14 hours. 14 hours in the life of a tennis fan. To people who don't follow our sport we sound insane. How can your fortunes change over the course of 14 hours? But think about it. In what other sport are you juggling multiple rooting interests (sometimes simultaneously) throughout the course of a day? None. You don't have 8 different favorite football teams playing in one day. But you do have 8 or more favorite players playing in one day at a Slam.
Which means your fortunes and moods can change on a whim. It ain't easy.
Which brings me to Sunday. I hopped on the 7 to Flushing Meadows, cued up my iPod, hit shuffle, and it kicked off the day with "Happy" by the Rolling Stones. Not bad. Not bad at all. Then it went to "Ready To Go" by Republica. Hmmm...are you trying to tell me something, iPod? Are you my new Ouija board? Can you see into the future?
And then it went to "Needle in the Hay" by Eliot Smith. Ahem.
What the fuck would this day have in store for me?
First up at 11am in Ashe was Ana vs. Kim, a match that I was 99% sure Kim would win. But I bought a ticket into Ashe anyway based on that 1%. In the event Ana pulled it off, I wanted to be there. I didn't want to be the fan who totally thought she didn't have a chance, chose to sleep in, then check the livescores only to see she won. This may have been a futile effort but what you will find out about me if you actually ever got to know the real me (not so much the C Note me) is that under my prickly, cynical, haterade-fueled self-loathing misanthropy, lies a tremendously hopeful person. I want good things to happen. I hope good things happen. And when they do, I am on a Cloud 9 level of happy. And when they don't? Well, then I just revert back to my prickly, cynical, haterade-fueled self-loathing misanthropy.
Only with more alcohol.
As we all know, my 99% side was right. My sense going into the match was that Kim was just too solid off the ground and in her movement for Ana to hurt her. If Kim could just play steady and keep the ball deep, Ana would self-destruct. She would try and hit out too much, pull the trigger too early, and she would rack up the UFEs. And that's what happened.
I left the stadium bummed but I was ok. The win would have been a miracle. The fact that it didn't happen just meant it was business as usual. As I was walking out of the stadium I saw Dragana hamming it up with a bunch of her buddies. I distinctly remember thinking "well, if Dragana's smiling, then I should be smiling, too." So that made it better. I was happy to hear that Ana was in good spirits in her presser. I would have been really sad if she came out of this tournament thinking that she fucked up or something.
From there it was time to wander around, grab some food, say hello to some friends, and then head in to Armstrong, where I would have to sit through a bit of Sam Q's match in order to get a good seat for Moose. This was actually going to be my first Moose sighting of the week. I hadn't actually seen him play a single point live. So I was pretty excited.
But before all that, I was able to catch some Moose practice, where he sparkled in the sun alongside Masha, then gave some interviews to British press and signed autographs. I was actually quite surprised, as I had never seen any players give interviews or autographs prior to matches. But that comports with what I had heard this week from tennis folks that, while he's not the most engaging personality, he is always great about agreeing to do any interview that gets thrown at him, which isn't particularly common among the ATPers. So props to you, boyfriend.
Things started out ok. Both boys were playing well in the first set and I remember a point in the first or second game when Andy stepped into a short ball and crushed a backhand crosscourt for a winner. "Aw, yeah. He's playing aggressively! This should be a quick one," I stupidly thought. Yeah, that's the last aggressive backhand I remember. Andy was able to eek out the first set in a tiebreaker, much to the delight of his box.
His quality of play. It sucked. It sucked so hard you were left scratching your head. What the fuck was going on? In the third set I started to see him rub his quad and look over at his box with anger and disbelief. By the fourth set I was at the Heineken bar, drinking Newcastle (I don't know, maybe it would help) silently staring at the match on a TV screen while drunken douchebags were being all obnoxious around me. My favorite was an obviously drunken idiot, trying to order a Fosters (which they didn't have), telling me that Andy was getting his ass kicked. Apparently my absolute silence was not a strong enough hint, as he continued to bash on my boyfriend. The bartender, who I had become buds with over the week, was running all over the place but finally stopped to get the guy his beer so that he'd leave me alone.
So Andy lost. Early. At a Slam. In rather fantastic and puzzling fashion. There are only questions, no answers. It fucking sucked.
As I told a friend who had texted me her condolences, I'm not pissed that Andy lost. Shit happens and that's why you play the game. Besides, despite what the people sitting around me at Armstrong may have thought, Stan is a very very good player and he matches up well against Andy. Stan beating Andy does not surprise me. But it was *how* he lost. He was playing passively, he was fatigued, he was injured, whatever it was, he was not himself. He was unable to play good tennis in order to make the other guy beat him. That's what was so utterly frustrating about it.
If someone beats your guy when he was playing well, you buy a drink, you drink it, and you tip your cap and say, "Well done, you. You were better today." But when your guy is lollygagging about and not bringing anything close to his best tennis, you want to throw things at people and ball up in the corner and turn off the lights. It fucking sucks.
