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U.S. Open celebrates 50th birthday with $600 million facelift

NEW YORK – The U.S. Open turns 50 this year and rather than easing towards old age, it will celebrate the landmark birthday by unveiling a $600 million (470.48 million pounds) facelift.
A grand slam that began life in an elegant country club in leafy Forest Hills, the U.S. Open long ago cast aside its quaint roots and has grown into a big, bold and brash money spinning tennis machine that according to Forbes will this year churn out a record $350 million in revenue.

“Forest Hills was very much a private club setting and the members took it as a sort of intrusion,” tennis historian and author Steve Flink, who has attended every U.S. Open, told Reuters. “A lot of them would have preferred it to themselves.

“They came there to play.”

The Forest Hills members got their courts back in 1978 when the U.S. Open found a new home in Flushing Meadows, overhauling the decaying infrastructure left behind from the 1964 World’s Fair.

While the move across the Borough of Queens was just a few miles, it marked a seismic shift for the sport. The switch from a private club setting to a public facility meant tennis had moved from the “classes to the masses”.

Suddenly the traditional tennis whites dress code had a blue collar.

“It was sad in a way (the move) because it was such an elegant setting but it was too much of crush,” explained Flink.

“But it was also very wise to move it and go over to a public facility like Flushing Meadows and establish a new identity and make it more for the “masses than the classes” that was the phrase we all used but it was true.

“When they made that move that was what they were in the process of doing.”

When the United States National Championships opened its doors to professionals in 1968 and became the U.S. Open, the well-mannered Forest Hills crowds still observed tennis etiquette.

However, 40 years after the move to Flushing Meadows, the polite applause has gone the way of the wooden racket.

IT’S SHOWBIZ

Taking on the hustle and bustle personality of the Big Apple, the U.S. Open is loud and proud, a rock and roll show in tennis gear played out on the sport’s biggest stage, the late night crowds in the City That Never Sleeps howling with each and every shot.

“It’s New York, and it’s a show,” said six-time U.S. Open champion Chris Evert, who will be commentating for ESPN from Monday when first round action gets underway.

“Every Grand Slam has its charm, and every Grand Slam has its niche. In New York the U.S. Open, the last one of the year, it’s showbiz.

“It’s a spectacle. It’s an event, and it’s always exciting.

“Night time is more exciting in a U.S. Open than any other Grand Slam.”

Organisers have planned a major extravaganza for the 50th milestone, turning the two week tournament into a three-week festival.

The qualifying rounds to the year’s final grand slam were given greater prominence in the week leading up to the Aug. 27 to Sept. 9 tournament in what organisers called the ‘Fan Week’, while 50 former champions (27 men and 23 women) were also being celebrated and recognised on-court during special legends matches.

There is a new sleek stylised logo and slogan “Built for Glory”.

Built for Glory and turning a profit.

 The new 14,000-seat Louis Armstrong Stadium marks the completion of an ambitious five-year $600 million project that revamped nearly 90 percent of the sprawling facility. Among other things, according to a Forbes report, the renovation has doubled the overall square footage of the retail, food and restaurant footprint on the grounds.

“Obviously it cost a lot of money,” John McEnroe, a native New Yorker and four-time U.S. Open winner told reporters during a conference call.

“But I believe the U.S. Open brings more money from what I understand… to the city than the money they receive from the (baseball teams) Yankees, Mets, (ice hockey’s) Rangers and (basketball’s) Knicks combined.

“It’s obviously a big two weeks for New York, for tennis.

“But even for the city, the excitement level is ramped up. I think it will be even more so.

“I think people are going to love it.”

Editing by Pritha Sarkar

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Ice-cool Stephens too good for Keys in U.S. Open final

NEW YORK- Sloane Stephens stayed composed throughout the U.S. Open final, playing near-perfect tennis to win her maiden grand slam title with a 6-3 6-0 victory against Madison Keys as the future of American women’s tennis seemed assured on Saturday.

The 24-year-old, back this summer from almost a year off the courts because of a foot injury, was never in trouble as her defensive play derailed the 15th-seeded Keys, who was playing with a heavily bandaged right thigh.

