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9:53AM

Bleacher Report: The Ageless Roger Federer Is the People's Choice

By Art Spander
Featured Columnist

NEW YORK — He was finished with Stan Wawrinka, but the fans were not finished with Roger Federer. They never are. It doesn’t matter. In Australia. At Wimbledon. Or Friday night, at the U.S. Open.

Federer is the people’s choice in tennis. That was loudly obvious in the plaza at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. He had shown up in the ESPN booth for a post-match interview, where on a set with a transparent backing he was clearly visible—while the crowd was clearly audible.

Read the full story here.

Copyright © 2015 Bleacher Report, Inc. Turner Broadcasting System, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

9:51AM

Bleacher Report: Roberta Vinci, the Joyous Unknown Who Stunned Serena Williams, Denied History

By Art Spander
Featured Columnist

NEW YORK — She was all disbelief and smiles, but not before shedding a few tears after dispatching the world’s No. 1 female tennis player and the thought, now erased, of a rare Grand Slam.

Roberta Vinci, who didn’t even know what the word upset meant until it was translated into Italian, produced one of the bigger upsets ever in her sport, maybe the single biggest.

Read the full story here.

Copyright © 2015 Bleacher Report, Inc. Turner Broadcasting System, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

9:41PM

The Sports Xchange: Refocused Serena makes case for being all-time best

By Art Spander
The Sports Xchange

NEW YORK — How appropriately named. How incorrectly named. Serena. Serene, calm, composed, tranquil. At times, perhaps, but if anything, Serena Williams, arguably the best women's tennis player of all time, is feisty, and more than anything competitive.

Which is how one becomes great in an individual sport, and Williams, whose quest is still alive to become only the fourth woman in history to take the Grand Slam, all four major championships in a calendar year, is nothing but great. Maybe, to borrow a line from Muhammad Ali, the greatest.

Read the full story here.

Copyright © 2015 The Sports Xchange

8:27AM

Nadal and Federer, the Difference Between Night and Day

By Art Spander

NEW YORK — The difference was that between night and day, between a man who mysteriously has lost his touch and one who somehow again has found his, between a player who should be better than he’s been of late and another who by all rights shouldn’t be as good as he is this late in a career.

The difference was that between Rafael Nadal, who in the wee small hours Saturday was beaten after winning the first two sets from Fabio Fognini, and Roger Federer, who in the bright glare of an early afternoon Saturday was victorious over Philipp Kohlschreiber.

It seems never to stop at the U.S. Open tennis championship, so very much a part of the booming city that never sleeps. They start early, late morning. And they finish late, early morning. But this early morning, with the clock closing in on 1:30, the Open stopped for Nadal. And the questions started anew.

Fognini, holding the last men’s seed, No. 32, was as bewildered as he was delighted with the 3-6, 4-6, 6-4, 6-3, 6-4 win over Nadal. “It’s something incredible I did,” said Fognini after the 3-hour, 46-minute match.

Or, considering the decline of Nadal, from No. 3 at the beginning of the year to No. 8 now, maybe something unexceptional.

“It was not so much a match that I lost,” said Nadal of the defeat, “even if I had opportunities. It’s a match he wins. Not happy, but I accept that he was better than me today.”

All four Grand Slams in 2015, the Australian Open, French Open, Wimbledon and now the U.S. Open, some opponent has been better than Rafa. For the first time in 11 years he didn’t win a Slam. And even though Nadal only is 29, because of his aggressive, pounding style, and past injuries, he is an old 29.

In contrast, there’s Federer. Two years ago we thought he had slipped too far from his past glory. That having reached 30 — he will be 34 on Tuesday — it wasn’t so much the game had passed him by but others, Nadal, Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray and even on occasion Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, were hitting passing shots by him. Father Time was hovering.

What do we know? While Nadal tumbled — and the dead of night, or somewhere beyond the bewitching hour, was a properly eerie time — Federer arose. The No. 2 seed in this Open, Federer blitzed Kohlschreiber, the No. 29 seed, 6-3, 6-4, 6-4.

Federer may not have extended his all-time record of 17 Slam victories (his last was 2012 Wimbledon), but this year and last he was a Wimbledon finalist, losing to Djokovic, currently the world’s No. 1.

Where Nadal huffs, puffs and slugs, Federer glides and swings. His style has enabled him to avoid major injuries, and in an acknowledgement that maybe he’s lost a step or a couple inches of racquet speed, he has re-invented himself, moving up to the base line at times to take second serves.

Where Nadal is disappointed, although telling us there’s been progress, mentally at last, Federer is content.  “I feel good,” he said after a match that went barely past an hour and a half. “I have had a nice schedule.  Played early the first day. It was a fast match.

“And when I played at night,” he said of his win Thursday over Steve Darcis, “I played the first slot (7 p.m. EDT). I didn’t get to bed too late. I’m still in a normal schedule, which is good to be. Because if you finish a match like Fognini and Rafa, it’s hard to go to sleep anyway. It can be 3 or 4 in the morning.”

