US Open…Big Apple Slices

By Mark Winters

Share this article

Because of its world status, New York City has a collection of resplendent nicknames. Among them is Gotham. The phrase – “The City That Never Sleeps” – is regularly used to describe all that is going on. But its standalone, best known designation, is “The Big Apple”.

The term was first used in the 1920s in reference to “The Big Apple” prize money that many local horse racing tracks awarded. In 1971, following an advertising campaign to attract tourists, the city was christened “The Big Apple”.

Here are some tasty slices from “The Big Apple” US Open…

More Than A Scrapper…

“I thought she was just scrapping everything back. There were junk balls in the middle of the court. With the wind blowing around, it was really difficult. She just kept getting it back…” said Emma Raducanu, the 2021 US Open Women’s Singles champion, after losing 6-3, 6-3 in the first round to Alizé Cornet of France.

In her on court interview following the match, the Frenchwoman, who is known for being energetic, as well as her expressive facial reactions that have led to her being called “Dramalizé”, said, “I’m sorry I beat her tonight but I’m really happy with my performance. I felt like I played a really solid match. I was fighting my heart out and hanging in there. I think my game at the net was pretty good. I think it was a bit of everything, playing with a bit of variation, and it definitely worked tonight.”

A year ago, Raducanu played through the Qualifying and the Main Draw without losing a set in 10 matches. With the straight set first round defeat she joined two other Women’s tournament winners who lost their first US Open match the next year. Svetlana Kuznetsova of Russia, the 2004 champion, was dispatched by countrywoman Ekaterina Bychkova 6-3, 6-2 in 2005. Angelique Kerber, the 2016 Women’s titlist, was sent home 6-3, 6-1 by Naomi Osaka in the 2017 first round.

Alizé Cornet playing on Pride Day. Photo: Andrew Ong/USTA

September 1st was “Pride Day” at the US Open and Cornet wore rainbow colored wrist bands. Following her second round 6-1, 1-6, 6-3 victory over Kateřina Siniaková of the Czech Republic, she said, “…this wristband is just a symbol of being open-minded and loving each other. I don’t know if I have a lot of gay fans, but I just want to show people that I love humanity and that’s it…”

At this year’s Australian Open, Cornet reached her first Grand Slam quarterfinal after playing 61 majors. Following her 6-4, 3-6, 6-4 victory over Simona Halep of Romania, she was interviewed on court by Jelena Dokic, and caused the Australian to “take an emotional deep breath” after praising her for how she had courageously battled mental health issues.

Early in the Russia-Ukraine conflict, Cornet began wearing a blue and yellow visor, along with sweatbands, during her matches in support of Ukraine.

New York was historic for the 32-year-old from Nice, France. She played her 63rd consecutive Grand Slam tournament breaking the standard set by Japan’s Ai Sugiyama, who contested 62 straight majors between 1994 until 2009.

Spinning, Gripping And “That One…”

Tennis players have an array of habits, mannerisms, quirks, ticks…what have you. Often the sideshows are more entertaining than the actual play. Tommy Paul is a case in point. The American is close to unrivaled when it comes to spinning his racquet horizontally on his fingertips. His “unique” skill is as mesmerizing as his speed about the court and his shot making.

(I must confess early in my playing days I would occasionally attempt to “spin…” my wood racquet between points but it quickly became apparent that I needed to focus solely on making strokes…not racquet dexterity.)

Though racquets used by professionals are made by major manufacturers, it would be impossible to walk into a tennis shop or a sporting goods retail outlet and find a similar “bat”.

