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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.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

tennis, anyone? Pt. 1

Yeah, it's been way too long between posts, and I probably shouldn't post now, but it is usually my custom to bore people with reports on the qualifying for the US Open tennis, and now that I have a blog I no longer need to limit the boredom to my immediate family.

As a quick explanation for those who follow tennis more casually than I...

at each tennis tournament most of the spots in the draw are given to people based on their standings in the tennis rankings. For the US Open, there are 128 spots in the singles tournament for both men and women, and 96 of those spots go to the top 96 people wishing to enter on whatever the cutoff day is, usuallly in mid-July a week or two after Wimbledon is over. 8 slots are given to what are called "wild cards," which are slots that the tournament directors can fill however they wish. Maybe a good local player, or some star whose ranking has fallen due to injury but who may stilll have crowd appeal. And then for the US open, 16 slots are open to qualifiers, people below the top 96 who enter a mini-tournament, with the winners getting to move into the main draw. So you've got 128 men and 128 women, whose ranks get thinned to 64 and then 32 and then 16 winners into the main draw over a three-round qualifying tournament. This tournament will include most of the players ranked between 96 and 200 and then other players ranked lower than that. Old players off their peak days, journeymen who hang around in the third tier for five or twelve years, and young players on the rise who haven't yet earned ranking points enough to be in the top 96.

The US Open is kind enough to offer free admission for the qualifying tournament. Since I got seriously hooked on tennis as a result of sampling the "qualies" as they are called, it's not a bad idea. And now unless WorldCon or something is going on the same week, I spend most of my time two weeks before Labor Day watching.

The first two days with first round matches are often not the best; #96 vs. #396 is often not a good match, or an old wily pro against an upstart. But the matches you see in the first round help write the stories for the next two rounds and make them that much richer. Some years the qualies may be full of players I saw in a prior year whom I still want to follow, or a player who had some summer results after the cut-off or other good recent results that aren't yet good enough or known names on the comeback trail. Not too many of those this year, so what to watch on day #1...

Match #1: Mikhail Ledovskikh (Russia) vs. Robert Smeets (Australia) #31 seed.
Why? Court 10 has nice "end zone" seats to watch the match from, and it's as good a choice as any, so let's go with the nice viewing.
The Australian wins, 2 sets to 0.
Not an exciting match.
Both are 22, Smeets ranked in the mid 100s, the Russian in the low 200s. I think he has better slightly deeper and more potent ground strokes, but Smeets has a more rounded game and comes to the net more. Ledovskikh loses the tie-break in the first set, gets off to a decent start in the first game of the second set but then lets it drifts away, gets broken (i.e., loses a game in which he is serving) and then fades away.

Oh -- I often don't know much about the players in the first round. I'm getting home and then checking them on the US Open web site, so some of this knowledge is after the fact.

Match #2, Court 6, American Chase Buchanan vs. Brazilian Ricardo Hocevar.
Why? Doesn't "Chase" sound like just the perfect preppy tennis name -- Chase Buchanan no less. & Chase is a sponsor of the US Open. It just seems right.
This is a very interesting match. As I am now finding out, Chase is only 17 years old and got a wild card into the qualifying as one of the top men's juniors in the US. His pro rank is in the 700s. Hocevar is 22, ranked around #200. Hocevar is entirely out of it in the first set, doesn't even win a game until the very end, but then seems to be playing himself into the match even though the first set score is 6-1 in Buchanan's favor. And at the start of the 2nd set Hocevar has the trainer out to work on his arm some. Hocevar then wins the 2nd set 6-3, but the third set is tight and goes to a tiebreak before Hocevar wins 8-6 in the tie break to take the match 3 sets to 2. Neither player was great, but it was enjoyable enough, and now that I know the Chase Buchanan story, I'll have him in my list of players to watch out for next year. It's an impressive show for a 17-year old, though a very experienced 17-year old to be sure.

Match #3, Court 11, Ryan Sweeting (US) vs. Prakash Amritraj (India)
Why? This is about as close to a marquees match as you'll maybe get. I know I've heard of Sweeting. Sweeting, 21, won the juniors tournament in 2005, Armritraj is an Indian journeyman who did make it to the main draw once or twice. Both of these are better players than in the first two matches, though Armritraj is still a step or two below the really good Indian journeyman like Laender Paes who play lots of doubles and have lots of flair and panache and shotmaking from all over the court even if they don't go anywhere in singles. It's a routine win for Sweeting, 6-3 6-3 but if the test of a first round match is the extent of my interest in watching the player in the next round I can't say I'm a member of the Ryan Sweeting fan club.