It was later than that for Nadal and Fognini. They were doing post-match interviews well past 2 a.m.  “It was an incredible match for sure,” said Fognini. It was a telling match for sure for Nadal.

“We can be talking for an hour trying to create a reason,” said Nadal. A Spaniard, he speaks English well enough, but doesn’t always choose the proper idiom or tense.

“But the sport for me is simple, no?,” said Nadal. “If you are playing with less confidence and you are hitting balls without creating the damage on the opponent that I believe I should do, then they have the possibility to attack.

“I want the defense, a little bit longer, and hit easier winners. Have been a little bit tough for me to hit the winners tonight. But that’s it. Not a big story. Is just improve small things that make a big difference.”

Federer went to bed before the Nadal story was told, and no matter what Rafa says it’s a very big story.

“I heard the news when I woke up,” Federer said about Nadal losing. “I wish I did see the match because I didn’t expect it to be this thrilling, but that would have been bad preparation for my match today.”

A match that was as different from Nadal’s as night is from day.

4:27PM

New York: Federer, Serena, Pinsanity and the Pope

By Art Spander

NEW YORK — Roger Federer and Serena Williams are here (and still winning), the Pope’s en route and the heat won’t leave. Late summer humidity clings to this place like the vagrants the police commissioner is trying to chase out of the city, in what the New York Post headlined as a "BUMS’ RUSH."

Everything’s here. The tennis open, the traffic, the heat, the misery, the delight. Everyone’s here, or was here. Or will be here. Or is just down the road. “The party’s 15 minutes away,” says the billboard to the right of the Long Island Expressway just out of the Midtown Tunnel. Right around the bend at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center.

It’s what the Post said about the Yankees' win over the Red Sox on Tuesday night: “Pinsanity,” a play on pinstripes, which along with “Bombers,” as in Bronx Bombers, is how the tabloids refer to the Yanks. New York is a big city, the biggest, the wildest, masquerading as a small town.

In California, seasons are judged by the weather. If it’s foggy along the coast, it must be summer, right? Back east, they adhere to the calendar. Swimming pools open Memorial Day and are drained on or about Labor Day.

It says September, so unpack the winter clothes. The New York Giants (“Big Blue”) and Jets (“Gang Green”) are ready to begin the NFL season. Fortunately, unlike Levi’s Stadium, their shared home, MetLife Stadium, has an overhang.

They’re in the process of building a roof at the tennis complex. The superstructure has been erected, like some enormous spider web. The idea after so many washouts was to play matches during rain, which was something that might have been welcome when the temperature hit the 90s Tuesday and Wednesday.

It was only in the mid-80s Thursday, but oppressive enough. Jack Sock, the 22-year-old from Nebraska, collapsed during the fourth set of his match against Ruben Bemelmans and was carried out. His was the 13thth early retirement in four days of this U.S. Open.

On Wednesday night, around midnight, defending men’s champion Novak Djokovic became so sweaty he planted his hand in a small pile of sawdust — and still couldn’t grip his racquet tightly enough to keep from double-faulting on a serve. He did win his match.

So, Thursday, did Stan Wawrinka, who’s won a French and Australian Open. Wawrinka was a 7-6, 7-6, 7-6 winner over Hyeon Chung, a 19-year-old Korean. The match lasted 3 hours 2 minutes, and Wawrinka, 30, said the conditions “were really tough.”

But he followed with that eternal comment regarding weather, good or bad, to wit, “I don’t know what we can do about it.”

There’s not much we can do about the New York tabs except enjoy them. As someone said long ago, they don’t have stories in New York, they have incidents.

Whether it’s the poor manner in which Jets GM John Idzik drafted in 2014 (“DIRTY DOZEN,” according to the Post) or the refusal by U.S. Tennis Association president Katrina Adams to keep the guest of a big tournament supporter from her private box because the guest wasn’t dressed properly (“Open warfare over jeans”).

You know the line from the Kander-Ebb song, the one linked to Sinatra: “If I can make it there, I'll make it anywhere.” The Open has made it in New York because it’s so much a part of the city — noisy, dramatic, newsworthy. There are stars on the court. There are celebrities in the seats. Derek Jeter, who used to spend his days fielding grounders at Yankee Stadium, spent Tuesday in a private box at Ashe Stadium.

If Wimbledon is the example of English restraint and subtlety, the Open is a boisterous adventure into American free expression. There’s nothing subtle about it, but how could there be when it wants to get noticed and admired in New York?

The other night, after Djokovic’s ridiculously easy victory, a man was brought out of the stands onto the court and began to dance as music poured of the loudspeakers. He waved a towel at Djokovic, who grabbed it and, in good nature, danced along.

Then the guy pulled out an “I Love New York” T-shirt and pulled it over Djokovic’s tennis shirt.  Great theater. The Pope, who’s scheduled to be here in late September, will have a difficult act to top.