Richard Gasquet during his third round match. Photo: Corinne Dubreuil

Richard Gasquet of France plays with a Head Liquidmetal Instinct Tour XL. On close examination it is readily apparent that the racquet butt-cap has a significant nob. This is done by wrapping a number of leather grips around it to create a “bumper.” He also winds only about a hand-width of overwrap around the leather handle…Supposedly the reason is because he sweats profusely which is why on side changes, during a match, he will change the overwrap. (He is unrivaled when it comes to overwrap changing speed…)

His quirkiness doesn’t end there. When he is serving and wins a point, he always wants the point winning ball back so he can use it again. Having turned professional in 2002, opponents quickly became aware of his “I want that one…” habit… Early in his career they would do everything possible to make sure he wasn’t able to use the same ball again. Now that he is 36-year-old, match officials and ball people have been made aware, before the start of his matches, of the “That One…” Gasquet Rule.

Querrey, McHale, Petković And Soares Drop The Curtain…

For Sam Querrey and Christina McHale of the US and Andrea Petković of Germany, the first round of the US Open dropped the curtain on their careers. In the case of Bruno Soares of Brazil, the end came in his second doubles match.

Querrey, whose ranking had plummeted to No. 287, needed a Men’s Singles wild card to play his 16th US Open. In the first round, Ilya Ivashka, who is playing unattached, ended his New York stay, 4-6, 6-4, 7-6, 6-3.

The lanky-lean (he is 6’6”) Las Vegas, Nevada resident, who will turn 35 in October, effectively used a massive serve (against James Blake at Indianapolis in 2007, he hit 10 straight aces) and a slashing forehand to win 10 singles titles during his 16 year professional career. His best US Open Men’s Singles result was in 2017 when he lost 7-6, 6-7, 6-3, 7-6 in the quarterfinals to eventual finalist Kevin Anderson of South Africa. (Co-incidentally, Anderson, who also made the 2018 Wimbledon final, retired from the sport earlier this year).

Querrey was a two-time US Open Men’s Doubles semifinalist. In 2015, teaming with Southern California mate Steve Johnson, they were defeated by Jamie Murray of Great Britain and John Peers of Australia, 6-4, 6-7, 7-6. Last year, the duo came up 7-6, 6-4 short against Rajeev Ram of the US and Joe Salisbury of Great Britain, who went on to win the doubles championship. This year, Querrey and Johnson were unable to rekindle their doubles magic, dropping a 6-4, 7-6 first round decision to Wesley Koolhof of the Netherlands and Neal Skupski of Great Britain, the No. 2 seeds.

Not to be overlooked in 2015, Leander Paes of India and Martina Hingis of Switzerland edged Querrey and Bethanie Mattek-Sands of the US, 6-4, 3-6, 10-7 for US Open Mixed Doubles honors.

Querrey graduated from Thousand Oaks High School (in the California city of the same name) in June 2006, the same month he turned pro. Personable in a “Southern California laidback way…”, some high school friends early in his career formed “Sammies Samurais”, a support group that showed up at matches in Los Angeles and Indian Wells, (and occasionally at other tour stops). They wore bandanas and being shirtless, each one had a Samurai letter decorating his chest.

(In an April 2020 interview that appeared in Baseline, Querrey explained that he was still in touch with the Samurais who now have regular jobs and are not able to travel to tournaments, take their shirts off and cheer anymore.)

“Sammies Samurais”. Source: Mark Winters

Andrea Petković was born in Bosnia but before she was a year old her family moved to Germany because her father Zoran Petković, a former Yugoslav Davis Cupper, was a coach at a club in Darmstadt. She joined the professional ranks in 2006 and has played the US Open 14 times.

As the No. 10 seed, in 2011, she reached the quarterfinals, her best New York showing, losing to Caroline Wozniacki of Denmark, the No. 1 seed, 6-1, 7-6. This year, Belinda Bencic of Switzerland, the No. 13 seed, slipped by Petković, in the first round, 6-2, 4-6, 6-4. (The loss took place ten days before her 35th birthday on September 9th.)

For journalists who are always looking for more story substance than “My serve wasn’t working and neither was my forehand…” Petković was a marvel. There was much more to her than the funky post-match “Petko-Dance” routines and her fluency in Serbian, German, English and French. Anyone who enjoys reading Goethe and Wilde is not a typical tennis player.

