Last year I chose to skip the US Open tennis qualifying, which I enjoy quite a bit, in order to go to Eurocon and see Dublin after the 2014 World Science Fiction Convention. It was nice to be back after a year's absence.
Some changes since two years ago. It's the first time since the JABberwocky offices moved to Manhattan, so popping into the office for a few minutes now meant walking into Manhattan, visiting for a few minutes from 9-10am, and then taking the subway out to the tennis. The mileage isn't much different, adding up the walk to the office, to the subway, and from the subway to the tennis, than if I just walked to the tennis, but it felt like I was walking way less.
It's also the first time I got to see the qualifying with use of the new improved Courts 4/5/6 that opened last year, all of which offer excellent elevated seating on both ends. Court 5 has a little shade in front of the TV booth, though it wasn't hot enough this year for shade options to dictate my court choices.
And it's the first year I went to qualifying since they "enhanced" the security measures. Because a bag check of a small bag wasn't enough. Starting the first day with a bag check, a metal detector and a wanding wasn't enjoyable. I adjusted a little the next days by using a small bag to put everything from my pockets into the large bag. But on the whole, I'd rather have fewer guns and fewer metal detectors in the US than more of each. And come Monday, with the arrival of 25,000 people for the main event, the line to get in and go through the security screening will itself be a soft target.
Finally, the older I get the slower my metabolism, the less my appetite. I used to pack a lunch and then eat a full dinner after, and get an ice cream bar, and the Lemon Ice King and etc. etc. Now I have to lighten the sweets load and have a lighter lunch in order to have a full dinner. And I still feel like I'm overeating. Of course, I also need to hydrate. The weather topped out at 90 degrees on Tuesday, warmer than predicted, and I had to refill my two water bottles often. The other days, put in my 40oz at the start of the day and didn't need to visit the water fountains much afterward.
The first round of the qualifying is often not very scintillating. A lot of bad players, a lot of one-sided matches or dull matches. And this year, Tuesday was pretty bad even by the standards of bad first round matches. In fact, looking over the results the only thing to come of the day was noticing Elias Ymer, a 19-year old from Sweden, on Court 5, while I was watching a match on Court 6, who looked better than what I was watching.
Wednesday's schedule was a feast of riches. Alexander Zverev, who had some good results over the summer right after the deadline for automatic entry into the Open, was playing. Veteran players like Jurgen Melzer and Nicolas Almagro were on the schedule. I started the day watching a young Japanese player Yoshihito Nishioka playing Indonesia's Yuki Bhambri. Good match. Marked Nishioka as a player to watch.
That match was chosen because it was the #23 seed I'd never heard of vs. another player I'd never heard of, which is often my way of choosing first round matches. But for my next, I did opt to watch Nicolas Almagro, who's been in the top 10, playing Igor Sijsling, who's been in the top 55. Almagro won, but not too easily. The match went into a first set tie-break. But history aside, Almagro, who just turned 30 a week ago, didn't look like a slam dunk to beat the best qualifiers.
I stayed on Court 6 for the next match, which featured a Russian veteran, Alexander Kudryavtsev, against a 19-year old Chilean, Nicolas Jarry. The match was a demolition derby; Kudryavtsev won the first set in just 18 minutes, which might be the fastest set of men's tennis I've ever seen, and the second 6-4 set was just 34 minutes. But even though Jarry lost, it didn't seem to be a skill issue. Rather, Jarry was just spraying shots all over the place, seeming 100% overwhelmed by the moment even though he's done qualifying for the last two grand slams. If he could get his head in the game... Tuesday I could barely bare to watch the winners. Wednesday even the losers were interesting.
Alexander Zverev, the 18-year old German, is a major up-and-comer. In 2015, he's won matches in around 10 ATP tour events, reaching the quarter-finals at DC's Citi Open, the semis at the Swedish Open, and the quarters in Marseilles and the round of 64 in Miami, the last two even before his 18th birthday. How all that didn't collect points enough for him to be in the automatic entry for the US Open, I don't know, but seeing his name in the qualifying draw reminded me of ten years ago, when Andy Murray had a break-through summer a little too late to avoid US Open qualifying.
I was expecting Zverev to march through the qualifying like I remembered Andy Murray doing, and there was every sign of that in his first match as he took only 50 minutes to beat Horacio Zeballos. But his second match on Thursday was a dog-fight against another German, Nils Langer. Zverev showed quite a bit of temper, arguing about line calls consistently. On one occasion, he screamed quite loudly that a ball could not possibly have been out even though he was at the diagonally furthest end of the court from where the call was made and couldn't possibly have seen it. As there were many Germans watching this match between two of them, I was able to get translation for another call. The first part I didn't really need a translator because you know what's being said: "the ball was out." The second part, however... when his opponent refused to acknowledge that the ball was out, Zverev said "maybe where you come from in the South," referring to the different regions of Germany the two players were from. Zverev lost the second set in a tie-break in 68 minutes and then went down a break in the third set, but apparently his opponent's physical fortitude was less resilient than Zverev's complaining. Nils Langer just sort of drifted away in the latter half of the third set, and practically gave Zverev the match. On Friday, I had to settle for standing at the back of the seats in Court 13 to watch the last half of another dog fight with Ivan Dodig, a Croatian veteran, now 30. A tight tie-break ended a 72-minute first set, and then the second set was tight as well, ending anti-climactically when Dodig lost focus in the final game and double-faulted to end the 128-minute two-set match. It's as rare for a set to go 72 minutes as it is to go 16. But ultimately, Zverev prevailed, and advances to the main draw. Whatever player, whatever ranking, you don't want to find him as your first round opponent. This kid is going places.
