Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Top 10 Matches I've Seen at the U.S. Open

10. Marc Gicquel over Gaston Gaudio 6-0, 4-6, 4-6, 6-1, 7-6 (7-3) on the Grandstand, 2006, 3rd round.
This match had all the ups and downs of a typical Gaudio match. At times he looked like he didn’t want to be there at all, but at other times he looked like the player he was on the clay in 2004 and 2005. He did not try in the first set, and he really didn’t try in the fourth set. In fact the final point of that set ended with Gaudio hitting a routine forehand literally out of the stadium. Surprisingly, however, Gaudio made an effort to come back after the first set bagel and he did so admirably. Then the fifth set really got good. There were some relentless baseline rallies, shocking gets (mostly by Gicquel) and some phenomenal shot-making. Basically it just came down to Gicquel wanting it more in the fifth-set tiebreaker.

9. Marat Safin over David Nalbandian 6-3, 7-5, 2-6, 3-6, 7-6 (8-6) on Louis Armstrong, 2006, 2nd round
This match was interrupted for about two minutes as the crowd on Louis Armstrong gave a standing ovation for Andre Agassi as Agassi lost his last match ever over on Arthur Ashe stadium at the same time. But it didn’t put a damper on the level of play or intensity on this court. Safin showed a surprisingly strong mental game, even though he gave himself no credit for that in his post-match interview. On match point in the fifth-set tiebreaker, Nalbandian controlled play the entire point, eventually ran Safin way wide into his deuce-side alley, the Russian made an unbelievable get and chipped it back as Nalbandian approached the service line, and Nalbandian excruciatingly missed a drop-shot on the tape, playing it too cute considering Safin was way off the court. To the fans delight, Safin’s on-court interview was even more entertaining than match point. I can’t remember exactly what he said, but in typical Safin fashion it was ridiculous and hilarious and featured plenty of instances in which Safin said he had been losing his mind and going mentally insane the entire match.

8. Juan Carlos Ferrero over Roger Federer 7-5, 7-6 (8-6), 1-6, 7-6 (8-6) on Louis Armstrong, 2000, 3rd round.
The main thing I remember about this one is that I barely had any idea who Juan Carlos Ferrero was and I had almost never even heard of Roger Federer. Fans could tell these guys were going to be the real deal (although nobody at the time would have predicted just what Federer has done), it was just disappointing that Federer couldn’t quite extend it to five sets, otherwise it would have been an epic.

7. Tommy Haas over Robby Ginepri 7-6 (7-1), 6-4, 3-6, 3-6, 7-6 (7-1) on Louis Armstrong, 2006, 3rd round
This was a rematch of a showdown you’ll soon hear about, one year later, same round, different court. It looked like Ginepri would be ousted with too much trouble after the first two sets, but he stormed back and forced a fifth set. Two Ginepri-Haas 3rd round U.S. Open matches in consecutive years, two five-setters! Throughout the fifth set, Ginepri held easily while Haas struggled on his service games. Ginepri even had 0-40 on Haas’ serve at 3-4 (I think) in the set. Unfortunately, Ginepri couldn’t convert and Haas managed to get it into a tiebreaker. Once there, everything changed, as Haas held all his service points and Ginepri held just one of his. The tiebreaker wasn’t close and left the fans disappointed, but that only took away just a little from an otherwise great match.

6. Richard Krajicek over Tim Henman 6-4, 3-6, 4-6, 7-5, 7-5 on Arthur Ashe, 2000, 3rd round
My brother, two friends and I will take the blame for Henman’s loss. Sitting in a box just a few rows up from the court inside Arthur Ashe Stadium, we started the wave at the 5-6 changeover in the fifth set with Henman about to serve to stay in the match. This was a night match at the Open and without any Americans being showcased, the atmosphere was not appropriate for a night match at the Open so we had to stir things up. Anyway, it worked with great success and delayed play for a few moment. Well, it didn’t work with great success for Henman. An epic match went down the drain with his worst service game of the night, punctuated by a devastating double fault to end the match.

5. Sargis Sargsian over Paul-Henri Mathieu 4-6, 4-6, 6-4, 6-2, 7-6 (7-4) on the Grandstand, 2004, 3rd round
Sargsian-Mathieu was not only an extremely well-played match, but the atmosphere was simply phenomenal. First off all, it was on the Grandstand, my favorite court ever (first because tons of epic matches always happen there, and also because it’s much a much more intimate setting for the fans than Ashe or Louis since every seat is close to the court and the front rows are practically right on the baseline and alleys). Second, the afternoon match quickly became a night match as it progressed. Most importantly, it was bordering on Davis Cup atmosphere, although the French fans were too few so the rowdy Armenians completely dominated and got most of the neutral observers, including me, to rally around Sarge. That could very well be what made the difference, as Sargsian pulled it out in the fifth-set tiebreaker, although not before Mathieu had one of the most epic holds of serve I’ve ever seen, at 5-5 in the fifth. That game lasted well over 15 minutes by itself.

