Having devoted years to pursuing a professional career, it is daunting to realize “It’s time…”
In New York, five players, three from the US, brought the curtain down…and using the theme of a Neil Young song, a “Come’s a Time” analysis will be made of the US Open adventures they enjoyed over the years.
Those bowing out included John Isner, Jack Sock, Barbora Strýcová of the Czech Republic, Coco Vandeweghe, and Maryna Zanevska, the Odessa born Ukrainian who represents Belgium.
Broadly speaking they spent time on tour…collecting trophies, along with realizing personal development that, in the end, surpassed the value of any of the silverware.
“Comes a time when you’re driftin’
Comes a time when you settle down…”
The 38-year-old Isner, who first played the US Open Men’s Singles in 2007, returned to New York for 17 straight years. His best result – Men’s Singles quarterfinal showings in 2011 and ’18.
Countryman Michael Mmoh, a fellow wild card entry, won an almost four-hour, 3-6, 4-6, 7-6. 6-4, 7-6 second round “concluder” after Isner had dispatched Facundo Diaz Acosta of Argentina, 6-4, 6-3, 7-6 in the first round.
While his 6’10” height was imposing, Isner was not one of the country’s elite juniors, so he spent four years at the University of Georgia learning to develop a “More than a serve” playing approach.
Sock took full advantage of the 2010 US Junior Boy’s Singles wild card he was given and won the title defeating fellow American Denis Kudla to become the first homegrown US Junior champion since Andy Roddick in 2000.
In the 2011 US Open Mixed Doubles, another wild card resulted in “Newbie” kudos as he teamed with Melanie Oudin to take home the trophy. Not only was the pairing media captivating, so was the fact their birthdays were a year and a day apart…Sock’s September 24, 1992, and Oudin’s September 23, 1991.
In 2018, he won the doubles with Mike Bryan of the US (while Mike’s twin brother Bob was sidelined after having hip resurfacing surgery) and was a quarterfinalist the next year with Jackson Withrow of the US.
This year, in a US wild card against wild card confrontation, Sock and Coco Gauff were stopped by Kudla and Alycia Parks, 6-2, 7-6 in the Mixed Doubles first round.
And it didn’t matter that the Isner and Sock team had won four Masters 1000 Doubles tournaments – Shanghai in 2016, BNP Paribas in 2018 and ’22 and the Miami Open in ’22 – Robert Galloway of the US and Albano Olivetti of France beat them in the first round 6-3, 3-6, 7-6 in Sock’s “Career Finale”.
He has played the US Open Men’s Singles 13 times and his best result was a fourth-round appearance in 2016.
When talk turns to the success enjoyed by women from the Czech Republic since 2000, Strýcová’s name usually isn’t included at the top of the list. Having turned professional in 2002, she had a fulfilling but mostly anonymous 21 year career.
A New York performer 14 times, she scored a US Open Women’s Singles third round trifecta based on 2014, ’15 and ’18 showings.
In 2011, she was a Women’s Doubles quarterfinalist with countrywoman Iveta Benešová and reached the same position in 2016 with Sania Mirza of India. She doubled her best US Open performance teaming with Kimiko Date-Krumm in 2014 and Lucie Šafářová three years later to become a Women’s Doubles semifinalist.
Doubling seemed to be a consistent for the 37-year-old as she was a Mixed Doubles quarterfinalist in 2011 with Philipp Petzschner of Germany (losing to Sock and Oudin on their magical run…) and again this year, in her final US Open and career match, partnering Santiago González of Mexico.
Vandeweghe owned notoriety from the get-go… It would be hard not to…being the daughter of Tuana Vandeweghe, a member of the 1976 US Olympic swim team, and having grandparents, Ernie Vandeweghe, a former New York Knicks basketball star and Colleen Hutchins, the 1952 Miss America. Her uncle Kiki VanDeWeghe, Tuana’s brother, can’t be left out of the significant family members mix… Particularly since he was an NBA standout as a player and became even more acknowledged as an NBA executive after his playing career ended … Though not a family member Guy Fritz, Taylor’s father, who coached Vandeweghe as a junior, should not be overlooked.
