pick this baby back up. It's a celebration for the players just walking down the tunnel. They're literally getting high fives just for taking the court.
After a quick warm-up, the psychodrama begins. First point to Rafa. And now they have to switch sides. Bizarre. If you need too much time to get your bearings, this could be over in a hurry. Sure enough, Rafa's simply steady as one unforced error after the next costs Fernando four quick points and, in the blink of an eye, the entire second set.
The Chilean double faults to give up the first game in the third set and he takes it out on his racquet. Even said stick is humiliated, hurling itself almost directly into his bag. (Incidentally, with Marat on the way out, is there anyone who knows how to smash a racquet better than Fernando Gonzalez? He's truly an artist.)
At 3-0, the unthinkable. An injury time-out. Seriously Fernando? Two sets and two breaks down, with the sky looking like it wants to put you out of your misery, you want to drag this out?
....Ella, ella, eh, eh
He's merely delaying the inevitable. And allowing for so much more hyperbole from the commentators as the errors are now hurling off his racquet like the rockets in his ATP Feel It ad. How many ways can John McEnroe rip this one apart? Oh wait, one more: "It's so bad it's embarrassing." At one point Gonzalez bounces the racquet only to have it bounce back up and hit him in the face.
It's officially a Saturday Night Live sketch. But, like, the kind where Chris Kattan plays you. No, Horatio Sanz.
Where is Rafa in all this? Does it matter, he's been on court for about 15 minutes and is thisclose to wrapping this bad boy up.
At 5-0, with the sky spitting almost as much as the Olympic silver medalist, neither guy heads for his seat during the changeover. They're waiting on the baseline for the ballboys to scram. Someone has a date with the semis. And someone else has a date with his psychiatrist. Finally, Rafa brings the hammer down. Not too long before Mother Nature has a freak out over how her dry spell was molested and brings the rain.
Nadal will for sure have a tougher test against Juan Martin del Potro. But at least he won't be worn out. Unlike the rest of us, so thoroughly fried from one rain delay after the next. As we're once again waiting for the ladies to take the court on Super Soaker Saturday, and Dick Enberg launches into another chorus of Umbrella (ella ella, ay ay), we're all fighting with each other for the racquet to crack against our skulls. Something tells me we could give Gonzo a run for his money.
Day 12 - Sep, 11, 2009 - 4:38PM EST
Hi. I'm James LaRosa. You may remember me from such blogs as "Wimbledon '08" and "Monica Seles Does Dancing With the Stars." This is usually the part of the program where we devote a special
Where are the floats?
song to a special player or two who've stirred us with their spirited charge to the final weekend. Unfortunately, due to rain, that could be anyone.
And so, the Sweet Spot and K-Tel present "U.S. Open Rain Delay Music," a collection of original hits, by some fairly original artists, all sitting around the players lounge hating life. Just take a listen!
"Talking to myself and feeling old,
Sometime my body want to quit,
But is very very important for me to keep hit,
Nada to do but frown,
Rainy Days and Mondays always get…me down…"
"USTABJKNTC is melting in the dark
All my sweet TV time flowing down...
Someone left Pam Shriver out in the rain
I don't think that I can take it '
cause even I'm shocked I made it
And I'll never have this opportunity again.
"Don't tell me not to play,
Just sit and Twitter,
The rest of my draw's candy and the trophy's a sitter.
Don't bring around a cloud
To rain on my parade!"
(I get a parade, right?)
No, Serena. But call now and you'll also get:
"I never want 2 be your weekend lover
I only want 2 be some kind of friend
Title, I could never steal u from another
It's such a shame my time on Ashe had to end
Purple rain, purple rain!"
"Don't know why there's no sun up in the sky
Since a man and I ain't together,
Keeps rainin' all the time.
"Here comes the rain again
Falling on my head like a memory..."
Blame it on the Rain
Seriously, I came back to the tour for this?
The hits just keep fallin' like rain! Remember these classics?
"Oh, I've seen the fire and I've seen the rain
I've seen the sunny days in Melbourne that I thought would never end. I've seen the lonely times when I could not make it past quarters,
But trophy, I always thought that I'd see you baby, one more time again..."
I'm singing in the rain
Just singing in the rain
What a glorious feelin'
I'm happy again!
JUAN MARTIN DEL POTRO
Do I sing into microphone, or..?
And many more! Two records or 3 cassettes, just $19.95. Order yours today. Operators are standing by, along with everyone else.
Day 11 - Sep, 10, 2009 - 12:40PM EST
We're running late.
It's moments before the Oudin/Wozniacki QF, and the pent up crowd is held at the gates.
That about sums up the occasion.
Anticipation for the Oudin match.
Anticipation for the next great female American player.
Anticipation to be part of The Movement.
Believe in Wozniacki
I believe someone's going to get trampled.
And it may just be Melanie, under this enormous pressure.
It may also be Mel's 9-year-old sister, who Pam Shriver humiliates on national television by forcing her to spell b-e-l-e-i-v-e.
Out of the gates, it's a far nervier affair than the QF earlier in the day.
At least on Melanie's side of the net.
At 1-0, 0-40 Wozniacki makes her first error.
The tide is turning!!!
Mmm, no, 3-0 Caroline.
So far the decision to give Mel the night match is looking like a disaster.
Will the thousands of cheerleaders held outside the stadium until the first changeover get Mel pepped up?
Ticketholders aren't the only ones struggling to find the court.
As Mel sails another forehand long, I hear my first bit of Melanie backlash, from the commentators.
"Mel softened the draw by taking out so many top players."
Uh-oh, now it's her fault there are no top guns left in the top half.
The Church of Melanie is crumbling to the ground!
Finally, Oudin gets her first hold.
Her 15-year-old boyfriend cheers.
Mel, you cougar!
Meanwhile, Caroline is notorious for wilting in majors.
Where's this version coming from?
A trade of breaks and that familiar script holds true:
Oudin drops the first set.
Rocky start, Rocky finish?
Unfortunately, it's lookin' a little Rocky 12 out there.
There's no rhythm to this match, and I'm starting to feel bad for all those non-fans tuning in to catch a glimpse of this Little Girl from Marietta, Georgia.
She's so much better than this, I promise!
