Tennis is probably the only sport where you can be at the top of your game in your teens and then be over the hill by your mid 20s. Martina Hingis was the most dominant female player in the late ’90s. She won the U.S. Open at age 16 in 1997, which began a string of Grand Slam victories. By age 22, however, she was both physically and mentally fatigued and quietly withdrew from competing on the Women’s Tennis Association Tour.
Three years later in 2006, an unseeded Hingis decided to try a comeback at Flushing Meadows. After a harrowing victory against China’s Shuai Peng, Hingis did her best to convince the media in her post match news conference that at age 25 she is now a better player than she was when she won the Open nine years ago. Hingis tried to deflect the fact that women’s game now is far more geared to speed and power than on finesse and strategy, which were always her strong suits. France’s unheralded Virginie Razzano coldly reminded Hingis that time doesn’t stand still, as she defeated her in straight sets two days later in second round play at the U.S. Open.
Few enjoy playing at the Open as much as New Jersey native Justin Gimelstob does. By his own admission, his playing career has not lived up to expectations but that has not affected his keen wit. After winning his first round match at the Open, I asked Gimelstob if either Roger Federer or Rafael Nadal had any reason to start worrying. “Not from me they don’t!” he quickly retorted with a hearty laugh. Gimelstob was being interviewed on Sports Net NY’s “Daily News Live” program after being beaten by David Ferrer. In the middle of his segment, SNY lost the video but the audio feed remained intact. When informed of the technical difficulties, the handsome but self effacing Gimelstob quickly responded, “Actually it’s better for everyone if you just hear me without having to look at me.”
No one utilized the media at the U.S. Open better than Vince Spadea. Spadea, a journeyman player who is best known for once having lost 21 straight matches, has just written a book entitled “Break Point” (ECW Press). Some sports writers have tried to make the book sound controversial but there really is little here that should raise eyebrows unless you are shocked to read that James Blake can lose his temper on the court when he feels that an opponent is using stalling tactics to break his momentum or that Andre Agassi does not always like to practice hard.
This does not mean that “Break Point” is a dull read. On the contrary, it is the closest thing that tennis has come up with to rival Jim Bouton’s 1970 classic baseball tell all tome “Ball Four.” It is basically a diary of Spadea’s 2005 season and he speaks candidly about life on the road and the ups and many downs of the men’s tour.
One of the up and comers on the women’s tour, despite losing in the second round of the Open, is India’s Sania Mirza. Mirza told the media that she loves playing in Queens, both at Flushing Meadows and at the West Side Tennis Club in Forest Hills, because of the tremendous support she gets from the metropolitan area’s large Indian community. She likes the genteel atmosphere of the Sony Ericsson WTA Forest Hills Classic, which takes place right before the Open and she promised that she will play there again in 2007.