NUsually the US Open comes last. For more than 30 years, the illustrious series of Grand Slam tournaments on the planet tennis began in January in Melbourne with the Australian Open, followed by Roland Garros in Paris in late May and Wimbledon a month later, and only settled in the last days of August the view of New York. But what is normal in these times?
Last year, no one knew if things would end well when the American Tennis Association announced its Open as the first of the big four tournaments after the start of the pandemic; Roland Garros was postponed to a later date, Wimbledon was canceled. The thing worked surprisingly well, of course without a spectator. This time the tournament is back in fourth place, but in some ways fourth is right up there.
Because when the gates to the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows open this Monday, there will be no audience restrictions. Anyone who has a card and has been vaccinated at least once is allowed in, including the Arthur Ashe Stadium, the largest tennis stadium in the world with 23,771 seats.
The first game in the huge bowl, 12 o’clock local time, will certainly not be full; that never happens at this time of day. But the two Americans who will meet there know the stadium when there is hardly any space left and the energy of the people is like an electric shock.
Four years ago, Sloane Stephens and Madison Keys played for the title on the last Saturday of the tournament. The game didn’t last long because Keys had a pretty bad day and didn’t stand a chance.
Four years ago the final, this time the first round, and neither of the two was among the seeded players – that’s a little story on the edge of a big tournament that lacks the greatest of all. Like four years ago, Serena Williams is not there; at the time she gave birth to her daughter Alexis Olympia at the beginning of September, this time she is not yet fit after the injury that she sustained at the early exit at Wimbledon.
Defending champion Osaka
Serena Williams will be 40 years old in just under four weeks, and it’s just taking a little longer to regenerate. But the defending champion is there, Naomi Osaka. When the Japanese won her second title at the US Open twelve months ago and in front of empty stands in New York and even more so in her second triumph in Melbourne earlier this year, it looked like there was no better on the hard courts of the tennis world.
In principle, with her first-class serve and her powerful basic strokes, she still fits perfectly with the blue ground on which Flushing Meadows is played. But after everything that has happened in the past few months, it is difficult to realistically assess the defending champion’s chances.
When asked a few days ago if there was a thing or two that she had learned from what happened during the French Open, she said, “One or two? Honestly, I feel like I did a lot of things wrong back then. But I’m a person who lives strong in the moment; I will say or do what I feel like. Now I might think a little more beforehand, but I had no idea what a big thing it was going to be. “
The way she tried to draw attention to her mental health problems in Paris back then may not have been perfect, either in timing or execution. But there is no doubt that the subject of mental health in the predator cage of professional sport has since been discussed differently and more clearly.
How well she is now is hard to say; She did not start at Wimbledon, lit the flame at the Olympic Games in Tokyo and was eliminated in the round of 16 a few days later, and most recently at the tournament in Cincinnati she only won one game.
On Monday evening, in the first game of the Night Session against Czech Marie Bouzkova, you might see how the situation is. She is always nervous before appearances in the first round, and this time the tension could be a little bigger. “First I had to come to terms with the feeling that people look at me a little differently than before. But I just tell myself: It is what it is, and what I did, I did. “
This last sentence could also come from Angelique Kerber, who also met many people and opinions in the carousel of her career. Since she landed in the semifinals at Wimbledon in the summer after two and a half lackluster years, suddenly some things seem to be possible again. Kerber’s draw is not easy, it starts on Monday at noon on Court 17 against Dajana Jastremska from Ukraine. In front of presumably full seats and in front of people whose applause she has long missed.