Day 6 at the U.S. Open

The carnage and chaos continue. There’s some of this to expect in such an unpredictable sport.

I’ve done some light investigative work (part of which is simply looking at scores) and seeing that the HC of NYC have been totally fucked-with. Before the tournament even city-of-richland-sand-court.3began, people on-site said the tournament had dumped a bunch of sand upon resurfacing Arthur Ashe and Louis Armstrong. This info is a bit hit or miss, but the courts have been playing pretty slow.

“Mcshow, you’re complaining about surface speed like all of those dumbshit Djokovic fans complained during and after AO 2017.”

Wrong. Hard courts are supposed to be quick. NYC is especially known for speed, so anyone thinking this (and not bold enough to leave a comment), take a deep breath and ask someone for a hug.

In a way, the deeply depleted draw here this year has pushed us to start to think out-loud about the state of the game. I’ve already argued that the injuries to all of these top players actually coincide with age and some of this injury is simply coincidence, as well.

Almost as troubling as where the sport is now is some of the reaction. True tennis historians are talking about changing majors to Bo3, etc. I’m not that mad at these simpletons because A) match format has been changed before at the USO – these change agents, then, have some history so support their fragility; and B) we’re all human and can think and say things that really make no sense.

LOOK AT MORE SIGNIFICANT FACTORS AND CAUSES THAT COULD BE RESPONSIBLE FOR YOUR SPORT’S ILLNESS.

Proposing changes to a sport at the expense of the competitive spirit is political — and politics are insidious: financial and shallow.

A more thoughtful exploration of change includes honesty, difficulty and complexity. Players are injured? Let’s make changes to the biggest and best tournament of the year? I understand this same change was made back in the 70s, almost 50 years ago. But FIRST look at some other factors that show that you have a brain and a heart and actually care about this sport — which revolves around history, competition and fairness.

Back to the surface at the NYC venues: tough to nail-down exactly what’s happening on each court in terms of the speed (if you have any insight on this, share it with us), but some of the results are staggering.

The Schwartzman victory over Cilic yesterday is chilling. I am not a big Cilic guy, but the fact that the 5′ 7″ dirt devil destroyed the guy with NYC and Cincy titles should raise a few more eyebrows. They played on Grandstand, I’m pretty sure, and Cilic has been fighting a bit of an injury – but all players are. I know Schwartzman made the Montreal QF; he’s undoubtedly a fierce competitor who’s raised his game this summer, but beating Cilic like that in NYC seems a bit odd.

Let’s just hear some people other than Pam Shriver and Brad Gilbert on Twitter talk about the slowing of the courts at the U.S. Open. Why isn’t this more of a discussion?

Now, to be fair, the sand allegedly wears-off through the second week of the tourney, so perhaps the conditions will quicken; we can only hope this is the case.

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As for today’s matches, Dolgopolov has made straights out of Troicki already (I mentioned on twitter that I’d entertain action on the Dog v Nadal affair – I say the Dog rolls-over, after tearing-up the bracket. He’s had his fun. Look for a head-first dive in that R16).

Thiem turned his match around v the dangerous 2017 Mannarino and looks to go up 2 sets to nil.

Should be interesting to see who’s got real 2nd week form from some of these top-half contenders playing today.

Most are interested in Nadal and Federer and how can you not be curious. Federer v Lopez will be the night match on AA. I do find Federer’s-back to be a tremendous mystery. If one has a back issue, I don’t think one can play at all at this level. If you’ve had a bad back, you know. Tennis might be the most physically grueling sport on earth — a bad back is . . . debilitating. How would he “hide” such an injury? A bad back just doesn’t work here, despite the fact that his tennis does look hobbled. In other words, I don’t think you can play even at diminished capacity with a bad back. This type of injury would force you to call it quits, done, buh-bye against these kinds of opponents, on this kind of stage (hard courts, Bo5).

Nadal should be fine given his draw, but the upset virus in among us, so no one is safe. Sarcasm alert: One benefit that Mayer may have is that all of his preparation for this match has been clay, so he’s probably in peak condition for a day match on AA. Of course, he’s playing the clay GOAT, so good luck (Taro Daniel was also a clay specialist, which has to make your head tilt, a bit).

My ATP Youth On the Rise post several weeks back continues it’s surge. Let’s see this whole updraft of youth save the face of this tournament. I mentioned in a comment that  a Thiem v Shapovalov final wouldn’t be at all unappetizing. Or Rublev v Pouille. Ha ha. I like it.

