Grounds Pass: August 30

by: Steve Tignor | August 30, 2012

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NEW YORK—If there's ever going to be a documentary about the U.S. Open and what it feels like during the first week, I found a perfect scene for it yesterday. Walking out of the match between Benoit Paire and Grigor Dimitrov, I passed Court 7, where an overflow crowd was watching the end of a five-setter between Gilles Muller and Mikhail Youzhny. Bursts of noise had been coming from the court for what felt like hours, and there were people standing on every bench in the area trying to catch a glimpse. Getting up on my toes to see the scoreboard, I found out why: It was 6-6 in a fifth-set tiebreaker.

I walked to a space with relatively few spectators—it was still five deep—and tried to peek over them. All I could see were the tops of Muller’s and Youzhny’s heads as they ran side to side and up and back. What eventually caught my eye were a group of five or six fans sitting halfway up the opposite bank of seats. They had the lower halves of their faces painted blue. During a rally, they crouched just above their seats and followed the ball the way a cat does a string, their faces twisting in nervous excitement. All of them wore T-shirts with “Luxembourg,” Muller’s home country, printed across the front. With Muller at match point, I decided to watch them instead of the players. Muller served, and the Luxembourgers went into their crouches. I knew their man had won when they threw their arms in the air and screamed. That was my last image of the match; I couldn’t see the handshake..

Here are some more words and images and ideas from an eventful Day 3.


Robbo Does the Job
Lost in the speculation about how an Olympic gold would affect Andy Murray was the question of what a silver would do for his mixed-doubles partner Laura Robson’s confidence. We found out yesterday. The word that came to my mind while I watched her yesterday was gravitas. Robson, normally prone to double faults and tears, played with poise and aggression until the end. She was the one dictating to Clijsters. I’d never seen her run that fast (she’s been knocked for her lack of speed) or hit her forehand that well. She pummeled the shot to both corners, and never settled for passive rallying. Then, when Robson was interviewed on court, out came a tiny slip of an English accent.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t all good news for Laura in the London Telegraph. She was accused of cruelly ending a fairytale:

British teenager Laura Robson played down her shock U.S. Open victory over Kim Clijsters, insisting she most definitely did not feel like the girl who shot Bambi

Robson insisted that she hadn’t done anything of the sort, and cleverly shifted the blame to Benjamin Becker for beating Andre Agassi—the real Bambi—in his last match here in 2006. Robson claimed that she hadn’t thought about Kim’s retirement at all during the match, but admitted to her questioner, “I’m feeling a little bit worse now that you keep mentioning it.”

The WTA may have become a little less friendly with Clijsters’ exit yesterday, but Robson’s entrance should make it a good deal wittier.


A Tennis Tragic Gets Her 15 Minutes
The New York Times looks into the mind of a tennis fanatic with its profile of Australian superfan Katrina Williams, a 21-year-old ex-receptionist who is spending all of her $23,000 in savings this year following the tours around the globe. Williams does it on the cheap; she’s lodging, according to the Times, in “a $40-a-might hostel in Long Island City, Queens, sleeping in a bunk bed and sharing a room with nine other people.” Williams has spent $13,000 traveling to all of the majors this year; she plans to wrap it up, as well as run out of cash, at the Paris Indoors in November.

The tennis-obsessive details certainly ring true. On Tuesday Williams, according to the paper, was “giggling at the shows of emotion from the two women playing, Andrea Petkovic and Romina Oprandi.” She “sent Twitter messages with any drips of drama from the match, like when Ms. Petkovic smashed her racket on the ground. When a group of Swiss fans wearing red wigs a few rows down cheered Ms. Oprandi, Ms. Williams sent posts mocking their cheers.”

Sound like someone, or maybe everyone, you know? If not, try this:

“Ms. Williams attributes much of her over-the-top tennis interest to Novak Djokovic, the second-ranked men’s player in the world, who became her favorite as soon as she saw him play Roger Federer—now her least-favorite player—in the semifinals of the 2008 Australian Open. Watching Mr. Djokovic brazenly stare down an umpire ‘changed my life,’ Williams said.”


Not So Nice?
Bryan Armen Graham of doesn’t want us to focus too much on Kim Clijsters’ vaunted nice-ness. In “Mental Fortitude Helped Clijsters Stand Tall Against Toughest of Era,” he claims that it was her “taste for combat” that made her the champion she was. It’s true that you don’t rack up 400-odd wins and 41 WTA titles without that taste. Graham bases most of this idea on how Kim faced down an angry Serena Williams at the 2009 U.S. Open, something few others have done in the later rounds at the majors.

It should be noted, though, that Clijsters’ career record against Serena was 2-7, and that she failed to finish her off when she was up 5-1 in the third in the Australian Open semis in 2003. Niceness can be a backhanded compliment, especially for an athlete; but I never thought that it was Clijsters’ friendliness that cost her matches, or that she was “too nice” to win as much as should have. Her problems, competition-wise, came when she got negative and impatient during a bad streak of play, and when she tightened up in key moments. She was also unable to face down her fellow countrywoman, Justine Henin, in their biggest matches. Otherwise, Clijsters really was nice. That’s a compliment, no backhand to it.


Everything’s Better with Beer
It’s been blowout city at night so far. How do the paying fans of New York feel about getting so little drama, so little of their beloved blood and guts, for their cash? Not that bad, if one group of five well-dressed 20-something Manhattanites are any evidence. Last night these five took the 12:06 LIRR train back into the city from Flushing. There they encountered one of their own, another professional-type who said he was going to the Open on Thursday. He asked who they had seen and how it was.

“We saw Sharapova and....Murray,” one of them answered. “The Murray match, against some Croatian dude, was awesome.”

Murray had beaten said Croatian dude, Ivan Dodig, like a drum, but still it had been “awesome” to watch. That was good news. As the train continued toward Penn Station, though, I listened to this group get louder and louder. I watched them stand up one by one and stagger through the car to the bathroom. I thought I could understand their enthusiasm a little better: They were three sheets to the wind.

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