There have been no allegations of Russian machinations and American gullibility or complicity in the annual drama called the U.S. Open.
There will be an American in the ladies’ singles draw, Serena Williams, going for her 24th Grand Slam trophy, tying Margaret Court, and seventh here, breaking Chris Evert’s record, against a young Canadian making her first appearance at this event, Bianca Andreescu. The men’s final will see another great veteran, Spain’s Rafael Nadal, against a first-time finalist, Russia’s Daniil Medvedev.
For this we may be grateful, and indeed one reason to visit the three-week show in Flushing Meadows, Queens, every year — a bit late now, but you can plan for next year — is that it is one of the rare safe places left untouched, as best this reporter could see, by either Trump Derangement Syndrome or Deep State Scare or any of the symptoms in between that seem designed to keep us in gloom and doom when we should be blessing the endless American bloom (sorry, corny but I couldn’t resist).
With the fan week (including the qualifying draws), followed by a fortnight that includes the two main draws for the many of the best tennis players in the entire world (no aliens, yet), with also draws for juniors and wheelchair-bound athletes, the USTA hosts between half and three quarters of a million visitors to the fabled Billie Jean King Tennis Center — the great lady is always there watching the competition — and makes quite a bit of money for its well-managed effort.
Well-managed is not empty flattery; you will be hard put to find a better-organized event (three weeks, mind) in terms of keeping so many people feeling like humans, not sheep. Yes, there is a cost. At its most basic, a seat at the U.S. Open runs from 30 to 3,000 dollars, depending on day and event and seat, and the average fan can expect to spend 100 dollars during the first week (not the free fan week) and 250 at the beginning of the second, and 300 during the last four days. That is if he — or she — is frugal.
Whatever you spend, you will simultaneously feel wildly overcharged (50-dollar souvenir tee shirt, 10-dollar soft drink, and so forth; these are approximate prices) and hugely pleased with a rich experience of the simultaneously zany and brilliantly conceived and executed can-do side of America. And this, let us not forget, is as much our real, deep authentic side as are any of our not-so-successful sides, such as running a sensible foreign policy.
But our truest foreign policy is immigration, as Irving Kristol used to point out: people come here continually because it’s the freest, best place on earth — which is not the same thing as saying it is the only place on earth you might love or want to be at, obviously. Daniil Medvedev, the hot 23-year-old who made it to his first Grand Slam final ever by beating Grigor Dimitrov yesterday in a masterful display of both toughness and full-court chess, observed somewhere — I can’t recall if it was here or at one of several U.S. or Canadian tournaments where he has played brilliantly this summer — that he never imagined how “good it is” here. He was referring to the conditions on the professional circuit, but he meant, I think, more generally. This is a good country to live and work in.
Medvedev is the sensation of this year’s U.S. Open. He ran circles around Dimitrov, who had beaten Roger Federer in the previous round. The five-time U.S. Open champ woulda, coulda — but that’s tennis. A few small adjustments and the fourth set would have been his; in the fifth he was out of gas and in deep pain, though he never complained, never thought of quitting, and, after, asked the press not to talk about it because they should focus rather on young Grigor’s achievement. Real class is a rare commodity.
Another hot kid, Matteo Berrettini, same age as Medvedev, put up a great fight against another veteran master, Rafael Nadal, in their first set, almost had it in the tiebreak, then lost control to the man of Manocar, who cruised in to a chance to win his 19th overall Slam, one behind his friend Roger.
Medvedev and Berrettini play games as unique as Roger’s or Rafa’s, and a clash between them would have been interesting, but Nadal is at the top of his form and looks unstoppable. Medvedev has been described, including in this space, as having classic form; in reality, it looks that way if you only look at his sweeping gorgeous forehand and his killer service. And he moves, covers the court extremely well, races in to drop shots (a Berrettini specialty), and can retrieve anything, including backhands that get past him. But he has an unusual crouched backhand from the baseline that is unreadable and that he unleashes like a stealth bomb to either corner. He plays chess.
Nadal is favored; his fierce winners, this past fortnight, have been as accurate as ever, his focus on every point as obsessive, his passing shots unreachable.
On the women’s side, you also have a clash of generations. Just as there will be, due to Federer’s loss and Novak Djokovic’s retirement due to injury, no showdown between two of the Big Three or Four (if you count the missing Andy Murray), or Five (if you count Stan Wawrinka), this time the reigning queen of tennis, Serena Williams, will not face a pretender, such as Vika Azarenka or Maria Sharapova, but a total newcomer, Canada’s astonishing Bianca Andreescu, who has been a yearlong Cinderella story. She beat Swiss Miss Belinda Bencic in the semifinals in two sets, having needed three to dispatch American sweetheart Taylor Townsend in a previous round.
Miss Williams is favored; she is playing as well as ever, though some observers feel her speed, which looked hesitant in recent tournaments, has not been tested by the competition so far. Miss Andreescu, 19 and in full flight and passion, has a power game, but she tends to go a little wild on big forehands. Against Serena Williams’ unerringly placed shots to the sidelines, this could result in a rout.
But it’s New York. We have problems in this city, beginning with our pols; but this is what big cities have. We also have the great U.S. Open. Celebrate and enjoy.