During her time on the tour she occasionally contributed reflective newspaper columns to Süddeutsche Zeitung and the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. Her intellectual depth, bolstered by a wicked sense of humor, is apparent in the German and English blogs she produces. What’s more, she is completing “Between Glory and Honor”, a book about situations and people and what she has learned in the interactions. It is spot on appropriate she used “Life” to obtain a Ph.D. education.

In the fall, she may play a final tournament in Europe to say goodbye to her friends but following her match with Bencic, Petković used Instagram, to bring up how Americans, learning that she was retiring, offered “Congratulations” while Europeans immediately asked – What are you going to do?…She admitted the American approach to retirement was more to her liking…adding, “First day of retirement…Enjoying my six-pack while it lasts.”

Andrea Petkovic leaving the court after her first round loss.
Photo: Rob Prange

I first met Christina McHale at the 2009 Australian Open. She was one of the five US players entered in the Junior Girls’ Singles. In the first round, Laura Robson of Great Britain was 7-5, 6-3 better…but her Junior Girls’ Doubles result put her in the record book. She teamed with Ajla Tomljanović of Croatia (It was also my introduction to Ajla who began competing for Australia, coincidentally, at the 2014 US Open.) Seeded No. 6, they defeated Aleksandra Krunić of Serbia and Sandra Zaniewska of Poland, 6–1, 2–6, 10–4 in the trophy round.

I remember being so impressed by the presence of the Teaneck, New Jersey, 16-year-old (who turned 17 on May 11, 2009). Talking with them after their matches, she was thoughtful without being overly analytical. Tomljanović was reserved and basically let Christina provide story input.

McHale joined the professional ranks in April 2010 (Tomljanović made the move in October 2008). In Grand Slam singles play she reached the third round in each event. In 2015, she was in the Australian Open “news” for throwing up at 4-4 in her first round match against Stephanie Foretz of France.

Post-match after her 6-4, 1-6, 12-10 victory she provided insight telling a journalist, “The point before I threw up I actually knew I was going to do it. I was embarrassed it took so long to clean up…” She admitted that the “upchuck” may have been the result of what she had been eating and the anti-inflammatory medication she had been taking for a chronic shoulder problem…and added that she felt better after it happened. (The being a “bit off…” didn’t carry over to the second round where Carina Witthöft of Germany defeated her 6-3, 6-0.)

Early in her career, the New York Times extolled her thumping groundstrokes and her quickness about the court. Though she reached No. 24 in 2012, injuries highlighted her competitive resume. As a result, her ranking had dropped to the point where she needed a wild card to enter the US Open Women’s Singles Qualifying. Following her 6-3, 6-1 first round loss there to Ysaline Bonaventure of Belgium, the 30-year-old quietly retired…

Christina McHale after the first round of Qualifying. Photo: Peter Staples

As she did with everything, Christina McHale was classy stepping away from the game, saying on Instagram, “I am so grateful to have had the chance to live out my childhood dream all of these years…”

Bruno Soares, who was born in Belo Horizonte, the Brazilian city with a charming name, played his last match in the second round of the US Open Men’s Doubles. In the contest, Hugo Nys of Monaco and Jan Zieliński of Poland tripped Soares and Jamie Murray of Great Britain, the No. 10 seeds, 7-6, 7-6.

In his 21 year professional career, the 40-year-old doubles specialist earned 35 titles. Included in his trophy collection were the US Open Men’s Doubles in 2016 with Murray and in 2020 with Mate Pavić of Croatia.

His New York success extended to Mixed Doubles where he and Ekaterina Makarova of Russia were the 2012 titlists and 2014 when he teamed with Sania Mirza of India for the championship.

Jamie Murray and Bruno Soares (right) at this year’s US Open. Photo: Getty

Sam Querrey, Andrea Petković, Christina McHale and Bruno Soares were winners not only in their trophy totals but also in the entertainment they provided tennis fans in New York and around the world.

