US OPEN: SERENA AND THE GRIP OF HISTORY

By Bill Simons

It has no smell.

You can’t touch it.

You can’t see it.

It’s silent, but it shouts loud.

Pressure.

It descends,

It grips – an unrelenting vise.

There is little you can do, even if you are the

greatest.

And one other thing. Within this New York arena, one wily veteran, Bethanie Mattek-Sands, could not have cared less about the woes and worries of Serena Williams.

Bethanie Mattek-Sands is not your grandmother’s tennis lady.

She laughs at convention.

Being different is her tonic. Tennis’ answer to “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” songster Cyndi Lauper tears up the script.

She’s not just another ‘ova. And remember this: never underestimate the power of a woman who got married in a black dress.

Sure, we first dismissed Mattek-Sands as a fun sideshow, a dime store cowgirl who just met a soccer player. Mattek’s outfits reminded writer Eleanor Preston of “a church group doing a stage version of Barbarella.” A US Open fan once told IT, “It’s like Madonna went wild in a thrift store – those socks remind me of the ones they give you in the hospital so you don’t get blood clots.”

More recently, we pegged Mattek-Sands as a gritty survivor who has overcome a slew of surgeries. Or we recognized her late career surge, which included wins over Li Na at the French Open and Ana Ivanovic at Wimbledon. And we cheered when she won the Aussie Open mixed doubles crown and combined with Lucie Safarova to win both the Aussie and French Open women’s doubles titles. Goodness, this year little-known Mattek-Sands has as many Slam titles as Serena.

Striding strong, her glance certain, she promptly held serve against Williams. Then on her first return of serve, she unleashed a laser, a message blast, and before that stylish Great Neck broker in section 135 could mutter “career Grand Slam,” Mattek-Sands was up 3-0.

Bethanie is no boring baseline basher.

She scampers, she charges, she volleys and goes for winners. Her points are blurs, her court sense is a friend. There’s something about that gal, and something was going on in Ashe Stadium. Williams just wasn’t sure what it was. She was tense. She overhit. She blew “Intro to Volleying” sitters. Calm down, Serena. But she just couldn’t.

She seems to have to make it hard on herself. For her, easy is hard. Then again, the stakes of her run to history here are clear.

All the while Mattek-Sands – great hands, honed instincts – anticipated like a cat. On one scramble point, she stroked a dashing lob winner past the lunging queen of tennis. Unafraid, Bethanie gestured to the roaring throng, as if to say, “Okay, a French coach, a former New York mayor, a rock star and a stadium of fans may be shrieking for Williams, but I’m here, I’m Sands. Who’s Serena?”

Time and again Williams had chances. But the greatest clutch player in women’s tennis – in women’s sports, and maybe all of sports – faltered. Out of rhythm, she flailed on one break point after another, and blundered on a simple backhand to gift Mattek-Sands the first set, 6-3.

The crowd seemed to muse on a mean question: Could this night rain on the greatest tennis parade since Jimmy Connors‘ fabled 1991 US Open run?

Maybe Mattek-Sands was just another pretender zoning on shots, hoping for glory and tweaking the tennis queen’s crown.

Twice Serena was up 15-40 in the second set but could not break. Mattek-Sands – clutch and tenacious – would not be set back. Well, until at last Serena got it.

She needed to calm down, to stop over-hitting, and to start serving with authority. And, of course, she needed to solve the puzzle of Mattek-Sands, with her flat, well-angled groundies, brave net rushes and savvy low volleys.

Finally, Serena broke in the second set, and later, on her third set and her 16th break point, she leaned into a backhand to even the battle, a set apiece.

The whole of tennis seemed to sigh in relief. There would, they assumed, be no shock loss tonight.

Now it was showtime. Williams brilliantly sprinted to retrieve a drop shot. “C’mon!”, she shouted. From far off the court she unleashed an astonishing forehand cross-court winner and did a mind-boggling Kim Clijsters-like split that defied her age.

Again on this night, Serena’s 3-6, 7-5, 6-0 triumph defied time and sense. Williams showed her genius, her uncanny ability to counter adversity, her singular fighting instincts, her seemingly endless problem-solving skills, and her “I believe” ability to embrace the roar of history and the unkind force, the relentless weight they call pressure.


US OPEN: NEVER WRITE OFF A WOMAN WHO WAS MARRIED IN A BLACK GOWN

A LOVING, WHIMSICAL INTERVIEW WITH JUSTIN SANDS

Just after Bethanie Mattek-Sands battled with Serena Williams, Inside Tennis’ Bill Simons spoke with her husband, Justin Sands:

So what did Bethanie show you tonight?

A tremendous heart and the level of player she is. That’s who Bethanie is. She came out and stuck to her game plan. You go out there and give it everything that you’ve got. That’s how she brings it every day in practice and singles, doubles – whatever.

She’s out there in the center of the tennis world in front of 23,000 people. How gutsy is it of her? 

That’s how she plays – that’s Bethanie Mattek-Sands tennis. She’s going to get in your face, she’s going to play high-risk tennis and do everything she can to make you beat her. She showed her serve and volley, her slices. She’s just gritty. She’s going to do everything she can.

Why do you think she’s been able to come on so strong late in her career?

It’s the team we’ve built and the injuries she’s had to overcome. She did get to No. 30 on an average of nine tournaments a year, and if she can play a full season and feel really good…She’s already shown [what she can do] by coming back from outside the top 300 from after surgery. She’s easily back (into the) top 100. That’s who she is, she’s amazing. Every time I see her on court, I’m in awe of who she is and what she’s accomplished.

Were your surprised at all by her scoring the Slam wins this year?

Not at all. Virginia Wade said the other day that Bethanie has the best hands and volleys in women’s tennis. She proves that, day in and day out. The success she’s had in doubles this year has been showing up in her singles, and vice-versa. It’s amazing what Adam Altschuler and she have done as a coach-player relationship. He’s taken her to another level.

She seems to be digging it.

You have to. Some day it will end. You have to go one day at a time and give everything you’ve got. She embraces it, she loves it. She wouldn’t have it any other way.

One of the most important slogans in tennis is “Never write off a woman who’s been married in a black wedding dress.”

(Laughs) I don’t know if I’ve ever heard that slogan.

Oh, c’mon.

She bucks the trends, but she’s a few years ahead of the curve. Black wedding or colored wedding dresses are a big thing now, and colored hair. It’s who she is. Serena even mentioned the other day that she loves Bethanie for that, and she realizes Bethanie’s had to overcome a lot of adversity and injuries, being down and out and clawing back.

What does she drive?