“It’s incredible. I honestly had surgery Jan 23 and if someone had told me I’d win the U.S. Open I would have said it’s impossible,” said the unseeded Stephens who, after celebrating, sat down and chatted with Keys.

“Madi is one of my best friends on tour and to play her here, I wouldn’t have wanted to play anyone else. I told her I wish it could be a draw and if it was the other way around she’d do the same. To stand here with her today is incredible, that’s what real friendship is.”

Keys noted, “Sloane is truly one of my favourite people and to get to play her was really special. Obviously I didn’t play my best tennis today and I was really disappointed but Sloane was very supportive and if there was someone I had to lose to today I‘m glad it’s her.”

FILLING A VOID

The friendship could also develop into a great rivalry as both women showed throughout the tournament, and before that, that they could be competing for majors for a while.

“In America, women’s tennis needs to be really high level because it has always been and they need to be filling up the void after the Williams sisters,” former world number one Mats Wilander told Reuters.

Venus Williams, 37, was one of four Americans in the semi-finals but her sister Serena did not take part in the tournament because of the birth of her first child.

In the first all-American U.S. Open women’s final since Serena beat Venus in 2002, Stephens made only six unforced errors to frustrate Keys.

It was a remarkable turnaround for Stephens, who six weeks ago was still ranked 957th by the WTA.

She sealed a straightforward win on her third match point when Keys sent yet another forehand into the net.

Stephens welcomed the biggest victory of her career with a low-key smile, going into the Arthur Ashe Stadium stands to hug her coach, Kamau Murray, before embracing her mother.

Stephens, who will pocket a record $3.7 million (2.8 million pounds) cheque, underwent foot surgery in late January and made her competitive comeback at Wimbledon.

Saying earlier she was simply happy to be running around on courts, Stephens did a lot of running on Saturday to deny the 22-year-old Keys in what turned out to be a one-sided contest.

Stephens played her usual defensive tennis, forcing her opponent to make the extra shot and testing her patience.

She was rewarded with two break points in the fifth game of the first set, converting the first one when Keys again failed to wait for the right moment to accelerate and fired a forehand long.

Stephens held comfortably and bagged the set on her second occasion, Keys hitting a backhand long, her 17th unforced error — compared to Stephens’s only two.

Keys showed signs of frustration as she felt the game was slipping away.

Stephens moved to 40-0 up on Keys’s serve in the following game with a perfect backhand passing shot.

Another ill-timed rush to the net, though, cost Keys a break, Stephens punishing her with a delightful dipping forehand passing shot.

Keys fell 4-0 down when she hit a double fault and although she had her first break points of the match in the fifth game, Stephens held.

Keys hit the ball harder and harder but it would always come back and she needed a 19-shot rally to save her second match point. On the third, she hit her 30th unforced error of the day.

(Julien Pretot)

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Crowd gathers to watch Nadal warm up before U.S. Open semi-final

NEW YORK- A crowd gathered to watch world number one Rafael Nadal warm up in Arthur Ashe Stadium on a cool and windy Friday at the U.S. Open, ahead of his semi-final showdown with Argentine Juan Martin del Potro later in the day.

Nadal has faced little adversity at the tournament so far, dropping just two sets in his five matches and blowing out 19-year-old Russian Andrey Rublev in straight sets to reach the semi.

Twenty fourth-seeded Del Potro has had a rockier road, having had to fight off two match points and battle back from two sets down to defeat sixth-seeded Dominic Thiem in the fourth round in an instant classic before defeating third seed Roger Federer in the quarter-finals.

Big-serving South African Kevin Anderson was spotted on a practise court stretching his 6-feet 8-inches (2.03 metres) frame as he prepares to meet the other Spaniard in the semi-finals, Pablo Carreno Busta.

Anderson brings a 2-0 head-to-head record against the number 12 seed, who has quietly moved through the draw without dropping a set in five matches.

