An Exercise in Contrast at the U.S. Open

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Arthur Ashe Stadium as seen from the cozy Court 17 [photo by yours truly]

Most of my connection with sports comes from playing them at a young age. I played several – basketball, soccer, swimming, volleyball, the list goes on – and I still believe that the sports I appreciate most are the ones where I’ve learned basic strategy and competition styles through firsthand experience.

While I never got around to playing tennis, my brother played throughout high school, and, supporting my theory from above, he follows the sport pretty closely and has his favorite players. I know the rudimentary rules of the game, and I’ll watch a match with him if he’s watching, but I’ve never really followed the sport the way he and my father, another regular tennis player, do. The two of them have made a habit of going to the U.S. Open on the tournament’s opening day and have always insisted that I join them. Since it wasn’t really my thing, I didn’t really push myself to go, but after hearing them talk about about how fun it is to go to the tournament for a few years now, I decided to join them this year and see what all the fuss was about.

Before the trip, I consulted my brother and fellow blog-mates that know more about tennis than I do, and we set an itinerary based on the opening day’s schedule of play. After talking with them, I developed an appreciation of the intricacies of the sport and the differences in style of play, most notably between quicker, agile players that can run down difficult shots and big hitters that are less mobile. Since our tickets gave us access to the grounds and not the main court, our itinerary focused on two matches featuring players that exemplified these styles: the athletic Frenchman Gael Monfils and the powerful Canadian Milos Raonic.

Monfils’ match was up first, and it was a pleasure to watch. We watched a women’s match before his that featured a pretty quick player in Belinda Bencic, and it was fun to watch Monfils track down shots that even Bencic couldn’t run down. Even though the outcome of his match was never really in doubt, Monfils clearly gave it his all early and late in the match. You simply don’t see a player hit a forehand winner after somersaulting out of the previous shot to keep the rally going or chase down an overhead shot far enough off the court and with enough gusto to knock over the sideline clock, and yet that’s exactly what Monfils did. His hustle made even the points he lost longer, tiring out his opponent, Gilles Muller, who needed to hit multiple precise, hard shots in a rally to win the point.

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Even the ball boy is in awe of Monfils’ clock-breaking hustle [photo cred to my brother for this shot]

Raonic’s match came up later, and it was a much different experience. Since Raonic is a bigger player, he isn’t as light on his feet as Monfils, but he can put more power into his serves and ground strokes, which leads to quicker points and fewer extended rallies. I had seen big servers in televised matches with my brother in the past, but witnessing a 140-mph serve in person really emphasizes how big-serving players are always in their matches, since returning and winning one individual point, let alone winning a service game, is really difficult when there is only a fraction of a second to react to a ball that’s barely visible.

After watching these matches and players’ playing styles in person, I prefer Monfils’ style slightly to Raonic’s. That complete and total willingness to do whatever is necessary to win is something that carries over from all sports, and it’s something that I can easily relate to from my old basketball days. I’m still in awe of how hard Raonic was able to serve the ball, but as a newer fan, it was a little more fun to watch longer rallies. In the days since my visit to the U.S. Open, I’ve found myself checking scores and watching matches in my down time, and I’ve also found myself pulling for Monfils (who has advanced to the semifinals! Allez Gael!). I doubt I would have gained such an appreciation for his hustle or Raonic’s serve speed had I not gone to the tournament this year. Who knows? Maybe this is the start of a new sports following of mine!

 

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