The crowds continued to grow and ran five and six people deep when no seats remained in the stands on Court 5 as anticipation mounted at the midway point of Zach Svajda’s first-round match at the US Open on Monday.
The 16-year-old from Pacific Beach had just shocked the majority of those fans as word quickly spread on the grounds at the USTA Billie Jean King Tennis Center that Svajda had won the first two sets against 37-year-old Italian veteran Paolo Lorenzi.
And then the cramping started, and Svajda went from being in control of the match to lobbing in first serves and restricted to limited mobility once the cramps kicked in, despite calling for a trainer and taking electrolytes which ultimately reduced the cramping and prevented Svajda from retiring.
In a valiant effort, Svajda came up short in his ATP Tour debut, falling 3-6, 6-7 (5), 6-4, 7-4 (4), 6-2 to a player ranked No. 136 in the ATP World Tour rankings.
“It was like a full-body cramp, and I could feel it in my shoulders, my feet, it was all over,” Svajda said. “I’d never had that happen to me before. I was going to finish, even if I couldn’t stand. Even if I had to serve underhanded.”
Even if they had never heard his name, the fans continued to support Svajda cheering him on at each changeover and even chanting his name at crucial stages of the match.
“Svy-Da…. Svy-Da…. Svy-Da.”
“Yeah, that was pretty cool,” Svajda said when he met with the national tennis media two hours after his match concluded and conducting his first press conference. “I’ve never had that happen to me. I loved it. They were behind me the whole time and with me on every point. It was a great atmosphere out there.”
Several fans spent time on their phones Googling his name. “It looks like he’s playing his dad,” said another fan.
“Who is this kid?” could be heard over and over again.
Count Lorenzi one who was impressed with Svajda’s play and composure on such a big stage. He was told during his press conference he had made it to a Challenger final the same year Svajda was born in 2002.
“He was a lot better than I was when I was 16, that’s for sure,” Lorenzi said.
Svajda’s coach Matt Hanlin said the experience of playing in the US Open would only make his student a better player.
“He’s never played a five-set match,” Hanlin said. “He’s never played an ATP match. Hopefully, this will fuel him now when he’s in the gym. It was a marathon out there and Zach put on a few extra miles out there.”
Svajda, who signed autographs and took selfies with fans after the match was asked by a New York Times reporter if he felt fans were hungry to have a new fresh face, and a future Grand Slam champion to cheer for. “I’m starting to now,” he said. “I definitely felt it.”
He added: “I thought I fought well and a lot of positives came out there today. It was a great experience.”
– Steve Pratt