Being true to her self-described “California Girl” nature, she did not play a lot of junior tournaments… Still, she won the 2008 US National Girls’ 18 title which earned her a wild card in the US Open Girls’ Singles event. Fittingly, she erased the competition taking the championship without losing a set. Shortly thereafter she joined the professional ranks.
Vandeweghe played the US Open Women’s Singles 13 times; a 2017 semifinal was her best result. Doubles was a different story. In back-to-back years, 2015 and ’16 she was a semifinalist with Anna-Lena Grönefeld of Germany and Martina Hingis of Switzerland.
In 2018, she became a US Open Women’s Doubles trophy winner teaming with Ash Barty of Australia.
Her Mixed Doubles results included a 2016 final with Rajeev Ram of the US and a semifinal the next year with Horia Tecău of Romania.
After losing to Eva Lys of Germany, 6-0, 6-2 in the first round of the 2023 US Open Singles Qualifying, the end came when the 31-year-old and Sofia Kenin, a wild card team, were defeated 7-6, 6-4 by Alexandra Panova and Cristina Bucsa in the Women’s Doubles first round.
Of those retiring, Zanevska is the only member in the “Who…?” category. As background, she was a US Open Women’s Singles contestant in 2014, ’22 and this year with a career ending 6-3, 6-2 loss in the first round to eventual finalist Aryna Sabalenka.
A year ago, the 30-year-old reached the second round, her best tournament performance… But it must be noted that as a 16-year-old she won the 2009 US Open Girls’ Doubles championship with Valeria Solovyeva of Russia.
“There comes a time
There comes a time
Comes a time
Comes a time
Comes a time…”
Mention Isner’s name, and The Championships of 2010 is a speed-dial recollection.
He and Nicolas Mahut of France played the longest match in tennis history, a three-day, 11 hour and five-minute affair that concluded with a 70-68 fifth set ending in Isner’s favour.
In the “All about serve…” contest, he hit 113 aces, a single match record and Mahut had 103 which made the 216 total the highest ever.
There is a commemorative plaque on the wall of No. 18 Court at the All England Lawn Tennis Club where the match was played.
Isner finished his career with 14,470 aces (48 of which he hit against Mmoh) and hit the fastest serve ever recorded at ATP World Tour or Davis Cup level – 157.2 mph (253 kmh) against Bernard Tomic of Australia in the 2016 tie at Melbourne’s Kooyong Lawn Tennis Club.
Andy Murray of Great Britain, who believed that Isner had the best serve in the game’s history, said “He was always a disaster to play against…” So, it is no surprise that he is the only player to have won more than 500 Tiebreaks. With 829 in the record book, no one played more, but it is surprising that he ranks only 14th in the Tiebreak winning percentage category.
“Oh, this old world keeps spinnin’ ’round…
It’s a wonder, tall trees ain’t layin’ down…
There comes a time…”
Because of the game’s physical demands, aches and injuries are as much a part of competing as are toting racquet bags and spending time in airports. Isner said it best following his loss to Mmoh, “…Hard to explain how bad my body feels – I’m not talking right now, because it does, but just in general, lately. So, everything I do to get it ready to play, there’s a lot that goes into it….”
Each of the retirees had physical “niggles”… For Sock the problem proved to be significant…In Australia preparing for the first major of 2019, he tore ligaments in his right thumb. The injury was so severe, he was sidelined for six months… He told ATPTour.com, when he returned in July to play the Atlanta Open, “If there’s a really tight bottle cap, I still can’t open it normally. It definitely gets in the way sometimes…”
The extreme Western forehand grip he used, which enabled him to generate ocean wave breaking topspin, put additional stress on the thumb and led to the admission, “…you don’t realize how much you need your thumb in daily life and in tennis, how I hold it…the forehand was the last thing I was able to do. It’s still a little stiff…and will be for maybe 18 months they said… but I’m able to manage it and play.”
Overall, the layoff had a “weird” (his word) benefit giving him an opportunity to spend time at home and fully enjoy a travel respite. Declaring he was refreshed, he added, “I’m excited to play again, which I haven’t been able to say in a long time…”
Vandeweghe was forced to pull out of the 2019 Australian Open because of a combined foot/ankle problem that began troubling her at The Championships the year before.