Earlier in the day, Dutchman Jean-Julien Rojer and Romania’s Horia Tecau won the men’s doubles title after beating Spaniards Feliciano Lopez and Marc Lopez 6-4 6-3.

The number 12 seeds hit 41 winners between them and made just seven unforced errors as they romped to the title in just under an hour and a half.
(Rory Carroll)

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Stephens beats Williams to reach U.S. Open final

NEW YORK- A new grand slam champion will be crowned at the U.S. Open after Sloane Stephens beat fellow American Venus Williams 6-1 0-6 7-5 in a rollercoaster of a semi-final on Thursday.

Stephens, who returned to competition at Wimbledon after nearly a year off because of a foot injury, recovered from a second-set meltdown to end ninth seed Williams’s hopes of reaching a third major final this year.

She will meet either CoCo Vandeweghe or Madison Keys, who face each other later on Thursday, in an all American final.

“I have no words to describe what I‘m feeling what it took to get here. The journey I took. I have no words,” said Stephens, who underwent foot surgery last February.

”If someone told me I’d make two semis and a grand slam final this year I would have passed out, which is what I feel like doing now.

“I don’t know how I got here. Hard work, that’s it.”

The 24-year-old Stephens, 13 years younger than Williams, paid tribute to the seven-time grand slam champion.

”I‘m honestly just honoured to play at the same time as her. One of the greatest to ever play our game. She’s one of the greatest competitors and I‘m honoured to share the court with her and glad to play at the same time as her.

“For American tennis there’s no question marks. The proof is in the pudding. American tennis, here we are.”

Despite her lack of match play this year, Stephens began confidently and broke for 3-1 when Williams netted a routine forehand and then went on to win the last three games of the set as the 37-year-old strangely appeared to struggle with serve.

Williams was in danger again on her first service game in the second set but she managed to hold and broke in the next game thanks to a Stephens double fault.

She then held to love to stamp her domination on the second set and moved 4-0 up with a lovely service return followed by a routine volley as Stephens showed she was clearly struggling and lost the set to love when she hit yet another unforced error.

The 24-year-old, however, got back on track in the decider, taking a 1-0 lead on Williams serve when she netted an easy volley.

She saved two break points in the following game but Williams levelled for 2-2 when Stephens’s forehand sailed wide.

But at the end of a seven-minute game, Williams netted a routine volley again to give her opponent a break for 4-3.

Williams broke straight back with a service return winner and she saved a break point to hold for 5-4.

But as Williams struggled with her volley, Stephens broke for love in the 11th game and followed up on serve to close it out as Williams netted a backhand.

“It was definitely a contrast of play,” Williams said of the roller-coaster match.

“You know, I continued to play aggressive and continued to play the kind of match that it takes to win. Just made too many errors there at the end.”
(Greg Stutchbury)

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Federer and Nadal seemingly destined never to meet in New York

NEW YORK – Some things just are not meant to happen. From the moment the draw was made for the U.S. Open, all the talk was about the potential for the first clash between Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal at Flushing Meadows.

It is a statistical anomaly that finally looked like ending after Nadal crushed Russian teenager Andrey Rublev to reach the last four.

But yet again, hopes of a New York clash between two of the greatest players of all time were dashed, this time by the giant hands of Juan Martin del Potro as he claimed a 7-5 3-6 7-6(8) 6-4 victory that few saw coming.

“I didn’t even think about it, as I lost that match, that it’s not going to happen,” Federer said.

”Of course it is a pity but, you know, Juan Martin deserves it more. I feel I have no place in the semis and he will have a better chance to beat Rafa, to be honest.

“The way I played or playing right now, it’s not good enough in my opinion to win this tournament. It’s better I‘m out and somebody else gets a chance to do better than me.”

Such was the anticipation of fans looking forward to the potential clash between Federer and Nadal, the cheapest tickets for Friday’s semi-finals were on offer at well over $700 on the official ticketing website when the match began.

By the time Del Potro had clinched victory to reach his first grand slam semi-final since 2013, they had crashed below $200.

When Del Potro won the title in 2009, he beat Nadal in the semi-finals and Federer in the final to clinch his only grand slam to date.

