The 2017 US Open will go down in history, and I was lucky enough to witness it. In my last article, I expressed the overall environment; let me go more in depth.
First round, I was sitting front row. Lights were flashing everywhere, and the crowd was going crazy. Out walked one of the greatest athletes of all time, Roger Federer, to take on young American player Frances Tiafoe. If there was a level of perfection in tennis, Roger was it. He hit the cleanest shots that I have ever seen. It looked like he had ice skates on as he glided from shot to shot. It was one of the most beautiful things I have ever witnessed. Not only did I get to see Federer, but I saw a rare appearance of his father in the players’ lounge. Fed’s father is known to not attend many of Roger’s tournaments but is always present at the US Open. My friends who I went to the match with are also players on tour and are close friends with Frances Tiafoe. I enjoyed hearing some of their thoughts on the match. It made me look at the game a little differently. They told me that Federer does everything off the court as precisely as he does on it, following a precise, routine schedule to a T. They also told me that before a match, Federer knows when his opponent is scared to death to play him, just by sensing the vibes they give off in the locker room before a match. This was not the case for Tiafoe. A player could not have looked more fearless than him, as he went for every single shot he hit. He ended up taking Federer to five sets, only losing by a couple games. Tiafoe has his own incredible story. If you are unfamiliar with it, I recommend reading about it or watching the CBS story on him. It will only make you a fan of the rising star.
Along with Tiafoe, I got to watch a few other up and coming players such as Denis Shapovalov. I remember going early to the courts one day about three years ago at the Roger’s Cup in Toronto to watch Jack Sock warm up for one of his matches. Out walks this skinny 15-year-old lefty. He started hitting and looked like a mini Federer/Nadal combination, producing powerful one-handed backhands and had superb on court movement. I remember Jack’s coach at the time turning to me and telling me that Shapovalov was going to be a star in a few years. And sure enough, coach was right! He has proven to be a threat to the top players of the game, currently sitting ranked 51 in the world, and beat Jo Wilfred Tsonga in the first round of the US Open. Side note- I predicted that upset 🙂
My favorite part of the tournament by far was day 2. I got to watch my favorite tennis player of all time, Rafael Nadal. He is one of the most aggressive players on tour, moving forward every shot, producing groundstrokes with fierce spin, but also flattening out the ball and closing the net any time he receives the short ball. On top of that, he is not just the clay king baseliner- his volleys, touch, and net game are second to none. I camped out at Arthur Ashe Stadium that day, watching match after match. I got to watch Kerber, Venus, Pliskova, and my favorite female player besides Serena, Garbine Muguruza. Garbine is long-limbed, very tall, and plays with a high-risk aggressive style. She is not your average Spanish grinder with variety- she plays more like a Russian- going for high-risk shots and hitting with power. I particularly liked watching young Japanese player Naomi Osaka soundly beat defending US Open champion Angelique Kerber. Osaka looked unaffected being on the big stage as she absolutely dominated.
If you watched any of the Open, I’m sure you saw a few players rocking red, yellow and blue. Multimedia mogul Pharrell Williams designed one of the most iconic tennis clothing lines for all Adidas sponsored tennis players. Pharrell attended the US Open along with many other celebrities including Leonardo DiCaprio, Victoria Beckham, and Tiger Woods. One of the most exciting takeaways from the Open was the complete domination of the American female tennis players.
I always admired one of the semi-finalists CoCo Vandeweghe because of her fitness journey. Aside from coming from a seriously athletic family (grandfather, Ernie Vandeweghe, played for the New York Knicks; uncle, Kiki Vandeweghe, is a former NBA player as well; and mother, Tauna Vandeweghe, is a former Olympic swimmer), CoCo credits an off-court exercise regimen for getting herself in Grand Slam shape. Growing up, I played in a couple of the same national tournaments as CoCo. Back then, she was always a very powerful, dominant player, and that definitely did not change as she cruised through to the semifinals of the US Open.
At the WTCA conference, along with many amazing speakers such as Judy Murray and Mary Pierce, Lindsay Davenport led a Q and A talk. It was so interesting to hear her perspective on the player she is currently coaching, Madison Keys. Lindsay seems to be the perfect fit for Madison, leading her to the US Open finals. She spoke a lot about how Madison has grown as a player this year. I see so many similarities in game styles between my college doubles partner at the University of Missouri, Cierra Gayton-Leach, and Madison, with their ‘go big or go home game style’. Ironically enough, Cierra happens to be the niece of Lindsay.
Sloane Stephens has grown to be one of my favorite players on tour. In fact, she may have been the best story of the entire tournament. After beating Serena Williams in the quarterfinals of the 2013 Australian Open , Sloane seemed to be very quiet in the Grand Slams, not making it past the 4th round since the 2015 French Open. She had foot surgery earlier this year, and made an unbelievable comeback this summer. Starting in August, Sloane was ranked 957th. After the US Open, my guess is that she will be ranked in the top 15. Not only that, with the hefty $3.7 million US Open Champion check, she multiplied her $310,546 career prize money by 12. I absolutely loved her post match speech, where she talked about never giving up and encouraged parents to believe in their children’s dreams. I also loved the moment Sloane shared with finalist, Madison Keys, after the match. It was a great site in the selfish sport of tennis of two opponents showing a mutual respect for each other after an absolute battle. American tennis fans certainly had reason to be proud.
Last but not least is the unsung hero, Venus Williams. Sometimes I feel for Venus. Being the older sister of the greatest female tennis player and perhaps the greatest female athlete of the world, cannot be easy. But she always shows support and humility and stays out of the spotlight, continuing to grind her way into the second week of Grand Slams. In my opinion, Venus is becoming the Brett Favre of tennis. She is 36-years-old and still showing consistency, absolute wisdom, and athleticism on court.
Along with bringing in $70 million worth of revenue to New York City, this US Open showed an unmeasurable amount of positivity for American tennis. A Sports Illustrated article I read by S.L. Price summarizes the evolution of the sport of tennis:
“The historic fact [is] that three of those women [in the semifinals] are African-American, which led to the first major final ever contested by two black players not named Williams. With the crowning of Sloane Stephens, 24, as U.S. Open champion, the generation inspired by Venus and Serena had, at last, arrived. ‘Tennis has gotten out of the country clubs,’ says Chris Evert. ‘The barriers have really been torn down. It’s not a snobby, white, rich sport anymore.’”
Programs like JTCC that supported Frances Tiafoe and the USTA are becoming more readily available for players who may need financial support and assistance to play the game. Tennis is becoming a sport that anyone can play and have a chance to be successful.
Along with these promising programs, the US Open proved that American college tennis players can successfully compete on tour and in Grand Slam events. With 12 former collegiate players on the men’s side and a handful in the women’s main draw, it certainly shows current college tennis players that there is an opportunity to be successful on tour. What is truly amazing is that US Open finalist Kevin Anderson played for the University of Illinois.
Finally, the 2017 US Open proved that the future of American tennis is very promising. Along with veterans like Venus, Serena, Sam Querrey, and John Isner, up-and-coming American players are showing signs of dominance. Keep an eye out for Stephens, Keys, Vandeweghe, Tiafoe, and the other young Americans who had strong performances at the 2017 US Open.