June 25, 2024

Open Court

MORE TENNIS THAN YOU'LL EVER NEED

US Open comes alive with two men’s marathons

NEW YORK – There’s always that moment at a Grand Slam when it seems to light itself on fire.

You hope it happens the first day. You hope the electricity doesn’t wait until the last day to appear.

But on Friday at the US Open, as the third round began and the two very costly retractable roofs were put to use for the first time in the tournament, there was that moment.

On Arthur Ashe Stadium, defending champion Rafael Nadal needed to dig deep into his bag of tricks to send off 22-year-old Karen Khachanov of Russia.

And a few hundreds yards away on Louis Armstrong, 2017 finalist Kevin Anderson also was locked in a May-December struggle against a much younger opponent.

Anderson, down a break early in the fifth set, prevailed as his third-rounder against 19-year-old Canadian teenager Denis Shapovalov went the distance.

The matches finished within 45 seconds of each other, with Nadal converting on his third match point and Anderson, after a series of breaks in that fifth set, serving his out at love.

alive

Nadal’s knee issue pops up

Nadal, whose fragile right knee needed taping, then double taping, early in the match, was nervous and almost panicky for much of the match. Anderson was surprisingly serene, as his teenaged opponent provided all of the external emotion.

The Spaniard’s knees are always something to manage. And it’s not a shocker that he would start to feel it, as he often does when he spends any time at all on the hard courts.

Nadal was on the practice courts in Toronto nearly arguably more than he was on court to play his matches. 

He had some regular tape put on Friday, then more kinesio tape added. And after being a bit ginger with it at first, he seemed to put it behind him and dealt with the task at hand.

That task, Khachanov, proved more formidable than his previous matches against him would have indicated. When the tall Russian won the first set, it was the first set he’d won against Nadal after four previous meetings.

But the tight two-setter in the semifinals in Toronto three weeks ago was an improved effort by Khachanov. And on Friday, he was even better than that.

“He’s improving always. And he’s young. He has everything. He’s a great player. I really see him winning a lot of matches in his tennis career, no? He has a lot of good things. He has a great future to come,” Nadal said. “For me personally, of course, it was a physical, demanding match. It was a mentally demanding match.”

It took four hours and 23 minutes to get through just four sets. Anderson and Shapovalov needed 40 fewer minutes to play one additional set.

Khachanov had a shot to win the second set. He had a shot to win the third-set tiebreak, too. But three double-faults helped Nadal take the lead. The Russian had an early break in the fourth set, too. And he broke Nadal – or Nadal broke himself – when he first served for the match.

In the end, Nadal made his nerves work for him. He hit shots he doesn’t like to hit nearly as much – like the down-the-line backhand – when he had to. The reward is a date with unseeded Nikoloz Basilashvili of Georgia for a spot in the US Open quarterfinals. So the reward was great.

Age vs. Experience, Part II

Anderson, 32, gave up a full 13 years to his Canadian opponent. And with two Grand Slam finals under his belt the last 12 months, his experience and calm paid off.

The South African needed less than two hours to beat Jérémy Chardy in the second round after needing more than four hours to get past American Ryan Harrison on Monday.

alive

“Actually practiced with him a few weeks ago in Toronto. Obviously match is always different, but you have a sense of what’s going on. Also played him in doubles. Sort of what I expected, he definitely did,” Anderson said. “Served really well. Sort of lively from the back. A bunch of times I felt like I had pretty decent returns. He really punishes you on anything that he has time on, sometimes even when he doesn’t have time.

“It was really important for me to obviously get that break in the second and turn things around a little bit. I think that sort of put the match a little bit with me in control. But, of course, it ended up being really close at the end with him coming back in the fourth,” Anderson added. “I thought it was great tennis throughout. It was an incredible atmosphere. Really had to dig deep to get through that one.”

Shapovalov, who expends so much more emotional energy with every single point, may have been a bit wrung out after an emotional clash with his close friend Félix Auger-Aliassime in the first round. He had to follow that up with a comeback win against Italian veteran Andreas Seppi. 

In that one, he was two sets to one down. That one took three hours, 47 minutes.

alive

Still, his legs looked as spry at the end of the three-hours and 43 minutes he spent on court Friday. If there is an additional positive to take out of his efforts in New York this week, it’s that he’s clearly well and ready to take on top players in long, five-set matches.

“I think so far my season has been better than I expected. I’ve been playing unbelievably well throughout the season. I’ve really improved on clay courts. To be honest, my main goal this season was to improve my game, and I feel like I’ve come back here … like such a different player. I feel like I’ve improved so much in my game, mentally,” Shapovalov said.

“I just feel like I belong out there this year. I’m able to compete with anyone out there, as I showed today. I feel like my game’s at a different level.”

Shapovalov made a point of thanking Anderson for a sportsmanlike gesture during the match, after the world No. 5 slipped on the court late in the first set. “He wanted to call the trainer. Instead of doing it before I was serving at 5-4 to take the medical, he waited till the set break. Not a lot of players would do that,” Shapovalov said.

alive

Great fan awareness, sportsmanship

alive
A disappointed Shapovalov nevertheless headed right to the stands to make some young fanns happy, after his loss to Kevin Ahderson.

Not only did the two matches finish nearly simultaneously, the hugs did too.

As disappointed as they were, both Khachanov and Shapovalov stopped to sign a bunch of autographs for fans inside the stadium, before they took their leave.

It’s an optional thing for players, a no-win situation where, if they do it, the reaction is “Of course they should do it” and when they don’t, they’re “sore losers who don’t appreciate the fans”.

As a couple of the kids leading the next generation, they’re setting a terrific precedent with those little details, as well as their generosity towards their opponents in their press conferences.

Gridlock at the BJKNTC

Day-night attendance at the tournament topped 70,000 for the first time every Friday, and the day sessions running late on both the Ashe and Armstrong ticketed courts.

So it’s no surprise there was gridlock on the grounds after the two marathons ended shortly before 7 p.m.

alive
(Pic: USTA)

There are now two night-session crowds to consider, not just the 23,000 and change that head into Arthur Ashe Stadium each night during the tournament.

Even as big as the footprint of the site is, this was a fairly daunting number of people.

The tournament might consider moving the start time on Ashe back to 11 a.m., despite the fact that there are just two day-session matches. With the new, abbreviated schedule, they instituted a noon start.

This isn’t the first time the day session has run over this week. And one of the stated reasons for shortening that day session was precisely to avoid this sort of thing.

About Post Author