After three wrist surgeries, he almost quit the sport but is back in the last four and believes he can repeat his 2009 feat.

“I played (Nadal) in 2009 too, the same as Roger and hopefully I can repeat the result,” he said.

“We look older but he’s having an amazing season, number one in the world but with this amazing support anything can happen.”
(Simon Cambers)

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Federer’s U.S. Open quest ended by big-hearted Del Potro

NEW YORK- Roger Federer’s hopes of claiming a record-extending 20th grand slam title ended on Wednesday when he was beaten 7-5 3-6 7-6(8) 6-4 by Juan Martin del Potro in a thrilling U.S. Open quarter-final.

Del Potro, who swept aside Federer in the 2009 final at Flushing Meadows, now faces world number one Rafa Nadal, denying fans a potential first encounter between the Swiss maestro and Spaniard in New York.

Federer had predicted that he would need to overcome Del Potro’s serve, forehand and fighting spirit to advance to the semi-finals.

On Wednesday, he was dead right.

Del Potro hit huge forehands, big serves and stayed focused when Federer seemed to be back in control in a one-sided second set.

“I think I played my best match of the tournament, I did everything well,” said the 24th seeded Argentine. “I served so good, I hit my forehand as hard as I could and I think we played a great match and I think I deserved to win.”

Del Potro enjoyed strong support from the sold-out 23,771 crowd on Arthur Ashe under the lights, with a spine-chilling roar welcoming his victory.

“I think it’s my homecourt, too, you make me feel happy everytime I play here and I love your support guys. I love to see you cheer for me,” he told the crowd.

“After all my injuries and surgeries … New York is my favourite tournament, my favourite city to play tennis.”

Federer had tried to stay away from Del Potro’s lethal forehand throughout the match, but with the Argentine’s first-serve percentage at 79 in the first set, he had no chance to break.

With the Swiss struggling with his own serve, the lanky Argentine had one opportunity at 5-5 when the Swiss hit a double fault and then punished him with a splendid forehand passing shot.

He sealed the opening set in the next game with another a big forehand winner.

WASTED OPPORTUNITIES

Federer, who has been hampered by back problems, barely sat during the period between sets, and he broke for 3-1 with a forehand passing shot as Del Potro started to struggle with his first serve and the Swiss effortlessly claimed the set.

The momentum shifted again, however, and Federer dropped his serve in the second game of the third set when he served another double fault.

He saved another break point in the fourth game, setting up one for himself in the seventh, which Del Potro gave away with a double fault.

The set went into a tiebreak and Federer moved 6-4 up to earn two set points but Del Potro saved them with a stunning service return on the baseline and a mighty serve.

A Del Potro double fault gave the Swiss another chance but he made a mess of a backhand half volley and on the fourth set point, the Argentine stayed in contention thanks to a forehand winner.

It was then the Argentine who had a set point on Federer’s serve, did not flinch, returning brilliantly again to force the Swiss to hit a volley long. Del Potro then broke for 3-2 with a jaw-dropping crosscourt backhand winner.

Federer was on the brink of defeat when he trailed 0-30 on his serve at 5-3 and while he regained his composure to win the game the momentum had shifted and Del Potro clinched the match with yet another forehand winner in the next game.

(Julien Pretot)

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Make American Tennis Great Again, mission accomplished

NEW YORK- For years the United States Tennis Association (USTA) has been working on a plan to ‘Make American Tennis Great Again’ and on Wednesday it all came together with American women completing a sweep of the U.S. Open quarter-finals.

For the first time since 1981 when Tracy Austin, Chris Evert, Martina Navratilova and Barbara Potter waved the Stars and Stripes, Americans grabbed all four semi-finals berths, guaranteeing one of them will hoist the trophy on Saturday.

For years critics have bemoaned the decline of the sport in the United State with ageing stalwarts Serena and Venus Williams grimly hanging on until the next generation arrived.

The sweep may be the most promising sign yet that American tennis, at least on the women’s side, has turned the corner and the Williams sisters can rest easy knowing the torch has been passed.

