While the U.S. Open is always exciting, there definitely was not the same buzz about it from New Yorkers, the way it was in the past. Attendance was terrific the first week of the fortnight tournament thanks largely to beautiful weather but the fact remains that going into the Open, the conventional wisdom was that Switzerland’s Roger Federer was invincible and that the only two contenders who had a prayer of knocking him off were Serbia’s Novak Djokovic and Spain’s Rafael Nadal. The best known American players in the Open, James Blake, Robby Ginepri, Mardy Fish and the overrated Andy Roddick were considered to be also-rans from the start. The one real future hope for patriotic tennis fans was the play of rookie John Isner from the University of Georgia who at 6’9” resembles more of an NBA prospect than a budding tennis star.
Robby Ginepri certainly understands the decline in tennis interest on the home front. “I am following in the footsteps of giants as Andre Agassi and Pete Sampras and I know that I am not in their category,” Ginepri conceded. “Tennis is much more global now than it was even just a few years ago and that makes it tougher. I realize that Americans don’t care about silver and bronze medalists. They want someone who brings home the gold.”
He also alluded to the rivalry tennis always has with golf. “There is no question that golf is more popular because the two best players on the PGA Tour are Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson who are both Americans.”
Ginepri’s buddy, Mardy Fish, was depressingly introspective. “The truth is that I have never done anything to create any excitement among fans here since I’ve never gotten past the second round of the U.S. Open. At this point it is fair to say that I am probably more of a journeyman at this point in my career than I am a contender. Nonetheless I am content in my life.”
Andy Roddick was a bit testy with the media following his second round win. When asked if he still thought about the disastrous 2005 Open where he was both unceremoniously bounced in the first round and was the centerpiece of a very expensive and very dumb campaign by American Express which revolved around some nonsensical intangible called ‘Andy’s mojo.’ “I really haven’t thought about it until now. I just had to suck it up and forget about it,” Roddick said somewhat unconvincingly. He also claimed that he never discussed the ill-fated ad campaign with AmEx officials.
He surprised the press corps with his belittling thoughts on college tennis. “If you are ready to turn pro then there is no point in playing college tennis since you are going to be so much better than both your opponents and teammates,” he stated. He conceded that there were educational aspects of attending college but said that it does not help you if you want to be on the ATP Tour.
Justin Gimelstob has always been known for having a repartee that is faster than his backhand. As soon as he lost his first-round match to Roddick, Gimelstob picked up a microphone and interviewed his victorious opponent for the USA Network. The first query from Gimelstob was “What was the key to the match aside from the fact that you are so much better than me!”
The most shocking statement of the first week was that Roger Federer, who has a very erudite image, admitted that he did not know who Althea Gibson was on the day the late tennis great was being honored on the 50th anniversary of her becoming the first black woman to win the U.S. Open at Forest Hills.