Curiously Noteworthy…

The Men’s Singles quarterfinal in which Carlos Alcaraz of Spain, the No. 3 seed, endured a 6-3, 6-7, 6-7, 7-5, 6-3 test against Jannik Sinner of Italy, the No. 6 seed, lasted five hours and 15 minutes. It wasn’t the longest US Open Men’s Singles match in history, but its 2:50 a.m. finish was record setting. In the past, three matches concluded at 2:26 a.m. (In 1992, Stefan Edberg of Sweden defeated Michael Chang of the US, 6-7, 7-5, 7-6, 5-7, 6-4 in the semifinals in five hours and 26 minutes.)

The Billie Jean King National Tennis Center held what was an open house during “Fan Week”, August 23-28. With tickets required for only a few of the activities, tennis devotees were able to indulge…and the menu included much more than the Qualifying matches.

Works of distinguished sculptors Gerald Chukwuma, Jose Davila, and Luzene Hill, part of the “Be Open” exhibition at the Armory in the city, were part of the tennis center landscape.

By the end of “Fan Week”, more than 100,000 people spent time exploring the facility.

In the first eight days of the tournament, attendance was a record setting 549,657 which surpassed the 2019 count of 540,333. The first Saturday’s day and evening combination set a single day record – 72,065 which topped the Friday, September 2, 72,039 standard.

Since numbers are the topic, it is appropriate to note ESPN reported that an average of 4.6 million (P2+) watched the Tomljanović–Serena Williams third round match. It set a record for the 43-year-old network passing the 3.9 million that viewed the 2012 Gentlemen’s Singles final in which Roger Federer defeated Andy Murray at The Championships.

Military Appreciation Day, a salute to those who served in the five branches of the US Military, is a US Open Labor Day Monday tradition. Since 2019, the annual activity has been called – Lt. Joe Hunt Military Appreciation Day. The recognition honors the only player in the game’s history to win all the US National Singles Championships – Boys’ 15 and 18, Intercollegiate and Men’s.

It was unmercifully hot and humid on September 6, 1943, the day of the US National Men’s Singles final in Forest Hills, New York, (where the tournament was played until 1978). Lieutenant Joe Hunt, on leave from the Navy, defeated Seaman Jack Kramer, on leave from the Coast Guard, 6-3, 6-8, 10-8, 6-0 for the trophy.

On February 2, 1945, fifteen days before his 26th birthday, Hunt was on a training flight when his Navy Hellcat, a World War II combat aircraft, went into a spin at 10,000 feet. It crashed into the ocean off the coast of Florida. Neither his body nor the plane were ever recovered.

Seaman Jack Kramer after being defeated by Lt. Joe Hunt (right)at the National Amateur Tennis Championship in Forest Hills, New York.
Source: Everett Collection

On September 5th (Labor Day this year), a tennis clinic was organized for service veterans on the Arthur Ashe Stadium court prior to the start of the day’s competition. Hunt’s great-nephew, Joe T. Hunt, a standout junior competitor growing up in Santa Barbara, California, has led the family’s effort to sustain Joe R. Hunt’s legacy.

“Seattle Joe” (a designation used because that is the city where he lives and sets him apart from the “Original Joe”), after participating in the clinic, pointed out, “This is all about our veterans. People who serve our country in uniform. This is an opportunity to respect them, to honor them, to really just thank them for what they do for our country.”

He continued, “It’s my first time with a tennis racquet on Ashe, and it’s pretty amazing. I mean, all we need is 25,000 fans, right?… It’s really cool. It’s really a special experience that you don’t get very often in life.”

Well said “Seattle Joe…”

On June 14th the following statement was released by the US Open:

The USTA will allow individual athletes from Russia and Belarus to compete in the 2022 US Open, but only under a neutral flag. Alongside the other Grand Slams, the ITF, the ATP and the WTA, the USTA, which owns and operates the US Open, has previously condemned, and continues to condemn, the unprovoked and unjust invasion of Ukraine by Russia. The USTA, standing with these other tennis entities, supported the banning of the Russian and Belarusian Tennis Federations from the ITF, and therefore all international team competitions, and the directive for players from those countries to play under a neutral flag when competing outside of international team competitions.

