Tennis Prose



A National Embarrassment


Alex Bancila is a former Fordham University tennis star and he sends articles into commenting on the game and its players.

On Thursday evening, the Louis Armstrong stadium in Flushing Meadows, NY was the scene of a national embarrassment. Wait – what, who, how!? John Isner vs. Gael Monfils (a great shotmaker and a genuinely nice and likable guy) – the number one-ranked American male was playing against a Frenchman who’s also the sport’s number one showman. With Isner up two sets to love and Monfils slightly injured, the crowd of 7,000 or so started shifting their allegiance towards Monfils. So far so good, par for the course, not much wrong with that. We all get it, it’s a night match, it seems like it’ll be a quick straight set win and what paying spectator really likes that after all!? Not at the US Open and certainly not during a night match.

Pumped by the crowd’s support and energy, Monfils started playing better and better and took the third set. It was about halfway through that third set that things got out of control. After each point that Monfils won (sometimes it didn’t even matter which player actually won the point), the entire crowd (or the vast majority of it) would get on their feet and chant Monfils’ name. Not cheer, chant. Let me make this clear: in between points, long after you should stop clapping or cheering for whomever it is that you are doing so, the crowd on Armstrong Stadium would get up and chant Monfils’ name (a Frenchman) when he was playing against Isner (an American).

It wasn’t until Isner went up 6-4 in the fourth set breaker that I started hearing some USA, USA chants from the crowd – I guess at that point everyone realized that the fifth set they were so much longing for ain’t happening after all. I was not at the match but was watching it on TV and it was unlike anything I have ever seen in tennis (which is my profession). My buddy however was in the second row and was texting me during the match telling me that he could not believe what he was seeing. Neither one of us could.
I want to make a few points if I may:

Quick disclaimer: I am American by citizenship but Romanian by nationality. All tennis tournaments that I have played all over the world have been under the Romanian flag. No need for anyone to accuse me of American overly patriotic feelings/views.

1). Steve Tignor, a columnist at Tennis Magazine,,, etc., whose writing I like and whom I follow on Twitter (I encourage you to do so, too) wrote an article about this debacle and, in his view (it was an editorial after all), the crowd on Louis Armstrong was not anti-American, not even pro-Monfils but rather pro-tennis and, more specifically, pro-night matches at the US Open. He further mentions how NYC has a more diverse population than the rest of the US, that is attracts a large number of tourists of all over the world, and that the US Open crowd is basically a microcosm of that very diverse NYC population. Hence (the main) reason for the crowd’s behavior during the match – it was a diverse audience and not a homogeneous (American) crowd. While I respect ST’s opinion, I beg to differ and will go as far as to say that he is completely missing the mark.

I played Roland Garros and Wimbledon, as well as the US Open (OK, not in the pros but in the juniors) twice on back-to-back years and never made it to the Australian Open but I have close friends who did. While NYC is undoubtedly a world metropolis with a diverse population and with a large number of tourists, are Paris, London, and Melbourne really that much less of the same things!? I don’t think so.

2). I can guarantee you (like I said, I have been there as a player) that if the number one Australian, French, or British player is playing against anyone (anyone) on one of the show courts at the Australian Open, Roland Garros, or Wimbledon, the home crowd would never (ever) do to their own player what the crowd on Louis Armstrong did to John Isner on Thursday evening.
Cheer!? By all means. But chant!? I don’t %^#&@* think so.

3). Last but not least, I found it strange that respected commentators (no names need mention) never really acknowledged during the live broadcast what was going on. They mentioned once or twice, in passing, that “The crowd is really getting behind Monfils in this one”. Really – that’s all they could come up with!? Were they under the impression that they broadcasting the match to Helen Keller and Beethoven!?

In closing, I do not think the crowd was anti-American (in that regard I agree with Steve Tignor) – that implies political undertones. I just think it was embarrassing, that’ all.

Alex Bancila
Twitter: @alex_bancila

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  • Mitch · September 1, 2013 at 4:42 pm

    The fact that the crowd was behind Monfils was all that the ESPN commentators were talking about.

  • Scoop Malinowski · September 1, 2013 at 5:22 pm

    Great article Alex. Completely agree. American tennis fans embarrassed Isner, American tennis and their own loyalties by backing Monfils so passionately and vociferously. It was an insult to Isner. Monfils is an awesome player, love his charisma and style but what happened should have never happened. And I believe it had a residual effect on his performance vs. Kohlschreiber. NYC tennis fans ruined Isner’s US Open. To back a foreign player like that and go against Isner is unacceptable and must never happen again. Isner deserves a lot better he is a miraculous player, a tremendous fierce competitor, he is a legend of the sport because of the Mahut Wimbledon marathon. He deserves much better.

