Cleaning out the notebook and Notes App from the 2022 U.S. Open…
1. Carlos Alcaraz is your U.S. Open men’s singles winner. We knew it was gonna happen but who knew this soon? He is the youngest number one in men’s tennis history. He also spent more time on court in any player in U.S. Open history. The future is now the present.
2. Iga Swiatek is your 2022 U.S. Open women’s singles champ. It‘s her second major of the year and the third of her career—she now has automatic Hall of Fame eligibility. She is the overwhelming No.1. She doesn’t turn 22 until next year’s French Open. For all as often as we talk about wide open fields and relentless parity after Serena, one player is now leaving her heel print on the back of most draws.
3. Ons Jabeur won six matches at her second-straight major. So much variety. So much creativity. So many gears. It’s hard not to think she’ll figure it all out and play a more complete match next time she reaches a final.
4. For the second time since June, Casper Ruud came within a match of winning a major. He won six matches with clinical, professional, composed tennis (and deployed deceptive power as well.) He couldn’t quite get over the Alcaraz hump. But what a worthy top-tier player.
5. Frances Tiafoe turned in the best event of his career. The signature win was his takedown of Nadal over Labor Day weekend. But it was no less impressive that he backed it up by beating another top-10 player to reach the semis. And once there, he battled for five sets with Carlos Alcaraz. For a player who’s always been a likable shotmaker who can struggle to close, this run proved more about his mental toughness than his tennis. Which bodes well. (And headband tip to Patrick McEnroe for his deft handling of the Alcaraz-Tiafoe postmatch situation.)
6. Let’s hope Caroline Garcia recalls this event as a cap to her splendid summer and that she is proud of her great run to the U.S. Open semifinals, her best run at a Major. Let’s hope she doesn’t think too much about the crepe-flat performance in the semi itself.
7. And let’s hope that Aryna Sabalenka removes her shades and sees that she got to her third Major semi in 14 months; not that she was a few games from the final but lost 16 of the last 20 points she played.
8. In the doubles, Rajeev Ram (Indiana’s own, age 38) and Joe Salisbury defended their men’s title, beating Wes Koolhof and Skupski in the final. Barbora Krejcikova and Katerina Siniakova completed the box set of Grand Slam women’s doubles titles, claiming a first U.S. Open title with a comeback win over Caty McNally and Taylor Townsend.
9. Because Spain needs another tennis prospect….Martin Landaluce—remember the name—turned heads, winning the boys event. Alexandra Eala of the Philippines won the girls tournament. Colette Lewis has all the skinny, Of course she does. And kudos to the USTA for putting on the junior wheelchair event.
10. Storm Sanders and John Peers took the mixed doubles title.
11. Serena Williams spent months, I’m told, wrestling with whether and how to walk away. She had to be convinced that an announcement in advance of the U.S. Open was the best tact. In retrospect, it could not have worked out better, She did herself proud winning two matches, including a takedown of the No.2 player, reminding us how indomitable she was and incomparable she is. She was feted like a queen. She carried the tournament before handing the mic over to the kids. Too often in sports—Bill Russell’s obit is the encapsulation—athletes depart and it’s only years or decades later they get their full due. How heartening that Serena got such a grand sendoff. The distillation: we see you and appreciate you.
12. Coco Gauff reached week two. And then ran into Caroline Garcia. A reminder that Gauff doesn’t turn 19 until March. And that if tennis doesn’t pan out, she can always go to a fallback role: president of the United States.
13. Rafa Nadal lost a match at a major for the first time this year, falling on Labor Day to Tiafoe. What a strange year for Nadal. Two major wins, including a dominant run through Paris. Lots of injuries—cracked rib? Busted nose?—and, at 36, uncertainty about where to go from here. My guess? He’ll fulfill his Laver Cup commitment next week. Then shut it down for 2022, as he becomes a father for the first time. As defending champ, he’ll give it a go in Australia and Paris. Other than that? Who knows.
