POPULARITY OF US OPEN TENNIS TOURNAMENT CONTINUES

 

POPULARITY OF US OPEN TENNIS TOURNAMENT CONTINUES UNABATED

A Special Article by Tim Riley

For sports fans in the United States, the general attraction of the World Series and the Super Bowl is undeniable. The appeal of baseball and football touches every almost corner of our society. Nevertheless, the annual event of the US Open Tennis tournament at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows, New York, the final chapter of this year’s Grand Slam tennis tournament, runs for two weeks and draws big crowds.

This year’s US Open managed to set all all-time Opening Day attendance record with a combined 61,839 fans passing through the gates for the day and evening sessions. The previous Opening Day record was set two years ago. In one of the local New York daily free newspapers that commuters snatch up in subway stations, a feature article of the Big Apple’s Grand Slam event noted that “some view tennis as a stuffy sport for the privileged few.”

To be sure, you will notice that the crowds at the tournament, respectfully quiet when play is in progress, are definitely not the same as what one would find at the Black Hole during an Oakland Raiders home game. But then, there is no concession stand in Oakland that sells a flute of Moet & Chandon Brut Imperial champagne at $25 a pop. Nor can you visit the restaurants of renowned chefs where you can feast on a 10-ounce filet mignon for $54 or get a sushi combo platter for $68.

Of course, the fancy restaurants are located on the suite level mainly occupied by the corporate sponsors, where the Lure Oyster Bar could set you back a couple of gold coins for the hackleback caviar plate priced at $59 per ounce. For mere mortals without access to luxury suites or courtside box seats, there are plenty of great food options, from the chipotle-spiced shredded chicken tacos at Angry Taco to sweet and savory crepes at this year’s new Creperie stand near Court 17.

But enough about food, even though it is important because you could spend an entire day at the Open until the conclusion of final matches that often go past midnight. Despite the culinary choices, the excellent high level tennis on display is the best reason to be a spectator.

For many years now, we have been lamenting the sad state of American men’s singles tennis. Long ago, Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi were the US Open champions five times during a single decade, and the most recent American victory came with Andy Roddick in 2003. This year, the hopes for American men has been pinned on John Isner, seeded No. 10, Jack Sock, seeded No. 13, and Sam Querry, the 17th seed, with each one competing in premium venues on the first day.

Sadly, Sock lost during the first round to Australian Jordan Thompson in five sets even after taking third and four sets without having to suffer the loss of the epic 26-point second set tiebreaker. As of this writing, Isner lost the third round to Germany’s Mischa Zverez, 23rd seed, in three straight sets. Sam Querry is the only top-ranked American still standing and his fate is now to face Zverez in the fourth round (check the USTA website for results).

American women have fared better in recent years, but to be fair that’s because of the dominance of one of the Williams’ sisters. Serena has won the US Open championship title six times, with the most recent victory in 2014.

This year, after winning the Australian Open back in January, she had to forego other matches because of maternity leave, giving birth most appropriately during the first week of the US Open. The anticipation for American women now rests with Serena’s older sister Venus, seeded No. 9, who last won on the hard courts of the US Open back in 2001. Venus has had much greater success on the grass courts of Wimbledon, winning five times but most recently in 2008.

So far, Venus has survived three rounds, but she’s not the only American chance. There is a crop of younger American women competing well, including Sloane Stephens, 15th seeded Madison Keys and CoCo Vandeweghe, seeded No. 20. 18-year-old Sofia Kenin didn’t survive a third round match.

In fact, Kenin lost to the red-hot Russian Maria Sharapova, who caused quite a sensation on the opening night match upset of Romania’s second-seeded Simona Halep, in what was one of the most exciting matches I happened to witness.Moreover, Sharapova’s return after a 15-month suspension for testing positive for the banned substance of meldonium, a performance enhancing drug that seems to be popular with athletes in Eastern Europe, has stirred up grousing from some of the other players.

As of this writing, Rafael Nadal, ranked No. 1, and Roger Federer, ranked No. 3, are on a collision course to meet in the semi-finals round. Because Andy Murray, ranked No. 2, had dropped out just before the start of the Open, the second slot was not open to Federer. The ranking situation creates dismay for tennis fans because there is obviously no opportunity for these two top-ranked players to have a terrific showdown for the championship title.

Still, a Grand Slam tournament is always fraught with the possibility that a favorite could be knocked off even before the semi-finals round. As it is, Federer struggled during the first two rounds, causing consternation that it required a full ten sets for him to advance. Even as an older player, one who may soon qualify for the Swiss equivalent of Social Security, Federer is still one of the biggest draws who also got a lot of notice for practicing on an off-day during the first week at a public court in Manhattan’s Central Park.

The US Open Tennis Tournament, which generates the highest attendance of any sporting event given its two-week run, is well worth the visit even during the early rounds when you have more choices of players to watch. Sometimes you get lucky, such as I did by stumbling into a match at the temporary Louis Armstrong Stadium, where 19-year-old Russian Andrey Rublev knocked off 7th seeded Bulgarian Grigor Dimitrov in an exciting, hard-fought straight three-set victory.

The US Open runs until women’s final on Saturday, September 9, and the men’s final on Sunday, September 10, and once again the action is being televised by the ESPN network.