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Coco Gauff of the United States, celebrates after defeating Timea Babos, of Hungary, during the second round of the U.S. Open tennis tournament in New York, Thursday, Aug. 29, 2019. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)
Coco Gauff of the United States, celebrates after defeating Timea Babos, of Hungary, during the second round of the U.S. Open tennis tournament in New York, Thursday, Aug. 29, 2019. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)|Associated Press
Tennis

U.S. Open Notebook No. 2: Abrams analyzes net handshakes, gives kudos to the American women, hates on Nole and Serena, sees doubles and more

Neal Abrams

Neal Abrams

American women on the rise

The American women look like they’re starting to excel. Okay, we all know that Maddy Keys and now Sloane Stephens are frustratingly inconsistent, but what about the supporting cast? Sofia Kenin is the real deal and is only 20. Amanda Anisimova just was a French Open semifinalist at 17, but had to withdraw here in NYC due to the death of her father. But now we have a new teen to root for in Caty McNally, and, of course, Coco Gauff. Taylor Townsend deserves all the credit in the world for beating Wimbledon champ Simona Halep 7-6 in the third, and looks like she could be around for a while. We have the feel good story of Nicole Gibbs, the youth and exuberance of Whitney Osuigwe, Emma Navarro and Katie Volynets. And there’s a bunch more waiting in the wings.

Talk to the hand . . . shake

Handshakes. It’s a great tradition in tennis for the competitors to meet at net following their war to shake hands and to thank the umpire with a compulsory handshake. But the players find ways of communicating their true feelings when meeting at net. On Wednesday night Reilly Opelka went down in three quick sets to Dominik Koepfer. Opelka hit 24 aces, won 75% of the points when he got in his first serves, but still lost the match by winning very few points in which he had to offer up a second set (34%) and only 38% of the points won on Koepfer’s serve. Koepfer won 121 points to only 103 for Opelka, and for tennis, that’s getting destroyed. Opelka showed his displeasure by barely giving Koepfer a wave as they met at net.

On Thursday, Benoit Paire, the emotional Frenchman, didn’t even bother to fake a handshake. He just took his epic fifth-set tiebreaker loss to Aljaz Bedene as a dagger in the heart, and treated his opponent as if he was a leper and walked off the court. Most professionals respect their opponents, whether they win a tough one or lose a tough one. When Gael Monfils completed his straight set win over Marius Copil with a 360 degree jumping overhead (seriously…go find it on Youtube), Copil embraced the Frenchman, as they congratulated each other for a match well played.

But watch for the “fish”, when one player simply collapses his wrist and gives his opponent his mushy fingers to shake, as a memento of the match, the “old-fashioned”, where the two opponents, who maybe don’t know each other well, shake hands like two white guys from the 1950’s; the “soul-shake”, where the competitors clasp hands by wrapping their thumbs around each other followed by intertwining their fingers, like two soul brothers from the 60’s.

Today, with the upper tier of players being so gracious, the “shake-and-hug” or the “shake-and-chest-touch” have become so popular that we’re seeing that show up in Junior tournaments now. But check out the handshakes. Don’t miss out on the very last vestige of true sportsmanship …. or not. It’s a fitting end to the show.

Just say Nole

Is it me, or do you hate the way Novak Djokovic “thanks” the fans? First of all, it looks incredibly stupid and totally contrived. When Federer and Nadal wave to the crowd, somehow it looks classy. But when Nole does his thing it looks like a combination of a really bad white man’s dance, combined with retching like when you’re going to throw up, all while he’s high on a Quaalude after midnight at a fraternity party. I root for him to lose just so I’m spared the show.

Give Haggerty a chance to fix the ITF

I finally have to come to the defense of my good friend, Dave Haggerty. I’ve known Dave since we were both 13-years old (yes, that’s a verrry long time ago) and played doubles with him in Kalamazoo, the Indoors in Dallas, the Clay Courts in Louisville, the Westerns in Ohio, and countless other times. I even introduced him to his college roommate, Mike Yellin, when they both got tennis scholarships to George Washington. I can tell you that I’ve never known a better man in my life. He’s honest, he’s smart, he’s friendly, and he’s a consensus builder as he tries to please everyone. Of course it goes without saying that he loves tennis. If he can’t get the ITF to function properly and all work together, it can’t be done. Getting folks from all over the world from different cultures to agree on anything must be an impossibly thankless task, and if Dave can’t do it, nobody can. Give him the respect he deserves and he’ll make things right.

I'm so over Serena and her coat

What’s with Serena’s Dracula overcoat? I get that she thinks she’s a fashion diva, but an overcoat at a tennis tournament? I’m sorry, I just don’t get it. So, let me ask you, what do you dislike MOST about Venus’ little sister?

a) That she refers to herself as “Serena”?

b) That her anger reminds you of Mike Tyson?

c) That she has that ridiculous “spin-wave” after she wins?

d) Or that she still wins?

Boys will be boys . . . but beat men

Two American teenagers, 16-year-old Martin Damm and 15-year-old Toby Kodat, the 2019 National Junior Doubles Champions, got a wild card into the Open because they won Kalamazoo, and promptly beat veterans Mitchell Krueger and Tim Smyczek 7-6. 7-5, to move into the second round here in the Men’s Doubles. These guys were young enough to play in the Boys 16 Nationals, but chose to play “up”, entered the 18’s, won the thing, and now have won a match in a pool with the big fish. They set the record for being the youngest pair to win a main draw doubles match in the Men’s draw. Back in 1976 15-year-old Larry Gottfried and 16-year-old John McEnroe got the Kalamazoo-winning wild card and got a walkover in Round One before they fell in the second round. First round doubles winners receive a guaranteed $30,000. Not bad for a 15-years-old, huh? Worried about the future of American tennis? Don’t be.

The only time Zach Svajda will be compared to Kobe Bryant

Celebrities regularly make an appearance at the U.S. Open. On Thursday Kobe Bryant made a guest cameo, rooting on Coco Gauff. I remember seeing Kobe play as a high schooler when his Lower Merion H.S. team beat Chester High in the Pennsylvania District 1 semi-finals at the Palestra on the campus of the University of Pennsylvania on their way to the state high school basketball championship. Watching Zach Svajda, Govind Nanda, J.J. Wolf, and Martin Damm today is like watching Kobe back in 1996. When you find a young diamond in the rough it’s as exciting as puppy love. Watching them grow into bona fide professionals is a joy.

Stop complaining about security and be like Roger

Do you complain about the inconvenience of having to go through security at various events? Roger Federer was spotted emptying his pockets (someone in his entourage had his racket bag) for the guys with the badges. Even The Legend has to prove that he’s not carrying anything more dangerous than his game. So next time be like Roger. He even looked cool at the security checkpoint.

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