It’s the 3rd year in a row that we went to see US Open live. New York is the greatest city in America simply because no where else in America hosts a Grand Slam event!

This year we went to see men’s semifinals, like last year. Why not the final? The answer is embedded somewhere down the line as a cheap trick to keep you reading. Before I start talking about the final since its result obviously matters more than the games we watched, a quick observation: I’ve never seen so many blondes in my life. They’re everywhere in the 23,000-seat Arthur Ashe stadium, women, men, kids, dogs–no I made the last one up. I wonder why I didn’t notice it last two times, or maybe I did and forgot. I guess Tennis is still much of a bourgeois sport in America.

Chasing History

It’s all too fitting that Tiger Woods was there to witness Federer became the first man to win both Wimbledon and US Open 3 consecutive times during the same 3 years. If it weren’t for Safin in 2005, he might have got 3 Australian Open in the same span as well.

I’m sure now there’re lots of people making bets on when Tiger and Roger will break their respective records for majors/slams, currently at only 6 and 5 away. Of course under normal circumstances Tiger could win a lot more majors than Roger for slams, simply because Tiger could play a lot longer. It’s quite reasonable to speculate that Tiger can play 10 more years at about his current level, thus winning possibly 20 or more majors, bringing his total to an astronomical 32.

It’ll be much more difficult for Roger to keep playing like the last 3 years for another 5 years till he’s 30, but 2 years would be enough to get past Sampras, and 4 would push future comparison back to Sampras as “who will become #2”, since Roger’s possible 20 at #1 is totally out of at least this century’s league.

There’s another record that Roger will break very soon: consecutive weeks at No. 1 ranking. Connors had 160 and Lendl has 157, while Roger is about 30 away. He’s only half way to Sampras’ total No. 1 weeks at 286 (Lendl 270, Connors 268), though, so he needs at least 3 more great years for that one.

I’m not into sports betting, but I’ll bet everything on next year’s French Open final breaking all viewing records if Roger gets there, regardless of whom he’ll play. Probably Nadal, whose improvements on other surfaces would bolster his dominance on clay even more. I actually hope Roger would lose if he plays Nadal, even though I don’t like Nadal’s playing at all, only so that Roger would still have something to work for.

The tennis world would be unbearably miserable if Roger becomes too good that he only has to play like the semifinal with Davydenko. If it weren’t for the high quality match between Roddick and Youzhny, we would’ve totally felt like getting robbed–again, like the 2004 final where Roger obliterated Hewitt in just about one hour with 2 bagels. That was at least Roger’s first US Open title, so we had something to claim for in the end, although some snafu at bag check kept us waiting at the stadium for several hours after the match as some dumb tourist took our friend’s backpack by mistake and had to come back from Manhattan to return it. There you have it–that’s why we decided to go for the semifinals instead.

The Davydenko match was so uninspiring and uncharacteristic that I suspect half of the audience were taking naps towards the end, even though the 2nd and 3rd set look closer (7:5, 6:4) than the 1st (6:1). They’ve now met 8 times and Roger only lost 4 sets. The only two Grand Slam semifinals that Roger ever lost are the aforementioned 2005 Australian to Safin and 2005 French to Nadal. Both matches were on his opponent’s birthday. Davydenko would not have a chance even if every single person in his extended family up and down 5 generations were born on 9/9.

Enough Roger talk–give me a break, you say, can you even talk about someone who’s unrecord-breaking, unawe-inspiring, and unomnipotent?

Roddick 2.0

Well, you asked for it. The biggest story in this year’s US Open is Roddick’s comeback–nah, that’s just wishful thinking of the US media. Yet seriously, Andy did find his mojo back (remember that ominous “Andy lost his mojo” series of commercials?), seemingly with help from someone no stranger to emotional US Open games.

Andy still doesn’t, and probably will never, play graceful tennis. Actually he is everything un-Federer: bruteforce, ugly double-handed backhand, emotional, and worst of all–one trick pony. His serve is as lethal as always, but all other aspects of his game were falling apart in the last couple of years so when his first serve percentage wasn’t high enough, he couldn’t even past a slam’s early rounds.