So yes, I killed some time at the Heineken bar, drinking beer after beer, getting hugs from friends and strangers (the bartender gave me a free drink, that's how obviously distraught I was) and waited out the Isner/Misha match in order to go watch Sam lose so that I can put a fork in the day and my Open and go home.
I'm not even exaggerating. My Open, as far as I as concerned was over. I was in such a deep K-hole I had zero hope that Sam would win. This was what the Tennis Gods were telling me: NYC has had enough of you, Courtney. Go back to your hippie confines of free-trade organic coffee and corn cars and enjoy your tennis from afar. This trip is over.
So I have to give a lot of thanks to Rishe, her friend Ronnie (please tell me I got his name right), Uncle Jamie, Auntie Cari (yeah, we're going with that for now), Lexi, and Christina, for spending time with me at the Heineken bar and getting me pumped up for the Sam match. It just really really helped to talk about things other than Andy and Ana and it helped get me out of my head. I also have to thank the asshole sitting next to us who was shit-talking Dinara all night. Thanks for reminding me that the world is shitty and I should just get over it.
And so in we went for the Sam/Elena clash. I honestly didn't know which way this match was going to go. It was a tough matchup for Sam, as Elena was solid off the baseline and keep getting balls back and draw Sam into long rallies, which ain't her thing. Then again, Elena's serve was weak enough for Sam to jump on and control some rallies to break. So once again, in my mind, it would come down to Sam's serve and how easily she was going to hold.
Well it was lights out in the first set. Sam served well and smacked that forehand. Elena wasn't even playing poorly. Sam was just an offensive machine.
But then Sam went on one of her "no, really, I'm just a top 30 player" runs in the second set, wherein she couldn't hold serve to save her life. Elena was breaking her with ease. But that did mean that we got a lot of really impressive rallies. These ladies were absolutely pummeling the ball, but with intent. This was hitting with the intent set up shots and rallies. It was really fun and impressive to watch. Apparently Tracy Austin and Martina were absolutely gushing at the display of athleticism. This was basically the NYTM piece come to life.
But like, without glitter, wind machines, and slo-mo. And tube tops.
On we were to a deciding third set, wherein Elena got an early break and raced to a 3-0 lead. And this was where I turned a corner as a Sam fan. I had total faith Sam was going to comeback. Comebacks against Justine, Serena, last week's MP saver against Errani, and this week's comeback from a set and a break down to Vezzie totally gave me hope. This isn't the same Sam who would crumble when she saw the W on the horizon. Nor was this the same Sam who seemed to easily accept defeat when the faint scent of an L was in the wind. This Sam was different.
I remember turning to Rishe at either 0-3 or 1-4 and saying "It's ok. It's ok. It's only one break." And at one point I muttered under my breath "Come on, Sam. Just like Paris," referring to the Justine match where she lost three straight games in the third set only to steel herself and win the set. Even when she was down match points (four times), I, as a fan, wasn't accepting that it was over. "Come on, Sammy. This point. Right here."
Sam played those match points courageously. That was the difference. Elena, really, should have converted the first one she had but she pushed the forehand juuuuuuuuuuust wide. But I absolutely loved how Sam played the other three. She ran around a forehand and crushed it down the line to set up an eventual winner, she came to the net, she hit a tough slice that barely cleared the net. It was gutsy stuff from a kid who, despite her great wins, isn't exactly known as a "gutsy" player.
It's kind of an amazing thing as a tennis fan to see one of your favorite players grown into themselves. To mature and, in Sam's case, change her story. Long thought of as the laid-back Aussie who was content to play doubles but would crack under any pressure, even feather light, that lay on her shoulders (let's face it, she cracked under the pressure of HIT FOR HAITI for criminy sakes), she's somehow morphed into a confident, fiery competitor who plays through until the handshake. And it says a lot that her belief is contagious.
So yeah, she did it. She came back from 0-3 down and then from 3-5 down, saved four match points, and rebounded after failing to serve it out at 6-5, to handily take the tiebreaker. And I screamed. Lord did I scream. Hell, everyone was screaming, as the StoBros made sure that everyone in that stadium was an Aussie for the night. It was a fantastic match, best ladies match of the tournament so far and I would not be surprised if it's the best ladies match of the tournament once all is said and done. There were so many points that just compelled you to applaud, regardless of your rooting interests.
And I was absolutely gutted for Elena. Really, I was. Sammy made her earn it on those match points and she just couldn't do it. She choked and she got tight. And she knew it was happening and she couldn't stop it. She was the better player for much of the night. She won 107 points. Sam won 106. Such is tennis.
It sucks that these two had to play so early. I really thought Elena played well enough to deserve more than a fourth-round loss.
But thanks, Sam, for redeeming my day. In return, I'll be in the upper rafters tonight, cheering you on as best I can against Kim (another match that seems like it's happening way too early). But whatever happens, know this: I've had a great time.
So that was my 14 hours of navigating earth, purgatory, hell, and heaven. I got home and immediately fell asleep with the lights on in my clothes. The adrenaline high? Amazing. The adrenaline crash? Coma inducing.
This is our lot, tennis fans. Embrace the chaos.