New York takes center stage in the international sports world as it hosts the US Open Tennis Championship at the Billie Jean King Tennis Center in Flushing Meadow Park, which 50 years ago hosted another international spectacular, the World’s Fair.
The US Tennis Open has become like much of New York, a glitzy affair for the elite, but for the week before this annual Grand Event, the gates are flung open for everyone to enjoy.
This is something that locals know about, and eagerly await each year.
This is the Qualifying Matches, when players fight for a coveted spot in the Open. If they make it through three rounds of the Qualifying tournament, they will get a spot; 16 out of 128 will advance. The matches are fabulous, and what is more, you can see the players really up close, you can wander around from match to match.
In fact, the quality of the competition rivals for attention from the opportunity to watch Tennis Royalty warming up in the Louis Armstrong stadium and the Grandstand.
Here, too, you can see the greats from a perch you would never have during the actual tournament.
The qualifiers are held Tuesday through Saturday of the week before the Tennis Open and admission is free Tuesday through Friday; Saturday, when the finals are held, is Arthur Ashe Day and a fundraiser.
This second day of the 2015 qualifiers is also Queens Day, with an added feel of a festival, with Youth Tennis activities, arts and crafts from the Queens Science Museum, and musical performances.
It is also fun to see the finishing touches, as workers frantically put the finishing touches of paint and polish, tents and stands, concessions opening one by one, and the media stations being set up.
You get to see the players up close and personal, and in casual settings and kids, especially, love to line the exits as their favorites leave the court to get autographs.
On Wednesday, we saw Roger Federer hitting against Lleyton Hewitt of Australia who holds two Grand Slam titles and opened the 2014 season by beating Federer at the Brisbane International for his first title since 2010.
Federer is exquisite to watch – his fluid style. He is one of the winningest players in history, with 87 singles titles, 8 doubles titles, and a career record of 1041 matches won versus 234 lost. He comes into the Open ranked 2nd in the world in singles.
At various times in the day, we also got to see Simona Halep of Romania working out, Daniela Hantuchova of Slovakia playing against Francesca Schiavone of Italy.
But then you go out to the courts where the make-or-break Qualifying matches are underway and here, the intensity and the stakes make for a completely different experience. The quality of the tennis is stunning and you think what makes the difference between these guys and “the greats.”
Here you see the future greats and you don’t know who you are watching who might be the next Roger Federer or Serena Williams.
It is thrilling to be sitting on Court 11, in the stands that are just behind (and I mean just behind) the player, so you actually can see just how fast the ball is coming, the angle, and almost feel as if you are in their tennis shoes.
From this perch I watched a sensational match between 15th seeded Alejandro Gonzalez of Colombia and Marcos Giron of the USA, who played exquisitely, bringing the first set to a tie-break before losing the second set 6-2.
The match-up between Christian Lindell of Sweden and Reilly Opelka, Reigning Wimbledon boys’ singles champion who uses his towering 6′ 10″ frame as a power-machine and is making his debut as a pro this year, was a display of force – at times the ball traveled so fast you could barely see it fly. Lindell prevailed, 6-4, 7-6.
The first-round match between An-Sophie Mestach of Belgium, seeded 4th, and Junri Namigata of Japan, was a three-set nail-biter which could have gone either way. Mestach had match-win opportunities, but Naigata, showing grit, made an amazing come-back, but ultimately Mestach prevailed, 6-1, 5-7, 7-5.
Other results of the second day in the Qualifying Matches: Jurgen Melzer who reached the semifinals of Wimbledon in 2010 and a career-high ranking of No. 8 the following year, defeated Jaroslav Pospisil, 7-5, 6-2. Former world No. 9 and four-time Grand Slam quarterfinalist Nicolas Almagro, the No. 12 seed in this year’s qualifying draw, defeated Igor Sijsling, 7-6 (5), 6-3.
On the women’s side, two-time Wimbledon quarterfinalist Tamira Paszek handily dispatched former world No. 11 and US Open quarterfinalist Shahar Peer, 6-2, 6-3.
Several teenagers also recorded first-round qualifying victories on Wednesday. In addition to Wimbledon boys’ singles champion Reilly Opelka’s win, ; No. 2 seed Alexander Zverev, 18, routed Horacio Zeballos, 6-1, 6-4; and Andrey Rublev, 17, defeated veteran Go Soeda, 6-2, 6-3.
On the women’s side, Naomi Osaka, 17, survived a tight match against Katerina Stewart, 7-6 (8), 7-6 (5), while Anett Kontaveit, 19, defeated Stephanie Vogt, 6-2, 7-5.
The US Open Qualifying Tournament takes place at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, home of the US Open, and runs from Tuesday, Aug. 25, to Friday, Aug. 28. It is free and open to the public. The matches typically feature players ranked between 105 and 250 in the world, some of whom will go on to become the future champions of the game. Most of the game’s top players have competed in the US Open Qualifying Tournament, including defending champion Marin Cilic (competed in qualifying in 2007), last year’s finalist Kei Nishikori (2010) and two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova (2007), the USTA stated.
Players who have made it through qualifying have often gone on to achieve major upsets in the main draw. Last year, Mirjana Lucic-Baroni upset No. 2 seed Simona Halep in the third round, while Aleksandra Krunic recorded a third-round upset of Kvitova. Camila Giorgi defeated former world No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki in a third-round match under the lights in 2013, while Gilles Muller (2008) and Nicolas Escude (1999) posted quarterfinal showings after advancing through the qualifying field.
Qualifying wild cards are awarded to nine men and nine women, giving fans a chance to see the next generation of American stars in action on the US open stage. According to USTA, the most notable result among these recipients came from Victoria Duval in 2013, who used her opportunity to qualify for the main draw and then upset former US Open champion Samantha Stosur in the first round.
USTA says, “Among those to watch in this year’s US Open Qualifying Tournament are 16-year-old CiCi Bellis, who made headlines last year with her win over No. 12 Dominika Cibulkova in the opening round, and 19-year-old Anett Kontaveit, who upset world No. 10 Carla Suarez Navarro in the opening round of Wimbledon earlier this summer.”
Players who are no strangers to the US Open will also be competing, including former world No. 4 Kimiko Date-Krumm and former world No. 9 Nicolas Almagro.
Qualifying matches start each day at 11 a.m.
See details for the matches, player bios and stream events at usopen.org.
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