Category Archives for "Live Reports"

2 Benoit Paire 2016 Citi Open Match vs Zverev

Benoit Happened? – Zverev Moves on to Citi Open Semis

By all accounts, Benoit Paire is a very engaging, fan-friendly tennis professional. The French world #24 has enjoyed taking pictures and speaking with the throngs of people that have flocked to the Citi Open this week. Paire even played tennis with a group of kids and offered them a meal at Five Guys if they could beat him (Paire won the super-tiebreaker, 10-8).

Paire’s relaxed demeanor before his matches is another unique aspect of the Frenchman. On Thursday night, 15 minutes before his match against Gilles Muller, my photographer Victor and I saw Paire sitting on a chair by the clay courts, cheering on and laughing at two stringers who were locked in a battle between two amateurs tennis players.

Since the players who are going to play soon generally warm-up for their matches in the players’ gym or wait in the locker room, we figured that we were either mistaken about Paire having a match that day, or that Paire had gotten a walk-over. But 15 minutes later, after we had taken our seats, Paire walked onto the court, and defeated Muller in 3 sets.

However, Friday night was a different story. Paire warmed up with his hitting partner a couple hours before the match, and there were some signs that he might not have a great performance.

Benoit Paire 2016 Citi Open Practice

Photo by Mehrban Iranshad

Paire and his partner struggled to maintain rallies past 4-5 shots when the Frenchman suggested they play out crosscourt baseline points. Still, Paire’s demeanor seemed positive as he sat down to chat before heading off the practice court.

But soon after Paire’s match began with Zverev, the Frenchman’s game fell off its tracks. Immediately after a first serve fault early in the first set, Paire struck the ball far out of the stadium, and surprisingly did not get a reprimand from the chair umpire.  The French #5 tried changing his racquets several times, but nothing seemed to help turn his game around.

The most disappointing thing about Paire’s match on Friday night is that it seemed to most observers that he was not trying his hardest to win the match.  In fact, that last sentence may be a grave understatement. Despite his popularity with the fans, a chorus of boos eventually enveloped the stadium because of Paire’s poor effort level and focus in the first set.

Tennis is a very demanding sport, and who knows what else could have been going on mentally or physically with Paire Friday night. Regardless, Paire did not seem like he was trying to win in the first set. He missed several routine volleys and his effort level and footwork dipped dramatically from his previous matches in DC.  By all accounts, he tried harder in the second set, but to no avail.  His performance was nothing you would expect from the world #24.

After both players left the court, Zverev spoke with the media, and we asked the German questions about the match, including Paire’s lackluster performance.

When asked about Paire’s sub-par effort level, Zverev opined that the Frenchman’s previous three-set night match might have affected his play.

Alexander Zverev Citi Open

Photo by Mehrban Iranshad

“He had a long match yesterday, maybe he was a bit tired, a bit sloppy in the beginning. But it was a shorter match then I expected.”

Despite being only 19, Zverev is experienced enough to know that he could not relax until the match was over.  Especially with a player as talented as Paire.

“He’s the kind of guy that can mentally check out, then two games later be playing really well again. So you have to always be there. You can’t really think that, okay he’s gone, now I can relax. You always have to be there with him.”

If Paire can develop the discipline to focus on every point and improve his concentration, the talented Frenchman will see better results and a higher ranking in the years ahead. The mental game is the most important aspect of tennis, and a full-effort every single point attitude is the only way to reach the highest echelons in the game.

Baghdatis Irked by Citi Open Scheduling in Loss to Isner

Cypriot Marcos Baghdatis dropped a 7-6(3) 6-2 decision to top-seed John Isner on Thursday at the 2016 Citi Open. After a tight first set that went to a tiebreak, Baghdatis fell behind early in the second frame and could not recover.

“It didn’t go the way I wanted. He served very well, he returned 2 great shots in the tiebreak and won the first set. I think I was very solid and he just played better than me in the tiebreak.”

However, Baghdatis’s form noticeably dropped in the second set, and the Cypriot’s serve was broken multiple times as a result.

“There was a small slip of concentration on my side in the second set. He broke me again and it was tough to come back.”

Baghdatis was not particularly pleased with the scheduling of his matches. After receiving a first round bye, the world #41 and 15-seed played his first match at Rock Creek Park Tennis Center on Wednesday night. He then had to come back for his third round contest against Isner the following afternoon.

“I don’t think it affected me physically. It’s just completely different conditions playing in the day and the night. I think the ATP and everybody who is doing the scheduling can do a better job. I don’t agree with the scheduling this week but that’s the way it is. I tried my best and unfortunately I am going home.”

But the difference between night and day matches wasn’t the only thing that affected Baghdatis’s game. The former number one was troubled by the big-serving Isner and is still winless against the top-ranked American.

