Words and Photos by Matthew Romano
Graphics by Aspasia Celia Tsampas
Quick, short glossary for the non-tennis, hopefully-soon-converted, fan:
- Grand Slam (Singles): Basically, the “Super Bowl” of Tennis, a 128-person tournament with one for men and one for women. There are four per year, all in different countries. The one in focus here being the U.S. Open, held every year at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing, Queens (right across from Citi Field).
- WTA: Women’s Tennis Association
- ATP: Association of Tennis Professionals
- Hold: When you (the server) wins a game while they are serving.
- Break: When your opponent wins a game while you are serving.
- First Serve: The server lands the ball in their opponent’s half of the court on their first attempt. (These serves are typically stronger and faster).
- Winner: An often-spectacular tennis shot that goes unreturned, earning a point for the person who made the shot.
- Unforced Error: A less-than-spectacular tennis shot that hits the net or lands outside of the court.
Consider this, everyone knows who won the Super Bowl each year even if you have never seen a game of football a day in your life, it’s almost like it’s the “American” thing to do. For some context, 3.2 million viewers tuned into the U.S. Open Women’s final this year, 2.7 million for the U.S. Open Men’s Final, and the average viewership for the entire two-week tournament was roughly 1.3 million. By comparison, Superbowl LIII, deemed by many to be one of the worst Super Bowls in league history, came in at a whopping 98.1 million viewers – making it the most-watched sporting event of the year, the U.S Open final’s barely making the top fifty. Luckily there are tennis-addicted fans who watch religiously, dish out hundreds on U.S. Open tickets as if it was a Beyoncé concert, and have the numbers and knowledge to show for it – filling in by the masses.
Wrapped in my towel and making a steady stream of water in my house on my stroll inside (knowing full well I’d hear about it from my parents later), I stop in the living room to check ESPN for baseball scores. What I find is a tennis match between American, Venus Williams (who I’ve obviously heard of before but don’t know much about) and Czech, Petra Kvitová. Normally I’d flip the channel, but something about Venus’ name – the play, the quickness of the shots, the constant excitement and payoff – kept my focus as I stood there, the stream of water becoming a puddle on the carpet, posting on Facebook about the match (because of course). It was September 5, 2017 (Yes, I swiped all the way down on my Facebook profile – can’t you stalk yourself on social media?). Now, more than two years later, I am writing this article inspired by finally making it to the U.S. Open, something that I’ve wanted to do since I watched Venus (Auntie V) win that match, in a soaked bathing suit, on a wet carpet, in a house of screams, eyes super-glued to the Wilson tennis ball darting across the court – the same court I visited two weeks ago a bigger fan than ever, watching Kvitová once again. Here are some of the numbers, the moments, and the memories from this year’s U.S. Open.
Bianca Andreescu (Can.) def. Serena Williams (U.S.): 6-3, 7-5
Bianca Andreescu, only 19 years old, pulled off one of the biggest upsets of the year in the biggest match of her career, defeating 23-time Grand Slam winner, Serena Williams of the United States. The underdog certainly won in this one – it was Andreescu’s maiden Grand Slam final and Williams’ 33rd. Most recently, Serena made the finals at Wimbledon (losing to Romanian, Simona Halep) and has lost what is now the last 4 grand slam finals since her return to the WTA tour following the birth of her daughter, Olympia, and a bout with post-partum depression (yes, it’s a real thing and yes, it can happen to anyone).
How It happened:
The Serena ‘slow-start’ lasted a bit too long for comfort in this one. Williams would go down 1-5 in the second set (having lost the first 3-6). Facing scoreboard pressure, in typical Serena fashion, she saved match points as she clawed her way to 5-all in the second set. However, the comeback was too little too late for the American who saw Bianca close out the match 7-5 with a break and a hold of serve.