Mel hits a drop shot, which could be a groundstroke I'm not sure.
They're all starting to look alike at this point.
Still, Alec Baldwin is there with the encouragement.
Come on Mel, Alec could be your Pierce Brosnan, focus on him!
Just, you know, pretend he's let himself go a little.
22 and counting!
Unable to convert break points in several of Caroline's service games, Mel soon finds herself serving to stay in the match.
And, crushing about 23,000 hearts in Arthur Ashe
(not to mention the one or two watching at home), the American's torch is finally snuffed.
Oudini's made her last great escape.
Unfortunately, she can't escape Pam Shriver, who throws Caroline over to force a final on-court grilling through her agonizing tears of defeat.
A pro til the end, Mel makes like Bartles & Jaymes and thanks everyone for their support, then leaves with her head held high. Stand tall Melanie, you're a rock star, and you'll always be strawberry-scented in my book.
I really hope we haven't Laura Robsoned her.
Time, and her true mental toughness, will tell.
Congrats to Caroline, who also gave a classy speech, and managed to nail an old man in the head with her signed ball.
Always a crowd pleaser.
It's hard for the crowd to get worked up for another match, even if it's Roger Federer.
Until Federer shows up in spades, blitzing Robin Soderling in a first set that's scary good.
Who on earth is playing better than this right now?
He bagels the Swede, and takes the second set pretty easily too.
Suddenly that pizza and jelly bean gorgefest Robin treated himself to in bed after his last match isn't looking luck such a good idea.
And then things get juicy.
Soderling finds his nerve and his serve, and he starts taking monster cuts at the ball.
He manages to drag Rog kicking and screaming to a tiebreak, one he rallies from 0-4 down to steal.
Another tiebreak in the fourth and it is just bomb after bomb.
Soderling has set point.
Roger has set point.
(Anna Wintour would not approve.) Roger converts.
Electric end to a surprisingly entertaining romp (yeah, I said romp. And what?).
Fed's into his 22nd straight major semifinal. And I'm officially out of words.
Day 10 - Sep 9, 2009 - 8:00PM EST
Irresistible forces were looking to whoop on immovable objects last night on Ashe as Serena Williams and Gael Monfils and the bazookas they call their forehands took the court against golden retrievers Flavia Pennetta and Rafael Nadal.
#1 on Twitter
Honestly, as play got underway, I felt for Flavia. Plain and simple, Serena showed up. My paesan did her best to hang in there but that's really all she could do. After awhile, even Serena felt for her. As someone well known (and in my eyes respected) for not apologizing for netcord winners, even Serena had to offer a mea culpa to the exhausted Pennetta after the second one bounced over the tape. Serena didn't feel bad enough to take her foot off her throat, downing her in straight sets. That's okay Flavia, you'll double bagel her in the fall at some random Asian tour stop. Now please step aside as Serena has Gatorade to sell.
Nadal and Monfils were next (once Serena was done hawking her book and the Miami Dolphins), and I was nervous. All this Ab injury business! And Rafa refused to talk about it in his press conference. Monfils came out in a fury, making it a blockbuster first set (oh, the rallies!), one he'd stun Ashe by taking in the tiebreak. He'd also become, in that moment, the #1 most talked about thing on all of Twitter. Yeah, he was bigger than Jon Gosselin, Melrose Place, and Jay-Z combined. That's right. Gael Monfils.
It occurs to me I haven't plugged this Twitter thing in five minutes. Follow me at www.twitter.com/JamesLaRosa
. Do it now! There, I feel both grosser and better.
Back to the match, where Gael would remind the world he is a sprinter compared to the Marathon Man that is Rafael Nadal. To see in Monfils a guy so amped up early on reduced to a gasping mess was its own form of sick entertainment.
The match would end with one more sprinter, a freak from the stands who thought he should be allowed to run out on court and wrap his lovin' arms around the victorious Spaniard. I am not lovin' this fan rushing on court business, which started at the French where some jagweed hurled himself at Federer while he was trying to, you know, make history. These people used to at least have the common decency to streak. Meanwhile, was there no one with a Taser around? Let people see the guy convulse (yes, I'm available for security detail).
I'm assuming there will be no Tasering necessary today at the first ladies quarterfinal on Ashe, contested by two women who are so anonymous I don't even know enough about them to finish this joke. I actually said going into this US Open that I didn't see any unseeded surprises making it to the semifinals, but how was I supposed to know Ana Ivanovic, Jelena Jankovic and Dinara Safina, who pulled off the three biggest meltdowns on the women's side, would all land in the same sucktacular quarter?
And so we have Kateryna Bondarenko and Yanina Wickmayer. We'd learn a lot about them today, appearing in their first ever quarterfinal in a major. As play gets underway, it's nice to see neither is buckling under the occasion. Wickmayer in particular is showing off a sweet arsenal of weapons, from groundies to slices, dropshots to lobs. It gets under the tattooed skin of Alona's big sister, and soon the chick who hacked Gisela Dulko to bits not two days earlier on this very court is one set away from being shown the door.
True to WTA form, Wickmayer coughs up a slew of games in the second to give Kateryna a big lead. But there's fight in them there hills, and before you can say "Shut up, another Belgian in the semis?!", Wickmayer is through.
Afterwards, when asked about fellow teen Oudin, who she could face in the semis, Wickmayer said she guesses she shares the same Cinderalla story, except she's not from the U.S. Mmm, the same Cinderella story, minus the wins over Dementieva and Sharapova. In fact, minus wins over any top seed. Of all the underdogs who've cut through their draws, Wickmayer is the only one not responsible for a major scalping (and that's including countrywoman Kim Clijsters). Yanina (yes Bud, it's a lovely name, uncle) benefited from the kindness of strangers.
Will Oudin help her out one more time by taking out Wozniacki? I don't know you guys. Not liking the assignment of a night match on Ashe (you know, because this girl needs more to deal with). Nor the media attention, increasing exponentially by the hour, that's threatening to swallow her whole. Seriously, do a google search on her. It's frightening.
But, as Rajeev Ram said to me this weekend about his mixed doubles partner (see my awesome interview with Raj - we talk about TWITTER!), if anyone can do it, Melanie can. And so, I believe. I'm just going to be believing through the gaps of my fingers.