John Isner Controlled Aggression Citi Open 2015

Photo by Mehrban Iranshad

“Against John, you don’t have any rhythm. You feel under pressure all the time and I knew that. He is a tough opponent to beat and I have never beat him before so it is a really tough one for me. But that’s the way it is.”

Despite the loss, Baghdatis is pleased with his physical condition in his 13th year on the tour. The Cypriot has battled multiple injuries during his career, and is ready to make a push back into the top-10.

“When you are out of injuries you can work more consistently, and like you said, you can have a chance of working throughout the year that makes you fitter for sure.”

“At one point in my career I had so many injuries. Every morning I woke up I had some pains, and I had some health issues with my blood. I’m getting better and feeling better much better on the court. I’m more happy and I’m doing a good job coming back.”

2016 Citi Open Day 3: Interviews with the Pros

At the 2016 Citi Open on Wednesday, I conducted a personal best 5 one-on-one interviews. My friend Victor and I hustled, constantly checking scores, and waited by the “Mixed Zone” stage for the players to appear after their matches.  While I didn’t get to watch much of the matches, I really enjoy asking questions and picking the brains of the best professional tennis players in the world.

For those who don’t know how I am able to get these interviews, it is pretty simple: for the ATP players, I have to submit a request via email to an ATP rep.  On the WTA side, I have to fill out a sheet with some basic information about myself and the player and submit it to the media desk.

Then, the ATP/WTA rep lets the players know after their match that they have an interview request.  The rep will lead the players to the area where interviews are conducted. Special thanks to Josh and Edward (the ATP reps) and the WTA reps for all their help!

If there are too many requests for a particular player, or the player is very highly ranked, Sheena, Molly, Cindy, and all the other awesome people at the media tent (shout out to Link Strategic Partners) will coordinate a press conference with the ATP/WTA reps for that particular player.

There have only been a couple times where I haven’t been able to get an interview that I have requested or a press conference. Obviously, targeting lesser-well known players yields a higher success rate. And requesting a player win-or-lose can be risky since the player who loses may not want to be interviewed. But most of the time, the player is gracious enough to grant the request anyway.

I have had a lot of fun interviewing the pros so far, and since I had a bunch of interviews yesterday, I figured I’d compile them into a post.  Let me know if you have any other questions or suggestions about my interviews. Enjoy!

If you have any comments or suggestions, write them in the comment box below!

TFP 025: 2016 Citi Open - Day 2 Analysis with Mulumba from Tennis Column

TFP 025: 2016 Citi Open – Day 2 Analysis with Mulumba from Tennis Column

On this episode, I spoke with Mulumba from Tennis Column about the action at the 2016 Citi Open up to the 2nd day of the main draw (Tuesday). I met Mulumba last year in the Citi Open media tent. It was the first time both of us reported on the event, and I was extremely impressed by Mulumba’s knowledge of the players on the ATP and WTA tour. Fast-forward to 2016: I knew Mulumba would be the perfect person to talk to about the matches at the Citi Open.

I asked Mulumba about his thoughts on the performances of several players in the tournament so far.  You’ll hear everything from interesting backstories on players, to technical critiques, and our picks for who will win the Citi Open this year.  I plan on connecting with Mulumba again for another episode during the tournament.

On this episode, you will learn:

  • The results from the Citi Open from qualifying up until Tuesday night’s action
  • The best and worst performances from the players at the Citi Open
  • A technical analysis of several player’s strokes from the tournament
  • Why Mulumba thinks the window of opportunity is closing on several players
  • Why Berdych gets an unfair rap from the tennis community
  • Insider exclusives from the Citi Open press conferences and interviews
  • Which players I interviewed at the Citi Open

and more.

Many thanks to Mulumba, who spoke to me until well past midnight after a long day at the Citi Open!

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Links Mentioned in This Episode

Tennis Column

Tomas Berdych Press Conference

Mulumba’s 2016 Citi Open Draw Preview

Mulumba’s piece about John Henry

Return of the Mesomorph

My interviews and Press Conferences at the Citi Open

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James Duckworth Forehand Citi Open

James Duckworth’s Big Game Impresses at the Citi Open

By Monday, James Duckworth had already recorded his third victory at the 2016 Citi Open. The Australian pro imposed his huge serve and aggressive game over #120-ranked American Tim Smyzcek in the first round of the main draw, winning 7-5 6-1.  The Sydney-born pro pushed Kei Nishikori to three sets here last year, and spoke about how much he favors the conditions in DC.

“I love this tournament.  It is fast and bouncy, and I’m able to use my serve. There aren’t many better tournaments condition-wise out there for me.”