(Laughs) She has no motorcycle now and I keep telling her not to get one. Her car is purple right now. We have a wrap on her BMW that’s Plum Crazy Purple and she loves it. [The wrap] is bright tennis-ball green. And I have a F250 [Ford pick-up] with a big lift on it that she loves to drive.

Her outfits seem pretty calm now. Is she selling out?

I don’t know if they’re calm. Everyone has accepted that it’s normal. You look at the outfits that are out there now and they are much better – they’re colorful, they’re fun, the cuts and everything. She’s been that far ahead. I don’t know if it was the leopard print that turned everyone over. She pulls that style off. She pulls high socks off better than anybody.

I saw pictures of you on the beach wedding-wise. Were you actually married on the beach?

We were. I said I would never have a beach wedding, and it turned out that we had a wedding at the beach. It just worked out that way. We actually were supposed to get married on the off Sunday at Wimbledon, and Beth was in the fourth round playing Serena on the old graveyard court on Monday so we couldn’t go up to Scotland to get married. We had to push it off, and we were like, “Where are we going to do this?” We both have family in Florida, so we said, “Ok, we’ll just go down. Naples is a good spot.”

You’re sitting there in the Friends Box and your wife is out there thrilling the throng. As a spouse and a lover, what does that feel like?

Any time she steps on the court, whether it’s Arthur Ashe or one of the outside courts where there are 25 or 50 people, she’s amazing. She’s the center of my world and I couldn’t be happier for her. She wears her emotions on her sleeve and just goes for it…She’s the same off the court as she is on the court. She’s fun-loving, charismatic and cares about people and cares about family. She’s just a great person.


US OPEN: A WISER YOUNG, A VINTAGE MAC

PAM SLAM: Pam Shriver nailed it when reflecting on the impact Serena and Venus have had, saying, “I can’t imagine our sport ever doing again what the Williamses have done for the past 18 years.”

A QUESTION THAT LOOMS: LZ Granderson asked No. 2 seed Simona Halep a question that could well be put to numerous others in the WTA: “What do you have to do to go from being someone who plays Serena tough, to being someone who actually beats her?” Not surprisingly, Halep, like many others, didn’t have much of an answer.

AN OLDER YOUNG, A VINTAGE MAC: Now into the third round after a pair of come-from-behind wins, Donald Young is having a renaissance in New York. At 26, he’s “a little older,” has been through “ups and downs,” and “put in some work” to appreciate it.

On the subject of Davis Cup, Young is ready to play for the US in Uzbekistan later this month should he get the opportunity. “He (Davis Cup captain Jim Courier) made it pretty simple,” Young says. “He said we’re just going to go straight down the ranking list. At the time I was 5, and I’m still 5. John (Isner) unfortunately won’t be able to play, so it goes to the next guy. I’m the guy that’s got to step up and be there for the call…whether that’s playing or whatever it might be…I definitely feel like I should be there.”

IT asked Young about an early experience he had as a ball boy for John McEnroe. “Yeah, it was great – I’m just happy he didn’t scream at me,” he said. “My friend and I were ball-boying. He was more outgoing than me…I think a lot of players started off as ball boys or ball girls…It was awesome for me.”

A TRICKY MATCH-UP: Chris Evert, who for years was coached by her dad, recently said, “The father-coach role is tricky.” For sure, but what’s it like when your spouse is your coach? Kazakhstan’s Mikhail Kukushkin is coached by his wife, Anastasia Kukushkina.

NOBODY BEATS ANDREAS SEPPI ELEVEN TIMES – NOT: Greg Garber noted that Italian Andreas Seppi was 0-10 against Federer before scoring a win over Roger at this year’s Australian Open, and going into his third-round match against Novak Djokovic, Seppi was again 0-10. When Seppi broke the Serb early in the first set, observers briefly wondered whether he would again score a shock upset. But he faltered and is now 0-11 versus Novak.

THE ‘DANIEL NESTOR’ OF WOMEN’S TENNIS: Pam Shriver said veteran Lisa Raymond was the Daniel Nestor of women’s tennis. Raymond is just behind on two counts. The American woman is 42 and has won 11 majors. The Canadian man is 43 and has won 12 majors. Yesterday, Raymond lost her women’s doubles match with Madison Keys, which supposedly was the last match of her career. She sobbed and tears flowed in the locker room. Players shared their love – what a career! The curtain dropped.

Wrong!

A WTA representative promptly informed Raymond that her career was not over, because Fabio Fognini and Sara Errani had just pulled out of the mixed doubles. Now Raymond could instantly ‘un-retire’ and play the mixed with Jamie Murray as her partner.

Once, after Raymond scored an incredible US Open comeback over Lubomira Kuhajcova, a reporter asked, “When you were down 0-6, 0-5, 0-30, did you say to yourself, ‘Great, I’ve got her just where I want her?’”

Our favorite deep-think commentary by Raymond focused on the culture of junior tennis. She contended, “Junior players in Russia or Serbia are willing to sacrifice everything in order to taste success, to get out and find a better life for themselves and their families. They don’t know any differently. American juniors lose a match or have a bad practice and they can jump into their BMWs and head home to finish playing Halo 3 on their brand-new Xbox 360.” Raymond is excited about now extending her role of coaching Keys, working with Lindsay Davenport and Jon Leach.

DRONE DUTY: The 26-year-old science teacher who lost control of his drone – which subsequently crashed into a nearly empty Louis Armstrong Stadium – turned himself in and was arrested for reckless endangerment. BTW: The incident brings to mind Flip Bundy‘s long-ago claim that US fans would get a better view of the action from Russia’s Soyuz Satellite than from the upper rows of Ashe stadium.

QUOTEBOOK:

Belinda Bencic is the best young player we’ve seen in a while.” – Mary Jo Fernandez.

NO WILLIAMS DOUBLE: Bencic beat Serena in Toronto but lost to Venus today.

INITIAL OBSERVATIONS: When it comes to initials, tennis gets off to a good start in the alphabet. In other words, tennis can boast two dandy “AAs” – Arthur Ashe and Andre Agassi. The sport has long had some splendid “BB” gunners, like Bjorn Borg, Boris Becker and Bob Bryan. Now there’s the upcoming teen Belinda Bencic. BTW: Federer has turned his mono-initial “F” into a nifty brand. Rafa often sports his initials on his shoes. And what other sport has ruling bodies and organizations with a greater array of initials: ITF, ATP, WTA, USTA, USPTA, PTR, ITA, AELTC, BJKNTC, FFT, ITWA, TIA. Tennis’s most musical is CSN – Carla Suarez Navarro – which replicates Crosby, Stills and Nash. Venus has the most automotive initials: VW.

