SoCal League Tennis

US Open – One Done

The first week of the 135th US Open Tennis Championships has come and gone, leaving spectators at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadow, New York, as well as those tied to television and computer coverage, wilted and in some case, wobbly. The staggered state, brought about by the extreme heat and humidity, was supplemented by the wilted versus superlative performances that have been evidenced through Labor Day weekend.

Taylor Fritz  Photo Susan Mullane _ camerawork usa

Taylor Fritz
Photo Susan Mullane _ camerawork usa

The following players with local ties took part in the Qualifying: Julia Boserup, Taylor Fritz, Marcos Giron, Alexa Glatch, Mayo Hibi, Jason Jung, Claire Liu, Daniel Nguyen, Shelby Rogers and Alex Sarkissian. The competition to earn a place in any professional tournament through qualifying is stressful. It demands the utmost in preparation and of course, being continually “on” during a pressure packed “must win three” matches prelude to the actual US Open.

Two locals survived the prelude. Hibi, a nineteen-year-old who lives in Irvine, but competes for Japan, and Rogers, the twenty-two year old from Charleston who spends time training with the RAMP Program at the USTA Center-Carson. They claimed two of the available sixteen spots in the women’s main draw. (The same number of openings was available for the men.)

Fritz, the top ranked International Tennis Federation (ITF) junior in the world, was given a wild card into the event by the USTA. At Roland Garros and Wimbledon, he spoke of how important it was (his goal in essence) to win a junior Grand Slam championship and once he accomplished the task, he would move into the professional ranks. Though, he was a finalist in Paris and a semifinalist in London, Fritz made up his mind and decided, (instead of accepting a tennis scholarship to USC next January), to take the check that came following his first round 6-3, 6-3 loss to Luca Vanni of Italy.

He described the experience to his mother, Kathy May Fritz, (a 1978 US Open quarterfinalist). He said that he, “played terrible and couldn’t get his feet set. He didn’t say why, but he had been practicing fine.”

She added that he was “very excited” about turning professional, and “He has had a lot of outside stuff going on that has been a distraction for him…”

May Fritz, who has been around the game on the elite level since she was a teen, understands the challenges that he will be facing as does her husband (Taylor’s father), Guy Fritz, who serves as primary coach. Dealing with a multitude of demands and career expectations are merely two adjustments that he will have to make. His introduction to the rigors of the tour has come and gone. Through it all he had a full plate at the Open.

On the first Tuesday of the tournament, he was relaxed and well spoken in a lengthy ESPN interview. He reflected on having begun the day hitting with Rafael Nadal. Then, later that afternoon, he spent time practicing with Novak Djokovic. Fritz explained that he was surprised that Rafa hit the ball so hard, and how he was having a hard time getting ready because the ball came off the court (because of the vicious spin) so quickly. Also, Nadal was very focused and completely serious. Djokovic, with whom he hit at Wimbledon, was more relaxed. In fact, Boris Becker, one of Djokovic’s coaches, said he was hitting the ball through the court better than he had at Wimbledon. As could be expected, Fritz who will turn eighteen at the end of October had a great time.

After winning the National Boys’ 18 doubles with Wimbledon junior champion, Reilly Opelka, the two received a wild card into the Men’s doubles. In the first round, they dropped a 6-3, 4-6, 6-3 decision to Marcus Daniel of New Zealand and Jonathan Marray of Great Britain.

Claire Liu  Photo USTA

Claire Liu
Photo USTA

Fritz also received a Mixed Doubles wild card to play with fifteen-year-old Claire Liu. In their first match, they faced Leander Paes of India and Martina Hingis of Switzerland, two of the best doubles players in the game’s history. The veterans played like the No. 4 seeds that they were, winning 6-2, 6-2, and after the match, Fritz commented, “They were really good”.

The top seed in the Boys’ singles, Fritz’s Labor Day weekend came to an end with him being named as a practice partner for the US Davis Cup World Group Playoffs team, (one for which Sam Querrey and Steve Johnson were selected as players), against Uzbekistan, September 18-20 in Tashkent.