It has been a long wait but Madison Keys (22), Sloane Stephens (24), CoCo Vandeweghe (25) are now delivering on their promise and on Saturday one of them could grab a first major if Venus Williams does not add a third U.S. Open title to her collection.

Four players from the same country reaching the semi-finals is a rare feat.

Not since the 1985 Wimbledon championships when Navratilova, Evert, Zina Garrison and Kathy Rinaldi were the last four has any country swept the semi-finals of a women’s slam.

“I can’t tell you how many times I have sat in this chair and had to hear how horrible tennis is in America,” said Keys, following her 6-3 6-3 win over Estonia’s Kaia Kanepi on Wednesday that completed the U.S. sweep.

”So this feels really good. The fact that there is going to be two all-American semi-finals, two people in the finals in Saturday, and Sam (Querrey) obviously had a great tournament.

“There is lots of young up-and-comers. I think there is a lot of good American tennis to come.”

No one is prepared to compare Keys, Stephens and Vandeweghe to Navratilova, Evert and Garrison but the three women have all earned their U.S. Open success.

Sidelined for almost a year after undergoing foot surgery last summer, Stephens was ranked outside the top 950 just six weeks ago while Keys missed the first two months of year recovering from wrist surgery.

Dropped by her coach after a first round loss at the French Open, Vandeweghe turned to Australian Pat Cash and the partnership has proven a winning one.

“It’s a process, everyone has their own path,” said Rinaldi, now the U.S. Fed Cup captain and the USTA’s lead national coach.

“The culture has just been so great, the pushing the healthy competitiveness and with Venus and Serena leading the way and being such tremendous role models, they have led the way it is just really exciting to see it come together.”

(Nick Mulvenney)

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Keys opens door to U.S. Open semi-finals

NEW YORK- A rampaging Madison Keys completed an American sweep of the U.S. Open women’s quarter-finals on Wednesday, dismissing Estonia’s Kaia Kanepi 6-3 6-3 to guarantee an American champion at the year’s final grand slam.

Keys’ victory ensured Americans grabbed all of the semi-finals berths at Flushing Meadows for the first time since Tracy Austin, Chris Evert, Martina Navratilova and Barbara Potter filled the final four spots in 1981.

“It’s really amazing, not only for myself but just for American tennis,” said Keys. “I‘m really excited and you know, proud of all of us for getting this far and having it going to be USA all the way.”

Sloane Stephens began the semi-final charge on Tuesday with a gritty victory over 16th seeded Anastasija Sevastova which was followed by 37-year-old Venus Williams outlasting 13th seed Petra Kvitova.

CoCo Vandeweghe then shocked world number one Karolina Pliskova earlier on Wednesday, before Keys produced a ruthless thumping of Kanepi to reach her first grand slam semi-final since the 2015 Australian Open.

After watching her three compatriots get the job done the expectations were all on the 15th seeded Keys and the 22-year-old showed her steel blossoming under the pressure.

”I was really nervous,“ admitted Keys. ”On top of coming back after having a big win the other night then all of a sudden being in a match where you’re supposed to win.

“Then being the last American. It was really bad.”

It has been a sensational run by Keys, who missed the opening two months of the season recovering from left-wrist surgery and the U.S. Open is just her 10th event this year.

Keys needed just 69 minutes to see off a weary opponent who appeared to be simply out of gas after playing eight matches, including three in qualifying to get into the main draw.

With the crowd buzzing under the closed roof inside Arthur Ashe, Keys showed some early jitters but they disappeared with an early break on the way to taking the first set.

A break to open the second and another to end the contest brought a smile and a squeal of delight from Keys as she threw her hands into the air in triumph.

Keys will now face Vandeweghe for a spot in Saturday’s final while Williams will meet Stephens.

“I‘m going to have to serve really well,” said Keys, looking ahead to her semi-final.

”CoCo has an amazing serve. Defending that constantly, I‘m just going to really have to do everything really well.

“I think I‘m just going to have to stay at my highest level and just wait for my opportunities when they come.”

(Greg Stutchbury)