GENERATIONS MEET: Going into their match, Venus Williams, 35, and Belinda Bencic, 18, were the youngest and oldest women players in the Open. BTW: Bencic’s coach, Martina Hingis, played Venus 21 times.

GIRLS JUST WANNA HAVE FUN: Is Bethanie Mattek-Sands tennis’s answer to “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” songster Cyndi Lauper?

HEADLINE OF THE DAY: “Woz Is Me” – after No. 4 seed Caroline Wozniacki could not convert four match points and lost her marathon match against Czech Petra Cetovska.

LONGEST MATCH OF THE OPEN: Marin Cilic‘s 4:11 marathon win over Mikhail Kukushkin.

JUST WHO IS THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE, AND JUST WHO IS THE WOMAN WHO BEAT SERENA WILLIAMS? Belinda Bencic said that after she scored a huge win in Toronto, “Sometimes [people say], ‘Oh, she’s the girl who beat Serena‘ [but] I don’t think they know my name.”

JUST WONDERING: Inch for inch, is the diminutive 5’3″ Dominika Cibulkova the best player? American Lauren Davis, who beat Heather Watson in the first round, is 5’2″. Madison Brengle is 5’4″.

SOCAL BOYS: Okay, the Bryan brothers are the doubles team to emerge out of Southern California in our era. But Sam Querrey and Steve Johnson, who have known each other since they were ten, beat the Bryans and are now into the third round of the Open. Before turning pro, Querrey strongly considered going to USC. Johnson was the most successful Trojan tennis player.

FABULOUS SMILE, FREQUENT TEARS: Last year’s semi-finalist Russian Ekaterina Makarova, who beat Elena Svitolina today to reach the fourth round.


US Open: One Last Walk in a Hewitt Wonderland

By Bill Simons

Lleyton Hewitt‘s first great win was in his hometown of Perth, Australia. His last great American loss was on the US Open’s fabled Grandstand Court. Lleyton’s nickname is “Rusty,” and yes, the Grandstand is rusty, too. Like the Aussie, the arena is relatively small, and this will be its last year.

Today Lleyton very much looked the part of a grizzled warrior fighting one of his last battles. Over the years, how he’s changed. His long hair is long gone. His raw, feisty fire has simmered, just slightly. Hewitt once was No. 1 – he’s now No. 166. He once was a feared foe. He won the US Open and Wimbledon. At one time he was mentored by Aussie wise men with terse nicknames – Rochey (Tony Roche) and Newk (John Newcombe). Now he’s an Aussie sage who counsels his nation’s bad boys. Nick Kyrgios and Bernie Tomic look to him as a knowing father figure. Go figure.

These days, Hewitt rarely shouts “C’mon!” in his foes’ faces, and rarely do we see him offer his Vicht victory sign.

Tonight Roger Federer is packing them in at Ashe Stadium, 23,770 strong, while the Grandstand is just half full. Here we see signs of Lleyton’s once-celebrated two-handed backhand pass – stretch and scoop. He unleashes a gorgeous lob, and we get just a glimpse of his fabled corner-to-corner movement, once so explosive, and lightning fast.

But now the elder winces after making a mess of a standard volley, and tosses his Yonex in frustration when his rally forehand flies long. He taunts the hard court, saying “Bad bounce, bad bounce.” These days Rusty is no longer suing his own labor union, the ATP. A racial incident during a James Blake US Open match is but a memory. Long ago, opponents stopped spitting at him.

Now a red-hot New York day has given way to a cool US Open night, and Hewitt’s presence remains: hat on backwards and distinct bowlegged gait – he’s constantly toweling off, flashing his coil-and-blast service motion and his “I will not flinch” intensity.

No wonder fans screech, “C’mon Rusty! Right here!” But tonight there may not be any “here” here. Hewitt promptly drops the first two sets to his friend, his practice partner, his student and fellow Davis Cup warrior, Bernard Tomic. But Hewitt is nothing if not a battler. He wins the third set. In the fourth Tomic is twice two points from the match. Then Hewitt, the crowd at his back, fights to gain four straight games, coming back from 3-5 to collect the set 7-5.

Deep into the fifth, after Hewitt scores a forehand winner, the Aussie Fanatics sing, “Sweet down the line. Lleyton’s never looked so good, so good.” One of the greatest fighters in the history of the game is fighting back. A Chilean woman in red silk yells encouragement. A Pittsburgh politician in a Nike cap talks of how he was inspired as a six-year-old by the great Lleyton Hewitt. And Lleyton’s mother tells IT that she knew her soon was a fighter as a child, but now she’s most proud of him because “he’s such a sweet family man.”

Even Federer gets into the love-fest, noting that Hewitt “really changed things around and showed me how it’s done…He was the player [who] just couldn’t miss, best counter-puncher we’ve ever seen…He would just grind you down. You would attack him and he would pass you…He did things that no other player’s ever achieved. He should be very proud.”

Not surprisingly, raucous Rusty scored a break in the fifth set to remain in the battle. Up 5-3, he had two match points, but could not convert. Then he served for the match but could not hold. Tomic’s youth, his penetrating ground shots, and his ability to deliver a variety of shots eventually prevailed 6-3, 6-2, 3-6, 5-7, 7-5.

The old man on the old court just couldn’t tap into enough of the old magic. Even let cords went Tomic’s way.

Still, the Aussie fanatics sang loud, “There’s only one Lleyton Hewitt, there’s only one Lleyton Hewitt. Walking along, singing a song, walking in a Lleyton wonderland.”

Hewitt’s gnarled toes may now be surgically fused, but there’s no confusion – in the long era after Becker and Edberg and then Pete and Andre, few have given us more wonder. After all, as the song tells us, “There’s only one Lleyton Hewitt.”


US Open: Garbage, Grime, Heat, Humidity and a Pair of Curses

OUR FAVE NYC BILLBOARD: “New York City, the only place where having a washer and dryer means you’ve made it.”

GARBAGE, GRIME, MONSTER TRAFFIC, RELENTLESS NOISE POLLUTION, SOUL-WITHERING HEAT AND HUMIDITY: Welcome to NYC. [Editor’s note: The Big Apple is the most dynamic city in America, if not the world, and it has plenty of appeal, that is if you can get beyond its downsides.]

THE CURSE OF MELO: Coco Vandeweghe has a huge family heritage in basketball. Still, it was a bit stunning when she pivoted during an interview and told IT that “Melo” (the New York Knicks star Carmelo Anthony) was “handcuffing” the Knicks with his big salary. She claimed he was a “bit soft” and was “dragging the Knicks down.” A couple of months later when Coco came to New York she herself got handcuffed 6-2, 6-1 by Bethanie Mattek-Sands, who is ranked No. 101, or 56 slots below Coco.