Tomorrow: Did I watch any of this match without my hands in front of my face? Stay tuned!
Day 9 -Sep 8, 2009 - 5:00PM EST
Okay, this was sort of a disaster last time, but I'm going to try it again. Ladies and gentlemen, my co-host Dunlop--
Dunlop: Hello peoples!
James: I haven't finished introducing this.
Dunlop: We do Joan Rivers fashion show, what is to introduce?
James: Well, we at least know who these people are.
Dunlop: We start with big Mel's Diner waitress Serena Williams.
Venus at Mel's
James: That’s Venus.
Dunlop: Dunlop's bad. Alice is big show in Serbia. We remake it, take place in swimming pool. We are kissing grits all over the place.
James: Petrova was dressed similarly.
Dunlop: Russian's skirt is much shorter. I do not know what she is kissing. They are both terrible.
James: Serena's a little more subdued. Too subdued maybe?
Dunlop: What? I fall asleep. I dream of my Nole.
James: You love his outfit.
Dunlop: Outfit? Oh, yes. Outfit. His wears the orange, I could drink him up like the Sunny D, haha. But in manly way.
James: Could you drink up Andy Murray in Fred Perry?
Dunlop: What juice is blue? Anti-freeze is blue. You are stupid.
James: What did I say if you got lippy?
Dunlop: Back to mini-bar.
James: Okay then. How about Jelena Jankovic? She was rocking the red.
Dunlop: The bagra! She look amazing. Like cocktail waitress at North Pole. My favorite.
James: Over Ana? Really?
Dunlop: Ana is not on court long enough to see dress, she go by in blur. Now you are trying to make Dunlop cry.
James: Aw, sorry. Make fun of a Yankee Doodle, it'll make you feel better.
Dunlop: How about stupid sneakers Melanie Oudin wear.
James: Okay you've gone too far.
Dunlop: Everyone make fun until they see she write special word on it, Believe, now shoes belong in DayGlo church. At least she write something besides own name. I am talking to you Samurai Querrey. And Serena's shoes, with little hearts. She is grown woman--!
James: Okay no more Americans. What about Maria Sharapova?
Dunlop: I thought you say no more Americans? Ha! I kill me like Alf, also big hit in Serbia. Also in swimming pool. Maria's outfit remind me of Nick Lachey Jessica Simpson couple. Nice from neck down. And no, Nick Lachey Jessica Simpson couple are not big in Serbia.
James: Moving on. Roger's sticking with the red and black. If it ain't broke don't fix it?
Dunlop: You have terrible grammar.
James: You're close.
The Rafa circus
Dunlop: He look okay. Not big 16 on chest, that is good sign. I like Rafa. He dress like Big Apple Circus. It is, how you say, appropriate.
James: How about Paul-Henri Mathieu? He had some serious action on the back of his shirt there.
Dunlop: More action than he has on court. Ha! I am on roll. If Rafa was circus, Mathieu was zoo. He was big French giraffe. Except giraffe get to second round.
James: I hesitate to bring her up because you're in rare form here, but what about Caroline Wozniacki? Stella McCartney dumped Kirilenko for her and the Great Dane is getting dogged out for her US Open dress. I think it's actually pretty nice. What do you think?
Dunlop: Is Dunlop allowed one more tired 80's reference?
James: You've got one left.
Dunlop: She look like she wears pillowcase like Miss Ellie on Dallas. But not Barbara Bel Geddes Miss Ellie, Donna Reed Miss Ellie.
James: I don't even know what that means.
Dunlop: Come to Serbia!
James: Okay, let's give out some best and worsts here. For me, I'm loving on Kim Clijsters. She's looks sporty, bold. She's ready for business. Maria is a solid runner up, but strictly the pink and yellow day outfit. Came with a visor. Sadly we only saw it once. Of the men, I think Roger really is the one to beat in red.
Dunlop: I love the bagra. And the circus is in town for Dunlop. Choo choo!
James: How about the worst?
Dunlop: Dinara Safina. She look as tired as she play. Faded. Bruised. Sad.
James: I think this is the first time we've agreed on anything. Dunlop, our first breakthrough!
Dunlop: We toast! Here, have this blue drink I get from car. (silence) Wait, where we go? Where you take me? I do not want to go in there! At least give me my Milk Du--!
Obviously I should've gone with actual Joan Rivers. If I could afford the animatronics necessary to operate her. On behalf of Dunlop and myself, see you next time.
Update: While we were chatting about all this frivolousness, Andy Murray was taking a monster dive in straight sets to Marin Cilic. So, you know, blue drinks for everyone.
Day 8 - Sep 7, 2009 - 8:30PM EST
As one of Michael Douglas's seemingly endless parade of greasy-haired characters once said, Greed is Good. So were the other Deadly Sins on display in the last 24 hours here at the Open. Let's celebrate all things wicked, shall we?
The Wrath of losing
6 Match Points
WRATH: So you squander six match points after playing two sets of dizzyingly brilliant tennis that has even Jimmy Connors speechless. What do you do? Pick yourself up and play that third like your life depended on it. No wait, you go to the bathroom and sob until you've got no water left in your body, then return to the court a thrashing, raging she-beast. Such was the case with Vera Zvonareva. We thought she put this kind of stuff behind her, didn't we? (...didn't we?) But after Flavia Pennetta denied her six times over, playing an unbelievable second set tiebreak, Vera lost her shiznit. She ripped away at the tape job on both her knees, she shouted at the umpire for scissors (I wouldn't have given her anything sharp and pointy either), she hit herself in the leg, in the head. If the Russian Rambo had a Glock it would've been lights out New York. She'd leave the court bageled. And yes, crying.
GREED: Roger Federer trounced Tommy Robredo for the eighth time, all in his quest for a record sixth straight US Open title. Rog will not share. Not even with a celeb in attendance who dressed to the tens for a little of that spotlight: Nicole Kidman, who is officially made of wax.