14. The gut-churning amusement park ride that is Nick Kyrgios’ career? It was rollicking this summer. And then, fittingly, the day after Labor Day, ground to a halt with his five-set loss to Karen Khachanov. Plenty of ink and pixels and airtime have been devoted to Kyrgios. (Sorry!) But it distills to a probability exercise. That is, he is dazzlingly talented, capable of beating anyone. He is an acquired taste as a “personality.” But at 27—the oldest quarterfinalist—there’s still too many variables in play (emotional blowups, mystery injuries, doubles play, fitness questions, coaching absences, legal issues) to expect him to win seven straight matches over two weeks.
15. We talk of the “Williams Effect” and it is real. But we need to rethink supporting evidence. This effect goes so beyond the metric that is too simplistically used: number of Black women in the top 100. But the Williams Effect extends to the fans, who look much different from the base when they started. The change is reflected in recreational players. And pros of both genders and all countries. I found that one of the most touching Serena testimonials came from Garbine Muguruza, who told Tennis Channel that, as a girl in Venezuela, she was raised modestly. It was the Williams sisters who showed her that success was possible.
16. Yes, brokerage desk? Summer? It was great. Yours, too. Great. Listen, I’d like to go long on Jannik Sinner.
17. Ajla Tomljanovic—she of the superfluous letters—did well for herself. Her poise beating Serena and then speaking so eloquently was noted. She won her next match. And she came up a little short against Jabeur, but battled. Like Tiafoe, you feel like this event represents a mental breakthrough.
18. When Serena was Serena-ing in Week One there were plenty of press releases about the record attendance, the secondary ticket market, exploding T.V. ratings etc. You know what would have been nice? Some more discussion about how the USTA plans to take all this coverage and glowing publicity and alchemize it into more players and participation. At some level this is the USTA writ small. The suits see the U.S. Open as this global sporting event, this ocean of revenue. The sections and the player development side say, “All these suites and celebrities are red carpets are great; but how does it turn into more kids playing?”
19. When the Williams sisters retire, the active player with the most majors will be….Naomi Osaka. If this were a screenplay, we’d be deep in the second act, the protagonist in a delicate state, figuring out the source of her motivation and whether it can be rekindled and the plot resolved. As always, Osaka creates this fan/journalist dilemma. You want to proceed with sensitivity, given her mental health struggles. At the same time it’s hard to ignore that a pillar of the sport—at age 24, a chronological prime—is a shadow of herself and has lost her last three matches at majors.
20. You could make the case that tennis demands such an extraordinary level of durability and focus and adaptability that matches should end at 2:50 a.m. You could also—more easily, I would suggest—make the case that these affairs make the sport look ridiculous. Sometimes you win zigging where everyone else is zagging. (Everyone else wants “snackable” short format? We’re going long!) But this is silly. Sure, it’s unfair to the athletes. But they have courtesy cars waiting. Imagine the usher or security guard or concessionaire who has to start heading home from Queens at 3:00 a.m.
21. This was a big event for China, as four players reached the round of 32 on the women’s side. With the WTA quietly announcing its plans to return to China (see below) it seems like tennis is back in business in the world’s largest market—in more ways than one.
22. Never mind her reaching Middle Weekend. Victoria Azarenka has really distinguished herself as an adult-in-the-room leader. First, a plug; I enjoyed talking about the player/media dynamic on her podcast. More importantly, she addressed the open secret of coaches (and other personnel) having inappropriate relationships with players, both in the specific case of Fiona Ferro’s allegation and more generally. A particularly chilling line: “When the winning stops, it becomes dark and there is nobody to hold your hand. That is the moment where it’s not talked about.”
Again, the WTA is really hamstrung by players as independent contractors. The Tour might be concerned about a player’s relationship with her coach/agent/psychologist/whatever. But the player is the employer, not the WTA. If the WTA questions the player and the player (above age of consent) says, “Nah, we’re good,” or “Nah, we’re in love,” how does the WTA have the standing to intervene further? Especially as the tour, quite rightly, touts its players as strong, independent with agency?