THE CURSE OF KOHLSCHREIBER: John Isner won his sixth set in a row at the US Open for the third time. If he gets past Czech Jiri Vesely, he could run into a curious pick-your-poison dilemma in the fourth round: Facing his nemesis, German Philipp Kohlschreiber, who has beaten him at the US Open for three straight years, or playing a Swiss guy who’s all right – Roger Federer.

SAY IT ISN’T SO: A record twelve men, plus two women, have withdrawn from the Open. Today, Jack Sock, arguably America’s best young prospect, fainted and had to be assisted from the court…Yesterday, Serena suffered ten double faults. (And she has the best women’s serve in the universe.)…Serena could face three Americans in a row.

JUST WONDERING: There’s no way that Serena’s quest for history will be halted by her sister – right?…Who in the men’s game has a better lob, Murray or Djokovic?

TRUE DOMINANCE: Only nine players in the final 32 of the women’s draw – Belinda Bencic, Venus, Ekaterina Makarova, Petra Kvitova, Samantha Stosur, Victoria Azarenka, Sabine Lisicki, Simona Halep, and Caroline Wozniacki – have won a match against Serena, and among them, only Venus (11-15), Stosur (3-8) and Azarenka (3-17) have won more than one.

ARE WE DONE WITH FISH HEADLINES? Now that Mardy Fish has retired, are we done with fishy headlines, like today’s slightly contradictory offerings? Newsday proclaimed “Fish Tale Has Inspiring End,” while The Daily News said “It’s game, set and career for Fish, who can’t make a big splash.” Our fave non-fish Fish headline was the New York Post’s banner, which read “Mardy Party Ends.”

DARE WE NOTE? Beyonce’s former bandmate Kelly Rowland said, “Serena has the best booty…More power to her for flaunting it. I mean, I don’t know what I would do with all that ass.”

SERENA SYNDROME: For the first time in history, the women’s final sold out before the men’s final.

BRYANS BOW EARLY: Mike and Bob Bryan beat Steve Johnson and Sam Querrey at Wimbledon. But the Bryans failed to defend their 2014 US Open title when they lost to their fellow Americans in the first round. The Bryans, who were seeded No. 1, have won just one Slam in their last nine majors. This is the first year in over a decade that the appealing California natives have not won a Slam.

ALARMING COMMENTARY: After Andy Murray lost the first two sets to Adrian Mannarino, Mike Tirico noted that the Brit’s “urgency has become alarm. Now will alarm become panic?” But Murray soon did his best imitation of Jimmy Connors. Translation: Jimbo famously retrieved four overheads in a row to help turn around his 1991 match against Paul Haarhuis. Murray swiftly ran down three drop shots to turn around his match against France’s Mannarino.

ALL DRONED UP WITH NO PLACE TO GO: A drone flying from the east crashed into the southwest corner of Louis Armstrong Stadium during the Flavia Pennetta vs. Monica Niculescu match on Thursday night. No spectators were in the immediate area, and there were no injuries. The NYPD responded and is conducting an ongoing investigation.

NO DJOK: The most exciting thing about Novak Djokovic’s victory over Andreas Haider-Maurer was the 15-second victory dance he did afterwards.

NOT SO SURE: Reflecting on Mardy Fish, who has an anxiety disorder, ESPN said that the Californian was “not the first one to suffer from stress…He’s just the first to be forced from the game because of it.” Maybe, but we are not so sure about that. Of course, many players, going back to the days of Bjorn Borg and Andrea Jaeger, have left the game due to pressure.

ONE TRACK MIND: Donald Young said, “All I do is think about tennis.” The blasting American, who had been on a six-match losing streak earlier this summer, has now twice consecutively come from behind by winning the last three sets of his matches.

FORGET MR. ROGERS’ NEIGHBORHOOD, FLUSHING MEADOWS IS MS. ROGERS’ ‘HOOD: South Carolina’s Shelby Rogers beat Japan’s Kurumi Nara to reach the third round of a Slam for the first time.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: “The humidity is tearing away at the players’ souls…This is one of these days I’m glad just to be a commentator.” – John McEnroe

HEADLINE OF THE DAY: “Hot Coco” (after Coco Vandeweghe smashed her racket four times.)


US Open: Swiss Edition – Roger on the Roof, Bencic Weathers a Storm

THE VIEW FROM ROGER: After his first-round win at the US Open, Roger Federer candidly shared his perspective on the current game.

On whether the new roof has changed Ashe stadium: “Yes, it has. Forever. (Smiling.) I don’t know if it’s a good thing or not, but old Ashe was great. I loved it. That’s all I knew until this year…If you don’t have to fight the wind you can play closer to the lines and make it better tennis…It might be better for the top guys…I do feel like it’s loud…Maybe in American sports it’s common that the fans do talk during games or matches. I feel like the roof might bring that back down, so, you know, you hear the crowd speaking more.”

On his new service return: “I used to chip and charge some…back in the day…Against certain players I did it more than others…but not in the way that I do it right now…Sometimes I stand there and I’m like, ‘Should I or shouldn’t I?’ And then it’s like, ‘Okay, whatever, I’m going.’…The good thing is when you do it, you have to play committed. There’s no way around it…Whatever is committed in tennis is a good thing.”

On whether he is playing his best tennis now: “Yes. If I win the tournament here yes, maybe…I will take it match by match…I’m not thinking too far ahead, as I know some people are. I’m just happy that the last…one-and-a-half years I have been…very consistent. I’m playing the right way, and also in a way that’s fun for me. If I decide to have long rallies and stay back, I can do that. If I decide to move forward and step it up, I can do that, too.

About his rivals, and how they’ve made him a better player: In the beginning it was Lleyton…who was a big challenge, and Andre Agassi…Those guys who dominated the baseline [were] difficult…It made me feel like a bad baseliner to an extent, until I realized I had to move better and be more consistent, have variation in my game. I started to figure it out bit by bit….Then the likes of Henman and Sampras explained to me how serve and volley was played…the art of sort of pressuring the opponent…Later, of course, this whole generation of Rafa, Novak, Andy – probably Rafa the most, [as a] lefty, challenged my backhand. I realized I had to return differently every single time I played against him. It made me a better player…And then that new generation – I would call it more new conditions, with the strings, the court surface slowed down – I had to adapt and become a physical player from the baseline with a lot of topspin and use the conditions from today to still be successful…With Novak it was always pretty straightforward. I didn’t feel like I had to adjust as much against him. He was just very good. And I saw the rise of Novak. I don’t know. [He's] a difficult player to play against because he’s just that good.