GLUTTONY: How great is that moment when you upset the big star, get to throw your racquet over your head and bound for the microphone, thanking the twenty thousand-plus people in attendance and the millions at home for cheering you on so completely? So great is that moment in fact that Melanie Oudin just had to relive it again. For the third straight time she had to rally from a set down, but once she got her teeth in the match she wouldn't let go, thoroughly demoralizing yet one more hard hitting Glamazon. (Hey, Nadia Petrova, you left something on the court. Yeah, that F-bomb you dropped.) Are those sneakers for sale? Cuz I know about a million little girls that are going to want a pair. And if they make them in a size 13, hit me back.
SLOTH: Lazybones Robin Soderling is into the quarterfinals of a Grand Slam having only completed two matches. Why? Because his second round opponent, Marcel Granollers, and his opponent today, Nikolay Davydenko, both pulled the ripcord and retired (Granollers after only two games). Soderling rewarded himself with a feast of pizza, coke and jelly beans. In bed. Is it safe to officially love this guy yet?
LUST: Andy Murray, Sex Object? If you believe Tennis Channel, which ran a whole package (giggle) before the Murray/Dent match that was so fleshy and voyeuristic that I thought I was watching Skinemax After Dark. Watch as Andy takes off his shirt and works out, sweat dripping down his rippling abs, his back muscles bulging with each and every aching push up. See those lustful eyes? He's looking at you. Fortunately all he did to Dent was beat him. Silly? A little. But nice to see the men getting their equal share of objectification. But please, let's keep Radek Stepanek buttoned up. In a parka preferably.
Tennis' new sex symbol
PRIDE: We are Bondarenko! Such was Kateryna's war cry as she charged poor Gisela Dulko, the woman who took out her sister Alona two rounds before. 47 minutes later all that was left was a 6-0, 6-0 scoreline and random bits of Argentine pulp splattered all over Arthur Ashe stadium. Clean up on aisle 9!
ENVY: American men, who have to watch with their noses pressed against the glass as the second week of the US Open takes off without them for the first time in…ever. Wait, I thought these were supposed to be wickedly entertaining, not wickedly depressing? Who wrote this? And why is Dunlop laughing?
Okay, time for a whoopin'. I'm about to go all Zvonareva on someone's fuzzy yellow #@%.
Tomorrow: After knocking out Venus Williams, can Clijsters take this dream run all the way to the semis? Will Serena be there waiting for her? And after that injury time out in his last match, will Rafa have the stomach to handle Gael Monfils? Stay tuned.
Day 7 - Sep 6, 2009 - 8:56pm
Hello peoples, it is Dunlop here. I fly all the way from Serbia for big final Grand Slam of the decade, but James have so much of the fun pumping his crazy legs all over grounds that I stay locked up in hotel mini-bar with nothing but Dunlop-sized bottles of, how you say, the hooch. I finally break free using my trusted Shame Stick! (Never leave zavicaj without it.) Since I still have it in my hand I might as well put it to good use, no? I am also angry drunk so I make none of the sorries for any bruises I may leave. You all deserve.
MARIA SHARAPOVA: How bad of a serve do you have to have to have worst serve on WTA tour? 21 Double faults in one match is new US Open record. Are there even 21 points in match? Way to make little Reese Witherspoon girl earn it. Here, I teach you how to swing. Sorry, I do not know how to decelerate either. - 4 Whacks with Shame Stick
Dunlop kicks Andy when
ANDY RODDICK: You are Yankee Doodles' best hope and are first top 16 seed to be bounced from own home. I think you just send the tall babyfaced boy in your place because you are afraid to face my Nole in the quarterfinals. But you cannot hide from the Shame Stick. - 3 Whacks
SANIA MIRZA: You lose 6-0, 6-0? With that forehand? Even blindfolded children can get one piece of candy from piñata and they only get stick. Here, I show you how it is done. - Whacks with Shame Stick Until Candy Fall Out
IGOR ANDREEV: Jesse Witten? Was that the girl on Saved by Bell? I would look up but I have beating to do. - 4 Whacks with Shame Stick
KATERYNA BONDARENKO: You make my Ana cry with your cheating. You are just terrible girl, covered with, how you say, tramp stamps. I save you trip to tattoo parlor, give you some more. - 9 Whacks with Shame Stick (spelling out ANA - ajde!)
YAROSLAVA SHVEDOVA: You too, cheating cheating cheating to get win over Jelena, the bagra. She dress up so nice, nicer than you with your sunglasses. You know who else where sunglasses? The devil. I do not know that is true but I bet you would. - 5 Whacks with Shame Stick
VICTORIA AZARENKA: Start so strong, end so weak. You remind me of other girl with big talent and bigger fuse. She used to be in
You can't hide from
top ten also. Now she can't fight her way out of first round qualifying paper bag. And she is married to worm. Don't be married to worm. Take two of these and call me in the morning. - Whack! Whack!
GASTON GAUDIO: Another unqualified disaster. (Ha! Dunlop use pun, get it? Say yes and no one get hurt.) He is Grand Slam Champion. He has no shame. I must give him some. 3 Whacks with Shame Stick
ELENA DEMENTIEVA: Even Gaudio have Grand Slam. You keep trying and trying. This is supposed to be best chance yet! You win US Open Series, but by losing in second round you earn what, six dollars fifty of it? That is enough to buy self-help book. Can I see for second? Thank you. - 8 Whacks with Self-Help Book
DINARA SAFINA: You are French fried. Ever since clay Grand Slam you are running on fumes. Everything you do is big effort. You need to take nap before you drive car into your career and kill it. But like stubborn child you refuse. I whack you with stick until you are resting peacefully. ...I am still whacking. WHY WILL YOU NOT REST!
Holy Milk Duds, it take me as long as one of her US Open matches to do it but the big Russian finally rests. I need nap too now. These beatings take much from me. Or maybe it is just the alcohol? But now that I am free from my mini-bar prison James cannot get rid of me. MWAHAHAHA! I laugh like Shvedova devil. See you next time!
Day 6 - Sep 5, 2009 - 6:27PM EST
This is the part of the program where I give big ups to the stand-outs of week one. No one stood taller than 5'6" MELANIE OUDIN
, who I've got to get on a chair and three phone books to high five after just taking down glamazon Maria Sharapova on Ashe. Has anyone shown this much tenacity in the face of such fire power?