We recognize that each organization has had to deal with unique circumstances that affect their decisions. Based on our own circumstances, the USTA will allow all eligible players, regardless of nationality, to compete at the 2022 US Open.

JJ (Jeffrey John) Wolf, who is from Cincinnati, Ohio, received a Men’s Singles wild card. Having become a professional in 2019 after being the No. 1 ranked Men’s Intercollegiate performer, his early credits included a “stand alone” mullet haircut and making his way back from injuries…

He justified the wild card “routining” Roberto Bautista Agut of Spain, No. 11 seed, 6-4, 6-4, 6-4 in the first round. Following his impressive performance, he discussed how “he had made it back…” detailing his 2021 MASH injury highlights which caused him to miss eight months of play. A botched hernia operation necessitated a second to repair the damage that had been done in the first. Adding to his misery, he was in an automobile accident a day after the first surgery. After the initial operation, he worked his way back but…He just wasn’t right and was still in a great deal of pain.

He was then forced to undergo a second “redo” hernia surgery to repair the damage done in the first. He then dedicated himself to become “Uber-Fit”, (actually buffed) and it showed in his next match, a 4-6, 7-5, 6-4, 6-3 victory over Alejandro Tabilo of Chile. Nick Kyrgios of Australia, the No. 23 seed ended “The Wolf Show”, 6-4, 6-2, 6-3 in the third round.

After a match the winner remained on court to be interviewed while the player who came up short slogged off wearing sweat drenched clothing and carrying equally damp emotions. That being the case, it was praiseworthy when Jannick Sinner of Italy, the No. 11 seed, applauded Ilya Ivanska, a Russian playing as a neutral, as he walked off Louis Armstrong Stadium after his 6-1, 5-7, 6-2, 4-6, 6-3 fourth round loss.

Iga Świątek of Poland, the No. 1 seed, did the same thing for Aryna Sabalenka, another neutral competitor, as she exited Arthur Ashe Stadium dispiritedly following her 3-6, 6-1, 6-4 semifinal defeat.

An injury forced Pablo Andujar to withdraw from the Men’s Singles which opened a spot in the draw for Hugo Grenier of France. The Lucky Loser then surprised Tomás Martín Etcheverry of Argentina, 4-6, 6-4, 6-3, 6-4 in the first round. The victory was only the 26-year-old’s second tour triumph. More noteworthy – He has appeared in five ATP Main Draws and the last three have been as a Lucky Loser.

It wasn’t Westside Story, since Maria wasn’t being sung about…But it was attention grabbing when Maria Sukkari of Greece, the No. 3 seed, defeated Tatjana Maria of Germany, 6-4, 3-6, 6-0 in a first round Women’s Singles contest.

For some reason (research didn’t result in an answer), the last match Evgeniya Rodina played prior to the US Open was the Nature Valley International Eastbourne in 2019.

After three years, she returned to competition and downed Martina Trevisan of Italy, the No. 27 seed, 7-5, 6-1 in the first round of the Women’s Singles. In her next contest, Rodina was sent home 1-6, 6-2, 7-5 by Tomljanović.

Anett Kontaveit, the No. 2 seed who lost to Serena Williams 7-6, 2-6, 6-2 in the second round, was born in Tallinn, Estonia and lives in Viimsi. But she has spent so much time training in London, during the winter because of the frigid conditions at home, that the Daily Telegraph newspaper designated her “an honorary Briton with a ‘cut glass’ English accent.”

Tracy Austin was the US Open Women’s Singles titlist in 1979 and in ’81. Hana Mandlikova was the 1985 Women’s champion. Both Hall of Famers passed the elite tennis gene to their children.