STORMY BEL: Belinda Bencic made the US Open quarters last year, and the Swiss teen’s big breakthrough on the pro tour came this summer in Toronto, when she beat Serena Williams and Simona Halep back to back to win the Rogers Cup. But the recent junior No. 1 had to fight off three match points and get through anger and tears to defeat world No. 88 Misaki Doi in the second round. “I know I shouldn’t have…behaved like that,” Bencic said afterward. “For sure I know that. But sometimes I just can’t control myself…I for sure have to be working on that, but I think I’m not the only one who would freak out…I am not the player who is the calmest. I’m very emotional. That’s just how I am.”

Next up for Bencic is a match against her very first pro opponent, Venus Williams, who holds a 3-0 record against the Swiss protege of Martina Hingis. In fact, Bencic has yet to win more than four games in a set against Venus.

KEYS TO FAME: Since Madison Keys reached the semifinals of this year’s Aussie Open, she’s become more of a household name. Following an easy second-round win in New York, the 20-year-old was asked about being recognized by fans. “I think the funniest [example] was in LA. A woman recognized me as she was driving and hit her brakes …and screamed out of her window…[She] was screaming my name and was like ‘I love you.’ I’m like, ‘Okay, don’t crash, bye,” she said, drawing laughter.

Who would make Keys starstruck? “Maybe Jennifer Lawrence,” she said. “I saw Nicole Richie one day and she was with her kids. I have this bizarre love for Nicole Richie.”

CURIOUS KYRGIOS – NICK IN NEW YORK: It’s been said of Nick Kyrgios that his shot selection makes Gael Monfils look like a meticulous craftsman. People wonder where the new great players are coming from, but truth be told, we’re also checking the pipeline for the next great over-the-top characters. And many view Kyrgios as a new addition to the wild tradition of Pancho Gonzales, Nastase, Jimmy Connors, John McEnroe, Goran Ivanisevic and Marat Safin, to mention just a few.

When Kyrgios lost to Andy Murray in the first round of the US Open, the New York Post bid him farewell with the headline ‘Bye-Bye, Bad Boy,’ opening with the line, “At least Nick Kyrgios didn’t say anything tasteless about Andy Murray’s wife.” (Like Kyrgios, Kim Sears is no stranger to heated outbursts this year – in her case, during Murray’s Aussie Open semifinal against Tomas Berdych.)

Labeling the 20-year-old Kyrgios an “airhead,” the Post singled out his erratic behavior during changeovers and tendency to go for low-percentage flashy shots. As for Kyrgios , he says the “bad boy” tag attached to some young Australian players is “ridiculous.” Asked what he’s learned from his controversial on-court remarks this summer, he answered, “Keep your mouth shut at times.”

No stranger to hot-tempered outbursts, Murray wasn’t out to criticize his defeated opponent. “He (Kyrgios) is a young guy and he’s made mistakes, and everyone here when they were 19-20 would have done some bad things and made mistakes.” the Scot said. “It’s unfortunate that it happens in front of millions of people…It’s wrong, a lot of things he’s done, but…he’s still a young guy. He’ll learn. I don’t think he’s a bad person at all.”

FRIENDLY FIRE: John Isner‘s press conference after his first-round win had a surprise guest: Caroline Wozniacki. After the world No. 5 ribbed Isner for cutting into her press time, he said, “Caroline is a good friend of mine. She gives me a lot of s-h-i-t all the time, and she’s doing it again. That’s what good friends do.”

NO TIME TO CHAT: Coco Vandeweghe smashed a racquet during her second-round loss to Bethanie Mattek-Sands, and her on-court interview with ESPN during her first-round win over Sloane Stephens drew both yays and nays. The network’s Chris Evert praised it for going “beyond the box” to bring new fans into the sport, but Federer and Serena expressed reservations. “You don’t want it to impact your game, and you don’t want to look back and think, ‘What a stupid move that was in hindsight,’” Federer said. “That’s kind of the integrity of tennis when you think about it,” said Serena. “It’s just you on the court. It’s not a reporter. It’s not a coach. It’s just you in that moment. I kind of love that. It’s the only sport where you have that.”

TOUGH TUESDAY: It was a rough day for racquets on the women’s side of the US Open – Kiki Bertens and Belinda Bencic hurled theirs on the way to losing and winning respectively, while Coco Vandeweghe smashed one in the first set of her second-round loss.

HEADLINES:

‘OLD HAND WITH NEW MOVE KEEPS EVERYONE GUESSING’ (New York Times)

‘THIS OPEN FEELS DONALD YOUNG AGAIN’ (Wall Street Journal)

‘IN SUN, QUIT HAPPENS’ (New York Daily News)

END OF AN ERA: For the first time since 2004, the Bryan brothers are going without a men’s doubles Slam title this year – the 2014 US Open champs lost their title defense in the first round, falling to another American duo, Sam Querrey and Steve Johnson.

YOUNG, OLDER: Donald Young overcame a two-set deficit to win his first-round match against Gilles Simon, “One-hundred percent I would have beaten myself up (in the past),” he told the New York Times.

FROM ALTHEA TO SERENA: A New York Times piece by William C. Rhoden focuses on connections between Serena and Althea Gibson, the subject of a new documentary that airs on PBS. “At a willowy 5 feet 11, Gibson was built more like Serena Williams’s sister Venus,” Rhoden writes. “But Gibson’s temperament – the fire, the passion, the laser focus, the take-no-prisoners approach – was a precursor to Serena’s…Asked to describe her style, Gibson, barely smiling, said, ‘Aggressive, dynamic – and mean.’…Tennis was not the multimillion-dollar bonanza it is today, and those volatile times were not right for a woman, particularly a black woman, to be accorded mythic stature or even a job as a pro at a prestigious country club…Serena Williams is currently the beneficiary of a love fest, though this has not always been the case. Many of those throwing roses along Williams’s path to glory once threw darts.”


US Open: Mardy Fish – ‘I’m Here to Show Weakness’

By Bill Simons

Why do bad things happen to good people?

Tennis example No. 1 – Arthur Ashe, the conscience of our sport, the giving and thoughtful humanitarian and activist – was felled by AIDS.

Mardy Fish is no Arthur Ashe. But, for years, the laid back, smart and funny LA player known for his quick quips and devastating backhand had been beloved in the locker room. Yes, he was not as good a tennis player as Andy Roddick. He didn’t play poker as well as James Blake. Then again, don’t ask Pete Sampras about how great a golfer Mardy is. Pete will not warm up to the topic.

But, these first few days of the Open, when fans haven’t been obsessing over Serena, they have been warming up to Fish’s feel-good story of fear, doubt, anxiety, reflection and redemption.