Duckworth had been steadily climbing the rankings over the past several years, and almost reached the top 100 before an elbow injury towards the end of this past January kept him out of competition for a little over three months. Now the #205-ranked Aussie is ready to restart his progression up the ATP ranks. He intends to get back to the basics and impose his aggressive style of play on his opponents.

The Aussie continues to keep in close contact with one of the greatest Australian tennis pros of all time, former world number one Lleyton Hewitt:

“I speak to Lleyton quite a bit. He has a house in Sydney. I go there quite a bit in the off season and I speak to him all the time and he’s been a great role model. He helps me a lot.”

Duckworth’s big serve and aggressive game carried him to his third victory of the tournament (after two wins in the qualifying draw) over Smyzcek. The Australian regularly boomed serves in the 130mph range and troubled the American with his aggressive style of play.

James Duckworth Serve - CIti Open

Photo by Victor Ng

“It was a tough match, tough first set. Tim’s a really solid player and moves well and doesn’t give you many free points. I had to serve well, I had to play aggressive, and really take it to him. And I’m pretty happy with the way I did that.”

A break in the final game of the set permanently shifted the momentum for Duckworth:

“I made him come up with a passing shot. I hit a good backhand approach and he couldn’t get there. It was a pretty key moment and that swayed the match a little bit.”

Duckworth’s next opponent, John Isner, will present the Australian with a different stylistic challenge.  One which Duckworth is ready to embrace by continuing to trouble his opponents with his big game.

“Ive never played John. He is a great player and has one of the best serves. I’m going to have to take care of my serve first and foremost, and that will put pressure on his serve. Then I’ll try to get as many return games as possible.”

For Alla Kudryavtseva, There’s No Better Place Than Center Court

There are few more enjoyable things in life for Alla Kudryavtseva than playing elite opponents on the biggest stages.  By virtue of winning her second qualifying match on Sunday, Kudryavtseva got her wish, earning the right to play the top seed, Samantha Stosur, on center court at the 2016 Citi Open.

The heat in Washington D.C. has been brutal to the players thus far, and Kudryavtseva was one of many who nearly wilted in its wrath. The Russian, once ranked as high as #56 in the world in 2010, edged out her first round opponent, American Danielle Lao, in three sets on Saturday.

In the second set, Kudryavtseva’s mobility took a dive because of the heat, and to many fans, it seemed like she was on her way out of the tournament. But Kudryavtseva summoned her experience as a former top 100 player to race to an insurmountable 5-0 lead in the third set against Lao, before closing out the match, 7-5, 3-6, 6-3.

“The conditions here are tough. It’s really really tough. It got the best of me in the first match.”

On Sunday, the Moscow-born tennis pro won a more straightforward match against Shilin Xu of China, 6-3, 6-4, for a birth in the Citi Open main draw.

But perhaps equally as stressful as her first two matches in DC, was the fact that Kudryavtseva lost her cell phone this weekend.  Fortunately, thanks to the good karma that the Russian has been accruing over the years, she was reunited with her phone after a few hours.

“I tend to lose things often. But I think I have good karma, and I never take what belongs to others. So it tends to come back to me. The lost wallets, the lost credits cards, the lost IDs. I lost my phone in the gym. I was confident that I left it in my bag. I harassed the stringers but they didn’t have it. Then I went to player services to ask for tickets for my friends and there it was, in its red case.”

Kudryavtseva may have lost her cell phone, but she knows that she needs to call upon a great performance to avoid a loss against Stosur.

“I’ve never played Stosur before [in singles]. I will definitely have to come up with some good returns. She has some amazing serves. She is obviously very good on hard courts and I don’t expect an easy match. I hope to give her a good battle, let’s be honest. But I am optimistic.”

The Russian pro, now ranked 165 on the WTA tour, had a taste of the big stage at Wimbledon. Kudryavtseva and fellow World Team Tennis teammate Scott Lipsky reached the quarterfinals of the mixed doubles draw at the All-England Club.

“We thought it would be fun to play Wimbledon with Scott Lipsky in preparation for World Team Tennis. We had a couple good wins. It gave me a little bit of confidence. We lost to the eventual champions.”

But Kudryavtseva’s main goal is a top-60 ranking and playing bigger matches on more center stages.

“I like to play on big courts against good players, and it’s been a while since I was there for singles. So I am going to just go in there and enjoy it. I look forward to it.”

Kudryavtseva is planning on returning to her form in 2010 and continuing to strive for big matches against the top women in tennis.

“I had a bad spell for a couple of years. I need to stay positive, work hard, and believe in myself. And I need to play more singles tournaments. I have incorporated more challengers this year. I had a really good run in Strasbourg, and I beat a couple top 100 players, including Alize Cornet.”

