It’s early yet, but there are some early indications of strength and weakness even in the first days of the tournament. Since the early round matches have been less than riveting, let’s begin with…
An early round matchup between John McEnroe and Patrick McEnroe in the press booth added particular zest to the otherwise dull Roddick-Phau match (won easily by Andy Roddick). A fortuitous shift in the network rights to the U.S. Open allowed the two brothers to co-host coverage of the men’s first round on ESPN2 on opening day. It is fascinating to observe Patrick trying to be the “anchor” type with his talkative (and much more New York-sounding) older brother holding forth as a very weighty color commentator. If they are both from Queens, why does Patrick sound as though he is from Des Moines, Iowa?
The Special Guest:
The two were joined by Aussie Darren Cahill courtside and then by special guest and American tennis legend Andre Agassi. Andre sat between the brothers McEnroe and offered up cogent thoughts on a wide variety of tennis topics, including his view that Federer does not have a lock on the “best ever” title. He noted that a strong run by Rafa Nadal at the U.S. Open could give Rafa an important missing resume item–a win at the only Grand Slam that he has not yet won. Andre has such an amazingly smooth delivery of pithy commentary that you can well imagine him in place of the McEnroes. There’s a first-rate brain under that bald head, that’s for sure.
Most Quotable Commentary:
ESPN color commentator Mary Carillo amazed all with her characterization of the John Isner (USA, 6’9″) vs. Victor Hanescu (Romania, 6’6″) match as “like two praying mantises going at it.”
So far it has been great, with no oppressive New York-in-the-summer heat. Rafa Nadal complains it is windy on center court, but he seems to be uncomfortable and intimidated by the venue apart from any wind velocity issues. Rain delays have been few and brief.
Main contenders Roger Federer (Switzerland), Andy Roddick (USA), Andy Murray (UK), and Rafael Nadal (Spain): all look to be in fine form but have not been at all seriously challenged in their early rounds. Djokovic (Serbia) flattened Ljubicic (Croatia). Quixotic, mercurial, and dashing Marat Safin (Russia) is out in the first round, which means he is now retired.
Maria Sharapova (Russia), Kim Clijsters (Belgium), Venus Williams (USA), Serena Williams (USA) are all present and accounted for and moving forward. Venus looked somewhat scratchy, the others good. Marat’s little sister Dinara Safina (Russia) is very melt-down prone despite her #1 ranking; she survived her first round match-just barely. Jelena Jankovic (Serbia) is looking good so far.
Ana Ivanovic, an attractive player from Serbia, wore a very interesting tennis dress with layers, shades of teal, lovely, flowy, and elegant-a real standout. Unfortunately she lost in the first round so we will not be able to admire her look later in the tournament. Bethanie Mattek-Sands (USA) wore a funky outfit with knee socks, skort, and bright aqua tank top.
Roger Federer went back to his Darth Federer look, with a black polo shirt, trimmed with red collar and placket, a red head band, black shorts, black socks, and black shoes trimmed in red. And of course he finished his match with every hair in place, as usual. Rafa wore a polo shirt as well-his in a bright lemon yellow. It was a new look for the usually muscle-shirted Spaniard.
The Fans and Venue:
New York fans are vocal, in your face, and they form opinions even when it is not obvious who should be favored. Their in-your-face-ness is even further accentuated by the Arthur Ashe Stadium–a modern coliseum where tennis players (instead of Christians and lions) enter into combat for the amusement of rowdy spectators in countless tiers of steeply banked seats that seem to go all the way to the moon. Like the Roman noblemen, the New York glitterati are out in force-stars of television and movies, political figures, tennis greats of old, and more.
What Comes Next:
In my next report on the US Open I hope to shift the emphasis from context and atmospherics to actual tennis. Let’s hope for some more interesting contests as the wheat and chaff are separated over the next few days!
Coverage of the US Open on ESPN2 and the Tennis Channel, Sept 1-2, 2009
US Open Tournament Website: www.usopen.org