Imagine That

US Open, Second Round

The second round of this year’s US Open is now complete, which, until the very last moment, was about all that usefully could be said about it. There was plenty being said, of course, but little of it was specifically about tennis, and even less was useful. It’s always revealing when the prevailing controversy centres around those parts of the tournament that don’t involve players hitting balls at each other. Al Bello/Getty Images North AmericaOften it reveals that there’s not enough transpiring on court. There is special devilry reserved for idle minds, especially when those minds belong to sports reporters with little to say.

For some among the idle-minded this has provided further opportunity to wax righteous on Andy Murray’s behalf. It has been another wearying reminder that burning indignation is a bad state for weak writers to find themselves in, made worse by the fact that for too many of them it is also their default state. For those subsiding in lexical poverty the call to outrage rarely leads to a feast of dynamic wordplay. Usually they just avail themselves of a pre-packaged vocabulary of clichés, a kind of journalistic fast food, with the consequence that they come to sound even more similar to each other, which hardly seems possible. Examples are myriad, but to take one: signalling ones disapproval of a particular decision or outcome by calling it ‘a joke’ is not insightful. It merely makes a lazy sports writer sound uncannily like every other lazy sports writer. Instead of labelling something a joke, why not make a joke? And just as all internet publications will tend towards the model – easily-digested list-based articles – so are many online writers limited to a range of adjectives culled from headlines. One could easily fashion a drinking game around the unremitting recourse to descriptors such as ‘ridiculous’, ‘insane’, ‘ludicrous’, ‘shocking’, ‘mad’ or ‘mind-blowing’, although the rules would need to be carefully calibrated. Downing a shot every time one of those terms appeared would render one insensate after the first article. I understand that not everyone can command prose like Edmund Wilson. I can’t. But anyone can aspire to.

In any case, justifiable concern at Murray’s very late first round finish has given way to disgruntlement at his second round relegation to Louis Armstrong Stadium. Rightly or wrongly, placement on the second court was held to be a slight on the defending champion’s status. Murray himself has previously made his distaste for the venue plain. Fair enough – he doesn’t have to like it. More problematic, apparently, was that by playing third today his match wouldn’t see completion before deadlines expired for the attendant British press corps. The USTA was taken to task for this oversight – let’s assume it was an oversight, and not a deliberate attempt to avenge biased press coverage during the War of 1812 – most notably by Neil Harman of The Times. Some responded that it isn’t the job of the US Open to worry on behalf of the English press. It was pointed out in turn that with newspaper revenues collapsing it was incumbent upon premium events such as this to ensure that newsprint journalists are given every advantage. While I certainly agree that the death of print journalism is deplorable, I’m not convinced it is the task of tennis tournaments to nurse it along more than they already do. Print outlets are already given preference over online interests, including priority seating for matches with limited capacity. Print journalists are also the keenest advocates for the suppression of interview transcripts.

Then again by broadening its attack from Britain’s top player to Britain’s media, the US Open has revealed a worrying escalation: next is the British public. It’s no wonder the British parliament won’t commit to Syria. Those forces are needed to defend Old Blighty from imminent attack. Amidst all this mind-blowing and ludicrous insanity, it’s worth remembering than Murray did actually win today in four sets over a surprisingly gallant Leonardo Mayer. Ivan Lendl is doubtless earning his salary by ensuring his man isn’t distracted by all this subsidiary nonsense, although I don’t doubt he’ll have some stern words about today’s third set let-down.

Of course, the United States has its own issues on the home front, which must be dealt with before armed forces are diverted across the Atlantic. The enemy is within the gates. Many of them were in the Louis Armstrong Stadium crowd last night, watching John Isner play Gael Monfils. Television viewers were presented with the unusual spectacle of an American crowd showing vociferous support for a guy who wasn’t born in the same country as them, as opposed to the guy who was. Much has been made of this; rather too much, in fact. It was no coincidence that Monfils, who is immensely popular everywhere – except, often, with his own fans –gained favour when he picked up his game while trailing by two sets to love. This change in sympathy was briefly noted on Eurosport, afterwards acknowledged by Isner himself, and dissected exhaustively on ESPN. Really, the crowd just wanted a few more sets, and appreciated the things Monfils was doing with his body and the tennis ball. He still couldn’t serve, and Isner often did little else, but it nonetheless transformed into a very entertaining match. The crowd got its wish, which I suspect always included eventual victory for Isner. The American was afterwards lavish in praising his opponent.