Kudryavtseva is going into her match on Monday afternoon against Stosur with the type of attitude that is essential to surviving and thriving on the tour.

“As long as I keep positive, I think I can turn it around and get back to where I want to be.”

Mackenzie McDonald Citi Open 2016

Mackenzie McDonald – From NCAA Champion to the Pro Tour

Mackenzie “Mackie” McDonald, the reigning NCAA singles and doubles champion, came tantalizingly close to defeating Alejandro Falla in the first round of qualifying at the Citi Open on Saturday. Falla, 11-years McDonald’s senior and ranked 235 in the world, squeaked by the talented Californian to set up a match against French player Vincent Millot for a spot in the main draw.

A month and a half ago, McDonald achieved what hadn’t been done in 15 years at the 2016 NCAA Division I Tennis Championships.  He blistered through the top seed in the singles final and teamed up with fellow-Bruin Martin Redlicki to win the doubles championship later that day. A couple weeks after completing his Junior year, McDonald turned pro, signing with Octagon and committing full-time to the tour.

The 21-year old former UCLA Bruin and world #419 fell 6-3 3-6 7-6 (4) to the 9th-seeded Colombian in sweltering conditions at the Rock Creek Tennis Center in Washington DC. McDonald used his improved serve to climb out of multiple deficits in his service games deep in the third set, and managed to break the Colombian for an opportunity to close out the match at 6-5.  However, Falla broke back, forcing a tiebreaker, and he rode the momentum to a big lead that McDonald could not recover from.

I spoke with McDonald after the match.  Despite the loss, he will take a lot of positives away from pushing a 16-year veteran of the ATP tour, ranked nearly 200 spots higher than the 1st-year pro, to the limit.

“It was a tough match today. I’m just trying to build my game, play aggressive, return big, and I think I executed my game plan pretty well today.”

McDonald reflected on what he needs to do to take his game to the next level:

“I’ve been working in the practices on going for more on my first and second serves. I need to serve a little bigger to play at this level.  There were a lot of good things I did today. Unfortunately I did lose but I definitely see some improvement as each match is progressing.”

At this rate, it won’t be long before we see the 5’10” McDonald recording wins over top 100 players. McDonald’s deft touch at net, agility, and lethal groundstrokes are already posing big problems for his opponents in his maiden year on the tour.

Mackenzie McDonald Citi Open 2016 Forehand

Photo by Victor Ng

As for differences between college tennis and the pros, McDonald cited the bigger stages, especially being on center court in the premier ATP-tour level tournaments.

But he won’t be a stranger to the big stage for long: McDonald earned a direct entry to the main draw of the U.S. Open by virtue of his NCAA triumph.

As for what’s next for McDonald, he plans on playing the Lexington Challenger, Aptos Challenger, and the Cincinnati Masters to prepare him for the last Grand Slam of the year.

There’s no question that after one of the most successful college tennis seasons of all-time, McDonald is ready to take the leap to the pro tour and face off against the best players in the world.

“It’s always a tough decision when you make one of these life decisions. After thinking about it for a while, there wasn’t a better time for me.  I’m ready to be here.”

9 UMBC Tennis 2016

Why UMBC Tennis Will Live on Forever

Today I attended an event that I wish never had to happen: the final home match of my college tennis program’s existence. And while I can sit here and rehash why the reasons laid out in this terribly written letter make no sense, I want to take this opportunity to let you know how proud I am of UMBC Tennis and what it stands for.

The very essence of being a UMBC (University of Maryland, Baltimore County) Retriever is true grit.  True Grit is the name of our mascot, after all. If you google the word grit, you will see that it is defined as “courage and resolve; the strength of character.”  No team epitomizes grit more than UMBC Tennis. In addition to finding out that the program would be eliminated after this year, our tennis teams had to endure the passing of our former assistant coach Bobby Hoffman, and volunteer assistant coach Sol Schwartz.

Despite these setbacks, UMBC Tennis came together as a family, and faced the season with courage and resolve to perform to the best of its capabilities. Not only does UMBC Tennis have some serious game, but our tennis teams have the highest GPA of all other sports teams at UMBC.

More than just being great tennis players and high performers in the classroom, I observed the players during the match and chatted with a couple of them. The players at UMBC are some of the friendliest and supportive college tennis players that I have ever seen.  To see players like Junior Biyik Akinshemoyin passionately cheer on his teammates, and observe Senior Justin Carter, a monster of a tennis player, speak with nothing but kindness and respect, made me proud to be a Retriever.

