Hello everyone, this is Jonni (All_Things_TNNS on Twitter) writing as James has kindly let me contribute on Moo’s Tennis Blog. This year, I finally managed to attend a Grand Slam – a long dream of mine – when I got to visit the US Open during the first week of the tournament. So, if you still hadn’t figured it out, I will share my experience and without further ado, let’s begin!
Sunday 30th, August
After having flown to New York on Friday and spending Saturday strolling through Manhattan and Brooklyn, it was finally time to go to the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center where the US Open is annually held. The entry to the grounds was free on Sunday and you could see some of the biggest stars practicing ahead of the last major of the year. When I got in, the first court I went to was Louis Armstrong Stadium which was the biggest accessible court on Sunday as Arthur Ashe Stadium wasn’t open to the public. Rafael Nadal and Mardy Fish were having a hit and I watched some of it before heading to the outside courts. It felt really weird to watch the same players I have seen playing on TV for years, now just meters away from me. Following the players practicing and communicating with each other and their coaches was really fun too – you can’t see stuff like that through the television or any streams. There are also five new practice courts, which made their debut just last year, and they are great as there were usually always some quality players practicing and you can practically watch all five courts simultaneously.
Some of the players I saw as the day went on, were Novak Djokovic, Garbiñe Muguruza, David Ferrer, Venus Williams, Sloane Stephens, Fabio Fognini, Belinda Bencic, Flavia Pennetta, Sabine Lisicki, Jack Sock, Tomas Berdych, Angelique Kerber, Agnieszka Radwanska, Sam Stosur and Dominic Thiem just to name a few. One thing I found very helpful, was the practice schedule released in the official US Open app even though I still wasn’t always sure where certain courts located – but that’s what maps were invented for! Anyway, the day was a great one as there weren’t too many people so I could see whoever I chose to watch and also got many photos of different players (check my Twitter if you’d like to see more of them).
Monday 31st, August
The main draw started on Monday and there were 32 singles matches scheduled for both men and women, so it was going to be a busy yet exciting day ahead. I got there a little late and the security lines to get into the grounds were already very long at that point. It took me approximately about 20 minutes to get through. When I finally got in, I headed straight to Arthur Ashe Stadium where Ana Ivanovic and Dominika Cibulkova were entering a third set in what was a brutal draw for both. Ivanovic took the early break but after that, Cibulkova began firing her forehand with impressive pace and accuracy, and eventually won the set and therefore, the match. This was the first match played under the new roof construction which is set to be ready in time of the next year’s tournament. At first, I was a little skeptical about the roof but I must say I like how it looked. Even though it throws strange shadows on the court, it also produces shade to those sitting in the stands, which is appreciated in the heat.
I headed to watch Fernando Verdasco and Tommy Haas battle for a place in the second round in a tough and intriguing first round match. At the same time, I could see all the action from the five aforementioned practice courts where Andy Murray, Richard Gasquet, Timea Bacsinszky, Anna Karolina Schmiedlova, Lleyton Hewitt, Flavia Pennetta, Angelique Kerber and Sam Stosur were all hitting. After having watched the first couple of sets of Verdasco-Haas, I went back to Arthur Ashe to see some of the match between Venus Williams and Monica Puig, which had progressed midway through the second set. Soon enough, the set went to a tie-break and Williams was holding multiple match points. She failed to convert any, though, and the feisty Puig fought to take the match into a deciding set when Venus double-faulted on the Puerto Rican’s first set point. Venus faced few problems in the decider, and took it 6-3 to advance to the second round.
Next up on Ashe – the final match of the day session – was Novak Djokovic. He dominated he first two sets against Brazilian Joao Souza, handing a pair of breadsticks, and I decided to go watch the match between two American players, Coco Vandweghe and Stephens, taking place on Louis Armstrong. Vandweghe had already taken the first set as I arrived but the second set was still on serve. Halfway through the set, Vandeweghe broke Stephens’ serve and never really looked back, producing a straight-sets win over her countrywoman. I must admit, I was bummed for Stephens as I love watching her play and really would have enjoyed watching her more than just one round. After that match had finished I toured around on the outside courts for a quick while, watching the likes of Daria Gavrilova and Elias Ymer before the night session on Ashe would start at 7pm.
I had a ticket for the night session, which included the opening ceremony festivities, and had high hopes. Unfortunately, the first match on was extremely anticlimactic. Serena Williams was up against Russian Vitalia Diatchenko and straight from the start you could see Diatchenko was struggling serving and moving due to injury. The Russian barely won any points, the atmosphere was completely flat and it wasn’t fun to watch. After Serena served up a first set bagel, I decided to go get some ice cream and when I returned about 15 minutes later, the players were already off-court after Diatchenko had withdrawn – hardly a surprise to anyone. It was clear she was only there for the prize money, and as a spectator who is paying for that ticket it obviously feels upsetting. On the other hand, can you really blame her? It is a LOT of money for players like her and it would be really hard to say no to that pay cheque.