4. Robby Ginepri over Tommy Haas 7-5, 6-7 (7-3), 6-4, 2-6, 6-3 on Arthur Ashe, 2005, 3rd round
Just as our crew takes part credit for Henman’s loss to Krajicek, my brother, two other friends and I take even more credit for Ginepri’s springboard win over Haas. Even though it was a night match in Arthur Ashe that featured an American, the crowd was nothing short of buzzkill. Our box provided by far the most vigorous support for Ginepri throughout the match. We weren’t exactly the J-Block, but we finally got at least some of the crowd riled up and backing Ginepri as the match entered the deciding set. A pleasant side note about the crowd: two German fans, probably trying to do too good a job keeping up with us, got kicked out of the stadium. Anyway, Ginepri played great tennis during the fifth set and to our delight emerged victorious. He tried to hit us a ball after the match but it went into the row behind us. Speaking of going further than expected, Ginepri followed up this huge victory with two more wins en route to the semi-finals.

3. Younes El Aynaoui over Jiri Novak 7-6 (7-1), 5-7, 3-6, 6-3, 7-6 (7-5) on the Grandstand, 2003, 3rd round
This was the first match on the Grandstand on the middle Sunday, and it turned out to be a shockingly good start to the day. El Aynaoui, always one of the most charismatic and likable players on the tour, was a favorite of mine and my dad and we saw every point of this match from the second row in our normal spot in the Grandstand behind the far baseline. El Aynaoui lived on his spin serve out wide in the deuce court; I’d love to know how many aces and service winners he had on that alone. He also lived on his slice backhand that he could somehow chip with alarming consistency just over the net, making Novak, who came to net a ton, hit volleys at his feet throughout the match. Novak, however, used his attacking, aggressive play to make this one a thriller. At 5-5 in the fifth set tiebreaker, I witness one of the best points and amazing shots I’ve seen at the Open. With El Aynaoui serving, a long rally ensued before Novak stretched El Aynoui out wide to his deuce court with a powerful approach shot. But El Aynaoui got to it and flicked a top-spin crosscourt passing shot by Novak, giving him a match point. After a Novak volley sailed long ay 5-6, El Aynaoui collapsed behind the baseline. After the handshake and hugging of people in his box, he proceeded to launch his shirt, spare shirts, wristbands, and tennis rackets into the crowd! I didn’t get one, but it was still amazing.

2. David Sanguinetti over Paradorn Srichaphan 6-3, 4-6, 6-7 (7-2), 7-6 (8-6), 7-6 (7-5) on Louis Armstrong, 2005, 3rd round

In terms of drama, atmosphere, and general positive energy between the players, this one was probably the best ever. An afternoon match on Louis Armstrong, this one went well after dark. Our crew was decked out in the Thai Paradorn shirts and we sat with the ever-faithful Srichaphanatics, banding our red thundersticks and all. Sanguinetti got mad at us several times during the match, screaming and gesturing and all that stuff, but there was never any bad blood between him and Paradorn. In fact they even gave each other a high five after one particularly amazing point in the fifth set, which I can’t remember exactly because there was just too much drama in this one to recall the specifics. I do remember after one point in the fifth set in which Sangunetti ran Paradorn all over the court before Paradorn finally dove for a shot that he couldn’t get, leaving him sprawled on the ground. He did nothing for a few tense seconds, bringing a hush over the crowd, but then he rolled over and started doing push-ups. Gotta love that! Unfortunately Sanguinetti, who as you probably know has made a living off just getting the ball in play and making his opponents beat themselves, was just too steady in the fifth-set tiebreaker. Still it didn’t take away from how amazing the match was and still remains, and Paradorn even did his traditional four-corner bow, which he usually only does after victories.

1. Magnus Norman over Max Mirnyi 3-6, 4-6, 7-6 (7-5), 6-4, 7-6 (11-9) on the Grandstand, 2000, 3rd round
I started out down low for this one, but ended up (after going elsewhere for a while) watching this all-time classic on the overhang in between Louis and the Grandstand with hundreds of other mesmerized onlookers. Norman-Mirnyi featured an awesome contrast of styles; at the time Norman was the No. 3 player in the world, one of the quickest guys around the court and lethal from the back of the court. 6’5’’ Max “The Beast” Mirnyi was and still is one of the last serve-and-volleyers, and while he’s had some good results in singles, he’s always been one of the best in the world in doubles. But Mirnyi hung with Norman throughout this match, forcing a fifth set despite being down 0-2. In fact Mirnyi appeared to have this match won several times in the fifth set tiebreaker. I’m not sure how many match points each player had in the ‘breaker, but on two of Mirnyi’s, Norman hit two ridiculous topspin lob winners. That’s right: he’s down match point and twice he lobs a 6’5’’ guy for winners. My brother remembers all the details because he was front row for this one, but I’m pretty sure this one finally ended with both players collapsing on the ground and the fans ready to do the same.

***would love to hear comments, especially from those who happened to be present at any of these matches, or just remember watching them***

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