As I listened to the players talk about how tough of a year it has been, and how the team bonded together as a family, I knew that this was the perfect group of student-athletes to represent UMBC Tennis as it closes this chapter of the program. To hear funny stories about French accents, players innocently forgetting their ID before flights, and coach Rob Hubbard and assistant coach Oliver Steil praise their team for its resolve, reminded me of the good old days when I played college tennis at UMBC under Navy Women’s coach Keith Puryear.

The senior gifts were especially thoughtful, often-times hilarious, and reflected the unique personalities of each player that their teammates learned from the invaluable friendships forged during their years in the program.  The gifts included shoes, a sleep mask, and an abundance of muscle milk.  Pretty impressive if you ask me.

The match started at 1pm, and by the time the last Retriever had spoken on Senior Day, after a convincing victory for both teams, it was nearly 6:30.  I slowly walked away from the tennis courts for the last time, but stopped twice to turn around and look at the UMBC Tennis banner, realizing that I’d never have the pleasure of doing so after a UMBC tennis match again.

When I got in my car, I looked at my gold ring that we received for winning the America East Conference tournament and making the NCAA tournament in 2007, and thought about how happy it would make me if UMBC Tennis ended the program with another championship this season.  But I know they will leave everything out on the court, because that is what UMBC Tennis is all about, and that’s the only thing that really matters at the end of the day.

UMBC Tennis will live on forever because of all the amazing people who have been a part of the program. I will always be proud to wear my UMBC tennis gear, and if anyone notices where I went to school and asks me how the team is doing, I will tell them, we are all doing fantastic. I know, because everyone I’ve met who has been a part of the program is successful. And that is a testament to the true grit, the courage and resolve, the strength of character that every one of us developed during our time playing tennis for UMBC.

If anyone ever wondered about the newest generation of the UMBC Tennis family, all you had to do was hear each of the players speak about their admiration and respect for their teammates and our program. The men and women of UMBC Tennis made me extremely proud today, as they always have.

College tennis is not just about the wins and losses, or how much money we may or may not be making for our universities. It is a tool to develop the character of young men and women, to test their resolve, their ability to balance sports and academics, and to teach them the principles of preparation, respect, communication, and teamwork. College tennis is invaluable because it produces successful young men and women who will contribute much more to the world than they would have without the training and discipline learned through the rigors of being on a college tennis team.

The tennis community must understand the true value of college tennis and how disbanding teams robs us of the chance to develop countless groups of fine young men and women who will make our society better.  And we must do everything we can to save college tennis, because our kids and our world deserves better.

As much as it hurts to see the last home match I’ll ever be a part of at UMBC, the saving grace is to know that our tennis program has produced so many wonderful human beings who have and will go on to do great things in their lives.  While I may never see another UMBC Tennis match again, I take solace in knowing that the lasting memories, and the impact that UMBC Tennis has had on our lives, will live with us forever.

1 2015 US Open Trip Report

US Open Trip Report: Tips and Match Recaps

I visited the US Open this past Sunday, September 6. Below I discuss different aspects of my US Open experience: tickets, transportation, food, organization, and the matches.

I hope you enjoy my US Open trip report and pick up a few tips along the way.

US Open Tickets

I opted for the grounds pass for a number of reasons:

  1. Cheaper than Arthur Ashe or Louis Armstrong reserved tickets.
  2. Can get up-front seats everywhere but Arthur Ashe stadium.
  3. I wanted to watch two of my friends play on the outer courts.

There are three ticket options at the US Open, which makes things slightly confusing for the fans.

First, you can purchase an Arthur Ashe reserved ticket, which gets you a reserved seat in Arthur Ashe stadium, access to Louis Armstrong (non-reserved seating), Grandstand stadium, and all outer courts. 

Second, you may opt for a Louis Armstrong reserved ticket, which gets you a reserved (better) seat in Louis Armstrong stadium, access to Grandstand stadium and all outer courts, but no access to Arthur Ashe stadium. The Louis Armstrong pass is only available for the first 9 days of the tournament.

Finally, you can purchase a grounds pass. This is the cheapest option, and allows you access to non-reserved seating in Louis Armstrong stadium, the Grandstand stadium, and all outer courts, but no access to Arthur Ashe stadium. The grounds pass is only sold for the first 8 days of the tournament.

Especially in the early rounds, there are so many good matches going on at the same time, that unless you really want to watch a particular match in Arthur Ashe, you can usually save a decent chunk of cash by purchasing a grounds pass. Regardless, do your research on ticket prices: if you can find an Arthur Ashe or Louis Armstrong reserved ticket for close to the price of a grounds pass, then get one of those instead.  Of course, if you are a baller, buy whatever ticket you want. 

I like Louis Armstrong stadium because it is much smaller than Arthur Ashe, which means people with grounds passes don’t need binoculars to enjoy the matches. However, Louis Armstrong can take a bit of time to get into, as I discuss below.

