Last night (Friday, August 30) at the U.S. Open was one of those nights in New York City that the natives live for. There were two very entertaining Men’s matches played under the lights, both of which brought out the spectators, and some of the fans had a few too many adult beverages, which contributed mightily to the incredible atmosphere of the greatest tennis tournament in the world.
Defending Champion Novak Djokovic made short work of transplanted American Denis Kudla, 6-3, 6-4, 6-2, but the world’s #1 was tight, combative, and ornery the whole night. Faced with an injured left arm (his “off” arm), Djokovic wasn’t sure he’d be able to play this match, and moved his practice session back three times before he just scrapped it completely, save for a 20-minute time where he tested his arm by hitting some of his two-handed backhands and practiced his toss on his serve. Already testy, Nole got into a verbal altercation with a fan positioned behind the fence where he was practicing who, evidently, was heckling the player. Nole walked back to the fence where they had a few words, and The Joker could be heard, as he retreated, threatening “….I’ll find you after the match.”
Novak may be 6’2”, but if he weighs 180 pounds I’d be surprised, so as it became apparent, as he ran through Kudla like a warm knife through butter, that a physical confrontation wasn’t going to happen, I’m not sure who was more relieved---the fan, or the player. But clearly, Nole is on edge here in The City.
More interestingly, however, was the very competitive match between Spaniard Feliciano (“Felo”) Lopez and world #5, Russian Daniil Medvedev. The night before, Medvedev had extreme difficulty with the heat and humidity in his four set win over Hugo Dellien. The Russian started to cramp in the third set, which he lost, and was very lucky to be able to complete the match, let alone win. So Medvedev went into his match, with the appealing Lopez, already on edge. By 5-all of the first set, both warriors were soaked in sweat, their shirts clinging to their bodies like a wet-T-shirt contest. Medvedev pulled out a first set tiebreaker in which the New York fans decided to get behind the Spaniard, and an ugly scene almost ensued.
First, the usually mild-mannered Medvedev yanked a towel out of a ballboy’s hand (a real faux-pas) and disgustingly threw it to the ground, engendering a chorus of boos and hisses from the already pro-Lopez crowd. The umpire game him a warning (after three, the player is defaulted) and the Russian followed that by raising his middle finger to the crowd, but shielded it from the umpire by positioning the bird on the other side of his face away from the official. When the umpire saw the replay on the big screen (in slow motion!), he warned the Russian that he couldn’t penalize him because he didn’t see it in real time, but made it clear that his gesture was beyond the realm of what he would accept as rational behavior.
The Second Cold War was on! The pro-Lopez crowd booed just about every gesture the Russian made, and really got behind the 37-year-old underdog. Medvedev was clearly the better player, hitting aces on his serve almost at will, but he had to battle thousands of American fans who took none too kindly to his ornery attitude.
When Medvedev closed out the third set tiebreaker to take a 2 set to 1 lead, it looked like a foregone conclusion that he would win the match, as long as he wouldn’t be felled by cramps. But the crowd would have none of it, and got on the Russian like only a New York crowd can. It reminded me of the scene at the Philadelphia Spectrum in 1975 when the Russian Army hockey team got bloodied by the Philadelphia Flyers and booed by their rowdy fans in their exhibition game against the then bad boys of hockey. Until the coach pulled his team off the ice, the Russians appeared to be in real danger from the toxic combination of rowdy hockey players and intoxicated hard-core anti-USSR fans.
When the inevitable end came, and Medvedev walked away with a hard fought 7-6, 4-6, 7-6, 6-4 triumph, he told the crowd in his on-court interview how he couldn’t have won without their help. The crowd was offended, and needless to say, Medvedev has become the new Boris Badanoff to the pro-Capitalist crowd, and I’d expect him to play the villain for as long as he remains in the tournament. That’s good! Like professional wrestling, you always need a villain to balance the heroes, and now we’ve got one! Nick Kyrgios move over. We’ve got a real villain to boo!
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