  • DanM · September 1, 2013 at 5:47 pm

    Scoop, American fans have a right to root for who they want to see win and play. The fact of the matter is that watching Isner is a bit of a bore. The guy looks like he’s on his last leg from the second set on. That can get a little demoralizing for a crowd.

    I didn’t see the match, but it’s about time here in the US we got some players who can entertain on the men’s side. I like to watch Fish play, but it looks like he’s on a holding pattern at best. I wouldn’t walk the width of the US Open grounds to see Isner play or Querrey.

    We used to have players with some real personality on the court, JMac, Connors, Tanner, Gambill, Tarango, Rostagno, Mayotte, Gilbert and Agassi. Now we’ve got a bunch of milquetoast baseline huggers. I have hope for Sock and maybe Harry, but I’d love to see a player who’s open with his emotions and plays a game with some guile, pluck and fire.

  • Dan markowitz · September 1, 2013 at 10:08 pm

    The national embarrassment is not with the American fans but the American men players. Not a single one reached the second week of a slam this year. That is amazing to think in a rich country like this that has almost all the academies. It’s been ten year since an American male won a slam. How long will it be until one reaches the second week of a slam. I give Smyczek credit for playing so hard like he did today, but this is the US Open for not a single Yankee guy to make the second week is an embarrassment.

  • Scoop Malinowski · September 1, 2013 at 10:17 pm

    True Dan, American mens tennis is a shambles right now.

  • Tom Michael · September 1, 2013 at 10:25 pm

    I don’t think that the crowds at Louis Armstrong were that bad in the Isner/ Monfils match. Isner got the crowd support in the first 2 sets, and lost a little in the 3rd, but got it back in the 4th. I think the crowds favored Isner overall.

    At Roland Garros, Federer got more crowd support than Monfils in 2009 and Simon this year. These matches were more pathetic to me. And the French crowds’ behavior to their own players, is the reason that they do not deserve to win their own slam.

  • Scoop Malinowski · September 1, 2013 at 10:42 pm

    The French adore Federer Tom. But I have to say, having watched many of Monfils matches at the US Open over the years, the US Open fans adore Monfils. Monfils has been great with US Open fans too, I remember seeing him on ct l7 two years ago, he lost singles that day then the doubles that night and he put on a show in the doubles match, treating it like an exhibition, then he played with the fans after, giving them a lot of his stuff, shirt, towel, wrist bands, and almost the tissue box on the umpire stand. The crowd went nuts for him. Monfils has a special relation with US Open fans. But still, to treat Isner like a nobody like that was just plain wrong.

  • Andrew Miller · September 1, 2013 at 11:04 pm

    It is what it is. With the worst showing at Wimbledon in 100+ years and the worst showing at the US Open all time, U.S. men can either (1) look themselves in the mirror and know they aren’t good enough today or (2) improve. A lot.

    I had high hopes – wishful thinking – about the breakout of a U.S. ATP player this year. There have been mini breakouts, flashes of brilliance, but not much more. Isner should have done better but more complete players took care of him – such as Kohlschreiber. I don’t think it’s a back to the drawing board moment for U.S. men’s tennis, but I certainly think that a bunch of them need to change their games and attitudes – strengthen the weaknesses and amp up the training. Play more beautifully, prepare more fiercely.

    There’s nothing wrong with the talent level. What’s wrong is how they are playing. With Smyczek’s loss, I mean – he was it! He was the U.S. hope. These guys better pull it together at the Australian. My hunch that a great U.S. player would emerge in 600 days is now approaching half its timeframe and the U.S. mens players have seen the worst year, probably in nearly three decades.

  • Andrew Miller · September 1, 2013 at 11:07 pm

    Again to me, nothing wrong with the U.S. talent level. But as Dani Hantuchova said…talent is one step away from lazyness!

    The U.S. guys have to turn those great matches into great matches on a weekly basis. They could do worse than all being under Bolletieri’s thumb or training in Spain for a few months.

  • Scoop Malinowski · September 2, 2013 at 9:04 am

    Maybe a mandatory December long military style boot camp for all US male players, with Louis Gossett Jr. from the great Richard Gere movie “An Officer And A Gentleman” cracking the whips. SOmething has to change.

  • Andrew Miller · September 2, 2013 at 9:19 am

    Scoop the mandatory December training sounds an awful lot like what some of the best players like Murray djok and federer had done to train for Australia. Agassi too. The most fit players would own oz.

  • Scoop Malinowski · September 2, 2013 at 9:46 am

    Andrew, a dire situation calls for drastic measures. US mens tennis is now in desperation. A leader has to step up. I think having all of the US players together for a month working hard, training and competing against each other is an idea they all would and should embrace. The previous workout regimes have failed. Miserably. It’s time for change. Major change.

