Mardy Fish agrees on the slow courts.
US Open 2011: Federer & Fish on the slowing of Flushing
Roger Federer and Mardy Fish on the playing conditions and courts at this year's tournament
By Marianne Bevis in New York
10:53pm UK, Saturday 27 August, 2011
With some players, the pre-tournament news conference—the soft-edged gatherings that come before the post-match analyses of serious competition—feel more like conversations than interviews.
That two of the five players to take on Hurricane Irene and venture to Flushing Meadows were in that mould produced some interesting pre-tournament discussion on the playing conditions and courts at this year’s US Open.
First up was Roger Federer, seemingly laid-back almost to horizontal and expansive, as ever, on everything from memories of 9/11—he was at the National Tennis Centre in Biel, Switzerland working out in the gym, since you ask—to his outlook now that he’s 30—“It’s just a number”—to the chances of Andy Murray, Juan Martin Del Potro and Novak Djokovic.
One of the more intriguing comments came unsolicited via the circuitous route of his form ahead of the tournament.
The near-standard response—feeling good, no niggling injuries, everything under control—segued seamlessly into the courts at Flushing this year.
“Conditions have been somewhat OK here in New York. [The surface] seems a bit slower actually. But I don’t want to say it’s a slight adjustment, because it’s not a crazy difference to previous years, but it is slower.
“That’s my opinion. That has maybe an impact [on your expectations] rather than who you play and how you play them.”
A diversionary tactic? Perhaps, but the next man up was rather firmer in expressing a similar opinion, a man’s whose game may be even more affected by the pace of the courts than Federer’s.
The relaxed and voluble Mardy Fish is carrying a little more bulk, he claims, than when he reached the fourth round at last year’s Open. This time, he feels fitter, has more stamina and is eager to get going.
The pleasure he is taking in his success is almost tangible. It’s as though he can barely believe his own good fortune to be No8 in the world, to be getting byes in the first round of Masters, to be riding his personal wave for a second successive year: “I pretty candidly can say I didn’t think I was going to be in this position right now.”
He’s also eager to talk, unprompted, of his respect for how Andy Roddick carried the pressure of American expectation for so long and his own willingness to turn to both Roddick and James Blake for support.
He neatly turned a question about the success of his serve-and-volley game on the summer’s hard courts to the issue of the playing conditions not just in New York but throughout the Slam calendar.
“I don’t think [serve and volley] is coming back in. They’ve even slowed down this surface, which is frustrating, because this was definitely the fastest Slam surface-wise that we’ve had.
“Cincinnati and Montreal were extremely fast: I would prefer to play on that surface every single tournament, but it’s not how it works. I will certainly come to the net here—I have to—but maybe a little bit less than there.”
Many have talked of an ongoing trend towards slower courts and Fish clearly agrees: “There are a lot of really slow Grand Slams now, surface-wise. Now with it being much slower out here this year, it sort of fits right in with Australia.”
And that, he believes, should make Djokovic an even hotter favourite than he already is.
Of course, the playing conditions—as anyone fighting their way through the blanket-heavy humidity of the last few days will testify—are surely being affected by the weather.
Fish agreed: “It’s almost like it’s just raining out of the sky with no rain. It’s just so humid. The balls just get extremely big.”
He must hope that—once Irene has blown herself out—a more traditional dry heat will speed up both the courts and the balls just a little. But both he and Federer are scheduled to play on Monday, a mere 24 hours after the threatened downpours across New York.
Judging from the rain that has only just begun to drench the streets of Manhatten, the USTA faces a race against the clock to get that snap, crackle and pop back into Arthur Ashe’s field of dreams.
Until then, the jury is out on just how much slower Flushing’s courts will be for 2011’s concluding Slam.