One final thought on tickets: purchase them early! If you wait too long, the box office will sell out of tickets, and ticket prices on websites like Stubhub and Vividseats will continue to rise (they rarely go down).

Organization

Overall, the US Open is run pretty well, but there is room for improvement.

The most noticeable issue is the long line to enter Louis Armstrong stadium for Arthur Ashe and ground pass ticket holders. Those who don’t have a reserved Louis Armstrong seat can only enter the stadium through Gate E. For example, the line for Tsonga-Paire was very long on Sunday, and it was even longer for Lopez-Fognini (the line reached the fountain in front of Arthur Ashe stadium). By contrast, those with reserved seats could enter the stadium through a separate gate.

I think that multiple gates should be utilized to enter Louis Armstrong.  The US Open should implement a secondary line at each entrance for the far fewer individuals with a reserved Louis Armstrong seat. While I do not know the exact mechanics and access points of the stadium, I do think this is one area that hinders fans’ experience. Some people waited 20-30 minutes in line and entered just as the Lopez-Fognini match on Louis Armstrong ended, which must have been frustrating.  If there is a match you really want to watch at Louis Armstrong, either camp out early at the stadium, or purchase a Louis Armstrong reserved ticket.

It was also a pain to watch the elite players practice. They hit on the courts numbered P1 through P5. If you can’t snag one of the few rows set up to watch the practice courts above, then it is extremely hard to watch the more popular players. Additionally, the fence behind the practice courts were covered with a tinted and barely transparent material which makes it even more difficult to watch the players (peering through a tennis court fence is soul-crushing enough by itself).

I am not sure if this is meant to give the players less visibility of the crowd so they can concentrate, but I found this setup to be irritating. For example, on Sunday the rows above P1 were completely filled and the crowd behind the court was several people deep, so it was extremely difficult to see Djokovic practice. There is a schedule of player practices on a monitor near the courts, so once again, if there is a player you want to watch, find out when they will be there and get to the practice courts early.

Transportation

It was pretty easy to get to the U.S. Open. My girlfriend and I were staying in the New Brunswick area of New Jersey, so we hopped on the NJ Transit Train to Penn Station, and took the Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) to the Mets-Willets Point station (towards Port Washington). Once you exit the station, it’s just a short stroll down the walkway to the entrance of the US Open. Door to door it took us about 1.5 hours to get from New Brunswick to Flushing.  Another option which is cheaper but a bit more inconvenient, is to take the 7 Subway down to Mets-Willets station instead of the LIRR. The subway is a bit of a walk from Penn Station, so we opted for the LIRR. Be sure to ask for the right track number: there are over 20 of them at Penn Station.

Food

The quality and variety of eating options at the US Open are definitely solid. The food village was a conglomeration of about 15 different food choices, from Prime Burger and Carnegie Deli to Hill Country Barbeque. I have eaten Hill Country Barbeque in DC and I can confirm that the food, at least in DC, is delicious.

We ate at the Heineken Red Star Café, located on the floor above the US Open Collection store. While the prices were a tad on the expensive side (expected at a sports event), the food was delicioius. I enjoyed a sweet onion burger with blue cheese for about $18 and my girlfriend bought a pulled bbq chicken sandwich for around $17. The cool thing about this Café is that the top floor overlooks courts 4, 5 and 6.

I also tried the signature US Open alcoholic drink called the “Honey Deuce.” It has Grey Goose Vodka, melons, and some other tasty ingredients that I could not identify (probably not a good sign). While I am not a big vodka fan, this drink was refreshing and delicious. I definitely recommend it!

There are other fancy restaurants like the Mojito Restaurant and the Oyster Bar, neither of which I have tried yet. However, my girlfriend said that the food and setup at the Mojito Restaurant looked great, so we will probably try it out next time.

Matches

I was fortunate to watch two of my friends, Treat Huey and Adil Shamasdin, play at the U.S. Open on Sunday. I also got to see Feliciano Lopez play Fabio Fognini, and a future star in female junior Usue Arconada.

Treat Huey

Treat Huey (14235710330)The first match we saw featured doubles specialist Treat Huey. Treat and I played many of the same juniors tournaments, and I can always say I won 5 games off a US Open quarterfinalist (Doubles – 2013). He beat me 6-3 6-2 in a sectional championship tournament when we were both 15 years old.

Treat (Philippines) and partner Colin Fleming (Great Britain) lost a very competitive 3-set doubles match to Leonardo Mayer (Argentina) and Joao Sousa (Portugal), 6-4, 3-6, 6-3.