  • Doogie · September 2, 2013 at 10:48 am

    I believe a general new thinking must start at your state. Tennis has changed a lot in last 10 years, but the view about tennis in general, style, technics and even practice have changed.

    CONSISTENCY is the way to success and not shot making ability. Your guys rely too much on one shot (and serve) but nowadays you need a complete package! Also the fitness state of top players is different than it was. Long rallys, good strokes on both sides (!!) is the key to success. And not a heavy forehand or a killer serve. You cannot hide major weaknesses because of the slow surfaces and the game esp Europeans have.

    USTA, coaches and even tennis fans have to change their mind about tennis in 2010s! If they dont adjust, they will stand on their current awful state and they can ONLY hope one brutal talent is growing up there.

  • Doogie · September 2, 2013 at 10:56 am

    As a great example for it, was the Spadea interview. I mean it was one of best interviews I have read long time (THX again!!!!) but his view about spin/flat strokes is just wrong. I know I should not question the opinion of such a successful player like Vince, but for me he shows your thinking about tennis. Balls,racqets and surfaces just favour spin players lot more.

  • Harold · September 2, 2013 at 11:07 am

    PMac get a raise yet? This guy must have pics of the USTA’S bank accounts, or someone in a compromising situation.
    He’s sitting in ESPN booth, while his real job goes up in flames around him. No one will touch the problem of American tennis on air, because PMac is sitting right next to them.

    The future is bleak. Isner and Q have reached their potential, never to win a Major, but a great career in the teens and twenties,

    Harry and Sock might be top 25 at best by manipulating the rankings..doing well or winning in 250’s like Delray, Houston and Newport, never to do anything big in Majors or Masters events.

  • Andrew Miller · September 2, 2013 at 11:28 am

    I think Spadea is right – flatten it out. Nadal does this all the time – he worked with Uncle Toni to become more “Federer-like” before he won Wimbledon in 2008 (he had to). And Uncle Toni was smart enough to recognize that the spinning shots wouldn’t work at Wimbledon. Look at who’s winning the big tournaments: Murray, Djokovic, Nadal…they all hit a big flat ball in addition to the wild spinning shots. And they are technically solid – super solid!

    So Spadea’s ideas work so long as he adds a caveat: if you show you can win and are competitive, then you should be willing to make adjustments to your game that keep your competitiveness intact and enhance it’s effect with a better technical base. This works – Federer has gotten better over time by making deliberate adjustments, Nadal’s game is a lot better than when he beat Roddick in Davis Cup almost 10 years ago (a Davis Cup Spadea with his top 25 ranking should have been in), Djokovic hits a nice flat ball, Murray has spin but for the most part he relies on hard, flat production. There you have it: technically outstanding slam winners.

    Nadal is a lot less unorthodox than we think.

  • Andrew Miller · September 2, 2013 at 11:34 am

    Harold’s hunch is probably true. It’s hard to see Sock+ doing much – right now. Whether they get to Masters titles, slam wins depends a lot on how much they improve, and improvement is not a given.

    So I’d say Harold’s hunch on PMAc’s job situation is probably right – the buck stops at PMac’s desk so he’s responsible. There is some positive news with the U.S. players entering the top 100 after one year on tour, but it’s the silver lining and not the story. I think those guys will do well – some even very well and competing well at slams is possible with a lot of work. But taking that improvement and hard work as a “given” is impossible right now.

    PMac though may be ok because the WTA U.S. players are doing great. There IS a post-Serena/Venus future and it’s arriving on schedule. Let’s face it – no one expects the U.S. mens players to do anything right now. They simply aren’t good enough yet (even if I think they will be making major headway by early 2015, maybe late 2014). Now is all that matters and now is in shambles.

  • Andrew Miller · September 2, 2013 at 11:35 am

    Scoop is right. Boot camp them. No one should be above it. I’d make it a Davis Cup tryout.

  • Andrew Miller · September 2, 2013 at 11:40 am

    Haha I didn’t catch what Harold said until now about PMac having dirt on the USTA bigwigs. That is pretty funny. I doubt it.

    You wonder though if the USTA may manuever to demote PMac and bring in a solid pro like Courier to straighten out everything, given that PMac’s credibility, at least publicly, is very much in question. Kind of depends on the USTA’s goals here – were they trying to up the WTA pros (in which case the U.S. women’s future looks great?), broaden the game’s diversity in the U.S. (again, looks pretty good, especially on the WTA side) or were they trying to produce champs on the ATP side (in which case it looks very very bad).

    All depends on what the goals were. But you do wonder if they may demote PMac. Firing him sounds like it aint happenning – PMac may not be producing champs but he has shown leadership as Davis Cup captain.