It’s a fairy tale that should have had another chapter today. Fish was serving in the fourth set to win his second-round match against Spanish veteran Feliciano Lopez. But nerves got to him. He faltered badly. Then, in the decisive fifth set, he twice had golden opportunities before his body gave out. He felt twinges. He bent over in the heat. He cramped. He stretched. His effort to call a trainer fell flat – it was too late. He lost.

But Fish gained countless hearts. Many knew his backstory. The likable former No. 1 American and Olympic silver medalist was long a vastly talented underachiever. Never mind that his serve punished and his backhand was among the best. The guy just seemed to like to play in the shadow of his high school basketball teammate Roddick. He didn’t work as hard as he might have until he surged late in his career.

Then, when at last he seemed to have things in gear, frightening heart arrhythmias led to a racing heart and daunting late-night panic attacks. As if that wasn’t enough, he developed a perplexing anxiety disorder, which emerged in 2012. His ranking had risen, but so had his self-doubt.

In the Players’ Tribune, Mardy recalled his implosion:

“I had to play a night match in the third round against Gilles Simon…Night matches at the Open are reserved for the best pairings…After years and years of being on the outside…I was part of it. I wasn’t playing in someone else’s match. I was playing in ‘The Mardy Fish Match’…But it was also stressful…I was on edge the whole time: fist-pumping, throwing my racquet, and feeling…anxious. I was anxiety-ridden.

And I’ll never forget when it happened – the first, and only, anxiety attack I would have on a tennis court…I looked at the clock. It said 1:15 am…My mind started spiraling downward in this snowball of thoughts:

1:15. Oh my gosh – it’s so late. I’m going to feel terrible tomorrow. We’re going to play this long match…and I’m going to have to do press after… and then I’m going to have to stretch…and I’m going to feel bad about that…

It just kept spiraling…I couldn’t control it.”

Mardy couldn’t remember a thing, but he did recall the moments before he was scheduled to play Roger Federer in the next round. He wrote:

“I am hours away from playing in the biggest tennis match of my life: the fourth round of the US Open…on Labor Day…on my dad’s birthday…on Arthur Ashe…on CBS…against Roger…I’m hours away from playing the match that you work for, that you sacrifice for, for an entire career.

And…I literally can’t do it…I’m having several anxiety attacks…My mind starts spiraling. I’m just freaking out.

My wife is asking me, “What can we do?…And I tell her, “The only thing that makes me feel better right now…is the idea of not playing this match…She answers plainly…”You don’t have to play. Just don’t play”…Oh god, I thought…I’m not going to go out there, anxious, in front of 22,000 people. I’m not going to play Roger.”

Mardy didn’t play that night or much over the next three years. Instead he went on a quest for healing which began simply enough by googling “anxiety” and “panic attack.” The man who once adored the solitary life of a nomadic player now realized he had to have his wife by his side every night. His parents had to travel to tournaments. He couldn’t be alone. Still, in the end Fish spoke of his great memories. He told the media what’s most important is “that you can beat it. That you can put yourself back…and pull yourself right back in the fire and come through…I showed that.”

Now, Mardy confided, “I can put my head on my pillow every night — I’m very comfortable knowing how hard I have worked…[I'm] just at peace…I’m not looking for everyone to bow down when I leave the room and carry my racquets out today. I accomplished everything that I set out to this summer, and I’m happy.”

As for his anxiety disorder, Mardy said, “I was open and honest about a topic that is not supposed to be masculine. We are trained as tennis players… to not show weakness. I was very good at that throughout my career. I want to help people that have gone through it and try to be a role model for people that are deep into some bad times, that they can get out of it, because I was there. They can conquer it.”

In the Players’ Tribune piece, Fish wrote:

“It’s important that my story not have a sports vocabulary…This is a story about how a mental health problem took my job away from me. And about how, three years later, I…[did] that job again.

This is a story about how, with the right education, and conversation, and treatment, and mindset, the things that mental illness takes away from us – we can take them back…Millions of Americans deal with issues related to mental health. And the journey of dealing with them, and learning to live with them, is a long one. It can be a forever one. Or, worse, it can be a life-threatening one.

And I want to help…Keeping the conversation going…is also part of that. Mental health is not a very easy thing to talk about in sports…To show weakness, we’re told, in so many words, is to deserve shame.

But I am here to show weakness. And I am not ashamed…I’m here to tell people that it’s normal.

And that strength, ultimately, comes in all sorts of forms.

Addressing your mental health is strength…Before the biggest match of your career, prioritizing your mental health enough to say, You don’t have to play. You don’t have to play. Don’t play….

That, too, is strength.”


US Open: Big Roof, Naughty Nick and the Other Donald

THE ROOF THAT CLIMATE CHANGE BUILT? White pipes, industrial beams, stark squares and stratospheric walkways that only daredevils would traverse – the partial roof that dramatically looms over Ashe Stadium is a stunning maze. The compelling patterns seem more suited for MoMA (the Museum of Modern Art) than the BJKNTC (the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center). The Aussie Open roof is flat, simple and functional. Wimbledon’s roof has an artistic flair. Ashe’s roof – though late in coming and unfinished until next year – will (excuse the pun) “top” them all. It will have 13 million pounds of steel and 115,000 bolts, and all of Wimbledon’s Centre Court could fit into its center opening.

Serena said the partially-roofed stadium is “different…it feels more intimate.” Saying that Ashe Stadium, with its over-23,000-seat capacity, is intimate is like saying a sledgehammer is delicate. Still, one is impressed with the new Ashe, an extraordinary work of art and engineering, which, starting next year, will at last keep the US Open dry. For the past seven rainy years, the men’s final has been played on Monday.

Roger Federer was asked whether the new roof will change Ashe Stadium. “Forever,” he succinctly replied. “I don’t know if it’s a good thing or not, but old Ashe was great. I loved it. That’s all I knew until this year.

“But of course I like the feeling of these big center courts with the roof on. We’re used to it [at the] Australian Open, Wimbledon, [in] Shanghai, [and] other places.

“So for that matter, I like it. It’s going to increase the level of play from all players…[But] probably more for the top players, because you know what to expect and you’re not going to have to fight the wind as much – you can play closer to the lines and make it better tennis. So probably it might be better for the top guys.

“Then we will see [about] the conditions next year when it’s fully covered and…how it will play indoors when it’s going to rain…It’s quite loud…In American sports it’s quite common that the fans talk during games or matches. The roof might bring that [volume] back down.”

NOTES ON NAUGHTY NICK: It’s said that whether you love or hate naughty Nick Kyrgios, it’s hard to ignore the free-form talent. He’s just 20, which is why so many are cutting the gifted but problematic youngster ample slack. His friend, Davis Cup teammate and advisor Lleyton Hewitt, says he’s a good bloke.