When I first started watching, Mayer and Sousa had firm control of the match, closing out the first set by breaking Huey/Fleming and gaining break points early in the second. Treat and Colin managed to stay even with the South Americans, toughing out a couple close service holds. Treat and Colin then seized the momentum and played a fantastic second set. Treat did not have much trouble holding serve for the last set and a half. He has a fantastic lefty-serve, which he can place anywhere in the service box with exceptional control and power.

Treat’s father told my dad many years ago that he sent Treat to the tennis court everyday with a bucket of balls to practice his serve. That move paid dividends, because the serve is the most important part of the game, especially in doubles.

The momentum shifted for the final time in the third set: Mayer/Sousa broke Colin’s serve and did not look back. Other than the British player’s trouble holding serve, I think Colin and Treat played a great match. It was nice to see Treat’s mom after the match and chat with her about the good old days and Treat’s success. It’s always good to see a fellow half-Filipino excelling in the world 🙂

Adil Shamasdin

Shamasdin WMQ14 (17) (14626920183)

I met Adil through his brother, Irfan, who was my teammate in college for three years. 

One year when we were at Yale, there was an Ivy-league match taking place at the same time as our conference tournament. Irfan pointed out a player with cat-like reflexes, who was extremely quick and had pro-level hands at net. This player turned out to be Irfan’s brother, Adil, who played for Brown University, graduating in 2005.

The Canadian had a solid 2015 US Open, reaching the third round with partner Philipp Oswald (Austria) before falling 6-4 6-4 to 2015 Wimbledon doubles finalists Jamie Murray (Great Britain) and John Peers (Australia).

Adil and Philipp played pretty well and put up a good showing against Murray/Peers. The match, like most highly competitive contests, hinged on a couple key points which went in favor of the English/Aussie duo.

I spoke to Adil after the match. He was in good spirits and reflected on his best showing in a grand slam thus far.

“They had a better system than we did. We knew what we needed to do but it was more on an individual basis. I wasn’t serving as well as I had been the first two rounds. They were a tough team.”

When I asked Adil what he would focus on in practice after the US Open he told me it would be his return game. The return is one of the most crucial aspects of doubles, and I’m confident that it will help him keep grinding up the ATP tour rankings. I congratulated Adil and his family, and continued roaming the grounds for more tennis.

Feliciano Lopez and Fabio Fognini

After waiting in line for about 20 minutes to get into Louis Armstrong stadium, we witnessed the end of the second set and the 18th-seeded Lopez dominate the third.  Fognini put up a decent fight to get the match to the tiebreak, but he looked nowhere near the same form as in the Nadal match earlier in the week. Lopez won the tiebreaker 7-5, and then Fognini took a medical timeout.

The 32-seeded Italian continued to have trouble with Lopez’s serve and volley attack and the third set was a bit of a letdown (except for the screaming Lopez fan behind us who apparently likes quick tennis matches). Lopez won the match 6-3 7-6(5) 6-1.  

Usue Arconada

I also saw a great talent in 16-year old Usue Arconada (USA). The eighth seed is very agile, aggressive, and made quick work of fellow junior Valeriya Zeleva. What impressed me was her composure and ability to hold her ground against deep hard shots from the Russian.

Final Thoughts

The US Open is a great place to watch an endless amount of world class tennis matches. Just make sure to buy your tickets early, and be strategic about getting into Louis Armstrong for big matches if you do not have a reserved ticket for that stadium. It can get crowded at times, but you would expect that at one of the biggest tournaments in tennis. 

If you have any questions or comments about my US Open Trip Report, let me know by writing in the comment box below!

Thanks for reading, and enjoy the rest of the US Open.

Kei Nishikori Wins 2015 Citi Open Title

Nishikori Wins Citi Open Title – Edges Isner in Three Sets

Washington DC (Tennisfiles) – Kei Nishikori, the first player from Japan to reach a Citi Open final, defeated American John Isner 4-6 6-4 6-4. Playing in his third three-set match of the tournament, Nishikori’s agility and superior ground game was the difference against the powerful American. The Japanese superstar won his 3rd title of the year and 10th of his career in 20 finals.

Isner looked to shorten points with quick serve-groundstroke combinations against the speedy Nishikori. At one-all 40-15, Isner held with a slice serve out wide which he followed up with a forehand winner to the opposite corner.

The American pushed Nishikori’s serve at 2-1, nearly breaking Japan’s number one player. Serving at 30-40, Nishikori saved the break point and won the game after twice forcing errors from Isner by stretching him wide to the forehand.

Nishikori earned a break point of his own in the following game with a short-angled crosscourt backhand winner, but did not convert the opportunity. The second-seed could not control Isner’s kick serve to the backhand, but the American missed a sitting forehand volley into the net on the next point. Despite the error, Isner closed out his service game with three unreturnable serves, including a 132mph heater down the T.

