First Week US Open Thoughts 6


One week into the Open and the stories are dramatic. A talented player who has lost his way. A declining champion. An underachiever who has found a way to reach new heights. A shocking come from behind win from a player who doesn’t seem to care. A more mature Young American. Last year’s champ under the radar. And more brilliance form Serena and Roger. More to come from these amazing athletes.

Kyrgios. He was the talk of the first week and he got the chance to demonstrate what kind of person he is. A nighttime match against #3 seed Andy Murray was a perfect stage for him to show some maturity. In fact, Andy Murray was one of the only top players who gave Nick a bit of a pass on his less than mature ways. He pointed out that he, too, at 20, found it hard to deal with the magnifying glass being on him.

Kyrgios couldn’t find the path to getting people on his side. He played well in the first set but showed a lack of respect for the effort required to support his talent. He was unprofessional in his approach to the game, having periods of marginal effort, especially when he was in the match with Murray. On changeovers he acted disinterested. He chose a couple of between the legs shots at times where he could have hit a shot that was more fitting.

I fear that he just doesn’t know how lucky he is to have talent to make a living playing tennis. His lack of humility may have him on a path not that different from some rookie basketball and football players who sign big bonuses and then do something because they think they are untouchable. A gun on a plane. Some sort of violence. I don’t think our tennis world has been touched by this but I hope Kyrgios isn’t the first.

He certainly needs a strong person in his corner. I don’t think Hewitt is the one. He needs an Uncle Tony or a Lendl. Someone who is not afraid to tell him the truth and is willing to be fired or walk away.

Nadal. When he played Coric on opening night he looked great. He looked like the Nadal who dominated for several years. We may have been fooled though. Coric played a game that made it easy for Rafa to control points and to defend. He often was 5 feet behind the baseline giving Rafa the time he needed.

For all of us who play, we can pretty much hit our shots if we have time. A top 5 player with time is scary good.

But when a player plays up on the baseline against Nadal we see some of what has been hurting him. Forehands hit off his back foot. Just a little later to the ball. These margins at the top are enough to turn a winner into a struggler.

Last nights match against Fognini was painful to watch for a Nadal fan. And who doesn’t root for this guy. Such a class act who gives all he has. The errors were glaring. Backhands into the middle of the net. Forehands spraying wide. I couldn’t believe it because I don’t remember Rafa ever missing a basic groundstroke. Have we ever seen him frame service returns into the stands?

His walk off the court was brutal. He is Rafa so he stopped to sign autographs. What a guy. Then he signed someone’s program and walked into the tunnel with it, seemingly unaware. Shell shocked. He just dropped it on the ground, shaking his head. The camera followed him into the tunnel and we saw a beaten champion. I wonder if he will come back.

Fognini. This guy has been talented for years. And he has been an annoying guy on the court. He gets under his opponents’ skin by complaining, being dramatic, yelling at himself, his box and the umpires. He had already had some issues with Nadal this year, complaining that he took too much time. The normally sublime Rafa got into a yelling match with him and eventually lost.

When the match started he was, as usual, spanking shots wildly. He plays as if he doesn’t really care. Even when he had an early break he didn’t focus in on sound play. He just went for big winners. Flatfooted. Sort of unconcerned. He missed a lot.

Once he dropped the first set, he was casual, almost bored and would still just go, seemingly carefree, for big winners.

By not caring, though, he played very free. This is a dangerous opponent. I don’t care if I make my shot, I am just going for it.

He started to find his range and then, at the end of the third set, he was in the match. Then he started to care. But he kept hitting shots like he didn’t care. Win, lose, whatever.

And this freedom resulted in 70 winners and an amazing come from behind victory.

Maybe that is the answer.

Care but play like you don’t. Accept the outcome but never play with the fear of missing.

Donald Young. During his post match interview after his come from behind victory yesterday against Troicki, listening to Young was a delight. He was modest and grateful. When asked how he came back from two sets down, a service break and his back needing treatment he said “it was 90% you guys (the fans) and 10% me. Your support was everything.” He talked of maturing over the last few years, not taking his talent for granted and appreciating the opportunities. He has worked hard on his game and conditioning, for sure, but the biggest change, clearly, is his attitude. Hoping for a good outcome again Wawrinka on Monday.

Cilic. Under the radar, last year’s US Open champion is moving through the draw. Don’t be surprised to see him in the semis against Djokovic. Once a player has had a great win or won a major title, their belief skyrockets. Although confidence is not always based on past results, it sure helps. Players also find that they feel very at home at a site where they have had success. So Cilic knows he can win the Open and loves to play in NY.

Serena. Her third set against Matek-Sands was one of the greatest displays of self belief that I have ever witnessed. Serena is the greatest ever and every now and then she lets it all go and plays with total self belief. In the third set, she rose to a level that put space between her and all others who have walked on the court with her and probably anyone who has ever played. She handled every shot sent at her as if she was playing a child. A combination of brilliant shot selection, controlled aggression, extraordinary strength, perfect emotional level, deep focus and spirit that came from deep within her. She was Lebron James coming down the lane, Peyton Manning in the pocket, Meryl Streep taking on a new role, Warren Buffet making a new investment., Andrea Bocelli singing The Prayer. The embodiment of a perfect performance.

Federer continues to be the gift that I hope will go on forever. I am all about stories that lead to positive change in a person’s “game.” Roger has told himself a story about change that has taken him to a level of tennis that others will continue to dream about for many years going forward. He is a model for going from good to great to excellence to otherworldly. When listening to him talk he brings us into the simplicity of greatness as he shares his joy in continuing to evolve. How can this guy be only 34 years old and be so wise?

The lessons for us continue to be there match after match.

Remember to watch in a state of shoshin. As if it is the very first time.


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6 thoughts on “First Week US Open Thoughts

  • Michael Smolens

    Bob – as always, profound & insightful comments. I was lucky to be able to watch all the matches to which you referred. Not sure if you got the chance to see the Azarenka-Kerber battle, which was the 3rd amazing match I saw in 18 hours. Both women were hitting with carefree abandon and the winners off both sides from both of them were wonderful. What was totally shoshin was Vika’s post match interview – which I highly recommend you see if at all possible – says it all minutes after she won.

  • sharon moskowitz

    As always, You are right on target!
    Your insight into the players adds to the
    excitement and magic of the game of tennis!
    Thanks! Sharon

  • Ed Schroback

    Great, great writing Bob, some of your best..For those of us who love tennis the US OPEN is such a special time. But I know you have been there for it’s 2 locations in Queens from the early 70’s; and your knowledge and passion come thru in your stories..Would love to hear some stories of some early day memories there!

  • Theo Mandel

    Great, thoughtful insights, Bob! I agree that watching Federer play a match is a transcendental experience. It will be a sad day in tennis history when he stops playing professional tennis.