23. Elena Rybakina wins Wimbledon. That’s the good news. The bad news is that she wins no rankings points. And it dulls her sense of victory. She plays forgettably this summer. And the U.S. Open didn’t help by scheduling her—the reigning Wimbledon champ— to play her first match in the hinterlands of Court 12. And once there, she lost to qualifier Clara Burel.
24. I had a fun conversation in Paris with Daniil Medvedev about poker and its tennis applications. You know who doesn’t play poker? The players griping about how much they hate the chaos of New York (or for that matter, hate the tennis balls.) Why announce to the world —and, more critically, your opponent—that you have this level of discomfort with your surroundings? And the tennis ogre wonders if Frances Tiafoe doesn’t unintentionally send his opponent a signal about his organizational skills when he leaves his chair area so messy.
25. A visual reward for reaching the halfway point. Arthur Ashe Kids Day, 1999. Who knew? Thanks to a “B. Bryan”—wait, too obvious; let’s say “Bob B.”—for that pull.
26. The robots have arrived. It was strange watching tennis without a full complement of linespeople and challenges. And yet, very quickly, it became…not strange. Again the view here: if you have the technology to maximize accuracy, you’re duty-bound to use it, but it would be great if tennis could find some way to preserve these jobs.
27. This tournament’s version of “Five Players who failed to escape the first week, but impressed nonetheless” : Bernabe Zapata Miralles (who lost to Tommy Paul in five sets), Emilio Nava (who took a 90-minute set off Andy Murray), Elizabeth Mandlik (daughter of a former champ, who played well against Ons Jabeur), Xiyu Wang and Jack Draper (who had Khachanov in trouble before a leg injury). And nice to see Lauren Davis back to her fighting ways. And to see Jule Niemeier make another week-two showing and….
28. We all hate traffic. But the player who tried to hack the commute to Queens by taking a helicopter from Manhattan to LaGuardia and then a car to the U.S. Open? …He would have been better off resting or watching Netflix in the back of a courtesy car.
29. Who has had a more mysterious summer than Simona Halep? She changes coaches, and splits with much of her longtime team. A former Roland Garros champion, she loses in Paris and attributes it to a first-ever panic attack. Her new coach, rather bizarrely, blames the loss on his shortcomings. She then goes to Wimbledon and looks unbeatable for five rounds…only to miss an opportunity against Elena Rybakina and fall in the semis. Halep then wins Toronto, emerging as an early Open favorite. And then loses in the first round in New York to a qualifier. And last week announced the dissolution of her marriage. Halep is one of tennis’s fine corporate citizens. Root for her.
30. Have we given tennis enough collective credit for the final-set tiebreak? There is finally standardization among the majors. More important, it’s the perfect mix of finite with a little extra padding compared to the seven-by-two breaker.
31. It’s the most Williams family thing ever that Venus would outlast Serena. Bucking convention (and bucking birth order) is a seam that runs throughout the story. We’ll see how long Venus continues without her little sister. But a) good for her. b) please spare us the “Venus doesn’t deserve a wild card” rant. Wild cards—the subjective golden tickets; lorded by management companies; hoarded by the Majors—are unseemly, if occasionally necessary. If management groups use them to finagle players/clients’ ill-deserving siblings and even partners into draws, lord knows we should use one on a seven-time Major winner still in the thrall of tennis in her 40s.
32. Speaking of distortions….the corruption that is mid-match coaching was—for better or worse—a non-issue. We’d feel better about this if tennis were simply honest. “Television, which pays the bills, has asked for this. So grudgingly, we’ll give it a shot.” But sneaking it in under a trial basis smacks of cowardice. So does the fallback argument “everyone is doing it anyway.” Everyone takes their time? Institute a shot clock. Everyone gets bad calls? Minimize that with technology. Everyone bends the rules with coaching? Why simply capitulate?