  • Andrew Miller · September 2, 2013 at 12:32 pm

    Man, Dan is on the roll of rolls. Just as soon as Camilla Giorgi appears out of nowhere, so too does she go back there. Roberta Vinci beats her easily in two sets.

  • DanM · September 2, 2013 at 2:35 pm

    That’s been the story of this Open. The upstart young unknown woman scores a big upset (Duval and Giorgi) and then loses pretty meekly in both cases in the next round. The other really good match so far has been Hewitt-Delpo and Hewitt did win in his next match, but he has very fortunate to play an unknown, Donskoy. Let’s see how Lleyton does in the next round when he plays another 30+ player in Youzhny.

    The Russian took out Haas which was a rather big upset. He’s been playing solid of late and he plays a game that is the polar opposite of Delpo. He’s fit, he hits a different ball often and I don’t think Hewitt will beat Youzhny.

    When you think back to the US-Russian Davis Cup finals back in 2007 where the Americans won, who’d have thought Youzhny, Davendenko and Tursunov would still be playing good ball and Roddick, Blake and Fish would all be retired or well on the verge.

  • Scoop Malinowski · September 2, 2013 at 2:57 pm

    Imagine where the US Mens situation would be if Isner didn’t make it. Isner has been a blessing. Whatever the solution is to revive American mens tennis – only a few might know. BTW did anyone see Stefan Kozlov lost one and two in the first round of junior boys? A big backwards step for the hyped prospect.

  • Scoop Malinowski · September 2, 2013 at 2:58 pm

    I was told that USTA coach Kathy Rinaldi deserves most of the credit for the success of the American women players.

  • Scoop Malinowski · September 2, 2013 at 3:03 pm

    Dan Fish didn’t play the finals he was there to support. It was Blake, Roddick, Bryans. Good point though, that Russian trio is still going pretty strong.

  • Scoop Malinowski · September 2, 2013 at 3:15 pm

    No, I remember Fish didn’t play finals, but Roddick and Blake both did and they’re both gone now while the Russian trio, Davy didn’t play finals either, are still going strong.

  • Andrew Miller · September 2, 2013 at 4:05 pm

    I guess it all means that the young players don’t make it until they make it. When Sampras played a good 1989 US Open and lost in the 4th round, he upset Wilander but no one believed he was going to be the big star of the tour until he actually became it.

    For now all bets are off with the young players. Gasquet has the advantage on Raonic, who is pretty much the only “young gun” (if we can call him that) left in the men’s draw. But given that youth really hasn’t been served lately (they’ve been aced off the court), maybe it’s better to celebrate vets for knowing what to do and doing it.

  • Andrew Miller · September 2, 2013 at 5:42 pm

    And Flavia P. beats Halep. Vets clamping down on new guard. New guard deserves no praise. And Flavia P. deserves praise for those many down the line winners. Flavia has a nice way of moving back to the line after being pushed back behind the baseline. And sweet down the line shots.

    Props to the Italians.

  • Andrew Miller · September 2, 2013 at 6:01 pm

    And Hantuchova beats Riske…either we call a duck a duck (Euro vets beat inconsistent, unorthodox upstarts) or we chalk it up to how well you can do if you were born in a Czech speaking country and manage to avoid Stepanek.
    Props to Hantuchova. Have always loved her game.

  • Scoop Malinowski · September 2, 2013 at 8:02 pm

    Saw Flavia a couple of times on the practice courts next to live matches, working hard, doing different hitting drills, barely anyone bothered to watch. She’s having a great tourney. For an over 30 veteran who everyone seemed to write off, to be in the mix at a major is an excellent achievement.

  • Mark Fischl · September 6, 2013 at 11:51 pm

    I disagree completely. Why should I have to root for a player from my home Country? Monfelis is one of the great show man in the game. Isner, while a class act, is one of the most boring players to watch. I was one of the ones chanting for Monfeils and would do so every single time the two play. I don’t even understand the theory that the American fans have to root for the American players. Why? It is entertainment.

  • Scoop Malinowski · September 7, 2013 at 9:41 am

    Mark, you and all fans are entitled to support whichever player you want to but the way the fans were so zealously and vehemently backing Monfils embarrassed and hurt Isner IMO. They went too far. It was so extreme it was like an insult to Isner. But that’s tennis. Strange things will happen like this episode. We’ll see if it changes something in Isner’s court demeanor and playing style. Maybe he’ll try to do something different.

  • Bryan · September 8, 2013 at 8:31 pm

    The NYC crowd’s reaction to Monfils was unacceptable. Yes, he’s an entertaining player with flair but I’d bet most in the audience didn’t even know who he was. And to turn on the highest American seed in his own major? Disgusting.

    Compare that to the clowns who kept screaming when Victoria tried to serve today. The crowd is not nationalistic, they’re just fickle. Get an anthropologist to explain those clowns.



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