Go figure — in the city that never sleeps, there were plenty of stories both literally and figuratively reverberating throughout the grounds at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center during the U.S. Open. But while some of the questions heading into the tournament — debating whether or not Serena Williams would break her 22-Grand Slam tie with Steffi Graf and if Andy Murray could back up his Wimbledon and Rio Olympics gold medal wins — fell by the wayside before the final weekend, other players pushed themselves into the spotlight throughout the fortnight. Angelique Kerber became the first German since legend Steffi Graf to hold the Number One ranking and won her second Grand Slam of the year to boot, while Stan Wawrinka overcame match point early in the tournament to eventually capture the title.
The 2009 U.S. Open champion Juan Martin del Potro has always been a threat to the best players in the game with his overpowering groundstrokes, but the Argentine has spent recent years dealing with left wrist issues. When he beat world number one Novak Djokovic at the Olympic Games on his way to a silver medal, it was clear that del Potro was still plenty capable of excelling on the tennis court. But seeing the big man brought to tears before the end of his quarterfinal loss against third seeded Stan Wawrinka as fans chanted his name was something special. “This is what they paid for,” Jimmy Connors once famously said during a 1991 match on Louis Armstrong Stadium, which held its final match before being rebuilt this year. “This is what they want.” The tennis world wants more of del Potro, and they should. The sport is far better with him than without.
Angelique Kerber clinched the top spot in the WTA rankings by virtue of Karolina Pliskova’s semifinal win over Serena Williams. The German became the oldest woman to ever grab the spot for the first time in her career on Monday. All credit to her — it was going to take a special player to end Williams’ record-tying 186 consecutive weeks atop the world, and Kerber proved that she is just that by winning her second Grand Slam of the year, avenging a recent loss against Pliskova in an enthralling three sets to do it.
Perfection is never easy to achieve, and it is fair to say that the new roof structure atop Arthur Ashe Stadium is not perfect. Fans talk — this is New York after all— and voices inevitably carry down to the court. But this is the U.S. Open, and whether they like it or not the players know that.
For years to come, there will be guaranteed play every single day in Flushing Meadows. That is especially comforting for the competitors toward the end of the tournament, adding a sense of calm for competitors, who can relax knowing when they’ll play when it matters most at the end of the U.S. Open fortnight.
Watch the roof close, too, it’s pretty cool and creates a more intimate atmosphere that was fun enough to watch tennis in already. In year one, 12 hours, 34 minutes and 38 seconds of tennis was played underneath the structure, and there only will be more to come.
Gael Monfils lost in an odd four set match to Djokovic in his second career Grand Slam semifinal. The Frenchman fell behind 5-0 immediately and drastically changed his tactics to throw off the top seed and “try to get in his head. You know, try to create something new for him.”
Commentators immediately criticized what appeared like lackadaisical effort at points. But throughout the tournament Monfils served up terrific sound bites in the press room, and perhaps he saved his best for last after he lost.
“I know it is not natural. Because first question is like you’re not competing. Fuck, yes, I’m competing, you know,” Monfils said. “But at the end I’m not playing for those people. I play for myself. I try to win, you know. At the end, you know, everybody have an opinion of something that not in my body, not in my mind. They not see what I’m saying at that moment, you know. They will tell me, Oh, he’s so talented, so physical. Look, he’s playing like this in the third set and he won it, blah, blah, blah, blah. But at the time and at 5-0, it wasn’t that. I tell you. I just change something, you know. Is not academic, but I try to win. I’m sorry, every time, you know, to hear that I get destroyed. For what? At the end, for what? To tell me I’m so talented I waste my time. Sorry, I’m not wasting my time. I think I know how to try to play the best, and to play the best sometime is to improve. And when the guy is too good, you know, you change. Not academic, but I try to be better. If those people talking, talking, come help me. You know, I’m more than happy to have them help.”
Good for Monfils for standing by his play — whether the strategy was correct or not. The man did make the U.S. Open semifinals, and nearly everyone loves watching him play, even his opponent, who said so earlier in the tournament.
“I love watching Gael,” Djokovic said. ‘He’s one of the few players that I will definitely pay a ticket to watch.”
Gael should keep being Gael.
If anyone could have been down a match point against a very game Daniel Evans in the third round and then won the tournament, it probably would be 31-year-old Stan Wawrinka. The third seed did not beat a Top 10 player all year long before he came to Flushing Meadows, finding his form halfway through his semifinal against sixth-seeded Kei Nishikori and riding that wave of momentum all the way to the title in four sets. Top seed and world number one Novak Djokovic looked sharp early on in the final, but Wawrinka’s overwhelming groundstrokes from the baseline wore the Serbian down and ultimately won him the title. If you would have said before the 2014 Australian Open that Wawrinka would be playing for the career Grand Slam (winning the Australian Open, French Open, Wimbledon and the U.S. Open) in 2017, you would have been crazy. But the Swiss has proven that when he is on, he is ON, and there is very little — including one of the best defenders of all-time in Djokovic — that could stop him.