11 am: Sparse crowd for Errani v. Lucic-Baroni…
The two strangest things I saw in the six hours I spent at Arthur Ashe Stadium for Sunday’s day session of the US Open were the words “Visit Orlando.” Why does the theme park capital of the world need a marketing arm for its tourism industry? Those words shared ad space at Ashe Stadium with Mercedes Benz, American Express, Citizen, and IBM — traditional, heavyweight sponsors of the tournament associated with luxury and business. But everyone attending the tournament on Sunday afternoon should have no reason to visit Orlando anymore after what they sat through. Yesterday’s weather at Flushing Meadows was a microcosm of a typical Orlando summer: hot, humid, sunny, stormy.
It was under the dreadful conditions of “hot, humid, sunny” that I witnessed the day’s first Round 4 match for the Women’s Singles tournament. This matinee, 13th seed Sara Errani’s 6-3, 2-6, 6-0 victory over Mirjana Lucic-Baroni, was a lesson in letting your opponent defeat herself. These are the staggering stats that defined this match: Errani only had four winners to Lucic-Baroni’s 46 winners, but Lucic-Baroni had 69 unforced errors to Errani’s nine. Lucic-Baroni overpowered Errani in the second set to claw back into the match, but the control that accompanied that power in the second set disappeared in the third and cost Lucic-Baroni the match. Errani just kept the ball in play throughout the match and let Lucic-Baroni do the damage herself.
While I admired Errani’s low-risk playing style, her serve was the most unorthodox one I’ve ever seen. Before her left hand tosses the ball in the air, Errani takes her right arm and flexes it behind her head, so that the way she holds her racket looks like she’s drawing a sword from the back. I don’t know if the uncomfortable playing conditions made it harder for her to execute her serve or that serve just has a high degree of difficulty, but over the course of the entire match, I counted that Errani halted 24 attempts at a serve because of an errant toss. That total may be higher, though; I missed Errani’s first service game of the second set when I stepped aside to buy a bottle of water.
1 pm: That’s a respectable crowd for Sharapova v. Wozniacki…
That bottle of water only lasted through the second set of the Errani/Lucic-Baroni match, so in the prolonged battle against dehydration, I returned with a bottle of Powerade for the start of the main event: 10th seed Caroline Wozniacki’s victory 6-4, 2-6, 6-2 over 5th seed Maria Sharapova. The sun started to cede some of its supremacy in the sky to the gathering clouds, making the conditions in the nose bleeds of Ashe Stadium a little more tolerable despite the heat.
This was a contest of power against mobility. In the first set, if Sharapova launched shots away from Wozniacki, Wozniacki would run cross-court along the baseline to hit a return at a shallow angle for the winner or keep it in play for an extended rally until Sharapova committed one of her 21 unforced errors. Wozniacki’s defense was her best offense, but she had a new trick up her sleeve for four of her 36 winners in this set: she crashed the net.
Sharapova regrouped and found her best play in the second set. Those passing shots in the first set that went long or were retrieved by Wozniacki had an extra oomph in the second set, traveling too fast and dipping too low after clearing the net for Wozniacki to catch. It was an impressive demonstration of how Sharapova’s power play could save the other aspects of her game, with her 22 winners canceling out four double faults and 12 unforced errors.
Wozniacki kept running into the third set, though. Considering that she is set to run the New York Marathon in two months for Team for Kids, it was fitting that — in a match that ran for over three hours inclusive of breaks — this running won her the match-defining triple break point early in the third set. Sharapova hit three separate cross-court passing shots that sent Wozniacki running east-west each time; Wozniacki somehow tracked each of them down. After the third reply from Wozniacki, Sharapova, who was stationed by the net, hit a weak backhanded volley that dropped the ball into net. That point drew a roar of approval from the entire crowd and a few standing ovations, and left Sharapova in an exasperated state.
Wozniacki didn’t need to outgun Sharapova at the latter’s own game. Like what she’ll probably do to many of her fellow racers at the marathon in two months, Wozniacki only had to outrun Sharapova.
4 pm: Federer v. Granollers… Where were you all you people the last five hours?