Oudin had already upset a big name at a Grand Slam. But her victory over Jelena Jankovic at Wimbledon seems like a quaint memory after this week, where Oudin would play through cramps, a bum leg and all the tears that came with 'em to take out the far more in-form Elena Dementieva. It was a third round match that whipped Arthur Ashe into a three-set frenzy like I've never experienced. Dementieva was the US Open Series champ and one of the top picks to take the whole shebang. Still, Oudin's victory over the steely Sharapova is what's sending everyone, not just American press, into a downright frenzy. I remember when Melanie told me her idol was Justine Henin and that she built her game around her I thought, ugh, really? But I guess she was sorta on to something, huh? When it comes to all the talk about this kid being the future of American women's tennis, I've got one word for you. Believe.
: Until this week Witten was probably best known for his supporting role in an instant classic on youtube. In it, his opponent in an '08 Dallas Challenger, Bruno Echagaray, has a meltdown after being foot faulted on match point down. That was before this week, when he upset Igor Andreev and Maximo Gonzalez to set up a showdown with Novak Djokovic. After playing in relative obscurity for years, Jesse's the star now.
: She lost 6 games in the first three rounds, force-feeding a stunned Sania Mirza two steaming bagels along the way. This after a summer that saw her take Los Angeles and become the first Italian in the history of the WTA top ten. You think US hard courts agree with her?
|What back injury?
: Junior phenom Flipkins has been on the brink of breaking through so long she has a summer house there. Could the Belgian finally be ready to take her rightful place on the tour? Straight set wins over Jelena Dokic and Anabel Medina Garrigues are good signs. Sadly, she had to play good friend and compatriot Kim Clijsters in the third round, but perhaps just having the vet back will fuel her even more.
: The guy goes from bed-bound and depressed after multiple back surgeries to upsetting Feliciano Lopez and triumphing in an epic 5-setter against hard-playing Ivan Navarro. After that match, Dent still had the energy to do a victory lap around the Grandstand, soaking in all the love he'd so thoroughly earned. The most inspiring story of week one by far.
THE TOP 16 MEN
: There might be more men on this list if it weren't for the top 16 seeds. They made sure to keep victory laps like Dent's to a minimum by all making it to the third round for the first time in the Open Era. What that means is week two is going to be off the hizzook. Thanks guys, a might considerate of ya.
Still, one person beat all 16 of these guys. And it's the 17-year-old girl from Marietta, Georgia, whose gutsy performance this week has me running for a whole carton of cigarettes.
Update: Uh...throw JOHN ISNER onto the props pile. Knocking out Andy Roddick? On Ashe? At night? To kick the Wimbledon runner up when he's down, especially when he's your buddy, that's just ruthless. Welcome to the big time big boy.
Day 5 - Sep 4, 2009 - 9:47pm
Late night last night. After Dementieva and Jankovic took their sweet time getting bounced, James Blake coughed up a set to ensure the night session would begin sometime before morning. I'm pleased to say Blake stepped it up in that tiebreak cliffhanger we left him in and sealed the deal in four. Still, Christina McHale had plenty of time to let those nerves really get her all kinds of twisty when she finally took the court against the Karate Kid from the year 2313, Maria Sharapova.
Yeah that's me in the back.
The nerves showed. Like her fellow 17-year-old and compatriot Melanie Oudin earlier in the day, she'd never played on Ashe before. She managed to power through it, but she was just overwhelmed by Sharapova's wax on wax off. Lest we feel too badly for Christina, when I asked her afterward what her reaction was when she heard she was getting the night match on Ashe, she said it was a dream come true. Still was. I think she'll be okay.
No time to dream myself (though Andy Roddick did me some favor in pimp-slapping Marc Gicquel in straight sets), I'm up bright and early today (okay just early) for a very special occasion. Tennis Channel is ring-a-ding-dinging the opening bell on Wall Street. That's right, tennis is a business y'all! And I want in. TC folk hop a shuttle over to NASDAQ MarketSite Tower in Times Square. Not Wall Street. There is no bell. I'm completely turned around. I was told there would be bells. What there is is a crazy state-of-the-art studio inside a 7-story JumboTron that apparently is some kind of building as well.
"Ringing the bell" is Martina Navratilova, Bill Macatee and TC CEO and grand poobah Ken Solomon. In addition, TC staff is invited to stand behind them and bask in their awesomeness. Now, I don't know that I qualify as staff, but I was in a commercial so that's got to count for something right? As we go live, Ken is brought on stage to outline all that is Tennis Channel, and he does a brilliant job (I
didn't get here by not sucking up to the boss). He then introduces Bill and Martina. Bill asks Martina if she ever thought when she was a wee one swinging her first racquet that there'd be a whole channel devoted to tennis. She replies that in Czechoslovakia there was only one channel so…no. They're cute. They should be on TV.
Finally we're all ushered on stage for the ringing of the bell, and from what I could tell in the blur the ringing of the bell involved a lot of clapping. And appearing 7 stories high on the outside of this giant Lite-Brite of a building. My head is somehow, in Times Square, on this day, more gigantic than in the banner above. All in all, a great way to celebrate not just Tennis Channel's US Open coverage but just how far it's come in, really, such a short time. Cheers indeed.
It's all business of a different kind back at the USTABJKNTC (you think I don't know how annoying it is to read it like that, but I do. I do.) as Marin Cilic and Juan Carlos Ferrero have to rally from two sets down to make it to the third round. A heartbreaker for Jesse Levine, who against Cilic was one set away from another Big American Upset. It's less messy up the ranks as, between Roddick last night and Juan Martin del Potro and Jo-Willy Tsonga today, the top dogs are showing just how sharp they're playing.
Not all of them though. New No 2 Andy Murray hits a blip, becoming the first guy inside the top ten to drop a set this whole tournament. Significant? Who knows. With the strength of the men this US Open, you'd have an easier time predicting the stock market. And all I know how to do clap.
Video Blog - Trying to see the Williamses
Day 4 - Sep 3, 2009 - 8:30pm
Today is all about gut checks. We've got a bunch of top guns who are trying to course correct some serious career misfires. And we've got a little girl from Georgia, the prayed for future of American tennis, walking onto Ashe for the very first time.