John Isner 2015 Citi Open Serve

John Isner 2015 Citi Open Serve

With Nishikori serving at 4-5, Isner broke the world’s #5 player with a pair of clutch returns. The American hit an inside-out forehand winner off a second serve, and followed it by cracking a forehand winner down the line off a Nishikori first-serve out wide to take the first set 6-4.

Nishikori responded quickly, breaking Isner in the first game of the second set to seize the momentum. The Japanese star cracked a crosscourt forehand winner and a return that Isner hit into the net for 0-30. Isner battled back to 30-all with soft hands on a half-volley drop shot winner and an unreturnable serve. An extended rally resulted in an Isner backhand error for break point, but the American leveled the game with another ace down the T.

At deuce, Nishikori whacked a forehand return to Isner’s feet, and this time Isner could not handle the half-volley. Isner hit an unreturnable serve, but Nishikori successfully challenged the call, forcing a second serve from Isner.

Nishikori’s challenge proved fruitful: on perhaps the most pivotal point of the match, Nishikori broke serve when Isner barely missed an inside forehand just long. Isner unsuccessfully challenged the call.

Nishikori consolidated the break to go up 2-0, sealing the game with pinpoint groundstrokes and sneak attacks into the net to finish points. Isner held the following game.

At 1-2, 15-30, Nishikori hit a kick serve that Isner misfired outside the lines. The eighth seed then missed a backhand and running forehand to give Nishikori the game.

Serving for the set, Nishikori struck an 88mph second serve ace out wide. At 30-0, Nishikori double faulted and hit a backhand wide to let Isner back in the game. However, Isner faltered, missing a down the line forehand into the net to give the Japanese megastar set point.

Isner jumped on Nishikori’s second serve, cracking a backhand crosscourt that Nishikori could not put back in the court. Nishikori worked the ball into Isner’s backhand corner on the next point and approached the net for an easy volley. Nishikori sealed the set with a forehand that Isner hit wide on a full stretch.

Kei Nishikori Citi Open Final Forehand

Kei Nishikori Citi Open Final Forehand

Nishikori began his service campaign to perfection in the deciding set. At 30-all 0-1, Nishikori hit a beautiful slice serve, backhand winner combination, and clinched the game off an Isner backhand error.

Nishikori broke Isner at 1-1 and Isner never saw the lead again. In the third game, Nishikori showed amazing balance by controlling a backhand down the line winner off a powerful Isner approach shot. Isner responded with an ace out wide for 15-15. Isner then hits a slice just long for 15-30. Nishikori worked the game to 30-40, and then broke Isner when the American cracked a forehand into the net.

Nishikori continued his dominance from the baseline, hitting winners from both wings, and forced Isner to attempt difficult shots from uncomfortable positions on the court to hold for 5-3. Isner then held at love to force Nishikori to serve out the match.

Nishikori hit a down the line backhand which the replay showed barely scraped the baseline for a winner. Isner then struck an unreturnable backhand that was challenged successfully by Nishikori to get to triple-match point. Nishikori hit blistering groundstrokes to the corners, approaching the net for a backhand volley winner off Isner’s outstretched floating forehand passing shot to end the match. With that, the Japanese ace won his 86th and final point of the contest and the 2015 Citi Open championship title.

Nishikori Isner Shake Hands Citi Open

Nishikori Isner Shake Hands Citi Open

Isner was gracious in defeat, telling the media: “He’s arguably the best in the world on the baseline.  He is a great player and a great champion. He’s blessed with a lot of talent when it comes to that but he also works his tail off too. If you combine those things, its a recipe for some good tennis.”

Nishikori reflected on his play: “I tried to be a little more aggressive than before. In Miami I was just playing the ball and waiting for his mistakes.  I think it was a great match for the two of us.”

With the win, the Japanese tennis pro moves up one spot to #4 in the world rankings.

Earlier, the Bryan brothers defeated 2015 French Open champions Ivan Dodig of Croatia and Brazilian Marcelo Melo 6-4 6-2. The Americans avenged their loss to Dodig/Melo on the red clay with stellar returning and dominating net presence. Dodig/Melo were broken early in the first set and twice in the second.

After the match, Dodig and Melo spoke with Mehrban from Tennisfiles about their performance and career plans after the pro tour:

 

American Sloane Stephens won her first title, defeating Russian Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova 6-1 6-2. She described her feelings about her first WTA tour title, saying: “It was just nice that all the hard work and everything that I put into it, now I can say that I have a tournament title. Everything happens when its supposed to happen. It’s something I’ll always have to look back on. I’m really happy that I did it here because this is one of my favorite places to play and the support here is always unbelievable so I’m really pleased with that.”