This is late, but hey I think everyone needed a few days to get over what truly was one of the most eventful if not bizarre U.S. Opens in recent memory. When Hurricane Irene rolled through the Northeast the weekend before the start of the event, tournament organizers literally chained down equipment, furniture and stages used throughout the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. And while the facility thankfully survived intact, a perfect storm of controversy plus more bad weather may have caused more damage than just the physical cracks in Armstrong Stadium.
We’re Not Gonna Take It.
Plenty of fans and players were upset about the whole scheduling mess that got exacerbated by a two-day rain delay. When Sam Stosur, who is basically an easy come, easy go kind of gal, posted a snarky rant on her Facebook page after her semifinal against Angelique Kerber was booted over to the Grandstand court, you know things were out of hand. But in the end, it may have been that scheduling that helped her finally win her maiden Grand Slam against a sluggish Serena Williams who didn’t get to bed the night before until 2:30 a.m. But no matter how much finger pointed is directed at the USTA and tournament for its actions, you better get used to such shenanigans for a few more years, three to be exact, until the USTA’s contract with CBS runs out. Dick Enberg may have proudly presided over his last “Super Saturday” broadcast, but the network will be enthusiastically presenting and dictating the event’s schedule for a long time, possibly even after Roger Federer, who bluntly said “Super Saturday” needs to go, walks off of Arthur Ashe Stadium for the last time.
She Got Her Major The Old Fashioned Way.
To paraphrase the old Smith Barney ads, Sam Stosur earned her first Major, and I mean earned it with a capital “E”. Despite flying so low under the radar that the Aussie might have landed a plane at nearby LaGuardia Airport and still not be noticed, Stosur got attention first for her lengthy match with Nadia Petrova and then the now famous tiebreak against Maria Kirilenko that Stosur lost. Fans knew that this was a different Stosur before them, one who wouldn’t cave in after what appeared to be a devastating setback. Being battle tested served Stosur well in the finals where she went on the attack and never let up despite facing a 13-time champion in Serena Williams and a partisan 20,000 plus crowd. Stosur passed every physical, mental and emotional test thrown at her and now that she’s finally got her Major, she’ll be on everybody’s radar from now on.
The Americans Are Coming.
American tennis had a mini-resurgence in New York. From the first week heroics of Christina McHale, Irina Falconi and Sloane Stephens on the women’s side to Donald Young shedding his bad boy image to that of fan favorite, it was good to see America’s up and comers finally coming up. If their success lasts into next year remains to be seen especially for Young who’s rather lackluster performance against Andy Murray makes some wonder about Young’s top 20 potential. John Isner by reaching the quarterfinals solidified his top 20 status, but like Young, fell to Murray as well.
And then there was Andy Roddick who no one expected to do anything, but surprised many by first leading a player revolt against the scheduling and then beating David Ferrer before running on empty against Rafael Nadal. Finally, Jack Sock and Melanie Oudin provided the most patriotic and cutest moment of the whole event by winning the Mixed Doubles title in perfectly acceptable awkward teenage fashion. Sock may have earned some more name recognition with U.S. fans, but Oudin, after a horrible year in singles, collected a much-needed decent paycheck and hopefully some confidence for next year.
When Serena Talks, People Listen (and Watch).
It all seemed like the perfect ending. Serena Williams, returning to New York after having been away from the event for two years, was set to claim her third U.S. Open title on the tenth anniversary of 9/11. But a combination of nerves, a sluggish start and an opponent playing the match of her life proved too much for the favorite. We all know what happened next and though Williams certainly regretted what she did, it was much later than tennis fans may have liked along with the miniscule fine she was given for this recent episode that was more due to the current fee structure for fines than any star privilege Williams may seem to enjoy.
Williams’s outburst was uncalled for and should not overshadow Stosur’s achievement. However you feel about what happened or about Williams personally, the fact is her mere presence in the final boosted interest and television ratings well above those for last year’s Women’s Final and this year’s Men’s Final. No doubt Williams’s status as the most polarizing figure in the sport increased, but let’s not forget her commanding performances over the last few months that made her the sport’s biggest story this summer. Williams said that “I hate to come in second” and her loss to Stosur just might fuel her to a stellar 2012 season and beyond. It wasn’t the perfect ending for her, but Williams’s run to the finals showed all the sides of her personality and game, proving that to not follow the third decade of one of the most fascinating, complicated and impressive careers the sport has ever seen would be a mistake.
If I Can Make It Here.
Novak Djokovic didn’t need to win New York to prove anything. After a year that saw him win everything else including Wimbledon and claiming the No. 1 ranking, even if his astonishing, “lucky” forehand winner to save match point against Roger Federer strayed wide, Djokovic would still have concluded one of the most impressive, if not the best season, ever in the sport. Aside from the obvious material and marketing gain Djokovic will earn by claiming America’s Major, Djokovic now sets himself up for next year as possibly being the one that he could capture the elusive calendar year Grand Slam. Djokovic’s stellar game along with his open, funny, but always down to earth personality could launch him into worldwide one name celebrity status, if it hasn’t happened already, and that could help keep tennis top of mind in the crowded sports market for years to come. The man has accomplished a lot, but his jaw dropping final with Rafael Nadal provided a beleaguered tournament with a much needed perfect ending and the best match of the fifteen plus days, reminding everyone that after all of the celebrities, fashion, music, and et cetera, et cetera the U.S. Open provides, that at the very end, only the tennis matters. Only the tennis.