US Open 2018 Review

US Open 2018 Review image
  1.               Tweeting, as I recently mentioned, is far too shallow. Here's a more in-depth look at what's happening at this year's US Open.

US Open 2018

               I think we all know about the good parts of the new and improved US Open. It all starts with the newly renovated Louis Armstrong Stadium:  a big plus on many levels from its breezy atmosphere to the ease of getting something to eat with much shorter lines. However, I do have a list of beefs:

1)  Replay technology should be in place on all courts during the qualifying rounds. There is no excuse for its absence. Players in the “qualies” train as hard as the main draw players and hit the ball as hard as well. When fractions of an inch mean the difference between winning and losing, saving a few bucks by scrimping on the universal implementation of this technology is simply disrespectful of the players. The first job of all tournament directors is to make any tournament that they run friendly to the players.

2)  Play in Ashe Stadium does not begin each day until noon. And then, to make sure that the night crowd does not have to wait, there are only 2 matches scheduled each day in Ashe. For any ticketholder who goes all in and purchases a top-level seat in order to have a full afternoon of watching the top players up close and personal, this seems like a rip-off to me. Play should begin at 11am and there should be 3 full matches in Ashe. For example, yesterday Bryan/Sock men’s doubles could have been comfortably fit into the Ashe schedule. They have the star power and doubles matches are normally quite a bit shorter than singles matches. This new policy also has another unintended consequence: once the second Ashe match concludes, the largest venue is accommodating zero spectators. This means that the outside courts are inundated with fans looking to watch more tennis after 3:30 or 4pm. And the end of the day, this new schedule is bad for all of the fans.

3)  Coaching. A big deal was made over the implementation of the “excessive heat” Rule which allows the men to have a 10-minute break after a third set in a 3/5 set match. The WTA had already instituted such a Rule at the end of the second set in 2/3 set format for the women. It has been in place for several years. Commentators spent endless time debating the “no coaching” clause in this Rule: no contact with any member of a player’s “team” is permitted during this 10-minute intermission. That’s all well and good, but the fact is that there is coaching going on DURING THE MATCHES ALL OF THE TIME! I sat right next to Dominica Cibulkova’s coach during her second round match against Su-Wei Hsieh. Her coach was muttering instructions to her in (presumably) Slovakian when she was on his side of the net. Emboldened when he received no warning from the chair umpire, he went on to call out instructions even when she was on the far side of the court. To be sure, some of these comments were the usual “come on, you can do this”, but at least some were about HOW to play (It turns out that the Slovakian word for aggressive is remarkably like the word in English: agresívne). He was most often using this instruction after Hsieh had missed a first serve. This coach had also taken the additional step of removing his certification badge. To any naïve observer he then became nothing more than a loudmouth from Slovakia rather than a coach violating the Rules.

The fact is that if you speak a somewhat obscure foreign language, a player can be coached during an entire match. I contrast Cibulkova’s experience with that of Francis Tiafoe who was defeated by Alex Di Minaur in his second round match yesterday. Tiafoe, who at age 20 has had an outstanding year and is making his way up the rankings, had an entourage of USTA coaches sitting courtside. BUT THE PROBLEM WAS THAT THEY SPEAK ENGLISH! His coaches were reduced to silence because any violation of the “no coaching” Rule would have been obvious.

Having seen him play a few times on television, I knew that Di Minaur had an extremely consistent game. The match began with some explosive play from Tiafoe, but soon it became a battle of “percentage tennis.” What this meant was that Tiafoe made all of the moves that his coaches had taught him but he failed to recognize one big thing: DI MINAUR’S COACHES HAD TAUGHT HIM THE SAME THING AND HE WAS BETTER AT IT! It was soon apparent to me that Tiafoe needed to serve extremely well and then play BIG. He did this in the 3rd set which he managed to win. My point is a simple one: Francis’ coaches could tell early on that he needed to play BIG, but unlike Cibulkova’s coach, they were forced to sit on it and keep their mouths shut. The playing field should be level for all participants. My suggestion would be that in a match involving players from countries with a somewhat obscure language background, an anonymous monitor would roam the courts to insure fair play. Their role would be similar to that of an air marshal – undercover, and ready to act, if needed. They would have the authority to brief a chair umpire on any no-coaching infractions and thereby level the playing field for all competitors.

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