Brandon Holt, Tracy’s son, qualified then surprised fellow Southern Californian Taylor Fritz, the No. 10 seed, 6-7, 7-6, 6-3, 6-4. After winning the first two sets 6-1, 6-2 in his second round encounter with Pedro Cachín, the Argentine regrouped taking the final three sets, 6-1, 7-6, 7-6.

Elizabeth Mandlik, Mandilkova’s daughter, took advantage of a Women’s Singles wild card and outlasted Tamara Zidanšek, the Slovenian who lives in Doha, Qatar, 5-7, 7-6, 6-4. Ons Jabeur of Tunisia, the No. 5 seed, ended her Open debut 7-5, 6-2 in the second round.

The US Open stands in the shadow of no other Slam when it comes to maximizing profit potential. Take the “Courtside Premier” ticket program…

It was launched in 2021 and enables companies to occupy suites in Arthur Ashe Stadium where clients were able to enjoy snacks and beverage service while matching watching.

The exclusivity also provided “Drop By…” visits from former US Open Champions such as Tracy Austin, Kim Clijsters, Lindsay Davenport and Andy Roddick…all for the minimal fee of $10,000.

For the second consecutive year, the US Open staged “HBCU Live” celebrating the historic role Black colleges and university have played in supporting tennis.

The Hampton University “Marching Force” school band performed while the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center served as a HBCU “Yard” featuring music, food and other entertainment.

Wu Yibing and Zhang Zhizhen were the first men from China to qualify for the US Open. In addition, Zhizhen was the first player from his country to participate in the Gentlemen’s Singles at The Championships. In New York, Wu played into the history book by reaching the third round where Daniil Medvedev, the No. 1 seed, proved why he was the defending champion defeating his 22-year-old opponent, 6-4, 6-2, 6-2.

Jessica Pegula, the WTA’s top ranked American and No. 8 seeded, has never lacked candor. Following her 6-3, 7-6 deflating quarterfinal lost to Świątek, she sipped a Heineken beer during her post-match press conference. The resulting criticism completely ignored the fact that following the best US Open performance of her career…she still needed to be able to urinate for her drug test.

(Whitney Reed was a US tennis legend and not for having been the country’s No. 1 player in 1961. “Whit” hit shots that defied explanation which was a perfect fit for the way he trained. He would stay up late, believing that tournament parties made him a better competitor, and as Roger Williams brought out in his May 7, 1962 Sports Illustrated article, “Hallelujah, He’s The No. 1 Tennis Bum”, he was devoted to remaining hydrated… “Scotch by preference, beer by custom…” Just imagine the reaction today if Reed showed up to a US Open press conference sipping out of a Wilson tennis ball container filled with a “hydrating” liquid…)

The US Open upped its “Unconventional Creds” when a spectator wrapped in a Louis Vuitton barber cape received a “scalping” haircut from his friend when the score was 1-1 in the second set of the Karen Khachanov and Nick Kyrgios quarterfinal contest.

Security officials escorted the “haircutter” and the “haircuttee” out of Arthur Ashe Stadium (…and there was no word as to whether they asked if the barber had a New York State Division of Licensing Services permit). Khachanov won the match, 7-5, 4-6, 7-5, 6-7, 6-4.

“Beer Girl” Megan Lucky, after making her Ashe Stadium Jumbotron debut last year, repeated her quaffing performance chugging her boyfriend’s 18 ounce beer during Tomljanović’s 7-5, 6-7, 6-1 victory over Serena Williams.

Players treat the court “bench” area like it was their room at home…which led Frances Tiafoe of the US, the No. 22 seed, to admit that the towels, socks, shoes, water bottles, etc. scattered around him where he sat during a match was “diabolical”. He added that his hotel room was in the same condition.

I put this story to bed using the headline from Christopher Clarey’s September 4th story – “What You Missed at the U.S. Open While You Were Glued to Serena Williams”.

Title image – The Big Apple poster created by Ogilvy & Mather and given as a present to New York City in 1975.

Share this article