Chris Fowler chides critics, saying, “I challenge any reporter who is critical of Kyrgios to think of where they were at 20.”

But John McEnroe noted that “you want to be remembered as a player, not a clown…the schtick is getting a little old.” And just when you find yourself speculating on the meaning of that big tattoo on the Aussie’s considerable right forearm – “Time is running out” – you again recall that the manchild is just 20.

WEAK PERFORMANCES BY A MAYOR AND TWO MAYERS: Though Argentina’s Leonardo Mayer nearly downed Roger Federer in Shanghai last fall, he faltered badly at Ashe Stadium today, losing to Roger 6-1, 6-2, 6-2. Florian Mayer was one of nine players in the men’s draw to retire in the first round. But neither Mayer’s performance was as weak as the mayor’s. New York chief Bill de Blasio began the Opening Night ceremonies with a shrill speech filled with loud bombast and over-the-top “ain’t we just great” claims.

FOREVER YOUNG – THE OTHER DONALD PREVAILS: Candidate Trump is not the only newsworthy Donald in this town. American Donald Young was down two sets and 0-3, yet still managed to come back to defeat the considerable Frenchman and No. 11 seed Gilles Simon. Young once beat Andy Murray at Indian Wells, but to come back from so far down in America’s Grand Slam was something else. It was the match of his career.

Early in his career, Young was seen as a compelling American hope. Starting at 15, he was given one wildcard after another, only to suffer dispiriting losses. His confidence never really jelled. Today, he told IT that he regrets accepting all those wildcards that proved so counterproductive.

BTW: Young’s impressive win brings to mind the question of who Jim Courier will select to join John Isner on the Davis Cup team to play Uzbekistan the week after the Open: Jack Sock, Steve Johnson or Young.

MOST IMPORTANT SHOT ANALYSIS OF THE OPEN? Darren Cahill claimed that Andy Roddick once came within two rows of blasting a ball out of Ashe stadium.

TOMMY HAAS ON THE VERY BEST: Tommy Haas, 37, has played against generations of foes. We asked him to talk about the best strokes he’s faced. The former No. 2 and four-time Slam semi-finalist said, “The best server I ever faced was probably Pete Sampras. Best player, Roger is up there. I think he’s the greatest of all time…The results speak for that…Playing against Rafa is one of the most physical challenges out there. Djokovic, Murray…what they have done physically and also defensively, it’s a whole new level…Agassi is still one of the best strikers I have ever played against…There [are] still a lot of [great] one-handed backhands out there with Gasquet, Wawrinka, Almagro.”

SAY IT ISN’T SO: Andy Murray said, “I’m getting old – 28 years.”

‘I CONSULTED MY COACH AND ALL I GOT WAS THESE ROTTEN BABY PICTURES’: Andy Murray joked with ESPN that when he spoke with his coach about his game, all he got from Amelie Mauresmo, a new mother, was baby pictures.


US Open: Mardy Fish’s Upstream Battle

By Bill Simons

Let’s face it, in these fierce days, God forbid if your kid doesn’t get in the perfect pre-school.

Likewise, it’s all but a disaster if your children’s SAT tests aren’t Einsteinian and if your flawless offspring don’t get into an elite school or score the right job. Or so it seems.

We live in a pressure cooker world. Relentless stress is a pandemic that so many Americans suffer from.

Just ask Mardy Fish, who in 2012 suffered a baffling anxiety meltdown at the US Open while playing Gilles Simon. Demon after demon gripped him on court in the hotbed that is the US Open tennis.

But wait, aren’t world class athletes immune from serious diseases?

No way.

Arthur Ashe had a heart attack, brain surgery, and contracted AIDS from a blood transplant gone terribly wrong. As for James Blake, he broke his neck, and then an outbreak of shingles paralyzed half his face temporarily. Venus Williams has suffered from the draining autoimmune condition Sjogren’s Syndrome.

People deal with their maladies in different ways. Venus holds her feelings close to her chest. Just take one step at a time, she advises. “Everybody’s got their problems. The important thing is not to complain. Mardy’s taking it like a man. It’s really bad luck, what’s happened to him, but he’s held his head high. He’s made something of his opportunities here.”

But Fish says that it helps him “to be open and to talk about it, first and foremost…I’ve got so many different emotions…If it helps me to talk about it, maybe it helps others talk about it.  I’ve heard from lots of people…that are thankful that I’m out front with it.”

Fish, who also suffered from a racing heart that brought fierce nocturnal fears, explained to IT, “Anxiety disorder is where your mind takes over and usually goes into the future and predicts what you think is going to happen. Usually it’s bad stuff.”

The Beverly Hills resident, who was No. 6 in the world and briefly the best American, added, “There’s a reason why I didn’t ‘retire,’ because…I wanted to go out on my own terms.”

Fish eventually was hospitalized in Miami for his anxiety disorder. When he practiced he used a monitor to record his heart rate, and he was worried when his opening US Open match went over three hours in intense heat. He hadn’t even practiced for three hours.

“A huge part of it is just coming back here [to the US Open], enjoying the experience one last time, and…conquering what happened when it was all pulled away. This tournament is where it all came crashing down, and where I had my worst feelings of my whole life. It’s a tough thing [that this happened] at my favorite tournament. So I…desperately wanted to come back and change that narrative.”

Winning his first-round match over little-known Italian Marco Cecchinato indeed changed Mardy’s narrative.


US Open: A Crunchy Hors D’oeuvre

THE SERENA SLAM: There has never been a Slam where a single story line – Serena‘s quest for the Grand Slam – has been so dominant.

SERENA’S SLAM KICKOFF – AN EDISONIAN POWER OUTAGE: Kimiko Date-Krumm famously said that her goal in a long-ago match against Serena Williams was to last for more than an hour. She succeeded, lasting 61 minutes – but Vitalia Diatchenko didn’t do so well. The slim veteran, who had a slim chance of winning, served with obvious fear and a funky rigid motion that offered powder puffs Serena pounced on. In just 21 minutes, Williams began her quest with a 6-0 bagel win, then won two more games with an embarrassing ease before the Russian pulled out with an ankle injury.

In arguably the most dramatic quest in Open tennis history, Serena’s journey to equal Steffi Graf‘s record of 22 majors and the achievement of a calendar-year Grand Slam began in the most nondramatic of ways. This was a monumental woman-against-girl mismatch that had virtually no redeeming features. Then again, when Graf won the Grand Slam in 1988, she did it in the most methodical, almost emotion-free manner.

Where’s the fire?