Did you see Zverev the Elder v Isner last night? If you are not a fan of S&V, turn-in your membership to club Mcshow and have a good one. This is such a refreshing, old-school style and game. He frustrates the crap out of these “top guys.”

Watching Mischa hog-tie Murray in Melbourne and Isner last night on AA is right up there with my other favorite dishes. Tennis offense. Of course he’s at the net almost every point. Maybe Federer should polish that tactic. So far, Fed has looked lost going to net. But on these courts, especially, if you’re not moving and striking all that well, finish the point early already.

Talk to you after today/tonight’s tennis. Enjoy!

12 comments

  1. I think the speed is varying greatly by court. During the Fed-Tiafoe match, there was a bunch of buzz about how Federer seemed to be surprised by how fast the court was and how he had to adjust to the ball getting on him too quickly, which would imply that Ashe is faster than the practice courts. Then, barely a day later, Coric takes out Zverev on Grandstand and the entire tennis Twitterverse bemoans how agonizingly slow the courts are. I think there is a lot of inconsistency, either in the actual speed of the individual courts, which would be very worrying and irresponsible of the organizers, or in people’s judgements of the results, which would be rather irritating. I keep hearing the commentators saying the courts this year are faster than the AO and surpassed only by Cincy, but the online consensus seems to be that they are like clay. I can’t tell if there’s actually variance, agenda-pushing by the tennis media, or agenda-pushing by bitter fans.

    1. Good stuff, An.
      Brad Gilbert and Pam Shriver both said AA is slower than it has been (but Fed’s statements seem pretty legitimate since he’s actually playing. Ha.); Louis Armstrong, I have read, is also slower.
      And I agree that without definitive proof we all end-up seemingly guessing and potentially sounding biased.

      There is no doubt (this is a consensus) that most non-clay courts (hard court and grass) have slowed over the years. This has coincided with other developments in the sport.

      The courts should quicken as the tournament wears-on. But either way, and this goes back to the crying after AO, these USO courts and the general case to be made for the sport’s greats: the best players (in any sport) are those who can adjust best to the given conditions.

      To be clear, my biggest issue is not with this tournament’s surface, but with the obvious direction of the sport. Slower and bigger doesn’t provide healthy fare for the aspiring players. At the very least, allow for diversity – the variety of conditions. Slowing down anything that isn’t clay seems foolish and suspicious. The Goran v Pete matches are a thing of the past, and even that’s no reason to slow-down the grass.

      1. I certainly agree with the assertion that slower HC is not healthy. I recently had the opportunity to hit around on the China Open practice courts and the amount of grit in the surface made it impossible to move properly. After less than two hours of play, my knees and ankles felt like they were going to be ripped open. I can’t even imagine what slow, gritty HC does to sprinters like Murray, let alone players like Djokovic and Monfils who slide on it like it’s clay. I’m pretty sure Nadal has become a worse mover on HC since the beginning of the decade in part because he’s had to cut down on the sliding for fear of shattering his knees again. Is it any wonder half of the top 20 are catastrophically injured this year?

        Additionally, the surface homogenization has also affected the clay. The courts in Madrid and RG have gotten markedly faster off the bouce this decade, even if the results haven’t changed much. In fact, I believe the speeding up of the clay has helped Nadal transition his game as his movement continues to decline. The faster courts at RG, coupled with the standard magnification of spin that the clay offers, makes Nadal’s forehand even more absurd than usual. And while I don’t think the changes to clay are nearly as widespread at lower level tour events as they are for HC, I’m quite certain that they are also greatly reducing variance in playing styles at the highest levels of the sport. Just as we no longer see big serve+forehand players winning the AO and USO, or serve and volleyers winning Wimbledon, we don’t have the same assortment of oddballs and grinders making deep runs at RG. Gone are the days of genuine surface specialization, likely due to a concerted effort on the part of tournament organizers to make the most players the most competitive they can be across the most surfaces in order to create larger player brands and draw more fans for more $$$.

      2. Interesting breakdown of the clay, An.
        Yes, specialization seems a thing of the past, which I could suggest is part of HRFRT.
        Some might, too, argue that Rafa has eclipsed the clay specialist odd ball. Before Rafa that was indeed the case at RG. This added to the rationale of the top players skipping or not prioritizing RG — some little grinder is going to peak and out hit/run everyone.