Thankfully the second match between Rafael Nadal and Borna Coric produced some late-night entertainment for the crowd. What made it a little bit more interesting was the fact that the young Croat had actually beaten Nadal the last – and only – time these two had met, last fall although it has to be said that Nadal was struggling with appendicitis at the time. Coric didn’t play badly at all in the first two sets, Nadal was just that much better in every aspect of the game and took a 2 sets to 0 lead. Coric fought bravely to take it into a fourth set but in the end, the Spaniard survived in four. The match itself was a fun one with great rallies, magnificent shots and an involved crowd – all the things you need to make a good night session match at the US Open. Overall, it was a good day and I headed back to my hotel tired but happy.
Tuesday 1st, September
The first two days I was a little bit confused where to go if I for example wanted to see a certain match on a certain court and everything was all new to me, but on Tuesday I started to get more and more comfortable with the venue. Singles first round also concluded on Tuesday, meaning another long day full of live tennis for me! I arrived on-site earlier than on Monday but the security lines still took a solid 15 minutes. I went to Louis Armstrong where Lucie Safarova was playing the dangerous Lesia Tsurenko, a rematch from New Haven just days ago. The Ukrainian Tsurenko was solid and avenged the loss from New Haven but Safarova was very erratic throughout the match but later revealed that she was suffering from ab injury and had to withdrawn from doubles… poor Lucie.
On an adjacent court, Grandstand, Angelique Kerber was playing Alexandra Dulgheru and despite having a few wobbles trying to close out the first set, faced little resistance from her Romanian opponent. Over on the outside courts, Timea Bacsinszky and Barbora Strycova were stuck in a tight first set, which the latter eventually won 7-5. The second set was much more straightforward, a bagel in favor of the Czech. It was a tough loss for Bacsinszky – another player I love, love, love watching – who hasn’t won a match since reaching the quarterfinals at Wimbledon.
Then it was time to go watch something I had been dreaming of since I started following professional tennis – I was about to see Caroline Wozniacki play live. It was unreal to watch her play on Arthur Ashe Stadium, and thankfully for my nerves, she won easily against American wildcard Jamie Loeb, 6-2 6-0. I still can’t quite believe I actually saw her playing on the biggest tennis stadium in the world!
As I checked the scores of other matches after Wozniacki’s match had ended, I saw Laura Robson on the verge of victory against Elena Vesnina on Court 11 and immediately hurried there. I got in as Robson stepped to serve under pressure at 5-6 in the deciding third set. Obviously my presence brought her bad luck and Vesnina broke for the victory… shame for Laura who had led with a break in the third. The disappointment on her face was visible as she rushed off the court.
Before I went back to Arthur Ashe to watch Roger Federer, I wanted to see some of Richard Gasquet – Thanasi Kokkinakis and Philipp Kohlschreiber – Alexander Zverev, which were played on Court 5&6, respectively. Those courts are located side-by-side-by-side with Court 4 so you could pretty much watch all those courts at the same time if you managed to get a good seat. The courts were packed for these matches though and there was standing-room only for Gasquet-Kokkinakis which ended up being quite dramatic. Thanasi had to retire in the fifth set due to intense cramping. Kohlschreiber-Zverev was a tight match as well, with the more experienced Kohlschreiber eventually prevailing over the young Zverev in five sets.
When I arrived back on my seat on Arthur Ashe, Federer was already in control, leading by a break. His opponent, Leonardo Mayer, troubled him when the pair met in Shanghai last fall but this time, Roger put on a masterclass and cruised past the Argentinian in straight sets, 6-1 6-2 6-2. It was a wonderful experience to witness such a performance from one of the best players ever to have played the game and I even got to see him doing a couple of his latest weapons, SABRs (Sneak Attack By Roger), where he returns the second serve of his opponent right after the ball bounces.
Federer against Mayer was the last day session match on Ashe and when I saw Andrea Petkovic and Caroline Garcia had split the first two sets and were about to begin the third over on Grandstand, I already knew which match I would be watching next! The third set was highly entertaining with some good tennis from both and it ended in a typical fightback from Petkovic – one of the best fighters on tour in my opinion – who came from a break down to take the set, 7-5. Garcia looked very sad and disappointed, as this was another tough loss to take for the young Frenchwoman, but the two exchanged a lovely hug at the net.
After that, I headed back to Court 4&5, where Sabine Lisicki and Bernard Tomic were playing their first round matches. Lisicki was easing her way into the second round, 6-1 6-4, against Belarusian, Aliaksandra Sasnovich but Tomic was finding things much harder against Bosnian, Damir Dzumhur. The Aussie was in danger of going 0 sets to 2 down but managed to take the second set in a tie-break and then took the last two sets 6-4 and 6-3 to prevail under the lights.
There was one more match I wanted to watch between Sam Stosur and Timea Babos over on Court 17 which is the fourth biggest court. Stosur is probably one of my favorite players to watch live and I could happily just watch her hitting tennis balls all day – not to forget that awesome serve. The 2011 champion at the US Open prevailed over Babos in straight sets in a match that featured some fun rallies and glorious winners from both, another fun night match. When I’m watching the US Open back home from Europe, I don’t often get to watch the night matches because of the time difference, but I’m officially in LOVE with them! The atmosphere is so special, it’s something unique. Every tennis fan should get to experience it at least once, I promise you won’t be disappointed!
That is all for now, I hope you enjoyed reading this and stay tuned for Part II right here on mootennis.com! All photos in this post are taken by myself (@All_Things_TNNS). If you have anything you would like to ask me, don’t be afraid to get in contact in the comments below or on Twitter.