Hard Court Grind, the American Way
August 6, 2009 -- The U. S. Open Series is about halfway through its 2009 schedule. So far only a couple of the players prominently promoted by the USTA and Olympus -- the series' title sponsor -- have actually appeared in one of these tournaments.
No one has seen Roger Federer -- he is busy with twin baby girls, Rafael Nadal -- is busy rehabbing twin tendonitis stricken knees, Andy Murray -- busy on the golf course and digging life in Miami, or Novak Djokovic -- who apparently might cut a rap song with his Croat friend Ivo Karlovic, according to Dr. Ivo himself.
Granted these men should all be on hand next week in Montreal at The ATP 1000 Masters Series tournament. But for now, and especially here in Washington D. C., a lot of the players are American or ranked below the top four.
(We'll leave the WTA at the fork in the road, for the time being -- but has anyone seen Dinara Safina?)
Whatever the reasons behind decisions not to partake in the U. S. Open Series, speculation points to similar ones Americans harbor when they decide to forego the clay court tournaments in Europe that lead up to The French Open Championships.
Red clay is for European tennis players.
Hard courts are for Americans.
Too bad grass courts get such a short shrift during the ultra-lengthy tennis year.
Clay courts and hard courts demand routine daily grinds. There's on-court practice, hours in the gym, food breaks, sleep, and travel... the ultimate disruption in conditioning. What distinguishes the U. S. Open Series, though, is the rapidity with which it moves along the calendar: ten tournaments in six weeks, including ATP and WTA events. The pot of gold is money -- a total of $30 million -- if you come out on top, and do well at the Open.
Compare the Series schedule with the annual clay court one. There's no question that the hard court grind during the summer here in America tops the chart for brutality on the mind and body because we are talking HARD courts.
Deco-turf, which is the preferred surface here in D. C. this week, may sound cushy, but it's not -- 'hard' being the operative word. Day in and day out, week running into week with little down time if you're doing your job well, the American hard-court tour has to be a direct result of its powerful invention: marketing.
Players who indulge in the six-week marathon are more than likely defending points; or, they want to up their ranking with an eye on the U. S. Open draw -- getting a direct entry, therefore, bypassing qualification.
So when Federer, Nadal, Murray and Djokovic, decided not to motor on down the highways of America, they probably planned ahead knowing full well that there wouldn't be any cheese at the end of the tunnel, let's say The Queen's Midtown Tunnel.
By not playing in any of these tournaments the elite players dodge the incessant and prolonged pounding of muscle, bone and body, until absolutely necessary -- the U. S. Open. Grand Slams for them, and all touring pros, take precedent over any road trip designed by the marketing arm of the USTA and Olympus -- even if the players happen to limp past the finish line in Flushing Meadows.
Today at The Legg Mason Tennis Classic, Lleyton Hewitt tried to grind his way past the defending champion Juan Martin Del Potro, dragging the match to a third set tiebreak, which Del Potro won settling any resentments he might have harbored about his loss to Hewitt in the second round at Wimbledon this year.
"Lleyton is one of my idols," Del Potro said. "He played very well. I did good shots with my serve and that helped the match."
The key to the Argentine's 46 63 76 (2) win was the tiebreak.
"Lleyton is tough," Del Potro began. "He has very good return of serve. But for me the key was in the tiebreaker."
The tiebreak had to have been the key because Hewitt threatened to ruin the party when he broke Del Potro as he first served for the match at 5/4 in the third. Del Potro had saved his best tennis for the last few games. He hit sublime down-the-line passes and feathered topspin lobs all to the roars of the crowd packed into Stadium Court. But when he first went to close out the match, he couldn't and didn't.
That's the threat from a player, like Lleyton Hewitt, who grinds out points and equalizes the power generated by big guys like Del Potro. The Hewitts don't give up, not that power players give up either. However, they are a contrast in styles, each with their particular assets. Either man could have won this match; it was that close. In a tiebreak, the big servers have the edge. Del Potro was the bigger server, and just plain bigger than Hewitt who had to look up to the big man as they shook hands at the net.
Andy Roddick propelled himself into an elite group of active players tonight with his defeat of Sam Querrey. The number one seeded Roddick won his 500th career match, joining Roger Federer (657 match wins), Carlos Moya (573), and Lleyton Hewitt (511), as the fourth man and the 36th overall, since the Open Era began in 1968.
Andy's win over friend and countryman Sam Querrey 76 (4) 64 put the kibosh on the hot Californian, who came into Legg Mason with a title from the LA Open and the top spot in the US Open Series point ladder.
Andy has a tall order in front of him, during the quarterfinals, as he meets Ivo Karlovic. The two met here in the 2007 semifinals when the American prevailed in two tiebreak sets -- nothing unusual for the two big servers.
Karlovic advanced to the quarters by defeating Somdev Devvarman 75 61.
In other results, Robin Soderling took three sets to oust Marc Gicquel 75 57 63. Fernando Gonzalez beat American, and Grandstand favorite, Wayne Odesnik 62 64. Tommy Haas had another three-set battle, this round against Juan Carlos Ferrero 75 26 61. Tomas Berdych went through to the quarters, after he defeated Philipp Petzschner 46 63 63.