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Joel Drucker: Grazing at the Tennis Buffet

It was 10:30 a.m. on Wednesday morning at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. This third day of the tournament was a spectator’s delight – a full slate of second round matches, as well as a hearty batch of first rounders that due to yesterday’s rain had either been interrupted or postponed.

Each phase of the tournament has its appeal. Arrive from the quarters on and it’s a main course, one big steak on a plate. The middle weekend is often an array of salads and soups. But the first week is largely a series of appetizers, small plates, chips and dips, scattered across the court – and even enough to fill you in one brisk afternoon.

Just after 11:00 a.m., on Court 6, Andrea Petkovic and Jennifer Brady resumed their match with Brady serving in the second set. Brady had won the first set yesterday and now served at 3-4, 15-love.

It’s always engaging to join a match that’s been interrupted, much like channel-surfing and coming across the last 45 minutes of a James Bond movie. As Petkovic and Brady reignited, the vivid colors of the US Open were quite apparent; Petkovic in orange, Brady in aqua, the crew of ball kids adorned in red, white and blue.

No one watching this match was more than 20 feet from the action. A fan yelled, “Let’s go, Jen!” But it was Petkovic who was in motion, her concussive forehands soon earning a break, a hold and, barely ten minutes after the match had resumed, the set.

When it comes to tennis on field courts, an interesting paradox plays out. There is plenty of disparate noise in the vicinity. “Game, Gibbs” boomed the umpire from nearby Court 7. A lengthy rally between Petkovic and Brady was accompanied by loud cheers from the adjacent match between Tomas Berdych and Ryan Harrison.

But those watching on that small court are often more quiet on a per person basis than the distracted fans sitting inside larger stadiums. The intimacy of spot like Court 6 warrants nothing less than full attention.

Petkovic had long been a US Open fan favorite, not just for her powerful baseline game but also for a rather endearing post-victory celebration known as the “Petko Dance” that she debuted here in 2010.

Though the “Petko Dance” was retired in 2011, its playfulness endured – a wistful glow of movement and memory that the highly cultured Petkovic would presumably warm to.

But as third set got underway, Petkovic’s game belied her sensibilities. Errors came, one after another, her shots struck too flat. It was a striking contrast to the more elastic, whip-like motion of Brady’s forehand. Brady rapidly went up 3-0.

And then came the pivot game, the kind of drama that happens amid high stakes. Who wants to lose in the first round? With Brady serving at 3-1, Petkovic went up love-40, but was unable to break back. Brady held for 4-1, broke Petkovic and served it out, 6-1 in the third.

Quickly, the crowd dispersed. Off now 30 yards north to Court 9 to watch Patrick Kypson, an American from Raleigh, NC who’d earned a wild card by winning USTA Boys’ 18s national championships in Kalamazoo. Kypson’s opponent was 148th-ranked Adrian Menendez-Maceiras. Each was playing his first Grand Slam singles match, the difference being, though, that Kypson was a promising 17 years old and Menendez-Maceiras was a full 14 years Kypson’s elder.

Kypson, already down a set, had just seen the second slip away, an 81-minute epic he’d lost in a heartbreaking tiebreaker, 11-9. Compared to his opponent, everything from Kypson seemed a bit slower, a bit shorter, a bit too flat when the time called for spin, a bit too much spin when the moment demanded flat. But only a bit – which in a tennis match, can become an ocean. The third was a formality, Kypson losing it 6-1 in 29 minutes. But at 17, those tiny bits of weakness can rapidly be addressed, potentially fixed and in time, enhanced. One hopes to see more from this promising teen.

Off east to Court 14 – another young American, 20-year-old Tommy Paul, versus a Japanese veteran, 121st-ranked Taro Daniel. A nervous Daniel had surrendered the first set 6-1 in 24 minutes. It was now even in the second, each player pummeling one another with lacerating groundstrokes. One rally ended with Paul striking a fantastic backhand down-the-line pass on the run. Another saw Daniel lace a more simple, but equally devastating down-the-line backhand. A thought struck: This one has five-setter all over it. The prophecy would be proven true much later, Daniel taking the decider, 6-2.

The trio of hearty appetizers had taken but 90 minutes to consume. It was time to fetch a bottle of water, sit in the shade and soon enough, head back to the buffet. Later would come dessert.

Read more articles by Joel Drucker

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