September 7, 2008

A Few of My Favorites

I woke up this morning at 6 a.m. feeling particularly inspired and so decided, on this last scheduled day of the 2008 U.S. Open, I would start a blog. Admittedly I wish I'd come up with the idea a few weeks (or months) ago, but hey -- better late than never, right?

Anyway, the women's final was postponed until today, thanks to some crazy rain yesterday, courtesy of Tropical Storm Hanna, and the second men's semi-final was stopped in the middle of the third set, with Britain's (or Scotland's) Andy Murray holding a surprising 2-set lead over Rafael Nadal.

But for now, I don't feel like predicting who the eventual singles champions will be. Since I've missed two weeks of what could have been interesting commentary, I'll instead reflect on some of the players that caught my eye.

After every major tennis tournament, I inevitably come away with a few new favorites, a couple guys and girls who did more than their part to entertain and battle on the court, and this year was no different.

On the men's side I have two picks, one who's been around a while and one who seemingly came out of nowhere.

I've always liked Mardy Fish, and quite literally found myself in the Fish Tank last month in New Haven when he played in the final at the Pilot Pen. He's cute, seems like a nice guy, and can smack the hell out of a serve. At this year's Open though, he committed a crime that could have doomed him in my eyes -- he beat James Blake. Anyone who knows me, knows how much I love Blake, and I thought their third round match-up would be a fun and lively exhibition. Two good friends would slug it out for a while, joke around a bit, but eventually the more experienced Blake would triumph. But a little past midnight, after three relatively short sets, it was Mardy that was walking away the victor.

I don't forgive people on the tennis court easily, and when you beat someone I love, you're persona non grata in my book (someday I'll share my thoughts on Marat Safin, Lleyton Hewitt and the like). As punishment, I sentenced Mardy to a fourth round loss to France's Gael Monfils, who turned twenty-two that day.

Mardy didn't obey.

But with a quarter-final meeting with world number one, Rafael Nadal, I figured he'd finally get his due. For the first time in recent memory, I was cheering against the American. The thing was that after having been at Flushing Meadows for ten hours already that day, I went straight home and at one-thirty in the morning found myself rooting for Fish again. He arguably played the best tennis of his life, and despite being the sore loser that I am, I wanted him to follow through with his first set win and pull out the upset.

He didn't, of course. Rafa's just amazing. But at nearly two-thirty, when the match finally ended, Mardy had made a legion of new fans.

Two-thirty. I think John McEnroe said that was the third latest finish for a match at the U.S. Open in history. Why so late? Partly due to my other new favorite player, Juan Martin Del Potro (and not Del Porto, or Del Portro, or De la Puerta, as the chair umpire seemed to think).

I'm embarrassed to say I'd never heard of Juan Martin until he beat Andy Roddick in L.A. a few weeks back. He's a kid too, gonna be 20 later this month, but he's got some serious game, came into the U.S. Open having won four straight tournaments, eighteen straight games, was seeded seventeenth at the Slam. He's got a long and unwieldy name, it's hard to cheer for him, as I found out during his nearly four-hour match with Andy Murray. But that didn't stop me from shamelessly screaming for "Juan!" or "Del Pot!" or whatever else I could come up with until my throat was dry. He's got a lot of tournament wins left in him though, I predict. I'm sure someone will think of some clever rally cry we'll be hearing soon.

On the women's side, sadly, I have to say I was less inspired. I'm a big Elena Dementieva fan, and I'm disappointed that she won't be playing in the finals. I also found myself rooting for Dinara Safina, despite my feelings for her brother, but her hope for the million-dollar U.S. Open Series prize money ended on Friday at the hands of Serena Williams. But they've both been around a while, won Olympic medals, earned their top-ten rankings.

There is one new girl I'll keep my eye on though, and I do mean girl. Coco Vandeweghe lost in the first round to Jelena Jankovic on opening night, but she's playing in juniors' final today. She's a sixteen-year-old, pretty California blonde, and she's got spunk. I saw her playing Kristie Ahn (who lost to Safina in the main draw) on Wednesday, and she definitely showed signs of promise. We'll see.

Before signing off on my first post, I want to congratulate the doubles champions that have been crowned so far. Bob and Mike Bryan won their sixth Grand Slam to regain their number one ranking, and Cara Black and Leander Paes teamed up to take the mixed title. Paes incidentally was also runner-up to the Bryan brothers in the men's doubles draw (which I love to see -- go India!) and Cara will pair with the US's Liezel Huber, who she defeated in the mixed championship, in the women's final. It is my firm belief that doubles matches don't get the attention they deserve -- some of the best points I've ever seen came from four players going nuts at the net. So, hats off to you guys!

And thanks to you for reading!

'Til next time, serve well and play hard!

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