I feel for Melanie Oudin. Elena's not only an Olympic gold medalist and the winner of the US Open Series, she's also, you know, Elena. Big game. In warm up, the 17-year-old can barely keep the ball inside the lines, and it bleeds into the first couple games. She's overwhelmed by the occasion and I'm nervous this could be a disaster of Sania Mirza-like proportions. I passed Mirza today and she still looks shell-shocked by her 6-0, 6-0 loss to Pennetta yesterday. I don't want that for Melanie. Mel settles down and, at 2-0, 30-love she lets out her first Come On! She may be facing Goliath, but David ain't goin' down without a fight.
New face of American Tennis?
Elena too has a gut to check (okay not literally, girlfriend is ripped). Forget the current best player to have never won a Slam, try the best of the Open Era to have to shoulder that load. (Care to debate? Bring it.) She's several tennis muckymucks' top pick to win it here and she knows it. After a little cat and mouse, Elena gets the opportunity to serve for the set. Which is just more pressure for the notorious double faulter. But she toughs it out (as she's toughed out her serving woes in general) and takes it.
In contrast on Armstrong, Dinara Safina, who has heeeeaps to prove both in the Slamless #1 department and the WTH Was Up With That First Round Match department, finds herself serving at set point down in a first set tiebreak against German Kristina Barrois (you remember her from…no, wait, you don't remember her). In this gut check, I'm betting it all on a DF. She delivers. Set to Barrois.
Back to Ashe, where Melanie is giving the crowd something to cheer about. The biased masses will always root for the home team. But to get it this riled up, you really gotta earn it. And earn it she does, taking the second set from the No 4 seed in, dare I say, gutsy style.
And then it gets dramatic.
Now Elena is overwhelmed by the moment, and Melanie is becoming overwhelmed by her thigh injury. She's also cramping. But she's up in the score and the crowd doesn't want it to end this way. Melanie deserves the chance to close it out. Now, whether or not she can actually do that is a whole other story. But let the girl try for cryin' out loud. The trainer helps and Mel breaks, but then she doubles over and grabs her leg in the next game. The crowd gasps. In three years at the Open I haven't experienced a crowd like this on Ashe. She's like everyone's baby.
Melanie's Come On-ing through the pain, and she shocks herself (and the rest of us) by finding herself serving for the whole enchilada. She gets a series of short balls, and this is usually the point in the match where the underdog overplays them all. But she's playing tough and finds herself with three match points. At this point the crowd is bananas. On the first match point, some jagweed cries out YES! in the middle of it and it's lost. On the second, it's now Elena showing guts with a short ball. Third time's the charm as Melanie unloads an unreturnable, bringing the crowd leaping to its feet. I'm on my feet too. This is certainly my highlight match so far and the feel good story of the tournament. Unless you're Elena Dementieva, who's forced to pick up the pieces one more time. I really hope Elena wins one of these one day. If and when that day comes, I suspect the whole tennis world will rise up like they did just now in Ashe. But today is Melanie's day. The kid has guts. Strawberry-scented guts.
Not sure what Safina has, but it won her her match in three. I think guts is all Dinara's running on these days. She looks completely fried. I swear that French Open did her in. Get well soon.
In their pressers, Elena gives more credit to Oudin than Jelena did when Mel upset her at Wimbledon. No "woman problems." Though Jelena may get a second crack at being a gracious loser as, up next on Ashe, Yaroslava Shvedova is taking it to her big time. Jelena showed sparkling form in her first round, but something is up on court today. She looks great in her red togs, but there's no joy here. Jelena fights to take the second set, and the third goes to a tiebreak. One that screams to 6 points-all. Talk about a gut check. Can Shvedova seize the moment? Yes she can, and another top seed bites the dust on Ashe.
I have my own gut check today. Somehow I'm back on the grounds with a camera in my face. I have a choice. Dwell on the role I played yesterday, which I've been referring to friends as The Mortician, or toughen up, throw some confetti and get 'er done. So I took to the streets to talk to the common folk. And let me say, I rocked it. If I still suck I blame the editing. You be the judge.
I wrap up with James Blake struggling against tiny tiny Olivier Rochus. If James was feeling the nerves already trying to resuscitate his top ten career, walking onto a graveyard probably didn't help. He's split sets and landed at 6-all in the third. Let's see which end of the gut check he lands on.
Update: the WTA reports something that makes Jelena's joylessness earlier make all the sense in the world. Her maternal grandmother passed away last night. So the Serb had a lot more to fight through than we knew. In a glib blog, I offer my sincerest sympathies to Jelena and her mom Snezana.
Video Blog - The Vintage Tennis Auction
Day 3 - Sep 2, 2009- 9:50PM EST
It's the circle of life today at the USTABJKNTC as a parade of veterans take perhaps their final split-steps on Grand Slam soil. I'm a little nervous because I love Marat Safin, I love Fabrice Santoro, and I love the lady first up on Ashe, Amelie Mauresmo (who unlike the other two hasn't made any kind of retirement announcement, but, you know, tick tock).
Mauresmo takes the court against whippersnapper Aleksandra Wozniak. I've made no secret of my love for both the Frenchwoman and the style of tennis she plays. She's a classic. So you can imagine the tire skidding I'm hearing in my head as, after starting strong, the wheels begin to fly off this classic almost
Dunlop gets into the birthday cake
presented on air to Jimmy Connors.
supernaturally. It's a terrible argument for style over the battering ram women's tennis has become. She's literally crushed. Where does she go from here? Not even Amelie could say in her post-match presser.
Fabrice Santoro, no stranger to touch, acquits himself a bit better against Juan Carlos Ferrero, but the result is the same. The Magician's pulled his final rabbit out of the hat in New York.
This elder abuse is demoralizing. Still, I have to pick myself up for something completely different. I'm doing a little on camera dabbling for the site here in Flushing Meadows. There's so much going on on the grounds and this is just a way to bring even more of it to you. We also had some old Mieke Buchan tapes to record over. Today it's a drop by of an insane charity auction going on here with some of the most ridiculous tennis items up for bid. Bill Tilden's old sweaters, books with the first mention of tennis in them dating back to the 1500's. They even have the yellow Sugar Daddy sweater Bobby Riggs wore to the Battle of the Sexes. I may have been more into the actual giant Sugar Daddy that came with it. You remember those? They were so big they came in a box? Man they took like three weeks to eat. This one is over 35 years old but I still want a crack at it.
