Labor Day marks the beginning of the second and final week of the Grand Slam tournament season. The best players in the game won’t be gathered at the same two-week competitive location until the 2017 Australian Open welcomes the cream of the tennis crop to Melbourne, next January. For a collection of Southern Californians, the US Open’s first week at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center was everything that New York is supposed to be – enthralling and exhilarating, actually it might be said that it’s something akin to magical.
Riveting might be another adjective used to describe the anticipation that found the attention of the players, spectators, the press and everyone else waiting for the unveiling of the new closeable roof, covering the 23,000+ Arthur Ashe Stadium seats. That moment was realized when there was a sudden mid-first week downpour that didn’t create the normal wind shift that’s always been a problem with thousands of simultaneously opening umbrellas, and many other spectators running for cover.
The rain literally pounded down like a scene from the movie “Drumline.” The ambient noise resulting from the sky opening with torrents of water peppering the roof, along with the New York fans that tend to be on the gabby side, added yet another element to the experience of playing in the main stadium at Flushing Meadow.
Both Steve Johnson and Vania King performed admirably in the “Hum Dome”. Johnson was miraculous, earning a chance to perform on the largest center court in the sport by dodging five match points in the first round to defeat Evgeny Donskoy of Russia, 4-6, 1-6, 7-6, 6-3, 6-3. The Rio Olympic Tennis Bronze Doubles medalist (with Jack Sock) played Juan Martin del Potro under the cover. The Argentine, who has rebounded from a number of surgeries on both his wrists, proved why he was the 2009 US Open Men’s Singles winner. He defeated the former USC star who, this spring was named the Pac-12 Men’s Tennis Player of the Century, 7-6, 6-3, 6-2.
King went into her second round match on “The Ashe Stage” wearing a classic outfit designed by one of her older twin sisters, Mindy who has created the MINX tennis clothing line, and thinking, “I want to do better than last time…” Two years ago, she scratched out but a single game when she faced the perennial No. 1 Serena Williams. This time, in a scene right out of a movie or a musical, or even a political gathering that spotlighted “important people”, the 2010 US Open Women’s Doubles champion, with Yaroslava Shvedova of Kazakhstan, was able to garner six games, (losing 6-3, 6-3).
Kayla Day, whose National Girls’ 18 Singles victory, at the Barnes Tennis Center in San Diego, resulted in a US Open wild card, was at 16, the youngest player in the Women’s draw. She played beyond her age, winning her first Grand Slam tournament singles match when Madison Brengle trailing 6-2, 4-2, retired. In her next encounter, Day made her Arthur Ashe Stadium debut against Madison Keys. She was solid, but Keys, the No. 8 seed, had the goods. Her 6-1, 6-1 victory over the Santa Barbara youngster said it all.
Ernesto Escobedo, the national Men’s US Open Series wild card winner, claimed his first Main Draw New York victory when Lukas Lacko of Slovakia retired with the score 6-4, 4-6, 4-6, 6-3. Kyle Edmund of Great Britain ended Escobedo’s New York run with a 7-5, 6-4, 6-4 win in the second round.
Coco Vandeweghe was surprised by Naomi Osaka, 6-7, 6-3, 6-4 in her opening singles match. Osaka is an example of how expansively diverse professional tennis has become. Her father is Haitian and her mother is Japanese. She plays for Japan, but trains in Florida.
Though singles is her focus, Vandeweghe’s has made impressive strides as a doubles player. In her inaugural outing with Bethanie Mattek-Sands, she won the BNP Paribas Open Women’s Doubles in March. In New York, she is playing for the first time with the Swiss Doubles Legend, Martina Hingis. (Following her decision to no longer play with Sania Mirza of India, with whom she won the 2015 US Open Women’s Doubles title, Hingis decided to team with the heavy-hitting Vandeweghe, and they are in the quarterfinals.)
Undaunted by her partnership with the International Hall of Famer, Vandeweghe and Rajeev Ram, the Rio Olympic Mixed Doubles finalist with Venus Williams, downed the formidable tandem of Leander Paes of India and Hingis, who many regard as the best in Mixed Doubles play, 7-6, 3-6, 13-11, in the second round. In the quarterfinals, they marched on, scoring a 6-3, 6-3 victory over Marin Draganja of Croatia and Barbora Krejcikova of the Czech Republic.
Jared Donaldson is another example of the stellar players found in the section. A Rhode Island native, he has been living in Irvine for the past several years and training with Phil and Taylor Dent. Donaldson qualified for the Men’s championship, then surprised David Goffin of Belgium, the No. 12 seed, 4-6, 7-5, 6-4, 6-0 in the first round. He was “on again” against Viktor Troicki of Serbia, winning 7-5, 6-3, 6-3. Ivo Karlovic, the Croatian serving machine who clocked a record 45 aces in a three set victory over Tomas Berdych in this year’s Gerry Weber Open quarterfinals, pounded out a 6-4, 7-6, 6-3 decision that ended Donaldson’s impressive visit to the “Big Apple.”
The US Open, with all of its tangibles and intangibles that are twined together in a very special New York way, is captivating. And, best of all, it will continue to enthrall tennis fans for almost another week, by simply being – The US Open.
Look for a fresh examination of tennis topics at “Mark’s Thoughts”