Liu was but a match away from qualifying as her coach Mike Gennette explained, “She felt she played well, especially during the first two rounds. Her first two opponents (Veronica Cepede Royg of Paraguay and Jana Cepelova of Slovakia) have had a bit of success in their careers, since they were ranked No. 155 and No. 111 respectively. I heard that Royg had a match point against Sharapova at Roland Garros, and that Cepelova defeated Simona Halep at Wimbledon this year.

“She lost to (Alexandra) Panova (of Russia) in the final round of qualifying 6-4, 6-1. She converted all four of her breakpoint opportunities, but it wasn’t enough to make up for the nine double faults. She felt she should have won the match, which is a good sign, of course.”

Wen Liu, Claire’s mother, noted, “Claire had her best tennis experience at the qualifying. She was a little sad at the end, but took it very well. She was very happy to see how she competed against the higher ranked players.”

An eclectic grab bag of highlights from the first week of the US Open included brutal heat and a record number of Grand Slam tournament retirements (thirteen on the men’s side alone) that resulted. Eugenie Bouchard of Canada was one of the players forced to drop out. She was sidelined by a concussion that resulted from a freak slip and fall in the locker room. Coco Vandeweghe, who defeated Sloane Stephens in straight sets, was the talk of the day (as it were) for participating in the first (ever) mid-match televised interview on court when she spoke to ESPN’s Pam Shriver after winning the first set.

Mardy Fish, Lleyton Hewitt of Australia and Jarkko Nieminen of Finland, along with Lisa Raymond played their last Grand Slam tournament matches. Raymond is supposedly going to join Lindsay Davenport and Jonathan Leach, working with Madison Keys.

For the first time in ten years, Nadal lost a five set match in which he had won the first two sets. It also marked the first time in a decade that the Spaniard didn’t win one of the four Grand Slams played during the year. Following his 3-6, 4-6, 6-4, 6-3, 6-4, three hour-forty-six minute victory, which ended at one twenty-seven in the morning, Fabio Fognini, the expressively entertaining Italian said, “It’s something incredible I did today.”

Mark Winters, Dodo Cheney, Bud Collins and Christie Putnam, Cheney's daughter, at International Tennis Hall of Fame & Museum exhibition held at the US Open.

Mark Winters, Dodo Cheney, Bud Collins and Christie Putnam, Cheney’s daughter, at International Tennis Hall of Fame & Museum exhibition held at the US Open.

September 6th was also incredible. It was the day the USTA dedicated the Bud Collins US Open Media Center. Tennis notables such as Billie Jean King, Rosie Casals, Martina Navratilova, along with USTA President, Katrina Adams, Collins’ wife, Anita Ruthling Klaussen and an all-star group of media members, including Tennis Channel President & CEO, Ken Solomon, feted the 1994 International Tennis Hall of Fame inductee.

Having known Collins for more than forty years, I have been fortunate to spend a great deal of time with him (and Anita). Exaggeration is often an integral aspect of praise for those who have left a mark. The applause for the eighty-six year-old should be never ending. He has done more to increase the popularity of the sport than anyone…ever. His long ago, PBS broadcasts introduced tennis to television viewers. His post-Wimbledon final runway interviews were as entertaining as his ever changing – could have been Jackson Pollack designed – slacks.

Recently, he has had a variety of health issues, along with a particularly trying leg injury that he suffered at the US Open, a few years ago. Throughout it all, he has always been Bud Collins; a mentor, a delightful conversationalist and always he was never too busy to put a story aside, (He wrote constantly.), to visit. His guidance has always been appreciated. Words simply don’t do enough to describe this very unique and special man. I have been as fortunate as the game of “tennis” to be able to call him a friend.

With all that took place during the first week of the US Open, which concludes on September 13th, it’s nice to know there is more. It is a not to be missed tennis opportunity. Be sure to tune in…

Mark Winters

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