Friday, August 30, 2013

US Open Tennis Championship - August 29, 2013

I'm in New York! We landed on Wednesday morning and after taking a day to get over jet lag, my wife and I headed over to the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows (above) to check out the first Thursday of the U.S. Open. Taking the 7 train to Mets-Willets Point, we saw the Citi Field parking lot filling up as the Mets had an afternoon game against the Phillies, but today was about tennis, so we exited the station to the right instead and made our way down the walkway to the will-call window.

We had bought tickets a couple of months back when they went on sale, opting for the day pass with seats at Arthur Ashe Stadium as you should be able to see most of the stars while you are there. This also allows you access to the unreserved seats at Louis Armstrong Stadium and the Grandstand, as well as all outside courts. With matches beginning at 11 am, it turned out to be a great bargain, particularly when compared to the night session which begins at 7 pm and includes only two matches on Arthur Ashe Stadium (panorama shot above) as well as any remaining matches from the day session. You can also get reserved tickets to Armstrong (below) only, but those do not allow you into Ashe, which is where the biggest stars play, so I wouldn't recommend choosing that.

The night before we examined the schedule of play and I was excited to see that there would be five Canadians in action, including mens 10th-seed Milos Raonic and up-and-comer Eugenie Bouchard, who would open play on Armstrong against 8th-seeded Angelique Kerber of Germany. I opted to see this match instead of 4th-seeded Sara Errani taking on fellow Italian Flavia Penneta on Ashe.

Bouchard (above) lost the first set 6-4 but dominated the second 6-2, winning 35 of 59 points, and the Canadian looked to have the momentum entering the final frame. An early break by Kerber quickly quashed that and Bouchard was unable to break back, losing 6-3. There were 27 games played and 13 of those were service breaks as neither woman was able to serve with any real power. Kerber (in red below) ended up with just 98 points to Bouchard's 96, just enough to move into the third round. Don't forget about Bouchard though, she is young and needs to work on her mental game, but I expect her in the top 20 in a year or so.

The match lasted over two hours, so when we finally took our seats in Ashe, Serena Williams (below) was up on her Kazakh opponent, Galina Voskoboeva, 4-2 in the first set. It didn't take the world's number one player much longer to win the match 6-3, 6-0 in just 69 minutes, barely enough time for me to take a picture.

That gave me a bit of time to find some shade and water and wait for Roger Federer (serving below) to take center stage. His opponent was Carlos Berlocq from Argentina, who played well in the first set but still lost 6-3. Both players attempted the between-the-legs shot with their back to the net, although neither succeeded in gaining the point. Federer was clearly the better player and made several impressive shots, belying reports that he is washed up. He won the final two sets in 2 and 1, taking 90 minutes to dispose of Berlocq.

With that Ashe was closed until the night session, so we made our way outside and wandered around to some of the outside courts, such as Court 17 below. Canadian men's doubles pair Daniel Nestor and Vasek Pospisil were on court 11 and well on their way to victory against their opponents when we stopped by.

On the facade of Armstrong is the draw for each section, below you can see the men's and women's singles draws, which are updated in real time. There is also a live scoreboard playing above a large kiosk in the center of the venue, so you can see which matches are ongoing and make your way to the court of your choice.

They also announce who is scheduled to use the five practice courts; Rafael Nadal was supposed to be there at 4:45 so we went to see him. Turned out to be a bit of misinformation there as he was not there, so we headed back to Armstrong to watch another Canadian, Aleksandra Wozniak, take on #2-seed Victoria Azarenka (below). There was a long line to get into the stadium, since there was no more tennis taking place on Ashe. After waiting about 10 minutes, we were allowed in and eventually found some seats near the back corner, allowing us to see Azarenka finish off the match 6-3, 6-1. I should note that I found sitting here to provide the best angle, as when you are sitting along the sides, you are moving your head with each shot and it can be tough to see the close calls.

Anyway, after Azarenka had finished her interview, it was time for women's doubles, featuring the Williams sisters, They were facing Spanish duo Silvia Soler-Espinosa and Carla Suarez Navarro, whose names annoyed the umpire whenever she had to announce them. The Spainiards won the first set in a tiebreak despite being outpointed 46-45. At this time, I heard that Raonic was beginning play over on the grandstand, so we tried to head over there to catch his match. However, only those with reserved Armstrong tickets could access the seating in the grandstand. Fortunately, there was a staircase that led to a large overhang from where you could watch the match.  As you can see in the photo below, it gives you a unique angle as you are right on top of the player.

Raonic was his usual hard-serving self (one of his serves was 140 mph and he had the fastest serve of the first 4 days at 145) and he won the first set easily 6-1. Midway through the second set, we crossed back into Armstrong and watched Venus and Serena complete their comeback, winning the final set 6-3 after taking all 6 games in the middle stanza.

By the time we returned to the Grandstand, Raonic has taken the second set 6-2 and so after over 10 hours on site, we headed home. When we got back, we were able to watch Nadal's easy win on center court on TV. Meanwhile, John Isner and Gael Monfils were doing battle on Armstrong, with Isner taking the match in 4 sets, lasting until nearly midnight. What is interesting is that this was a day session match - it was still going on long after the two night session matches had finished. Raonic had also won his match in straight sets, so it was not all bad news in singles for Canadians.

This turned out to be an excellent cure for jet lag as you are out in the sun for most of the afternoon. If you want a chance to see all the best players, the first Thursday or Friday might provide the best opportunity. Of course, most of the matches are not competitive, but tickets are easier to acquire and it can be a lot of fun checking out the relative unknowns on the outside courts. For me, it was a great day as I saw several Canadians in action. Now that I am living here, I will probably make this an annual trek as it is an experience that is difficult to find elsewhere.



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