The US Open is most testing Grand Slam venue

By Online Editorial

US Open 2009

At Roland Garros you have a cynical crowd and at Melbourne you have to battle the heat. But for pure crowd hostility and off-court distractions, Flushing Meadows is the most testing of the Grand Slam venues.

One of the great things about the four Grand Slam tournaments is how different they all are. Obviously the main thing that sets them apart is the surface on which they’re played – giving different players an opportunity to specialise and excel at specific events.

However, over the last few years, it has become far more common for the top echelon of players to be capable of adapting their games to each surface, as personified by Roger Federer who became only the sixth man to complete the career slam this year in winning the French Open.

The man he deposed as world number one, Rafael Nadal, has also proved himself as a master of all surfaces, and only has the US Open to add to his collection to complete his own career slam. So with surfaces less of an issue, other factors come into play, including the weather, scheduling and the influence of the crowds.

Being adept on a specific surface doesn’t guarantee success: Bjorn Borg was a talented hardcourt player yet was unable to ever win the US Open due to an inability to get to grips with the boisterous New York crowds and having to play under floodlights. And Borg wasn’t alone in struggling with all the off court distractions at Flushing Meadows- certainly one of the most hostile places to play on the professional circuit.

So what exactly makes Flushing Meadows such a difficult proposition for so many players? For starters, the crowds are amongst the most easily distracted from around the globe. Whilst you could almost hear a pin drop on Wimbledon’s centre court, it’s not unusual for the fans on Arthur Ashe stadium to act like they are oblivious to the play.

They’re certainly liable to behave as if they are in no rush to get to their seats at the change of ends, and are more than happy to shout at the top of their voices should they happen to see someone they recognise on the other side of the arena, whether the point is in full flow or not; it’s therefore one of the few places where the players don’t always feel the centre of attention.

Furthermore, they are fiercely patriotic. Jimmy Connors’ run to the semi-finals in 1991 at the age of 39 was in no small part down to his ability to whip the crowd up into a frenzy, intimidating several of his opponents standing in his path.

Last year Novak Djokovic was roundly booed after picking the wrong moment to say he was unhappy that Andy Roddick had criticised his propensity to get injured during an on court post match interview, and you were almost worried for his safety in getting off court in one piece.

While not as bad as a few years ago when they flew directly over the stadium, planes taking off from the nearby La Guardia airport can be a further irritation for the players.

The South African serve-volleyer Kevin Curren famously once expressed his wish that the low-flying aircraft be used to bomb the stadium, and while that’s no longer the general consensus (at least not publicly) it’s still an annoyance. Compared to other stops on the tennis circuit, the US Open is certainly one of the more hostile, although other venues deserve an honourable mention.

The crowd at the French Open can turn on players in the blink of an eye. They like nothing more than to unleash a flurry of boos and whistles, or slow handclap a player into oblivion; not forgetting their propensity to carry on a Mexican wave long past the umpire’s call for calm.

It’s almost as if they want to effect the outcome of a match, and on occasion they have been successful, not least when Steffi Graf stormed back to beat Martina Hingis in the 1999 final. Hingis didn’t help herself with her childish antics, but the crowd were ruthless in getting on her back, and she was in floods of tears prior to the presentation ceremony because of the manner in which she had been so vilified.

As for the Australian Open, there is only one factor there that causes the players serious problems: the weather. It has been known to reach temperatures in excess of 50 degrees Celsius on court, causing numerous retirements and complaints of dizziness, ‘brain fry’ and intense headaches.

Because of the conditions, the tournament organisers introduced the extreme weather rule for when daytime temperatures hit 35 degrees, and with the effects of global warming set to make conditions more unbearable, it’s easy to understand why there is a groundswell of support for the notion of moving the tournament back a month or two.

At least at the Australian Open there’s only the weather to take into consideration, it’s the same for each player and they can prepare for it to some extent. But at the French and US Open’s the factors that can influence the outcome of a match are varied and unpredictable, and of the two the US is probably the more hostile.

It’s unusual for the French crowd to get on people’s backs without any reason, whereas at the US Open the off court annoyances are varied and can strike without warning. It’s not surprising then that the last stop on the Grand Slam tour is the least popular with the players as a whole, and why several never fully get to grips with it.

Reproduced with permission from © The Sporting Exchange Limited


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