Thumbs Up, Thumbs Down: The 2012 U.S. Open

Wednesday, September 12, 2012 /by

Well, another Grand Slam event has come and gone, which it means it’s time for us to vote with our thumbs on some of our favorite—or most disappointing—players, or some of their actions or words.

Remember, we’re not awarding thumbs up or down merely for performance, good or bad. These citations are for persons or things that warrant comment above and beyond what comes with the territory, or is implied by the actions we witnessed over the past two weeks.

Needless to say, singles champions Andy Murray and Serena Williams each get a big thumbs up, but I have nothing much to add to the what’s already been said or written. (For my Racquet Reaction on Serena’s win, click here; for my report on Murray’s win, click here.) And while the tournament started slowly with what seemed a paucity of tantalizing matches, it certainly ended on high note with two rousing finals. Let’s look at some of the less obvious elements and people that helped make this a terrific and at times electric major.

It was the USTA that first broke with tradition and embraced the third- and fifth-set tiebreaker solution to women’s and men’s matches, respectively. Okay, so only four men’s matches were actually decided by one; on the women’s side, just one (Azarenka’s win over defending champion Sam Stosur in the quarterfinals). But I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again; my beef without the final-set tiebreaker in tournament play in any round before the final is that it unduly punishes the winner, who’s apt to be spent and unable to win his or her next match (just ask John Isner, Mr. 70-68, about that).

Bernard Tomic, the callow but talented Australian, became so discouraged during his train wreck of a second-round match against Andy Roddick that he appeared to be tanking late in the game. He was chided for lack of effort on the air and also by fans present in Ashe. He later had this exchange with Will Swanton of Reuters:

Swanton: They made a pretty big deal of it on the last set, tanking, all that stuff.

Tomic: Really? What do you think?

Swanton: I'm not sure. I think your relaxed style sometimes people get the wrong impression.

Tomic: That's how I play. Do you have a problem with that?

Swanton: No. It was on TV. It was a big deal. Better to give you the opportunity now to talk about it surely.

Tomic: Yeah, no, that's your prediction. I have mine. That's how I play. If you think that's that, it's up to you. What is your name?


Swanton: Will.

Tomic: Will who?

Swanton: Will Swanton.

Tomic: From?

Swanton: Reuters.

Tomic: I'll remember you. . .


I thought Swanton handled this well, broaching the subject without being too accusatory or confrontational. Tomic acted like a dipstick, but he’s young and we can forgive him that. Perhaps he’s been watching too many reruns of The Sopranos. He certainly has enough time on his hands, having won just for matches since Roland Garros.

Roberta Vinci was the surprise star of the women’s draw, the lowest seed (by far, at No. 20) to make the quarterfinals. Her big win was a 6-1, 6-4, fourth-round upset of No. 2 seed Agnieszka Radwanska, the second most resonant upset of the tournament (behind Tomas Berdych’s win over Roger Federer).

Unfortunately, Vinci next had to play her friend, doubles partner, and countrywoman Sara Errani. Errani, who had a comparable but even more successful run at Roland Garros (she went all the way to the final), inspired Vinci, but she also turned out to be the woman fated to end Vinci’s U.S. Open streak. But the blow was softened when the two rejoined and win the doubles—their second Grand Slam title of the year. They also won in Paris to become the first all-Italian team to win a major.

David Ferrer and Novak Djokovic, for failing to give a straight answer to a direct question regarding their input into the USTA ‘s decision not to put on the men’s semifinals concurrently, thereby guaranteeing a Monday final.

Ferrer was asked, “How much did you know about yesterday's schedule, and did you two want to play on Armstrong to try to be able to get the whole match in?”

He replied: “I don't want to say nothing about this. Yesterday we played second match. The organization did what they think was the better for the tournament. I don't have to say nothing about this.”

Not long thereafter, pretty much the same questions was put to Djokovic: “Did you want to play Louis Armstrong Stadium yesterday while the first semifinal was going on?

He answered: “No. No. I mean, they didn't ask me, but, you know, that was an option. I said, I mean, it's not on me to decide. Whatever you have to decide I have to accept it.”

That decision not to put the second semi on Armstrong (while Murray battled Berdych inside Arthur Ashe Stadium in the first semi) had significant repercussions. Among them: Many ticket holders who came by their weekend ducats the hard way (they paid, and planned a U.S. Open vacation around the dates) were left out in the cold.

