The Big Grand Slam
August 31, 2009 -- The United States Tennis Association knows the meaning of big. And the U. S. Open, the USTA's Grand Slam baby, is nothing less than that.
Prize money is bigger this year than in any other year. The men's and women's singles champions win $1.6 million each. The second place winners take home half that or $800,000. If you happen to have done well in the U. S. Open Series and at the Open, the purse enlarges.
Elena Dementieva won the women's U. S. Open Series. If she can capture her first Grand Slam in New York, she will earn an additional $1 million, pumping up her paycheck to a neat $2.6 million. Same for Sam Querrey, the American who came out on top on the men's side. If he wins the Open, he walks away with $2.6 million. The players that finished second and third in their respective categories will earn $500,000 and $250,000 if they advance to the final and semifinal rounds.
Needless to say, money is plentiful at the United States Tennis Association Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, otherwise known as the USTABJKNTC.
Big at the U. S. Open means Arthur Ashe Stadium big, too. It can hold more fans than any other center court in the world: 23,157. The structure looms across the South Plaza of the USTABJKNTC, the way you might imagine an alien spaceship off in the distance, just landed, departure doors closed with spindly creatures lined up inside waiting to de-spaceship. When you get within a hundred feet you have to tilt your head so far backward to take it all in, you feel as if you might topple over. The Stadium takes on broader and bigger comparisons at this point, but few can be so descriptive without sounding silly or naive.
To access the reasonably priced seats inside Ashe Stadium, people walk up flight after flight of stairs or opt out for the escalators. Body sizes pale in scale to the fantastic venue. At the upper most tiers, the perspective will either thrill you or make you dizzy. Fans might not even know who exactly is on court, it's that far away. Not to worry, they can tell friends ‘we were at the Open.' If they need to fill in names, consult the program guides.
With all this wealth and size available for fans, it's no wonder the USTA categorizes its Grand Slam as the biggest sporting event of the year. Be careful, though. That total includes fourteen days of attendance records that rise each year. With the economic downturn and folks pulling in the reigns on spending, the figures will be interesting to watch. Corporate sponsorship is down, though. J. P. Morgan Chase & Co. usually books a skybox for the full two weeks. But not this year. The global financial services company only booked one week of luxury. It's nice to see some restraint from one financial institution that had been lifted up by taxpayer dollars... $25 billion, to be exact.
Day one around the site saw some big matches for a couple not-so-big players, at least in name recognition value. You had to wonder how Devon Britton and Alexa Glatch were cast against their opponents, having entered the draw as wildcards.
Devon Britton, the 2009 NCAA singles champion from Ole Miss, played Roger Federer on Arthur Ashe Stadium early this afternoon. The teenager had played there once, prior to his encounter today... yesterday, during Arthur Ashe Kids' Day. Britton probably has to admit now that hitting soft shots alongside Ana Ivanovic in an exhibition mixed doubles match had to have been a more enjoyable experience than a 61 63 75 loss to the world's number one tennis player. Maybe not. Britton won the NCAA title as a freshman -- the youngest title winner ever -- and he progressed to the semifinals at Wimbledon, using his favored serve-and-volley game. He wants to stay in school and finish his education.
American wildcard Alexa Glatch tasted her first round on Arthur Ashe Stadium, too, across the net from Serena Williams, the defending women's singles champion. Alexa is no slouch when it comes to performing under pressure. She won two rubbers against the Czech Republic this year to advance the United States Fed Cup team to the finals for the first time since 2000.
However, Glatch's talent was overwhelmed by Williams. She had one goal -- advance to round two. The younger sister has flicked the switch. She is on her path to win this year's U. S. Open and her 12th major. Poor Alexa didn't have enough to stop the train, although she showed signs of brilliance especially toward the middle and end of the first set, employing her serve and lightening quick backhand -- her two favorite shots. She should walk away proud even if the scoreboard read 64 61.
American Donald Young had a tough first-round matchup, too. He played Tommy Robredo, the #14 seed. Much weight has been piled on Young's shoulders since he was 15 years old. Expectations of big titles and a big name for American tennis have not materialized for the slightly built Young. He advanced to the main draw this year, after winning three rounds of qualification. Today, he took a set from Robredo: 64 36 62 63. But he didn't advance.
On the bright side for both Americans Alexa Glatch and Donald Young... they earned $19,000 each for making the first round.
Big man John Isner had a straight sets victory over the tenacious 28th seed Victor Hanescu on Louis Armstrong Stadium today 61 76 (14) 76 (5). Hanescu had 11 set points in the second set, but Isner bit down and put his big serve to good use. Playing tiebreaks isn't new for the lanky Georgia bulldog, either. But getting past a seeded player in his first round at the U. S. Open is big reason to celebrate. This is Isner's third appearance at Flushing Meadows. However, it is his first direct entry into the main draw. He is currently ranked 55.
Little known Marsel Ilhan from Turkey ousted veteran Christophe Rochus of Belgium in a five set knock down. Ilhan came back in the match, after having been down two sets to one. This Open marks Ilhan's first appearance in the main draw. He, too, qualified last week. Marco Chiudinelli, another qualifier, played his first U. S. Open in 2006. He shortened veteran Potito Starace's tournament, taking out the Italian 76 (3) 76 (2) 60. Chiudinelli must have drained every ounce from Starace in the first two sets. University of Virginia's two-time NCAA singles champion Somdev Devvarman won today, defeating Federico Gil in straight sets. Devvarman also had to qualify last week. Somdev fills the house at Legg Mason Tennis Classic, attracting throngs of UVA alumni.
Predicting winners is not a beneficial business for most. However, from the prediction corner of the National Tennis Center, Elena Dementieva's light burns brightly. She is one player poised to take charge. However, her quarter of the draw is chock full of potential hazards. She could meet Maria Sharapova in the third round, one of Dementieva's biggest challengers although she beat her in Toronto this year. If she survives Sharapova her next opponent could be Jie Zheng, the steady Chinese woman who defends better than almost any on tour. In the quarterfinals Elena stands to meet Caroline Wozniacki or Svetlana Kuznetsova. If she breaks through there, she's into the semis. Beyond that the crystal ball reads Serena Williams. And, we all remember the brilliant match played by these two in the semifinals of Wimbledon this year.
But, lest we forget that the first week has barely begun. Tomorrow is another big day at The 2009 U. S. Open.