33. Thanasi Kokkinakis—and this is in no way a criticism—said the quiet part out loud. “There’s times where I go back and forth about what I actually want from the sport. Do I want to go as high as I can or do I want to just kind of enjoy my life and play and everything is a bonus? So that’s honestly a balancing act for me.” There are players that are single-mindedly devoted to becoming No.1. And there are those who realize that life at the next tier is awfully nice as well.
34. Max Cressy lost in round one. But watching the serve-and-volley dervish is like watching a resurrected dinosaur. Hey wait, you are supposed to be extinct. But here you are, roaming among us, and it is awesome.
35. Go home, everyone. The contest is over. The award for “craziest way to lose a tennis point” doesn’t merely go to Nick Kyrgios for this. He retires the award. Had he literally done anything else—tie his shoe, take a brief nap, play air guitar, initiate a tortilla slap—he would have won this point, which would have given him a break point. In the second set of a night match. At a Major. Against the No. 1 player in the world.
Yet, try this on for size: a former player speculated to me that it was all worth the ridicule and—by accident or design—worth the squandered point. Kyrgios “sent a message to his opponent that he was so relaxed and confident and casual he was willing” to do something this silly.
36. A nod to polyester strings. Who else is old enough to remember when points were routinely decided by which player popped a string midmatch? Don’t see that much anymore.
37. Two years after its initiation—its tennis court oath, as it were—the PTPA made a big hire, announcing Ahmad Nassar as CEO. Nassar is known for helping turn the NFL Players Association’s marketing/licensing business into one of the largest for-profit licensors in sports. I’m not sure if there is a comparable business here. The top players have their own deals. You and I would love a Borna Coric (or Kaia Kanepi) jersey. But is there a market? Regardless, it’s a strong hire and a sign that the PTPA isn’t going away. Keep an eye on this space.
38. I had the good fortune of spending some time on site with Juan Martin del Potro. He is—and always was—as lovely as you suspected. He’s retired, of course. But he is only 33. And if his body cooperates and heals with rest, who knows…perhaps we’ll see him on court again.
39. Repeating the crotchety old man gripe from past years…an underpinning of advertising is positive association. It’s why brands love sports and concerts and music festivals and marathons. We have fond feelings and warm memories of the events and therefore fond and warm recollections of the products affiliated. But what about the inverse? It’s hot and humid at the tennis event. We fear dehydration, or worse. There are scant water fountains. Yes, there’s a water sponsor! But, no, they’re not giving it out. They’re charging the extortionate price of $8 for a bottle. We’re not talking about a lobster roll or an umami burger or an extravagance here. It’s friggin’ water on an oppressively hot day. Is it just me? Or does this price-gouging make me thoroughly less likely to purchase this brand when I am in the grocery store, and have more (any) options?
40. Serena’s retirement announcement had the effect of obscuring other final chapters. Extended racket claps to Christina McHale, Sam Querrey, Andrea Petkovic, and Nick Monroe. And Gilles Simon will call it a career after Bercy. (Speaking of Querrey…..here’s some of the random trivia you pick up over the course of an event: we have all seen the “Untold” doc series on Netflix? The Manti Teo doc? The Mardy Fish doc? I’m told that the creators, the brothers Chapman and Maclain Way, are former “Sam-urai” members.)
41. Name check, Altchek. Dr. David Altchek is the Federer of sports orthopedists. And tennis players from Borna Coric to Alja Tomljanovic to Genie Bouchard have benefitted from his handiwork.
42. Let the record reflect: an extraordinary player with 21 Majors—most recently, Wimbledon—did not play this event because he declined to get a Covid vaccination. Let’s just leave it there. History can do its thing.
43. “The WTA announced that Fort Worth, Texas, will host the 2022 season-ending WTA Finals from Oct. 31-Nov. 7…with the event thereafter due to return to Shenzhen, China, in cooperation with long-term partner Gemdale.” Wait, what? That’s quote from a press release. Last November, the WTA took the principled stance —courageously; pointedly; to worldwide acclaim—that China was untenable as host because the country’s values were inconsistent with the WTA’s values. What’s more, the WTA demanded that China conduct a fair and transparent investigation into the mysterious case Peng Shuai. China did not reply, much less comply. And now the WTA is going back? A two-word question: what changed?