        Either way, the tournaments need to facilitate the variety of each surface. I know it’s more complicated than that, with several courts at a particular tournament, but this homogenization is just wrong.

    2. @an I very much doubt, Federer was surprised by the fast speed of the court since he actually said in the post-Tiafoe match interview “The court plays on the slower side, so it [lopsided sets] can happen this way.”

      From the way players approach matches (spinnier shots, exploiting angles) it seems rather safe to say, it’s very, very slow.

      @Matt Thanks for your blog, it provides some very nice discussion points and I always look forward to it.

      1. Oh, really? I guess I should have checked out the post-match interview, then. I didn’t have access to the live match, so I was just going off of what people were saying on twitter during the match and the comments on the highlights I watched. I probably should have questioned it more, but in the clips I saw Tiafoe’s shot’s were really rocketing off the court and I hadn’t seen him generate that much power in any of his matches, including the Zverev upset, so I thought it had to have been the court. I guess he must have just played out of his mind that night.

      2. An, as for Tiafoe’s FH, let’s just call it an impressive weapon that he can hit through the court. I agree, that shot did make the court seem quicker. That was a tight match, which isn’t that surprising given his athleticism and power. His FS was touching mid 120s and was able to finish from the BL, which makes him a lock for future success. He needs to come to net a bit more. Want to know how to extend a career? Have ability to finish points early (win easier points, add variety to the game).

  2. The speed of the official tenniscourts is in the end the same for every player.
    The main problem doesn’t seem to lay there.
    More worrying could be the current inequality in playing conditions between the courts on the site (in which the US Open appears to have invested a lot recently) and those outside the site (in which they apperently did not), and the inequal access to the official courts.
    I read, from a reliable source, that only seeded players and local players (amaericans) apparently have acces to the official courts for training sessions. Unseeded are however relagated to the courts ouside the site, where playing conditions are still a lot faster and more dangerous.
    This is perhaps a point to look at a bit closer, if one is in favor of integrity in the sport and honest competition.

    1. “The speed of the official tenniscourts is in the end the same for every player.”

      You seem to diminish the importance of speed of the court, pointing-out how it’s the same for all. Right, but certain conditions (speeds) facilitate certain games/styles.

      When you hear Gilbert say this is the slowest he’s seen AA, that’s a factor in this tournament. And the fact that Schwartzman (up a set on Pouille) will likely make the QF of the USO speaks to how this speed is an issue. Schwartzman is a talented player and a real fighter (he’s fun to watch), but potentially making a SF (or Final for that matter — why not at this rate?) is odd. Hell, why can’t Schwartzman win the USO at this rate? He’s very likely in the final four. The speed of the court is an issue.

      As for the fairness of access, etc., you’re talking about practice? Of course, much of the talk has been about scheduling, where certain players have favoritism. Sharapova and Bouchard playing on AA has upset a lot of players with much higher rankings.

      Is that the same as Federer getting scheduling preference? No. And this may speak a bit to the access to practice courts. Federer has earned his schedule, as has Nadal.

      Think of how many players are practicing between matches at such a big tournament. Some kind of hierarchy needs to be established, with ranking being a fair approach (meritocracy). As for the American given access, I’m not sure if that’s some kind of historical feature? What happens at the AO, FO or WB? Is some kind of Exceptionalism?

      Why not have the courts all equally (more or less) fast? That seems the easiest fix. Practice is probably quite a cluster f%$&. Not sure if Roger went to Central Park as a publicity stint, but he actually practiced off-site one day.

      In the end, surface speed needs to be addressed, by players, by tournaments, etc.

      I have my own theories on this.

      1. I basically agree with your vision. There is no need to change the speed of the courts,
        Schwartzman is having a good run, but so is Sam Querrey (for whose game fast courts are more tailor made than slower courts).
        The schedule preference does bother me a bit; their is no need to give them extra advantages apart from having a more favorable draw as a consequence of being a seeded player.

      2. We agree. We live in a world that seems to thrive on unfairness.
        Thanks for bringing the practice court issue to our attention.

        I am going to enjoy this tournament’s conclusion; I have said what I need to say about the courts.
        Schwartzman is a beast and Sam showed tonight that his 2017 form is for real (writing a quick post about this as we speak).

        Thanks for the discussion, Wilfried.

What say you?