Serena now faces the not-exactly formidable Kiki Bertens in the second round. The Dutch woman is No. 110. Amazingly, with the withdrawal of Sharapova and the upset losses of No. 7 Ivanovic, No. 8 Karolina Pliskova and No. 10 Carla Suarez Navarro, the top remaining seed in Serena’s half of the draw is a teen, 18-year-old Belinda Bencic. Yes, the Swiss prospect seems to have given her more trouble than her coach, Martina Hingis. Bencic beat Serena in Toronto just weeks ago. Still, the Open has suffered a power outage of Edisonian proportions.

Already two formidable seeds on her half of the draw – her prime rival Maria Sharapova, who withdrew from the tournament; and Ana Ivanovic, who lost today to Dominika Cibulkova – are out of the draw. Yet somehow the phrase, “Don’t count your chickens before they’re hatched” comes to mind. After all, Serena thrives on challenges and drama. And as forgettable as tonight’s happenings were, we can’t imagine Ms. Williams – tennis’ reigning champion and glorious diva – will not by the end of the Open deliver a storyline to be remembered.

ONE TASTY MORSEL: Alec Baldwin said Serena‘s opening night mismatch was like a crunchy hors d’oeuvre. The actor told Pam Shriver, “Serena’s having a Diatchenko as an appetizer.”

SERENA WON’T BE FORCED INTO STILLNESS: Leading into the US Open, Claudia Rankine, whose National Book Award-nominated book Citizen includes a long chapter devoted to Serena, wrote in the New York Times Magazine about the meaning of Serena’s career in relation to race.

“The word ‘win’ finds its roots in both joy and grace. Serena‘s grace comes because she won’t be forced into stillness; she won’t accept those racist projections onto her body without speaking back; she won’t go gently into the white light of victory….She shows us her joy, her honor, and yes, her rage. She gives us the whole range of what it is to be human, and there are those who can’t bear it, who can’t tolerate the humanity of an ordinary extraordinary person…In the essay ‘Everybody’s Protest Novel,’ James Baldwin wrote, ‘our humanity is our burden, our life, we need not battle for it, we need only do what is infinitely more difficult – that is, accept it. To accept the self, its humanity, is to discard the white racist gaze.’ The notable difference between black excellence and white excellence is white excellence is achieved without having to battle racism. Imagine.”

MARIA’S MUDDLE: Maria Sharapova, who pulled out of the Open with a leg injury, won the 2014 French Open, but she hasn’t made it past the fourth round in 11 of her last 19 Slams.

A BOUCHARD DAY’S NIGHT: The struggling Genie Bouchard said she prefers having no coach to working with Sam Sumyk because it is “better [to have] nobody than someone who causes harm.” The Canadian, who has suffered an astounding free-fall since reaching the 2014 Wimbledon final, is now working during the US Open with Jimmy Connors, who formerly coached Andy Roddick and very briefly taught Maria Sharapova. Bouchard, whose baffling failure to shake hands with foes before Fed Cup matches drew ire, is scheduled to play mixed doubles with another young controversial player – Nick Kyrgios. She defended the embattled Aussie, saying that “at the end of the day I think he’s good for the game.”

JUST WONDERING: Are Nick Kyrgios and Madison Keys an item?

NICE WORK IF YOU CAN GET IT: Do injured players play in the first round of Slams just for the money? Vitalia Diatchenko, who didn’t come close to winning a game against Serena, earned a hefty $39,000. That’s $4,888 per game. There probably should be some rule against the practice.

MCENROE’S CALL FOR PROFESSIONALISM: John McEnroe, who could create hefty storms in the calmest of seas, said Nick Kyrgios would “be well-served to look at the guys like Nadal, the guys that go out there, tremendous effort players. These guys are so professional now that he can’t afford to waste as much energy as he’s wasting with these sort of off-court comments that he’s making that just cause more problems for him.”

MAKES KYRGIOS SEEM LIKE AN ANGEL: Italy’s pouting, preening, profane Fabio Fognini.

SEEDS TOPPLE: No. 7 seed Ana Ivanovic lost to 2014 Aussie Open finalist Dominika Cibulkova, and last year’s finalist Kei Nishikori suffered a shock upset to France’s Benoit Paire, despite having a match point in the fourth set tie-break. He confided that he lost his concentration.

VENUS ON HER LITTLE SISTER: “She deserves every single thing that she has. At the same time, she’s not focused on the attention, she’s focused on her tennis. So she’s focused on the important things, and the results show.”

GO FIGURE: Rafa Nadal said Novak Djokovic is his toughest-ever opponent…Djokovic brought a stuffed Mickey Mouse toy to his first US Open press conference…Tumaini Carayol noted that Karolina Pliskova won the US Open Series without reaching the quarters of a big event or beating a top 50 opponent. She did reach the Bank of the West Classic final at Stanford…Victoria Azarenka‘s former boyfriend, Redfoo, has been watching Lucie Safarova and hanging with her camp…Six women’s seeds – Ana Ivanovic, Karolina Pliskova, Carla Suarez Navarro, Jelena Jankovic, Sloane Stephens and Svetlana Kuznetsova – fell on day one, while only one men’s seed, last year’s finalist, No. 4 Kei Nishikori, fell.

RAFA SETS THE RECORD STRAIGHT: Nadal was said to decline an opportunity to play doubles with Nick Kyrgios at a fundraiser for John McEnroe‘s foundation. But Rafa insisted that in fact he didn’t ask not to play with Kyrgios. “I was never supposed to play a doubles match,” said the Spaniard. “That was wrong information. I was told I was going to play Lleyton [Hewitt].’’

GENERATION GAP: Venus Williams, 35, is the oldest player in the woman’s draw. Before losing, American Sofia Kenin, 16, was the youngest.

QUOTEBOOK:

“They usually get me for ID. People think I can get anything because my name’s on the door. it’s hilarious.”—Billie Jean King, about having to show ID at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center.

Tiger Woods. I like his mentality. I like his eyes when he’s competing. I am a big fan of him.”—Rafa Nadal, on who he’d most like to play in tennis.

“It’s great to get one win.”—Eugenie Bouchard, after her first first-round victory at a Slam this year.

ON-COURT INTERVIEW: Coco Vandeweghe didn’t just defeat Sloane Stephens 6-4, 6-3 today, she also became the first player to give a TV interview during a competitive match. ESPN’s Pam Shriver asked Coco a few questions on-air and on-court between the first and second set. While Coco viewed the experience in a positive light on Twitter, Caroline Wozniacki was less enthusiastic: “Did I just see Coco do an interview on court, mid match, after the first set?? Surely you would wanna focus on the game out there? No.”


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