US Open: Of Cramps and Champs, Woz and Williams, Wonders and Blunders

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THE RIVERS RUNS DEEP: The late, great Joan Rivers was famous, among many other things, for her tennis bracelets, sold on QVC. She is also from Larchmont NY, the home of legendary USTA woman’s pioneer Barbara Williams, the late umpire Jack Stahr, and many other tennis figures.

ASIA SPECIFIC: This year’s Open is the first in the Open era in which an Asian man and woman— Japan’s Kei Nishikori and China’s Shuai Peng Shuai—have reached the semis. Nishikori is only the ninth Asian man to reach a Slam semi. The previous one was Japan’s Jiro Satoh in 1932. Shuai is the fifth different Asian woman in the Open era to reach a Slam semi. China’s two-time Slam champ Li Na has reached six Slam semis.

THE HAPPIEST 23,000 YUPPIES IN THE WORLD: The Ashe crowd, deep into a scintillating big night match.

BIG ASK: Navigating the steep concrete steps at Ashe Stadium while carrying a cold drink and a hot ticket and a big program and a little phone while wearing six inch spike heels.

TAKE THAT, WIMBLEDON: There is no sound like the crescendo roar of the night crowd at Ashe.

BEST PEOPLE-WATCHING IN TENNIS? Is the best people-watching in tennis at the Wimbledon Tea Room, at the French Open players restaurant, or on the big Diamond Vision big screen at the US Open?

INSIDE THE BELTWAY QUOTE OF THE YEAR: Jon Wertheim said, “Roger Federer is the belt that is holding up this tournament.”

A TALE OF THREE HEADLINES: You could say that almost all you need to know about New York’s “different strokes for different folks” journalism is illustrated by the headlines that three different NY papers ran on the same story, the departure of Patrick McEnroe as the Head of Player Development for the USTA:

USTA Makes a Change as American Players Keep Struggling (New York Times)

McEnroe to Resign From USTA Post (Wall Street Journal)

Mac is Sacked by the USTA (New York Daily News)

THE INVISIBLE GENIUS OF TENNIS: Roger Federer‘s fitness trainer Pierre Paganini.

A HEATED WOMEN’S SEMI: As part of her training regimen, Caroline Wozniacki used to box. And on this stiflingly hot New York  afternoon at the US Open, tennis and boxing merged just a bit, when Caroline’s semifinal foe Shuai Peng repeatedly fell to the court from heat-related cramping. “Throw in the towel like in Rocky?” quipped Peng’s former coach Alan Ma when asked whether coaches or trainers should be allowed to retire an ailing player from a match. “I don’t think so.”

But for a ten-plus-minutes stretch near the end of the curtailed match, Peng’s misery at times appeared to be prolonged rather than immediately treated, while the scoreline remained the same. “This is both unsafe for Peng and unfair for Wozniacki,” Mary Carillo commented on CBS. “I feel sick to my stomach watching this,” John McEnroe said, as Peng left the court on a wheelchair only to return to attempt to compete one last time. “This is a serious black eye for our sport.”

Unfortunately, from opening day at the Open, excruciating cramping has been a hard-to-take visual. Early in the tourney, Andy Murray and American Steve Johnson were the ones suffering. Murray didn’t know what hit him and it seemed the same with Peng, who suffered mightily during the match’s second set. Going into the semi, Peng hadn’t dropped a set at the Open, while recording fantastic winner-to-error stats, but up against the marathon rallying and superb anticipation of the Great Wall of Denmark, her angled, aggressive game and winning stats began to crumble, followed quickly by her physical health.

In a curious twist, Wozniacki, with a kind of misplaced sympathy, twice double-faulted while Shuai was cramping—about the only way Peng could win points in the match’s late stages. As is often the case with cramping and heat illness in tennis, there was much confusion. There are rules, and questions, and arguments about those rules and questions (and the medical conditions attached to them).

Ironically, Wozniacki has been involved in two other memorable cramping incidents. In 2009 at the WTA year-end championships in Doha, she suffered full-body cramps jn the late stages of a match she eventually won against Vera Zvonareva. And in 2011 at the US Open, she drew some criticism for imitating a bout of press conference leg cramps suffered by Rafa Nadal in one of her own conferences.

