U.S. Open Scoops & Observations: Friday
Meet with Peter Lundgren to talk about his former charge Marcelo Rios for my next book about the former world #1. Lundgren, now working with Wawrinka, shares some interesting insights and an incredible anecdote about their last meeting in Miami just a few years ago and years after their Lundgren-initiated parting of ways. Sorry to tease but I have to save it for the book which I might even use it as the last paragraph, closing-lasting thought. Thank you very much Peter!
Also when we finish Yen-Hsun Lu of Chinese Taipei is just getting done with a sit-down TV interview and we set up to do a Biofile after his practice at 3:15 which he is later right on time and we do a wonderful Biofile which I know every tennis fan will love. Mr. Lu is one of those guys that once you meet him you instantly become a fan. Such a good, likeable kid, humble, sincere and genuine. I guarantee you will be a fan of Lu after reading his Biofile which will appear next week on tennis-prose.com.
Roger Federer is on Armstrong with Monfils and coach Paul Annacone. When I get there, Severin Luthi is calling out to Roger from up on the walkway and Roger replies from the court. Can’t exactly make out what the English not Swiss conversation was, but it really seemed like Luthi was asking Roger how to get down to the court level from where he was. But it couldn’t be that could it? I was with two Jersey tennis friends at the time, and we were trying to find seats, so full attention was not on this curious exchange between Roger and Severin. Not long after, the French soccer hero Thierry Henry came out on court and walked across by the net from the tunnel to greet and handshake with his old Gilette TV commercial pal Federer and countryman Monfils. Eventually Henry sits down with Roger on changeovers and the two buddies talk. The big burly guy with Henry must be a bodyguard.
Federer and Monfils play before a large crowd which is really into the action, applauding after some nice points as if it’s a real match. Another friend later tells me Monfils won the set from Federer, which reminded him of the year Nadal lost to Youzhny on the same court. He said he saw Youzhny also beat Nadal that same year in a practice set on the same court. Who says practice sets mean nothing?
But Nadal, for one, is a different player in practice sets. Tennis-prose.com reader Sakhi asked if Nadal tugs on his shorts in practice as he does during matches and on Tuesday I observed (but forgot to report) that Nadal in practice actually bypasses all his rituals of pulling on shorts, fingering hair behind each ear, touching nose, etc. You have to think that those rituals, in some inexplicable way, help Nadal to play better. Maybe playing at your tempo or pace really does make that much of a difference. Maybe someday, like in his autobiography in about 10 or 20 years, Rafa will tell us some of his secrets [smile].
When I pass through the player lounge outside area, Mirjana Lucic is waiting to play her second round qualifying match, with two male members of her team by the bar and Lucic is looking and sounding still ecstatic after her amazing comeback win from 1-5 down in the third set and four MPs down in the tiebreak. Today she plays China’s Shuai Zhang. An animated Lucic is happily telling stories about coaching kids in Florida and then runs inside to see the status of the court she will play on – 5. She comes back outside, almost singing “Match point, match point,” and doing like a dance with her arms at the same time. She is so happy and eager to play, like it’s a party.
The match turns out to be anything but a party though. Lucic breaks to go up 4-3 but then blows the next game to level it at 4-4. After the miss to make it 15-40, Lucic is irate with herself and yells out a blatant four letter word, but does not get a warning. She eventually wins the set 7-6 and cruises easy in the second over the talented but erratic Zhang.
Another headline story of the qualies so far this year is Laura Robson who won again 63 62 over Vesna Manasieva. Robson is looking like a future champ to my eyes. The critics can question her serve and her movement and lack of weapons, but I see something. One more win and Robson is in the main draw.
Fan favorite Nicolas Mahut was at it again with another marathon, this time edging Uladzimir Ignatik, 67 76 62. Mahut attracted a huge crowd at Court 13, which resembled a first week match of the main draw.
Here’s a name I like: Mandy Minella of Luxembourg. Double M won again, 75 76. She’s tall, leggy and cuts an interesting figure on the court.
Out on grandstand, Melanie Oudin was hammering Na Li and looking like the Melanie Oudin of one year ago. Well not exactly. Today she was wearing pink adidas and blue and yellow Barricades (see photo).
Andy Roddick looked sharp on Armstrong with Ginepri who was frustrated enough to toss his Babolat at one point. Roddick loves these New York courts, his game is looking solid at the moment, except for a few volley misses. I like Roddick over Davydenko, Monfils, Djokovic and Baghdatis who are in his quarter. But A-Rod has to worry about Mardy Fish, who has beaten him twice in a row (Atlanta and Cincy).
I didn’t see any of it but Bernard Tomic got KOed by the savvy veteran Noam Okun, 61 36 62. This was hard to believe after how impressive Tomic looked in round one. Tomic is talented but the questions remain. Does he have the head to be a top notch professional?
Ricardas Berankis won again in straights over an interesting German named Bastian Knittel who wore an orange shirt and sported a very nice flowing elongated top spin backhand. Berankis may not be tall or a physical specimen but he is a very, very good player to watch. There are so many superb players out there these days.
Passing through the player lounge outside area for a TV interview with Tennis Channel, I see Federer and Henry sitting and chatting together with two other unrecognized people at a little patio table. It would have made a nice photo but I’m in a hurry to be on time for producer Brad Falkner. I answered some quick questions like Best to never win a slam, Why do you think players come so close and lose the big ones, Did Agassi’s legacy take a hit from his book admissions? It was fun but hard to give sharp answers on the spot, especially as I’m so conditioned to 99% of the time being the one asking the questions. Hope they got some good answers out of it.
After that, Frank “The Tank” (he told me that’s his nickname) Dancevic outlasted Stephane Bohli in a 7-0 third set tiebreak. Frank won the second set 7-5 and I was told was down 4-5 in the third with Bohli serving. Bohli then suffered leg cramps in the tiebreak and had nothing left to battle Dancevic with. Tough loss for Mr. Bohli but a huge win for the talented Canadian lefty.
All right, we saved the best for last. Ryan Harrison did it again with another dramatic, dynamic three set win on Court 11. Harrison defeated Ricardo Hocevar 6-4 in the third. At 4-4, Hocevar was serving at 30-all and missed a very makeable forehand volley into the net, with a big opening cross court. Hocevar was up 30-love in the game too. You knew right then Harrison was going to seize on the opportunity and exactly that he did. Harrison then served it out without any trouble and after match point, dropped his racquet and gave a massive fist pump to the jam packed half-stadium. This guy is a star in the making, ready for his national breakout moment, a natural big match, big court player who thrives in the drama and excitement.
After the match, Harrison signed for kids, took photos, answered questions, replied to positive comments with the politeness and class of a veteran champion. I’ve seen a lot of ‘em and have no doubt Ryan Harrison is a future champion. After about twenty minutes of taking care of obligations with his fast-growing fanbase, Ryan hugged younger brother Christian and they exited the still excited scene. Harrison is in the main draw of the 2010 U.S. Open.
PS: James Blake took Court 7 at six p.m. to hit with the NCAA champ Bradley Klahn who got a wildcard and will play Sam Querrey in the first round. Blake is also a wildcard and will meet Kristof Vliegen. Blake is still working with Kelly Jones while Klahn was accompanied by USTA coach Jay Berger. Word is that Blake will take the rest of the season off after the U.S. Open and will give it another final run in 2011.