Anyway, without getting into too many specifics on how my on camera foray went, let's just say the first thing my producers Josh and Ari said to me after we cut is I should probably knock back a couple drinks before the next one. Brilliant advice.
Advice Richard Gasquet could've taken. And apparently everyone else up in the nosebleeds with me received in a hand-out upon entering Ashe for Rafael Nadal's return to Grand Slam tennis. Why sit in the cheap seats, you're asking me. What about your precious suite and its la-di-da fudge squares? The simple answer is, I need to scream and cheer and I need to be with my people to do it (PS, apparently my people are drunks).
A final farewell?
I scream. I cheer. Gasquet is playing a hundred times better than he did in New Haven where he dumped out in the first round of qualies and he's still getting spanked. At 1-4 he earns his first real applause. But Rafa, like his haircut, is just too good. No one has louder sneakers in tennis. The boy works!
Sadly, it's quittin' time on Armstrong, as Marat Safin nets his final groundstroke in a Grand Slam. I wish I could pontificate about all my swirling emotions but the truth is I'm sort of exhausted by his whole farewell tour. I love him to pieces, but all his pieces seem to have run past their expiration date. And yet, like Cher, he continues to perform. In his own words in his press conference, "bye bye, bye bye, bye bye again." I'm with you buddy. I'm going to pretend you retired after Wimbledon last year. And Cher retired in the 80's. Come on. Let's go have a drink. Maybe a couple.
So it was a tough day for sentimental favorites and the softies who love them. But we'll always have our memories. And, if we have a few thousand lying around, we can also have all their old junk.
Tomorrow: Gut checks abound as Dinara Safina looks to bounce back from her horrid first round and Melanie Oudin and James Blake play for the big crowds on Arthur Ashe.
DAY 2 - SEPT 1, 2009 - 4:58PM EST
The space I usually make my home here at the USTABJKNTC, much like Kaia Kanepi's game, is temporarily unavailable. I'm homeless. I suspect it's much like how Venus Williams felt last night after each and every winner by Vera Dushevina was met with thunderous applause. Whose puppy did Venus kick? And whose tiny tiny puppy in a tiny tiny pink outfit did I kick?
Team Tennis Channel
I'm convinced it's karma. For ignoring all the side courts and focusing on just the action on Ashe yesterday. The Big Guns. So, this morning, I walk onto the grounds looking to atone. Or attain. Whatever, I want my desk back and I'm willing to do whatever it takes to get it. If that means watching Petra Martic and Severine Bremond Beltrame slug it out in a first round match, so be it. Sadly, all I'm seeing is French abuse as Severine berates herself repeatedly. In French, so I have no idea what it means. When a Safin berates themself, it's just part of the show on a big court. It's much sadder on a smaller court. I need something peppier. All I need to do is turn my head and there's Lucie Safarova and Patty Schnyder having at it. "It" becomes a trainwreck as the aggression that won Lucie the first set dissolves into a series of soft second serves even Kaia Kanepi could hit (okay whose puppy did Kaia kick now?).
Beacons of red white and blue hope shine through the dark in the forms of Melanie Oudin and Jesse Witten, who score impressive wins over Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova and (the upset of the day so far) Igor Andreev. Witten showed ridiculous guts, and Oudin couldn't be more adored behind the scenes if she were strawberry scented. I'm not convinced she isn't actually. Note to self, rub Melanie's belly.
Filled with rainbows, I think I may just have reversed my karma. Until I find myself face to face with Alisa Kleybanova v. Petra Kvitova. Someone came to them in the night and sawed off the barrels of their shotguns, because they are firing everywhere. I plunge into a self-pity spiral, until I grab myself by my giant head (still not over it!) and give myself a violent, violent shake. Venus Williams didn't whine and cry and boo hoo hoo, she just won the match. So that's what I'm going to do. Life makes you homeless? Make homeless lemonade.
I'm watching an Ashe match. But I'm owning my gypsy…ness, and watching it from as many places as possible. Get the fullest experience possible. Who's up next? Oh good, Dinara Safina. And she's playing a no name, Olivia Rogowska. This'll be peppy. Quick.
I start in the press seats, where Dinara peppily and quickly gets broken. Her energy level is about equal to Venus's last night, her opponent is playing as big off the ground as Vera was and the crowd is smelling blood. You'd never know it where I'm sitting because, in the press seats, you can't really applaud. You're meant to sit here like oh so respectable bumps on logs, like umpires, just noting the facts and showing no bias. Bo-ring.
I head to the nosebleeds and meet a new friend. Who also happens to be a die-head Dinara fan. They're a special lot. Battle weary. Wry and punchy as they player they're painfully loyal to. As Dinara sends more and more shots past the baseline, my friend calmly explains that she's used to it. Bring up a single one of Safina's Slam final hatchet jobs and it's met with unblinking resign. In fact, she never watches Safina finals anymore. She can't. It's like every Red Sox fan I know pre-2004. When Dinara double faults on set point in the tiebreak, my friend informs me in a frighteningly even tone that she has to go. Where? She doesn't know. She winks as she leaves, but it turns out to be an eye twitch. I offer her a blanket and some soup, but she's gone into the gloom. She will be back.
Red-faced and flushed from being eight feet from the sun, I climb down from the rafters of Ashe to take refuge in the Tennis Channel suite. Oh it's a glorious place, filled with fruit trays and fudge squares and air conditioning! And the biggest poster of Bill Macatee, Jimmy Connors and Martina Navratilova you've ever seen. I fantasize them having a knife fight over it as soon as this is over, but it may be sun stroke.
Rogowska suffers from some of that herself and coughs up the second set. Not that anyone in the suite noticed. Did I mention the fudge squares? Olivia settles and comes out firing in the third. The fact is, Safina is playing three opponents. Herself, herself and…herself. Rogowska has an equally penetrating ball, and at the moment she's just executing Safina's shotmaking better. I'm nervous-eating for Dinara. Which is bad, since I maaaaaaay be doing some on-camera stuff for the site, and I can't have a gut to match my giant head (seriously, give it a rest).