As for Peng, interviewed a few hours afterward, she couldn’t remember whether she was the one who made the final decision that she should retire from the match, and she also had no memory of Wozniacki coming over to console her.

AND A BLOWOUT: From a disturbing anticlimax to a routine one—in the second women’s semi, a sharp and ruthless Serena Williams dispatched Ekaterina Makarova 6-1, 6-3. The entire first set was only twice as long as the halting of play during the WozniackiPeng match.

JUST WONDERING: Is the uber-athletic Gael Monfils the biggest underachiever in the ATP? … And is Monfils the biggest “chick magnet” in tennis since Marat Safin? … For big matches, why isn’t there a trainer courtside?

WORDS WE THOUGHT WE’D NEVER HEAR: “Roger’s rattled,” as sounded by Pat McEnroe.

FAN APPEAL: Who has attracted more fans to tennis stadiums—Jimmy Connors or Federer?

QUOTEBOOK:

“Even shots he doesn’t touch can go to the highlight reel”—Pat McEnroe, on Gael Monfils, who gyrated athletically just to avoid a Federer shot.

“Just sit down and shut up.”—John McEnroe, to courtside reporter Rennae Stubbs.

“Almost as fast as Serena‘s “—Jim Courier, on John McEnroe‘s well-over-110mph serve.

“I’m fine, I’m just sneaky.”—Gael Monfils, to an umpire earlier this year, when he seemed to be injured, but was just tanking.

“Separated by seven days of life on the planet, Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic, for much of last night’s quarterfinal, resided in their own world.”—Kevin Mitchell, The Guardian.

“The tennis pit bulls sank their teeth into each other on a warm and windless night.”—Bill Dwyre, LA Times.

GO FIGURE: He only began coaching Marin Cilic recently,  but Goran Ivanisevic first hit with young Marin when he was just 14. “That was huge, to play with my idol,” Cilic says today.

CHARACTER ANALYSIS OF THE DAY: Marin Cilic said that fun-loving Goran Ivanisevic “is everything but boring.”

HEADLINE:

CATCH ME IF YOU CAN [about Serena‘s campaign to tie Chrissie and Martina at 18 Slams]

MAKES THE FLEXIBLE NOVAK DJOKOVIC OR KIM CLIJSTERS SEEM STIFF: Gael Monfils.

SHADY LADY STILL IN THE SHADE: Upon reading her first Slam semi, Russia’s Ekaterina Makarova told a charmed press room that she’d rather stay “in the shadow” than court fame and publicity. After getting thumped by Serena in the semis, Ekat said that she thought she would remain in the shadows, which is “perfectly okay” with her.

AIN’T GONNA HAPPEN AGAIN: The Bryans have won 99 titles. It’s doubtful that any other team will achieve that (let alone reach 100), and it’s doubtful that anyone will match Jimmy Connors‘ record of winning the US Open on three different surfaces or Martina Navratilova‘s total number of 358 singles and doubles titles. BTW: Wimbledon was played with yellow balls for the first time in 1986. So when 1985 runner-up Kevin Curren lost in the first round, he became the only player ever to lose successive Wimbledon rounds with different colored balls.

SERENA’S LEFT-HANDED COMPLIMENT: When IT asked Serena how good she would have been if she had been a lefty, she replied, “Gosh, I always ask my dad, ‘Why wasn’t I a lefty?’ Even when I was younger I wanted to be lefty. I could have been really good … Lefties are so cool. I love lefties. Maybe it’s just a hangup I have.”

EIGHTEEN IS JUST A NUMBER: Serena and Federer are both seeking the 18th Slam singles titles of their career. So we asked Serena what the number 18 meant to her. She replied, “It means legal to do some things. It also means legendary. Legal and legendary.”

THE SMILE THAT DOOMED MURRAY? After Darren Cahill said, “I thought I saw a hint of a smile” while observing the almost always dour Andy Murray, Chris Fowler quipped, “Yeah, that could be his undoing.”