Week 1 US Open..all about the side courts

Unlike Wimbledon, the US Open allows regular folks to attend qualifying matches for free. So, I took myself to the US Open a few days before the start to get the lay of the land and see players too far outside the ranking to get an automatic bid compete for 32 slots (16 women & 16 men) in the US Open main draw. Mercifully it wasn’t very crowded, so I was able to wander around the grounds and buy my tickets for the Open.

My strategy was to get evening tickets for early rounds to catch the main players on the night stage and try for grounds passes during the 2nd and 3rd round to get some of my favorites when they should have more competitive match ups. I bought tickets for evening sessions on Tuesday, Sept. 1st & Wednesday, September 2nd and tried for day sessions on Thursday and Friday but could only finagle Thursday. Apparently regular followers of the Open know that Friday is the place to be. When I used to attend the US Open back in the days of Pete Sampras, I usually just bought a grounds pass for the first Saturday, got my fill, and caught the semis or the final on television. I can’t even remember those hazy days of only caring about the players I could spot on TV. Now that I’ve been traveling the tour for the past 8 months, some of the players I usually want to see will not experience full TV coverage unless they make it out of the first week!

As I mentioned in a previous post I was lucky enough to be invited by a new acquaintance to a hospitality event for a hotel during the day on Tuesday, September 1st. As part of the event, I was able to get my hands on a nice Head backpack; a buffet breakfast at said hotel; a tennis clinic with some pro doubles players; a buffet lunch at a hospitality suite at the Open; and Arthur Ashe tickets for the day session matches. A fortunate occurrence, since I was able to take in some key matches to help me round out my player stories for the US Open:

Greatest Ever – Federer—I’m destined to see this guy only on the big screen of the Slams, since I was all the way up in the nosebleeds for his 2nd round match up against Simon Gruel. I caught the tense 3rd set when it looked like Fed might have to finish Gruel off in a 4th but the calmly controlled Fed was able to break and come back to win 7-5. The crowd around the large screen in front of Ashe was gathering as if they smelt blood. Poor bastards Fed reasserted control and finished the match in the expected straight 3 sets. Somehow I don’t get as frantic as I used to when Fed is down, having seen him come through just last week in Cincinnati has made me a believer; this guy thinks his way through points. No he’s not annihilating his opponents as he did in the past, winning 6-1 or 6-0, instead he seems to be about picking his spots and capitalizing on break chances when he gets them.

RRRRRAFA (in a sing song!) – I’m just unlucky because I thought he’d play night session on Wednesday, but they put him on in the day. I suspect if he had played that night, I would have stayed and watched even from nosebleed seats. Nadal plays with such visceral energy that I can stay really engaged with his matches no matter how far away I am in the stadium. I caught his match on TIVO the next day and I still got questions about his knee and overall fitness, because trouncing a somewhat out of shape guy who just returned from a drug suspension tells me little about his ability to take it to all the guys he’d have to beat to make it to the final.

Player I love to hate, ANDY MURRAY – I continue to hate Murray and watch none of his matches. It’s irrational but I can’t stop myself. I did find other Murray haters, which gave me a secret thrill. They too couldn’t figure out why he just rubs them the wrong way.

My favorite player on tour, JUAN MARTIN DEL POTRO – like ships passing in the night; I missed him on Wednesday and had to settle for TIVO as well. One benefit of TV watching is all the commentary about the players that can occasionally provide insight. Apparently Delpo was all the rage during the juniors but it was Murray that caught Brad Gilbert’s eye when he gave Delpo a thrashing in the French Open some years earlier…..hmmm, maybe that’s why I don’t like Murray. My boy is looking very comfortable and sadly is no longer a dark horse to be a contender.

