Serve and Volley

For Fun and Profit

Americans struggle at the Citi Open under stormy skies.

By 8.2.13

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Tommy Haas remarked that, as he approaches the end of his career as a tennis pro, he becomes more aware of the crowd cheering him on, which he remembers as being less interested in, less conscious of even, when he was breaking into the big time. He means, I suppose, that he has gained some perspective on the sport and his role in it, and he can watch himself being watched.

On the court, he watches the ball. The intensity he brings to the game does not bring to mind a man thinking about retirement: but this may be to misunderstand the key quality of someone who really, deeply enjoys his work. A man who has been at or near the top of his profession is not likely to relax his winning ways until he has officially proclaimed: Time to relax. Andy Roddick and Andre Agassi, to take American examples (Haas is himself an immigrant and a U.S. citizens, speaks perfect American English), played as well as ever during their announced final runs at the U.S. Open, and for a few matches the fans were thinking, hoping, they might go out with one last trophy.

Watching Haas against the splendidly gifted young newcomer, Tim Smyczek, in the second round at Washington’s Citi Open tournament, played at the William H.G. FitzGerald Tennis Center at 16th and Kennedy Streets, you would not think the man could be nearing the end of his career. He started a little slow, but Haas often does. So do many players, actually. Novak Djokovic regularly drops the first set in a match. Maybe some people need to warm up, get the feel of their opponent.

He lost the first set Tuesday night, took the second, and within a shorter time frame repeated the pattern yesterday, as Smyczek broke him early and seemed to have some momentum as they resumed the match that had been suspended due to rain. He double faulted, opened space in the court to Smyczek’s attacking forehand. But he stayed on his game, breaking right back and keeping things steady with his elegant one-handed backhand, seizing his chances. Despite flourishes that show he can respond to anything shot at him (such as second serves regularly hitting 125 mph), Smyczek began sending baseline shots long and missing opportunities to turn things around again. Haas broke him in the eighth game, then served out the match swiftly, with a superb passing shot to end it.

End of career? Maybe it is only a way of speaking. He lives what the ancients called an examined life, so he examines it. How does the line go -- “In the middle of the journey of our life, I came to myself in a dark wood…”

Tennis and the examined life, that’s the ticket. Meanwhile, matters have not been outstanding for our side at this tournament. Juan Martin Del Potro, a two-time past winner here, made short thrift of Ryan Harrison, and while Tommy Haas was finishing off the courageous and good-natured Tim Smyczek, Kei Nishikori, who is seeded no. 2 behind the big friendly Delpo, was taking apart Jack Sock.

These two matches were rather surprising as both Harrison and Sock have been playing well and might have been expected to give these higher-ranked players a good run for their money. The money is pretty serious here, I might add, with the winner promised nearly three hundred thousand and the finalist nearly half that. It is not clear whether they get a Lexus automobile as well, I will ask. Lexus is a sponsor and is providing cars for the back and forth between the hotel and the tennis center. Not so many years ago, when the tournament was young, players relied on the organizers and their friends to shuttle them back and forth between guest rooms in their homes and the courts, which laid out provisionally and taken apart afterwards to keep Rock Creek Park pristine. Eventually Mr. William H.G. FitzGerald built a stadium with his own money.

And Mardy Fish too lost, a bit of a disappointment after the great match he played yesterday against Julien Benneteau, to the big South African Kevin Anderson. He resisted to the end in the first set but could not keep up in the second, taking only one game.

Sam Querrey was out-maneuvered and out-hit, too, by Grigor Dimitrov, and John Isner edged the agile and stylish Somdev Devvarman to keep at least one American standing additional to Haas. There is no reason Del Potro should not be included among ours, other than Argentina. However, Argentina is not necessarily a bad reason, though Mr. Falcoff will have to be consulted on that question and he is away for the summer, and, to be sure, Delpo should be consulted too.

The central Europeans, including the sons of central Europeans who have moved out of central Europe, are lean and hungry. You ought to see sons of emigrants from what was once Yugoslavia, for example Milos Raonic, whose parents are from Montenegro, or the fellow who beat him today, Marinko Matosevic, whose family is from Croatia, and boy there you would see lean and hungry youth. Tommy Haas was scheduled to play again late at night against one of them, Ivan Dodig.

However, Raonic said something very interesting after his disappointing loss. He said he tends to lower his game against less good players, raise his game against the better ones. He was not being a poor loser; he is a courteous and honorable sportsman, but he was pointing out that played less well against Matosevic, to whom he gave full credit for winning, than he played lately against, for example, Andy Murray. Rod Laver, in his fine book The Education of a Tennis Player (with some advice and help from Bud Collins), makes exactly that point. In other words, never take nothing for granted! -- especially your own abilities when up against those of others who are out to get you.

It was a busy, crowded day, with several players double-scheduled to make up matches that had to be postponed due to the stormy weather. The great Argentine for example, after beating Louisiana’s Ryan Harrison in the morning, faced down Bernard Tomic -- another son of Yugoslavia who, like Matosevic, grew up in Australia -- during the night. He noted that you should never take Bernard Tomic for granted and he clearly played a masterful game, never letting up as he overwhelmed him in two sets.

There are far more visitors here at night than during the day. Maybe it is the summer weather; at any rate, the tournament remains one of the brighter spots for Washingtonians and suburbanites weary of politicians with their hands on the people’s wallets. Heading into the quarterfinals this weekend, it is well worth a stop.

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About the Author

Roger Kaplan, a Washington-based writer, covers the Middle East and Africa (and tennis) for The American Spectator.