It's all well and good to see how press, fans and industry types experience a potential upset. I want to see how it all goes down with the other players. So it's off to the Players Lounge to bring this bad boy in for a landing.
Safina lives to fist pump
It's a bit of brilliance on my part as, at 4-all in the third, the place is all but shut down. All eyes are on the monitor like a tennis player's version of a horror movie or a snuff film. "Don't go in that room, Dinara! Nooooo!!!" Alona Bondarenko has her seat turned around to where she's nearly making out with the screen. This is entertainment.
The room, which erupts when Rogowska hits a crazy inside out winner. It erupts again with a big shared laugh as Safina's coach Zeljko Krajan is shown shaking his head in agony and disgust in slow motion. Their relationship is clearly lore behind the scenes as well. If Rogowska was a no-name before, she's solved that problem today. Unfortunately for her, she couldn't solve Safina, who somehow escapes with the W. I wish I could say her colleagues in the players lounge were thrilled, but I could tell. They were after a little blood themselves. Laurie Strode got away. If she keeps playing like that, something tells me there'll be a sequel. And she might not be so lucky next time.
Having put enough mileage on my pedometer to ensure I'll be positively emaciated on camera, I return to the best seat in the house to catch a little Novak Djokovic (auditioning for the Orange Fanta role): The Tennis Channel suite. Is it the giant poster? Is it the fudge squares? Or is it the fact that it's maybe, just maybe, a place I can call home.
It's the fudge squares.
DAY 1 - AUG 31, 2009 -3:40PM EST
Okay, I can't even do a proper introduction here because all I can see is this '09 US Open blog banner. I must admit the design concept was mine. Dunlop as the Statue of Liberty? Genius! (And you've never seen someone leap into a dress so fast.) But the size of my head! It's attacking the city! I'll try to ignore it if you can.
Fed, Practicing his new look
There are a lot of giants attacking New York City on Day 1. And they're all on Arthur Ashe, so I lug my massive head over there for prime seating. Rewarding my eagerness, I luck on the tail end of Roger Federer's practice session. I almost don't realize it's him as he's sporting two things I've never seen him wear. A backwards baseball cap and shock yellow. He's hitting with Young American Ryan Harrison, warming up for fellow Young American Devin Britton later. Who himself hit with Rafael Nadal on Saturday. Meanwhile, the top women only hit with guys. Who do the junior girls get to hit with except each other? I'm writing a letter.
Speaking of top women, the honor of kicking off this whole shebang has fallen not to Serena Williams or Dinara Safina, but Kim Clijsters. She makes her way onto this very court for the first time since hoisting the trophy in '05. By the looks of it, her fans never left their seats. Who doesn't love Kimmy? She's a total sweetheart. She's so nice she even picks up the coin for the umpire after the toss. Let's see Serena or Maria do that.
Clijsters is less kind to Viktoriya Kutuzova. Kutuzova can actually hit the ball, and she's got nice pop on her serve. But Clijsters is just overpowering her. I could describe the play but just imagine someone putting a pillow over someone else's face. Arms clutch, legs flail. You get the gist. I will say two things. No one does the whole Examine the Strings thing after a point better than the Belgian. And watching Clijsters pounce on a short ball is like watching a nature special. Run Viktoriya run! Oh, too late.
Some time to kill before the next nature special (where Federer feasts on defenseless baby bird Devin Britton), I mosey over to the new indoor tennis facility (which proved quite useful as practice courts during this past rainy weekend). A kindly woman there with a very proportional head named Marie informs me the newest addition to the USTABJKNTC (ugh) features 12 courts on two floors and is open all year long for the kiddies. She also mentions off the cuff that it's also available for private meetings and birthday parties. Seriously, you can have your birthday at the US Open? Oh yes. Do they do weddings? Sometimes, she tells me, but people prefer Arthur Ashe for that. PEOPLE GET MARRIED ON ARTHUR ASHE? I seriously need to look into that. That kicks the JumboTron Wedding Proposal's ass.
For no real reason but player stalking (I own it), I swing by the players lounge and the garden, the two hottest spots to see players in their natural habitat. Alona Bondarenko is engrossed in her book. And her tiny tiny dog in a tiny tiny pink outfit. We exchange a smile (me and Alona, not me and the dog. The dog's throwing serious shade.) Sam Querrey nearly takes me out with his flailing, refusing a sweaty friend's hug because he just took a shower. Sam likes to keep it clean, baby. Not Feliciano Lopez, who's rocking a t-shirt that says Show Me the Twins. I'm tempted. (A joke I already made on Twitter, which you'd know if you were following me. Follow me! www.twitter.com/JamesLaRosa)
I Played Roger Federer and All I Got Was
This Lousy JumboTron Close-Up
It's back to Ashe, where Devin Britton faces a trial by fire. His first appearance in his first Slam and it's against a guy going for his sixth US Open title and 16th Slam trophy. I interviewed Devin for an upcoming Tennis Magazine piece and found him to be pleasant, unassuming and quite aware of the uphill battle he faces on tour as a serve and volleyer. A quaint hill compared to the mountain he faces today in taking on King Fed. The best way I can describe the match is to compare it to watching your child ice skate for the first time. You watch him find his legs and you get excited. "He's got it, he's got it!" And then he face plants. "Oh..." He gives himself opportunities but the occasion is just too big to see anything but the guy across the net. He makes a solid show of it in the third but it only delays the inevitable. I'm happy for the press Britton got for his draw, and hey, props for the experience, but the fact is he needs the ranking points. At least his head's a nice size.
Alexa Glatch is the next American Wild Card/sacrificial lamb brought out on court (she isn't actually hog tied to a spit but she might as well be). Glatch too is a serve and volleyer and can be a fun player to watch, but today all I'm watching girlfriend do is run. And run. And run. Serena's got a crazy streak going, having not lost a first round match at a Slam since the days of powdered wigs. Glatch is not going to be the one to break it.
There were some actual blips on the radar today involving Sammy Stosur and Tommy Haas, but they righted their ships to make it a fairly routine opening day. Can Venus and Roddick keep it going into the night?
And tomorrow: The Serbs. Hit the dirt!