Peaked too soon, Verdasco? – Do you have to wonder why I love Verdasco when his matches always seem to happen when I’m at attending a tournament? Instead of seeing Novak on Ashe, I checked out Verdasco vs. Becker on Tuesday and Verdasco vs. Serra on Thursday. Okay a little rant. Sure Verdasco is attractive and everyone wants to swoon at his back (hand), but I truly like him for his playing, darn it! Sadly, Verdasco is the hottest ticket on the side courts, so I had to wait in line for 1 hour on Tuesday just to catch the last 20 minutes of his match. I was somewhat rewarded by great seats but that doesn’t make up for waiting to get into his match only to find some girl sitting in the stands reading a book. Come on lady, your seat could have been mine an hour ago! I had much better luck on Thursday because I parked myself on his court and sat through a tedious Petrova vs. Coin match to ensure I would see Verdasco in all his glory. I was happily next to three lovely boys who wanted to appreciate Verdasco’s assets, huh, I mean game as well! They were great fun and we quickly shared gossip about favorite players and past US Open experiences during the Petrova match. Once the Verdasco match started, I did feel a twinge of guilt as the lines to get into the court snaked around the building, maybe I should give some other fan a chance to see Verdasco up close and personal. I squelched that thought quickly: I paid my dues on Tuesday folks! It looks to me that Verdasco is holding steady and didn’t peak too soon at the Aussie Open ’09 as I had feared. Now if only he would stop double faulting I’d feel really good about his chances with guys in the top 10.

While I secretly love Roddick, I clearly do not love him enough to sit through his early round matches! If Roddick meets Verdasco as expected in Week 2, I expect him to have my full attention. Until then, I’ll leave all the cooing and guess work to the announcers.

I find myself seeking ya’ll out too: David Ferrer, Juan Carlos Ferrero, Fernando Gonzalez, Feliciano Lopez, Igor Andreev, Tommy Robredo, and Gilles Simon –these guys are the top 30 grunt players that fill up the side courts and make me happy to sit for hours in the sun on the off chance that one of them will make it to big stage during the 2nd week at the Slams. Alas it was not to be for Lopez, who though he has one fine ass, cannot seem to make it pass the first round of a tourney. Igor surprisingly went out to an American qualifier, Jesse Witten, who I can’t hate. I saw Robredo vs. Garcia-Lopez and even though Garcia-Lopez lost, I think I’ll add him to my MEN TO WATCH list ‘cause I suspect he’ll be making a move from his 50th rank. Don’t cha you just love how things changed. I was wondering who this player was when he beat Verdasco in Cincy, now I’m going to give him a closer look. Instead of nosebleed Federer, I took side court Ferrer to see him dispatch another Spaniard. You know what I like about Ferrer? He’s the quintessential hard worker to me; nothing flashy about this guy, just a willingness to work it from the baseline and climb his way from sets down to capture a win. I love that he never looks like he doesn’t want to be playing, even if he’s losing.

STAN the MAN  

I checked on Stan’s match with Nicolas Lapenti of Ecuador and saw that he had it well in hand by winning the first two sets. Great, I’m gonna see what’s happening with Lopez. I get out of the Lopez match only to see that Stan had promptly lost the 3rd set and was quickly on his way to losing the 4th! It’s time to activate his one woman cheering section, which usually becomes a small crowd if I beg enough people! As expected, we start to generate some buzz but there was no way we could compete with the singing and the chanting of Lapenti’s fans; we just didn’t have the numbers to give it a good go. By the way, I have to come up with a sing-song cheer for Stan. This lovely older lady turned to me and asked: can you please make up a cheer for Stan that we can chant, you can do it Stan is just not good enough! Anyway, I cheered like there was no tomorrow but Lapenti is clearly on mission to reclaim his former glory (was a top ten player who currently ranks 114) and Stan was just not in the moment. I suspect I know what’s stolen his attention (not a gossip site), but I’m sure he’s kicking himself because he had a clear cut path to the quarters and possibly the semis if he could have made it pass this first round tricky match.

To date, the US Open is proving a much better experience than either the French or Wimbledon, particularly in terms of ease of getting tickets the first few days and seeing some quality matches. It’s only this weekend that the Open becomes as impenetrable as the French and Wimbly, since it’s impossible to get my hands on tickets, even grounds passes! Luckily, I’ve staked my claim on some tickets for week 2 up until Thursday, when I’ll just have to rely on television to feed by tennis love.

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