Instead of a full menu Super Saturday, the fans got the Murray-Berdych match—plus one set of Djokovic v. Ferrer. The Sunday ticket was much worse. It didn’t even provide spectators with a full main-draw singles, just the conclusion of the Djokovic v. Ferrer semi. The women’s final, played that evening, was a different ticket entirely. So it was a terrible deal for the ticket buyer who shelled out big bucks for the Super Saturday/men’s final weekend double.

What bothers me though, is how both Ferrer and Djokovic fudged their answers to very simple and direct questions. I haven’t been able to confirm that the men vigorously opposed the idea of going on at the same time as the other semi (although sources suggested that was the case). But however you feel, or whoever was right, or wrong, the players here could have clearly and transparently articulated the positions they took and done more to make people feel like they wanted to do what was right and best, especially for the ticket-buyers.

All Bob and Mike Bryan do is win doubles titles. At the U.S. Open, they finally surpassed the most successful tandem in Open era tennis, Mark Woodforde and Todd Woodbridge, who had bagged 11 major titles. The Bryans’ 12th came just weeks after they finally secured that long coveted Olympic gold medal.

Critics may argue that the top singles rarely play doubles, and that if they did, their participation would alter the doubles landscape. Fine. Let the singles players prove it. Until then, we can only judge those doubles players and teams who choose to actually play. And let’s not forget that Woodforde and Woodbridge, the iconic, previous record holders, were far better known for their doubles than their singles—much like the Bryans.

Andre Agassi is a very hard act to follow, but Andy Roddick, the first American Grand Slam singles champ to retire since Agassi, did a wonderful job at what turned out—seemingly overnight—to be his farewell tournament.

Kim Clijsters also retired at the U.S. Open. Although she’s not an American (but is married to one), she was much more successful than Roddick (she won three U.S. Open titles to his one). You might have thought her good-bye would have been just as or perhaps more. . . festive? Emotionally moving? Buzz-worthy?

But it didn’t work out that way. Clijsters said all the right things (more or less), but you could tell that her heart wasn’t really in it; she just wanted to get gone to the life she’s kept telling is so much better than this tennis grind.

Roddick, by contrast, made it clear how much he loves this game and the opportunities it gave him, and you got the sense that he wasn’t quitting because he’d made enough money, or wanted to start a family, or was interested in a movie career; he was throwing in the towel because the game had passed him by, and because he was feeling his age (30). He was being pushed out; he decided to be pro-active about the process.

As a result, Roddick’s departure seemed that much more poignant, that much more like he left a hole which will be hard to fill.

Nole’s shorts. I’m not sure I’d describe myself as a fashionista, but Djokovic’s new-look Uniqlo apparel is a home run. It’s about time somebody departed from the baggy surfer shorts look that Pete Sampras imposed on tennis, although I admit that Pistol’s taste was more than welcome after we suffered through a generation of men who took the court in whites that were so tight and short that they girded their thighs like sausage casing.

The design of Nole’s new gear is spot-on; it’s very clean, and the colors are bold, with no irritating “splashy” or “vibrant” graphics. The look taps beautifully into Djokovic’s persona, which is above all militaristic (note the stripe down the seam of each leg). This is perceptive designing and brilliant marketing.

However, I wonder how easy—or difficult—it is to take balls in and out of the pockets of those pipestem shorts.

Petra Kvitova lost in the fourth round of the tournament to Marion Bartoli, 1-6, 6-2, 6-0, ensuring that she would go the entire year without playing a Grand Slam final (Kvitova won Wimbledon in 2011). She was brought to tears in that blow-out third set. You had to feel for her.

On the other hand, Kvitova needs to hold herself accountable and get her game together. The WTA doesn’t need another tear-stained drama queen, claiming that life is tough and nobody understands her. It needs players who can stand up to the demand and pressure, who can bring the big game when it most counts, the way Serena did, and the way Azarenka did, in an energetic and noble if doomed effort in the women’s final.

At the risk of making this an all-Serb thumbs up on the men’s side, I want to single out Janko Tipsarevic for his great effort against Ferrer. It was one of the best matches I’ve watched in many years.

Okay, Tipsarevic (ranked No. 9 and seeded No. 8) made his seed and nothing more. But No. 4 Ferrer is one of the toughest outs of all for players outside the Top 4, and he was playing great tennis at Flushing Meadows. Tipsarevic came within a swing or two of clocking the big upset, but lost the final-set tiebreaker, 7-4.

Janko has done a spectacular job holding his position in the rankings, which isn’t always easy for guys in the lower half of the Top 10. And his game is both explosive and precise. I prefer it to the type of grinding on which Ferrer has built his fiefdom, but can’t argue with the results.

That’s all for this time; can you believe it’s already a Davis Cup week? I’ll be working the Cup later this week, so stick around!

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