44. Whether it was a mercy killing of an event that was doomed from the start….a tacit acknowledgement that the Hopman Cup was beloved and never should have been abandoned…or a rare instance of tennis cooperating and using common sense….some happy news from Australia. Stu Fraser broke the story that tennis is offering a “United Cup” before the Australian Open, a mixed event offering rankings points (and mixed doubles) to top WTA and ATP players. Speaking of Cups….
45. We all love the Laver Cup. It’s an undeniable force of good. It’s an elegant braiding of tennis’ past, present and future. (Full disclosure: I write an essay for the event every year.) It begins next week in London and we shall see if Roger Federer is fit to play (doubles?) or Nadal shows up. Meanwhile here are two points that stick out to me:
1) This current team division isn’t working. Of the current “World Team” members, John Isner, Taylor Fritz, Felix Auger Aliassime, Alex deMinaur were all out in week one in New York. It has been—get this—50 Majors since a non-European won a men’s Major. Pitting Europe against the world in tennis? It is like pitting India against the world in playing the sitar. (And if the great objective is to sell this as competition and not a soapy exhibition, does world captain John McEnroe ever survive five years without a win?) Perhaps putting the Russians on the World Team or adding women would help bring parity to the event.
2) The Laver Cup is wise to seek investment and partners. That’s what responsible and ambitious startups do. But how does the USTA—amid deep financial challenges, mind you— justify a six-million dollar investment in a for-profit event centered around one player? Leaving aside the soundness of the investment—does it really benefit U.S. tennis to sink seven figures into an event that brings the sport to the U.S. once every 104 weeks?—how does the conflict-of-interest meter not beep furiously here? In the NBA, teams and the league cannot contribute in excess of $25,000 to a player’s charity because of bad optics and appearances of currying favor. The USTA invests in a for-profit endeavor, tied inextricably to one player, with subjective team selections etc.? Bad look, as the kids say. And one can imagine a situation in which a player is not chosen for Laver Cup and it chills his affection for the USTA.
46. The McKinsey consulting crew would tell the USTA—and all of tennis—that the draw ceremonies are squandered opportunities. Draw reveals all sorts of intrigue. They’re relevant to fans. They yield storylines both before (who has the fortune/good fortune of drawing Serena?) and after (Kyrgios/Kokkinakis? Really)…What a pity that they are treated like throwaways.
47. Thanks for your assorted communication about the Tennis Channel pregame show. It was good fun, though a pity we could not be on-site. Genie Bouchard, deservedly, got high marks for her work in Week One before departing to play in Chennai. And Chanda Rubin closes like Alcaraz.
48. One issue with television: There’s no scoreboard discerning winners and losers. There’s little data. There’s little objectivity. It’s not simply that tastes vary. One thing—voice, tone, clothes, delivery, mannerisms—that may appeal to one viewer might repel another. As for assessing quality among tennis broadcasters, here’s one theory. Stick with me here: At its best, tennis teaches players self-sufficiency and curiosity and problem-solving. At its worst, it teaches narcissism. (Everything revolves around you. Everyone is a potential opponent. There are no teammates.) The best broadcasters encapsulate tennis’s virtues. Jim Courier and Lindsay Davenport and Darren Cahill, for example, are curious and innovative and operate in the present tense and serve the viewers. The broadcasters that struggle: those who encapsulate tennis narcissism, who cannot mediate a situation without referencing themselves or their careers; who use the broadcasts not in service of the fans and viewers, but as personal branding exercises.
49. The inaugural Tom Perrotta Prize was presented to Giri Nathan. The award, in memory of Tom Perrotta, recognizes excellence in tennis journalism to someone under 40. Tom’s family generously put together the prize, which is presented in association with ITWA, the ATP, WTA and ITF.
Thanks everyone for your various communiques. Always a pleasure geeking out on tennis with you guys.