In other results, both Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal were  imperious and utterly untroubled against Carlos Berlocq and Rogerio Dutra Silva respectively. There’s a real chance they will actually meet in the quarterfinals, although it’s possible they’re just lulling us into complacency. Stan Wawrinka started slowly against Ivo Karlovic, but was quite excellent once he regained the break in the first set. Novak Djokovic also took an age to get going, and almost dropped the first set to Benjamin Becker. Marcos Baghdatis, on the other hand, began superbly and stayed that way until the end against Kevin Anderson. For all we know Baghdatis’s brilliance didn’t abate once he left the court. His momentum was such that he’s probably doing a first-rate job with his dinner even as I write, delivering bon mots that have the table on a roar.

Dan Evans’s excellent New York adventure continues. He beat Bernard Tomic quite comfortably to reach the third round, although his understandable elation at this accomplishment was tempered by the sobering discovery that the result came too late for British print deadlines. For his part, Tomic was typically frank in assessing his own shortcomings: ‘I think I get lazy on the court, my tennis sort of comes a bit slow. I don’t really know how to put guys away.’ I imagine a proper coach could help with that. No one is sure where Tomic’s game is, but his ability to make the right noises after losses now rivals Ryan Harrison’s.

The delightfully articulate Dimitry Tursonov remains a fine advertisement for the sport, and for my powers of prescience: I suggested he’d be the one to emerge from David Ferrer’s quarter, and he has now reached the third round. Even if he somehow loses to the eighth seeded Richard Gasquet, I still get to be half-right. Meanwhile, Tommy Haas moved another round closer to a return to the top ten, defeating Yen-Hsun Lu in straight sets. As far as I can tell he’ll need to reach the quarterfinals at least, which means he’ll have to beat Mikhail Youzhny in the next round, unquestionably the pick of the round.

Lleyton Hewitt tonight recovered from two sets to one down to defeat Juan Martin del Potro on Arthur Ashe Stadium, a match that entirely justified its primetime scheduling. Del Potro has notoriously never recovered from a two set deficit, and for a time appeared fortunate that he didn’t have to put that record to the test. The Australian led by a set, and served for the second at 5/4, but didn’t acquit himself well on either of the set points he gained. The Argentine broke back, broke again to take the set, then again to open the third. He took that one, but then conspicuously failed to gallop away with the fourth. Instead Hewitt pressed, and broke again. Again he failed to serve out the set. Del Potro, capricious in his way, defied every assumption that he’d once more make Hewitt pay. The tiebreaker was all Hewitt, except for the errors, which were all del Potro’s. From there Hewitt went on with it, and broke three times in the final set, which ended with a double fault and a delighted Australian veteran.

It was a strange match, the type of upset that resists easy categorisation. The quality varied immensely, especially from del Potro, whose left wrist inhibited his backhand and who sometimes grew oddly fearful when he wasn’t behind. Still, the overall inconsistency of momentum guaranteed consistency of drama, further heightened by the occasion and the venue, and only slightly lessened by the heroic sequence of toilet breaks enjoyed by both men. Hewitt is fond of saying that it is for occasions such as these that he still plays, even if he is earning fewer opportunities to say it as the years advance. It is his first victory over a top ten opponent in over three years. Whether he’ll go on with it is a nice question, although even wearied he must fancy his chances against Evgeny Donskoy in the next round. After that he might face Haas, with whom he shares an aggregate age of 67. In the fourth round of a Major. In 2013. Imagine that. Mind-blowing.


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