All commentators say that Connors helped Andy get his confidence back. I figure that’s the effect, not the cause, since confidence means achieving what you’re capable of, not doing what you can’t possibly do. Andy’s backhand and volley were painful to watch, and I can’t imagine Connors improving them just by telling Andy “hey kido don’t you know your backhand and volley are sure as Federer, if not better”. It’s probably some simple tricks, possibly mental ones, to redirect Andy’s power that helped. His backband is notably more solid and consistent, and his volley obviously improved to the point where he’s willing to take the net quite often, even though when against Federer sometimes it seems a bit like a desperate move. Connors is one of the last great serve-and-volleyers, so he should have a lot tricks left in the bag for Andy to keep on improving.

Improvement is really the name of the game, which is amazingly true for the world’s top players. Nadal has improved dramatically on hard court in the last couple of years. Baghdatis popped up from nowhere and you can see him getting more solid every time, though he really needs better sneakers to avoid slipping and stumbling. James Blake has had a truly inspiring comeback from near death, taking cue from Agassi to get rid of his flamboyant hair without giving up his tenacity. And have I mentioned Federer’s improvement in every imaginable way, and then some? Oops, no more Roger talk. Roger that.

That’s what Andy was missing: He occasionally did worse but not always, yet he just couldn’t play better. If he can keep his current momentum going while improving on certain aspects of the game (there’re plenty to choose from), I actually believe it can be him instead of Nadal who will be remembered as the great opponent who pushed Federer, which would be a tremendous honor in light of what Federer is becoming. The US fans certainly dream about that, as one of the more memorable screams during Andy’s semifinal match was “Comon Andy! This is your house now!”

Really? Can Roddick possibly take over a retired 36-year-old bald, short, flat-footed Iranian descendent? That guy fathered two beautiful kids with the greatest female tennis player ever, but that’s just bonus luck. What makes him so special? Why will this US Open be always remembered as the last one of his 21 consecutive appearances?

Andre’s House

“The scoreboard said I lost today, but what the scoreboard doesn’t say is what it is I have found. And over the last 21 years, I have found loyalty. You have pulled for me on the court and also in life. I’ve found inspiration. You have willed me to succeed sometimes even in my lowest moments. And I’ve found generosity. You have given me your shoulders to stand on to reach for my dreams, dreams I could have never reached without you. Over the last 21 years, I have found you. And I will take you and the memory of you with me for the rest of my life. Thank you.”

This is why. And doesn’t it sound vaguely familiar?

“Fans, for the past two weeks you have been reading about the bad break I got. Yet today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of this earth. I have been in ballparks for seventeen years and have never received anything but kindness and encouragement from you fans. … So I close in saying that I may have had a tough break, but I have an awful lot to live for.”

This is just too overwhelming. Let’s both take a deeep breath…

When Andre spoke of “you”, I don’t think he only meant the fans. Nor did Lou Gehrig mean just “fans” when he said “fans”–or maybe he did. “You” are the collective name that represents everything that Andre’s life is for, up to that point. He has found it. He has lived for it, and now his life is what we live to witness, as finely told by this lengthy SI article.

Finale

There’s a reason why that guy writes for SI and I write for this blog. Why don’t I just shut up and quote something else, this time from New York Times:

“Artists try to do or make something exceptional in life to produce out-of-the-ordinary reactions, in themselves and in other people. This is a basic definition of art. We seek it out, at the movies or in a museum or at a concert hall, to escape from our routines and be moved in ways that might refresh and enlighten us when we return to normalcy. After all, what is beauty except the opposite of mundane? That’s not all it is, of course. … It’s also what sports fans desire: to be stirred, if only fleetingly, by an experience above and beyond the norm, which is as rare in sports as it is in art.”


Refrain

I was IMing with HH about Federer, and after we exhausted our words of admiration he came up with a strange idea:

“What if tennis never became a sport, how sad would that be for Federer.”

I dismissed it as nonsense, and he responded with something a bit more sensible:

“In that sense, maybe we are leading our ordinary lives now just because the sport or whatever thing that fit our whole packages the best didn’t happen to become popular for us to shine. :)”

Either that, or as my Uncle George used to say, everybody is born with some kind of supernatural power or extraordinary capability, only to be chipped and ground away after years of brainwashing conformistic education…

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