After five hours of waiting, the main event for everyone else not named Bryan Garcia was the demolition that Roger Federer would put on Marcel Granollers. The Script’s “Hall of Fame” and crowd applause greeted Federer as he warmed up with Granollers, and the weather finally reached a point of perfection as clouds took over the sky to create a cool, comfortable environment.
But in hindsight, that was only the clichéd calm before the storm.
The first storm that this poor Federer-loving crowd dealt with was a disjointed Federer, whose play wasn’t as stylish as the sea green top and blue shorts that the Swiss legend donned for the match. (What? Those colors looked better than I thought they would.) Granollers’s serve overwhelmed Federer to where to a shutout; the first game barely lasted two minutes. If it wasn’t a Granollers ace, Federer returned the serve wide or long.
OK, early game jitters. Federer will turn it around in his first service game.
Or not. Granollers shut out Federer again and broke him for a 2-0 lead. These fans waited all these hours for the revitalized Federer and instead they saw the shadow of the player who was on tour in 2013. Eight straight points lost; even with Granollers serving now, that streak will end soon, right?
15-0 Granollers. 30-0 Granollers. The crowd was probably approaching panic mode after seeing Federer lose 10 straight points in under 10 minutes. Then the chair umpire announced this glorious score to the ears of the worried crowd: 30-15 Granollers.
That was Federer’s lone point through the first three games of the match, but it seemed to wake him up. Instead of the wild errors — there were a lot of high and long shots from Federer early on — we finally started to see flashes of the brilliant Federer. One-handed backhands and sweet groundstrokes that barely clear the net for a point. An airborne Federer hitting a forehand winner. The forehand winner that crossed the net and landed at too shallow of an angle for Granollers to catch. This was the art we all waited patiently for.
As Federer started to find his footing in the match, a thunderstorm worthy of pounding of Florida found its way into Flushing Meadows. A flooding alert siren somewhere out in Queens blared loud enough for the crowd in Ashe Stadium to hear. The sky turned a dark, drab gray. A rain drop hit my right arm, then another one landed on my left eye (ugh). Sensing that they were running out of time, Federer and Granollers accelerated their already-fervent pace of play and crammed a couple more points. Before Federer could complete his service game, though, the chair umpire suspended play for the weather.
The two men were models of efficiency before the weather halted play: in the twenty minutes of match play, Federer and Granollers played seven games (2-5 Granollers). Of course, none of that efficiency would have been possible if it weren’t for the Federer mishits and aggressive attacks by Granoller that killed many rallies in three shots or fewer.
The players abandoned the court and the dejected crowd abandoned their seats for shelter in the concourse.
Then that final element of the Florida summer, the spontaneous storm, arrived over Flushing Meadows. Lightning, thunder, wind, rain — the whole package. The wind blew rain into the concourse and soaked the folks at the edges of the concourse; more rain fell from the overhangs, traveled down the sloped entrances to the stands, and flooded the ground that the folks in the interior of the concourse stood on. When the storm cleared up a little, some people took out their cameras and photographed the storm.
The crowd loitered in the concourse for 30 minutes before the US Open announced — via Twitter first, then through security staff about five minutes later — that the day session was canceled. To add salt to the wound, the night session ticketholders would get to see the completion of the Federer match that we were being kicked out of. After all those hours of waiting through two matches and all that rain, all that these Federer fans had to show for that was 20 minutes of (sloppy) play. I felt so bad for them, especially the New York University graduate student in marketing who sat next to me through five hours of heat and other tennis matches just for Federer. Then the cruel weather took Federer away from them before he could consistently put on his best play for them.
But that rain delay was probably the best thing that could have happened for Federer. After being down 2-5 before the delay, Federer returned from it and lost first set 4-6 before sweeping the last three sets 6-1, 6-1, 6-1.
Other than missing out on most of the Federer match, this was another excellent Labor Day weekend out at the US Open. I’m already planning next year’s trip for my fourth consecutive year at the US Open — but hopefully Visit Orlando and my home city’s crappy summer weather stay away from The Big Apple next time around.