US Open Tennis 2011: 7 Reasons Why It's the Best of the Grand Slams
The U.S. Open is a lot like any other Grand Slam—except that it's better.
As with any Slam, you have favorites, underdogs, upset alerts and sentimental heroes. You have brackets to fill, DVRs to set and articles to read (hopefully on Bleacher Report) so you can sound smart around the water cooler.
And if you're one of the lucky thousand fans who gets to witness the action in person, you should be making signs, buying sunscreen and debating the merits of face paint (and hopefully deciding you'll wear it, because that's what real fans do).
Every slam is awesome, it's true. But in Queens, N.Y., they've figured out how to make things more awesome.
Let's hop on an imaginary No. 7 train and take a tour of why the U.S. open is the greatest Grand Slam of them all.
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No, I'm not going to wax philosophical about government here.
In tennis terms, we say a surface is "democratic" when it can accommodate all playing styles. Hard courts do that, and it seems appropriate that a Grand Slam in New York would be all about welcoming players of every stripe.
Hard courts have been successful for grass-court specialists and have even been occasionally strong for the clay-courters. You can be a serve-volleyer, a defensive baseliner or something in between.
You don't often hear the phrase "hard-court specialist" unless you're in the same room as Kim Clijsters. And years-long streaks of dominance are rare too, unless you're Chris Evert or Roger Federer (but those two were pretty good everywhere).
As if that weren't accommodating enough, the U.S. Open is the only Grand Slam that has been played on grass, clay and hard courts. At least if you were playing in the 1970s, you couldn't complain about the surface.
There is one last advantage to hard courts: You won't get Deco-Turf all over your clothes when you roll on it.
And unless you have very good teeth you can't eat the stuff.
That's right, Novak, so don't even try.
The Night Matches
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In the City That Never Sleeps, it sometimes seems as if the tennis doesn't either. Matches have started near midnight, and the session can extend past 2:00 a.m.
(James Blake, one of the most prolific night players ever, could certainly attest to that.)
The first Grand Slam night match was played at the U.S. Open in 1975, and the USTA Tennis Center was the first to have lights at all the venues. Australia eventually followed suit, and now even Wimbledon is trying to get in on the act at Centre Court.
But "night match" and "U.S. Open" are inseparable.
Night matches are reserved for the marquee matchups between the big names. These are the players who can bring raw talent or a sense of celebrity—or both.
The USTA also uses night matches to showcase the American stars. There is a reason that some of the best night matches in U.S. Open history have featured players like Jimmy Connors, Andre Agassi, James Blake, Andy Roddick, Jennifer Capriati and the Williams sisters.
One low point in the night matches in recent years, unfortunately, has been the women's final. Since 2001, when the first night match between the Williams sisters failed to live up to huge expectations, each one has been a non-contest. It hasn't been the type of tennis that demands prime-time billing, and in fairness, the women's finals at Flushing Meadows have been that way for 15 years.
Let's hope that changes soon.
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True, all Grand Slams use tiebreaks in all but the final sets.
But as with so many things, the U.S. Open was the first to try it at all in 1970.
That's right, at one time you had matches without any tiebreaks in any sets. Imagine Isner-Mahut from last year's Wimbledon if none of the sets could go to tiebreaks—ouch. It might have lasted a fortnight.
Even today, the U.S. Open is the only Slam willing to embrace the concept all the way and have final set tiebreaks.
Let the other majors have their record matches in terms of length and games played. Let them have final sets that last forever.
The excitement you feel when the score hits 6-6 in the final set and you know the end is actually near is the most thrilling moment you can ever experience in a tennis match.
Besides, there is something to be said for brevity and respecting the effort of both players by allowing for tennis' version of sudden death.
Moving the Sport Forward
As if having the first night match, the first women's final at night and the first tiebreak weren't enough, the U.S. Open has kept the sport moving forward by embracing two other big changes.
In 1974, the U.S. Open was the first to offer equal prize money to men and women, a move that wouldn't be followed until a decade later when the Australian Open followed suit.
As for Wimbledon and Roland Garros? They finally did in 2007.
That's right: 2007.
The first use of the challenge system in a Grand Slam? At the 2006 U.S. Open.
The system already feels older than that, and it's hard to imagine a match going by without the "Oohs" and "Aahs" that accompany the 3-D animated flight of a tennis ball. It was supposed to reduce some of the friction between players and chair umpires, but sometimes that doesn't always work out (as in the above video).
Arthur Ashe Stadium
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Go ahead, enjoy your courts and arenas; we have a stadium, and it more than lives up to its name.
Just look at that picture and pretend you could call it anything else. As we do with so many things in America, we took the typical tennis venue and super-sized it.
How big is Arthur Ashe Stadium?
Well, it holds about 23,000 people, making it the biggest single venue. Players have often spoken of how much distance there is between the service line and the back wall. It's cavernous, and you certainly can't hit a tennis ball out of it. It has nosebleed seats.
Big, big and big.
Melbourne might have the overall daily and nightly attendance records, but for packing people into one place to watch a sport that probably can only be seen well from a quarter of the seats, you have to credit Arthur Ashe Stadium.
Hometown Heroes Who Actually Win
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America has had an embarrassment of riches in Slam-winning tennis players. They're usually quite good at hard courts, too.
On the men's side, we've had 19 champions and six all-American finals in the open era.
The women's side? 21 champions, nine all-American finals.
Of course, America is in a mini-drought with the men right now, going without a champion since Roddick in 2003.
Our longest dry-spell? A 10-year stretch for the women from 1988-1997.
Why does that give the U.S. Open an edge over other slams? Because that annual success in New York is a big part of what fuels the continued growth of tennis in the U.S. It makes the fans happy, helps get new venues built, elevates the country's Masters and Premier events into mini-majors, brings in sponsors and gives young players an example.
Success breeds success in tennis; Li Na's single French Open title is already spurring a boom in Chinese tennis.
Even if the men stay winless for a while, compared to the other Slams, America will still be doing fine.
Australian men have gone 35 years without a title in Melbourne. The women? 33 years.
France has had a drought of 28 years for the men and 11 years for the women. Yannick Noah last raised the Coupe des Mousquetaires in 1983, and Mary Pierce last held the Coupe Suzanne Lenglen in 2000. Both were the only French champions at Roland Garros in the open era.
As for Wimbledon, let's just say it's been a while. A British woman, Ann Haydon Jones, won Wimbledon in 1969 and Virginia Wade won in 1977. But as for the gentlemen, it's best we try not to think about it.
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And if all that wasn't enough, then you have New York.
Not many cities could be nicknamed "The Big Apple" and still maintain street cred, but New York does. It is the biggest city that hosts a Grand Slam and is truly a global city.
New York pulls ahead in the pop culture wars too. Consider music. London, of course, has "London Calling" by The Clash in its favor, plus "Streets of London" by Ralph McTell. The Pet Shop Boys' "West End Girls" comes to mind, too.
But where are the songs that celebrate just how awesome the city is instead of talking about fog or class consciousness?
Plus, be honest: When you hear "London" and "song" in the same sentence, you'll probably also think of the hip-hop version of "London Bridge" by Fergie, which had nothing to do with the bridge or the city.
It's a tough association to get past.
By contrast, New York has Sinatra's "New York, New York." Most recently, Jay-Z and Alicia Keys celebrated it in Empire State of Mind." John Lennon, Bruce Springsteen, Lou Reed and Bob Dylan have all written quirky love notes to the city.
For a tennis Grand Slam, you couldn't ask for a better backdrop.