US Open 2004:
Spectacle, Drama, Energy, the Best Tennis on the Biggest Stage
This issue of TennisOne will focus entirely on the US Open. We will have live coverage of the event from Joel Drucker and Matt Cronin, as well as match analysis and commentary from yours truly. There will be predictable matches, and shocking upsets.
Scheduling will be an issue for many of the players, for one or two five set matches played on steamy afternoons will be much more taxing than three set matches played in the cool night air under the lights. Further, there are many dangerous players lurking in the draw, and upsets are always part and parcel of this event.
Just as the champions are measured by their Grand Slam titles, somehow the Grand Slams themselves are measured by the US Open. Yes Wimbledon has the aura and tradition. Roland Garros may be the most physically demanding tournament. The Australian Open tests players with often unreasonable heat. But it is the US Open that provides the ultimate test. The players have an entire summer on the hard courts to prepare. Players may compete in withering afternoon heat, or under the lights in matches concluding well after midnight. And through it all, the Big Apple serves as compelling backdrop for this season ending event.
I first visited the US Open in 1985, in conjunction with my first visit to the USTA National Tennis Teachers conference held that year at the memorable Roosevelt Hotel. I have returned to both the conference and the Open a half dozen times, and over the years have learned to get around in the Big Apple, as well as to find my way around the massive Flushing Meadow grounds. And truly, if you ever have the opportunity to experience the US Open in person, it will double if not treble your connection to the event, it certainly has for me.
The cavernous Arthur Ashe Stadium, with the far more fan friendly Louis Armstrong Stadium below.
I detour only slightly now with observations about the cavernous Arthur Ashe Stadium. Originally, the big matches were played on the Louis Armstrong stadium, which was functional, the fans were relatively close to the courts, though nothing like the Centre Court at Wimbledon. But as the US Open, and the USTA has grown, somehow the tournament outgrew its original stadium. Arthur Ashe stadium is massive, imposing, when viewed from the grounds it is magnificent. But inside, the stadium dwarfs the court, intimacy and connection with the players is non-existent. Corporate America encircles the stadium with hospitality suites, the fans are relegated to the nose bleed seats.
The Open generates an enormous amount of money for the USTA, who in turn dispense this money to administer the game regionally and locally. But for me something was lost when Ashe supplanted Armstrong as the grand stage for this grand event.
Now to the actors on stage, for they are the real story of this event. First and foremost, I am amazed by how close many of the matches are. Sometimes a 7-5, 4-6, 6-3 match is decided by just two shots that are either tantalizingly on the line, or just barely out. And when the matches are this close, or closer, both players must manage their emotions, playing with exceptional intensity during the point, relaxing between points, then amping back up for the next point. Sometimes the fatigue and cramps we see at the Open may actually be the result of a player who retains their intensity between points or on the changeover. Further, when matches are incredibly close, sometimes there occurs a tipping point, a moment when one player gains the slightest edge, but once gained the match irretrievably turns to that players favor. Here, the telling point is demeanor and posture - somehow when the points and score are even, both players believe they can win and their carriage shows it. But watching only body language, you can tell when both players sense the momentum shift.
Federer and Roddick are the clear favorites but there are many who could rise to the forefront should they falter.
As regards court movement, I believe that many of us mortals (that is, you and I) do not fully realize the importance as well as the timing of the split step. Generally, spectators follow the ball; they watch Roddick pound the forehand, and then they watch Federer craft a reply. In this manner, one never sees exactly what Roddick does after he drives the ball to Federer. But if you look closely, even if you have a recording device that enables a slow motion playback, you notice that Roddick splits his feet just the slightest moment after Federer makes contact. Further, you notice that often Roddick splits not in the center of the baseline, but off center to one side or the other. This has to do with crosscourt positioning and playing to the center of the opponent's probable angle of play. But suffice to gain a renewed awareness of the split step.
Slow motion television replay. Often the broadcasters rerun selected points that featured incredible shot making, or amazing court coverage. Watch closely, and in nearly every instance you will see the court coverage initiated with a gravity turn
(see "Reaction Steps" for more background on gravity turn). I cannot say whether the gravity turn caused the court coverage, or whether it is merely a coincidence. But you can always get a glimpse of this special footwork on the rerun of the amazing points.
On the women's side Justine Henin-Hardenne seems fully recovered and ready to defend her title.
Finally, consider the eye contact and sportsmanship at the conclusion of a match.
We do play a sport that honors (generally) the opponent, even to the occasional extent of celebrating the opponent for the caliber of play in a match. Yet when money, rankings, and endorsements are on the line, it takes a certain disposition to fight like the devil, lose in a third set tiebreaker, and still embrace the opponent. Lest we forget, our young Andy Roddick is just such a man, with amazing sportsmanship both in the Wimbledon final, and in his recent loss to Andre Agassi. The man has class!
So embrace the US Open. It is our national championship. It is the final jewel in the Grand Slam crown. It is the culmination of the summer hard court season. The players are ready, there are at least a half a dozen players in both the men's and women's draw who believe they can win. Let's sit back and take it all in.
As always, we would love to hear your views on the subjects raised in this newsletter. Please click here to send your email directly to me.
Jim McLennan TennisOne Editor
(Click link to purchase Jim's McLennan's Secrets of World Class Footwork Video)
ProStrokes Gallery: Sebastien Grosjean, Backhand
Don't be fooled by his size. At only 5’9" and 147 pounds, this diminutive Frenchman can pound the ball as heavy as any of his larger competitors. His movement about the court is exceptional. He often runs around his backhand to unleash penetrating forehands, he can and does move forward to finish the point, and he plays with an economy of style that is worth examining.
US Open: Last Chance for Love
The best all-around player wins the US Open, there is no truer test in tennis. There is a sense that time is running out, that the season of a sport which follows the sun year-round is drawing to a close. There is a great sense of urgency, when a top seed might tumble and an unknown might suddenly rumble. And urgency spells drama, which in turn makes the US Open tennis' most compelling and significant tournament.
ProPortraits - Andy Roddick
Much was expected of Andy Roddick as he grew up under the glare of the Grand Slams. To be sure, there were questions but with his dynamic victory at last year's US Open, and his rise to number one in the world, Andy seems to have silenced all of the doubters. In this pictorial, Bill Putnam's camera delves into the many facets of this young champion. I think you'll agree, beyond all the titles lies an extremely charismatic individual.
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