Eventually, it was discovered that she had two stress fractures in her right foot. But the damage didn’t end there. She was also diagnosed with Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS), an uncommon disorder which affected her ankle.
In an interview at the 2019 Western & Southern Open, where she reached the Women’s Doubles semifinals with Bethanie Mattek-Sands, Vandeweghe pointed out that there wasn’t a lot known about CRPS so doctors were uncertain how long she would be off the circuit or if she would actually be able to return… “My whole leg shut down,” she remembered…and the pain was excruciating, “…it was such a struggle to move around.”
After leading the New York Empire to the 2020 TeamTennis championship title, injury teamed up with Vandeweghe again. This time it was a freak accident. A bowl that wasn’t microwave safe (in which she had fixed soup) exploded in her left hand…Cutting her small finger and severing two ligaments and a nerve.
Three days later, in August 2020, she had surgery.
In an AP interview at The Championships in 2021, she discussed doing rehabilitation exercises for ten months and not being able to grip a tennis ball let alone hit her two-hand backhand until November. She revealed, “I’m doing rehab every day…I’m still trying to get full dexterity… still trying to get strength in it, breaking up scar tissue. It’s still not perfect. It’s not pretty looking.
“…I knew there’d be times when it wouldn’t feel great. Like when it’s cold, like today, it hurts, but it doesn’t hurt that bad. It’s just, ‘Don’t be a wuss about it,’ I guess. The biggest issue was the nerve that I had severed, so that every time a hit would vibrate the racquet, it just zinged me. I was getting shocked every time.”
As far as dealing with the pain, she acknowledged, “It’s definitely one of those things where some days you forget about it…and other days you see me shaking my hand just because the nerve is just freaking out.”
Pain was also a long-time Zanevska companion as she acknowledged in an Instagram post in early August.
She added, “Looking forward to make my final dance on courts of @usopen, where my childhood’s dream was born.”
“You and I, we were captured
We took our souls and we flew away
We were right, we were giving
That’s how we kept what we gave away…”
In the end, there were emotions… How could there not be. With tears in his eyes, Isner expressed his gratitude for the crowd support and being able to play the game for so long. Having been the US No. 1 for eight years he stressed, “I never felt like it was a burden to be the No. 1. Maybe because I wasn’t in the juniors and through college really spoken about. I think in a sense I came on tour with not much pressure on myself. Of course, there weren’t many expectations for me. That helped me out a lot.
“Of course, I did take pride in being the best I could be. I always did want to be the No. 1 American. I’d be lying if I told you I didn’t. But I never felt like there was this huge, enormous burden on me to try to get there.”
Following her 6-4, 6-4 first round Women’s Singles loss to Kaia Kanepi of Estonia, Strýcová told David Kane of tennis.com, “I was looking at my son (Vincent who is almost two years old), I was crying, at the same time I was laughing. I didn’t want to cry because it was kind of a happy moment, even though I lost the match. But the emotion takes over you. You are kind of like realizing, ‘Wow, it’s really my last match here. I won’t be coming back here ever. Maybe like a spectator, but…’”.
May the future for John Isner, Jack Sock, Barbora Strýcová, CoCo Vandeweghe and Maryna Zanevska be as rewarding and revealing as their time was playing professional tennis.
Sock hung up his racquet but replaced it with a paddle joining the Professional Pickleball Association (PPA) tour. In early May, he teamed with Anna Leigh Waters, the 16-year-old who is the No. 1 ranked Women’s pickleball player, to win the North Carolina Open Mixed Doubles title.
Though New York City born, Vandeweghe was raised in San Diego, California and lives in Rancho Santa Fe. Since her home is 21 miles away from the Barnes Tennis Center – the site of the Cymbiotika San Diego Open – her real retirement took place at the September 11-16 WTA 500 event…She teamed with Danielle Collins in a “Final” farewell losing 6-1, 6-4 to Barbora Krejčíková and Kateřina Siniaková of the Czech Republic, the No. 1 seeds, in the Women’s Doubles trophy round.
Title photo of Jack Sock winning the US Junior title in 2010 by Nick Laham/Getty Images