Match #4, Court 6, Gilles Muller of Luxembourg against Lamine Ouahab of Algeria.
Why? I do know Muller's name. 25, he's been ranked as high as #59. He's advances to the 2nd round of several grand slams and once to the 3rd round of Wimbledon, so his name has been on the results section of the newspaper often enough. Ouahab I know nothing about, so if he beats Muller that will be exciting, and if not I will at least have seen the #15 seed in the qualifying and somebody with one of the higher career high ranks from among those in the qualifying. Ouahab is ranked in the 250s now, peaked at 170, but I haven't seen too many Algerians over the years.
It's three very tight sets, the first two being split in tie-breaks before Muller wins in a tight third set 7-5. I'm not sure the better player has won. Ouahab did have an awful game serving 5-4 for the first set after looking very composed, but held his composure a bit better in the first set tie-break. But over the next two sets the better player is just a tad bit better. Ouahab is also one of those players with a decent drop shot (when you try and hit the ball so that it just goes over the net, drops down and in, and then dies before the other player can race in from the back of the court to hit it) who turns it into a liability by using it too often at the wrong time.

Match #5. It is now getting late in the day, some courts have stopped play, I make my way at the end of the first set to Court #9, where it looks like Tobias Kamke (Germany) and Ilia Bozoljac (Serbia, #29 seed in qualifying) are about to go to a tie-break. I'd made note of this late match at the start of the day because I wasn't familiar with either player (and I like to discover people) and one is a seed. It turns out to be the best match of the day. Kamke is 22, and his rank is much like Ouahab's, 170ish peak, 230s on the current year and 180s on a 52-week basis. His Serbian opponent is 23, overall higher in the rankings, but I find myself drawn to Kamke, who wins in the first set, drifts away in the 2nd which he loses 6-3, and then to my happiness wins in the 3rd set. My instinct tells me Kamke is not yet reaching his potential, and I will be wanting to keep an eye on him in the 2nd round. I do find his serve motion to be a little odd, since his foot is nudging the service line at the start of the motion. He doesn't foot fault, but I'd hate to start out so close to the edge of doing so.

That's one of several matches that end at around 8:35 or 8:40, leaving one women's match going on, and when I drift back to it it's 4-4 in the final set, and around 8:45. It takes another half hour or so to play the final five games full of long boring rallies before a winner is crowned. I don't like to watch women's qualifying matches very much. 30 boring minutes to play 5 games is kind of why.

The weather was gorgeous. A threat of rain as a cold front passes through, but it comes by with no drops and no threats even. Some clouds in mid-afternoon, but a nice sky and gorgeous sunset.

I try to visit the Lemon Ice King of Corona coming and/or going, and stop on the way in the morning and get a mint chocolate chip ice. With the cooler weather in the evening I decide not to do one on the way out. As is kind of tradition on the first day of qualies, I walk up 108th St. to Forest Hills from the Tennis Center and Flushing Meadows Park and visit the Barnes & Noble in Forest Hills and do Pizzeria Uno in Forest Hills for dinner. By the time I get home from that it's kind of late, I should probably not be doing a blog post, but I am, and now I'm going to finish, and go to bed, and wake up in time to head over for day #2. During changeovers and between matches and at dinner etc. I read the NY Times for Monday and Tuesday, do the Tuesday crossword, read the July 28 and August 4 issues of Variety, so I'm halfway to being caught up on that.

I am being a lazy-ish blog poster, because if I were a better person, and a better blogger, and had more time, I would do links to all the individual player profiles at the US Open site. But I'm not, so you'll have to add some extra clicks if you want to check out some of these players yourself.

1 comment:

Lynxswift said...

Tennis? You're such a well rounded person :). Forest Hills? That used to be my geek haunt in my school days. Used to stop by the comic shops of Little Nemo's and also Continental Comics, not to mention Hobbies n' Such next to the Midway theater for some D&D books :). All those stores have long since passed though :(.