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This year’s U.S. Open in New York produced four wonderful nights of semifinal and final matches, in singles and doubles.
In singles, 3 of the top 4 seeds advanced to the semis: #1 Steve Virgona, #2 Bryn Sayers and #3 James Stout, each without losing a set. The 4th slot went to #5 Tim Chisholm, who upset #4 Ben Matthews as Chisholm also progressed to the semis without losing a set.
Monday afternoon’s semi: Virgona v Stout, the winner of the last Open in New York and the player who’d pushed Steve to the limit in a splendid 3 set National League final in Philadelphia earlier in January.
But this was a different court, a different day and a vastly different result. Virgona was overpowering: 6/1 6/2 6/1. Many who watched came away feeling that he was a lock to take the tournament.
The second semi took place Monday evening: Sayers v Chisholm. Bryn eventually won, but it took 3 hours and 4 sets to do so as Tim battled ‘til the end. Final score: 6/4 5/6 6/3 6/5.
Tuesday was doubles semifinals day. #1 Virgona/Chisholm played #4 Matthews/Chris Chapman at noon. Another dominating performance by Virgona—and Chisholm—led to a decisive win: 6/0 6/0 6/0.
Tuesday night’s match was different. #2 Sayers/Kieran Booth faced #3 Stout/Mike Gooding in an intriguing matchup. 3 hours of play and 5 sets validated this view. After splitting the first two sets, Sayers/Booth were in trouble at 0/40, 2/5. But they rallied to go up 2 sets to 1. Not so fast, though, as Stout/Gooding turned the tables and won the 4th at love. However, Sayers/Booth rallied to win the 5th and the match: 5/6 6/4 6/5 0/6 6/2.
Wednesday’s singles final was the most spellbinding match of the tournament, featuring puncher v counterpuncher. The puncher, Virgona, rolled through Sayers in the 1st set, 6/0, leaving spectators wondering if there was no hope for Bryn.
But the beauty of real tennis is as soon as one decides that something isn’t possible, one discovers that it is. As Barney Tanfield pointed out, the counterpuncher began hitting slower cut balls, carving them into one corner, then the other. 2nd set to Sayers, 6/5.
3rd set: 2/2. 3/2. 3/3. 3/4. 4/4. 5/4. 6/4 to Virgona. Yes, it was a nail-biter! Steve up 2 sets to 1.
But Sayers then went to work. And we witnessed one of the most stunning turnarounds that I’ve seen in 5 decades of tennis/real tennis. He took the 4th set, 6/3. And then won the 5th, 6/1. The discipline that he played with can’t be overstated, particularly his short length, severely cut, crosscourt volleyed return of serve. I’d argue that this was the most effective shot of the tournament, even more than the bullets Virgona put into the grille throughout the event.
A first major for Sayers: 0/6 6/5 4/6 6/3 6/1. A third wonderful evening match.
Could Thursday night offer comparable entertainment? Yes.
Most of us watching assumed Virgona/Chisholm would take Sayers/Booth apart rather quickly. And indeed, the 1st set wasn’t close at 6/2.
But there was a curveball: Sayers/Booth were the winners of the set.
Then they jumped out to a 3/0 lead in the 2nd set. Would this end up being a rout for the underdogs?
The #1 seeds suddenly awoke and went on a tear, winning 9 games in a row to take the 2nd and lead 3/0 in the 3rd.
However, Sayers/Booth fought back, winning the next 3 games.
1 set all.
3/3 in the 3rd.
But that was their last gasp. Virgona/Chisholm won 9 of the next 10 games to take the match: 2/6 6/3 6/3 6/1. The win was Virgona’s sixth U.S. Open doubles title and Chisholm’s third.
So ended four nights of superb shot-making, suspenseful roller-coaster rides and a reminder that anything is indeed possible in the game we refer to as “A Cut Above.”