Turning back the clock to Wednesday... After sitting in-between two stultifying matches on the backwater Courts 14 and 15, I heard the announcement of a new match getting underway on Court 11, and drifted over to watch Marcos Giron, a 22-year old NCAA champion, against Alejandro Gonzalez from Columbia, a few years older and one of the seeds in the qualifying with a rank in the low 100s. Very entertaining match. Gonzalez won, but not easily. Giron looked good, but he kept putting books short and into the middle of the court allowing Gonzalez to then all too often take control of the points. If Giron could do that a little less often, he has potential. Again, better losers on Wednesday than winners on Tuesday. And Gonzalez ended up winning his next two matches to qualify. In fact, his match on Friday ended around a minute after Zverev's on the next court over, but the press of humanity watching the two matches was so vast that I could barely turn around to try and peek over anyone's head to see it.
Zverev, Ymer and Nishioka were my three main follows for the qualifying tournament, and for better or worse, something interesting happened -- they all won all three of their matches. Better, because it means I found good players to follow. Worse, because sometimes when the player you really like in Round 1 loses in the later rounds you've found someone even better to watch later on.
Court 17 gets the marquees matches in the qualifying, but it has no "open" seating, so unless you get to the court before the start of the match you can be stuck waiting for several minutes in a dank enclosure below the court to gain admittance. Hence, there were some other players that maybe I could have seen, like Wimbledon boys champ Tommy Paul, whom I missed because I didn't have feel like dealing with Court 17 and never had good timing to go there for the start of a new match. I did see the final few points of the qualifying match for Andrey Rublev, a 17-year old Russian who looks like a live wire, potent and promising.
Looking at the main draw...
Tommy Paul has a match against the 25th seed Andreas Seppi, whom I saw years ago in qualifying. I don't consider Seppi to be any kind of world-beater, and on a good day with crowd support, Tommy Paul could win this. It has the looks of a Grandstand Court match.
Elias Ymer is blessed. He's going to play the 75th ranked Diego Schwartzman, which is a winnable match.
Alejandro Gonzalez may be even luckier. He has the 98th-ranked Filip Krajinovic to play. This is about as close to a qualifier-qualifier match as you can get in the first round of the main draw without actually getting it.
Andrey Rublev less lucky. He has Top 20 player Kevin Anderson of South Africa in the first round.
Luckiest? I might have to give that to Yoshihito Nishioka, who has one of those qualifier-qualifer matches in the first round, and goes up against Paul-Henri Mathieu. This 33-year old Frenchmen got as high as #12 in the world in 2008, but that's a very long time ago. Nishioka has some clear disadvantages in height and experience, but I wouldn't be complaining to have this first round match.
Not so lucky. Alexander Zverev. After the joys of playing a second-tier countryman in the qualifying he goes up against Philip Kohlschreiber, the top-ranked German and #29 seed.
Not entirely a surprise that Nicolas Almagro couldn't make it through the qualifying. He lost in the 2nd round, and doesn't have a chance even to be a "lucky loser," a loser in the final round of qualifying who is randomly drawn to fill any spots that open up in the next few days from last-minute withdrawals.
I'm reasonably certain I'll be enjoying some of the players I saw this year on my TV set in the years to come. Which I can't always say.
On two days, I got both a mint chocolate chip and vanilla chocolate chip from the Lemon Ice King of Corona. I got a meatball hero from Pat LaFreida stand at the Open. Too long in the warmer, so the ricotta cheese was a cold coating on top of the meatballs. Served warm on a busier day, it might be OK. I ate at Pho Banc, a Vietnamese restaurant in Elmhust that was excellent, and which I will return to. At Mustang Thakali Kitchen, a Nepalese/Tibetan in Jackson Heights, that was very good. And at De Mole, my standby for Mexican in Sunnyside. One Cherry Garcia bar from Ben & Jerry's. Some heirloom tomatoes and apples that I brown-bagged.
- The Brillig Blogger
- A blog wherein a literary agent will sometimes discuss his business, sometimes discuss the movies he sees, the tennis he watches, or the world around him. In which he will often wish he could say more, but will be obliged by business necessity and basic politeness and simple civility to hold his tongue. Rankings are done on a scale of one to five Slithy Toads, where a 0 is a complete waste of time, a 2 is a completely innocuous way to spend your time, and a 4 is intended as a geas compelling you to make the time.