Some key stats illuminate Bianca’s dominance in this match:
- First Serve %: Bianca (66%) vs. Serena (44%)
- Winners to Unforced Errors: Bianca (19:17) vs. Serena (33:33)
One may have expected the viewership and ratings for this one to be slightly higher with Serena going for a rather elusive, record-tying, 24th grand slam against rising Canadian star Bianca Andreescu. Serena, 38, is undoubtedly a major attention draw (on and off the courts – having launched her fashion line Serena with a show at NYFW), and her being an American certainly helped bring in the 3.2 million that watched. It is reasonable to assume that Andreescu’s Canadian roots also slightly contributed to higher American viewership. Despite American tennis’ seeming inability to reach past its base supporters – those being tennis fans, fans of individual players in the finals, and the many celebrities who often frequent the Open – this women’s final ranks as the second-highest in terms of millions of viewers out of ESPN’s 256 U.S. Open telecasts.
Rafael Nadal (Esp.) def. Daniil Medvedev (Rus): 7-5, 6-3, 5-7, 4-6, 6-4
In a grueling five setter, 19-time grand slam winner and four-time U.S Open winner Rafael Nadal of Spain outlasted Russian-born 23-year-old and up-and-comer Daniil Medvedev in what was the former’s 27th grand slam singles final and the latter’s maiden one. In this one, the underdog fell short to Nadal’s relentlessness and big-match experience.
How It happened:
Nadal broke first in what were gauntlet first and second sets. Deadlocked on-serve the majority of those sets which both went Nadal’s way. In the next two must-win sets, Medvedev did just that with a net-game that seemed to stymy his world-class opponent at times. The decisive fifth set was all Nadal who withstood a late push by the Russian to clinch his 19th grand slam title, second of the tennis season, and 4th at the Open.
While there were no Americans in this men’s final to bring in crowds, and fans were ‘robbed’ of the much hoped-for Nadal vs. Federer clash, this match turned out to be one of the more electric matches of the entire tournament. With the win, the Spaniard climbed up the leaderboard to 19 grand slams, an earshot away from Swiss hero Roger Federer’s 20. Rafael is 33, Federer and Serena are 38 – and both are continuing to defy Father Time.
Other Important U.S. Open Moments
What were you doing at 15 years old? Debating with your friends whether Takis or Flamin’ Hots were the superior spicy chip? Staring at #thedress memes all day trying to prove to your friends that it’s Black and Blue? Well, at the age of 15, American tennis sensation Cori ‘Coco’ Gauff has modestly taken the tennis world by storm with amazing, awe-inspiring performances against top players. I had the immense pleasure of going to the U.S. Open this year (best day of my life – hands down) and can say that the ‘mania’ is real. The crowds were raucous and deafening, the seats (and I mean every single one) were filled, and the electricity was palpable.
The Rise of American Tennis and the WTA
Gauff is exemplary of an overall rise in quality, star power, diversity, and hype surrounding American Women’s tennis. Seeing as they are the trailblazers, it is only natural to turn to the Williams sisters when thinking of U.S. born tennis stars. However, stars such as Coco Gauff, 2017 U.S Open winner Sloane Stephens (15), Madison Keys (13), veteran Alison Riske (32), as well as new-wave American tennis sensations Amanda Anisimova (29) and Sofia Kenin (17), round out the story and encapsulate the dominance of American women’s tennis. This all bodes well for a WTA that has risen in attention considerably over the last few years.
The difference in viewership between the men and women’s final this year are just the latest example in a trend that has seen the WTA garnering support, views, and recognition to similar or even greater degree than the ATP. So, I end on this question: what other sport can say that their women’s league or division consistently incites the same or more media and mass excitement as their male counterparts? Women’s soccer? Maybe. Women’s gymnastics? Certainly, but only in Olympic circles. What about the WNBA, the NCAAW – well they unfortunately can’t hold a basketball to the almost suffocating hysteria and eminence of the NBA or NCAAB.
So, maybe tennis isn’t so bad after all. I mean, just look at the photos!