The Toughest Tournament in Tennis
By Paul Annacone
The U.S. Open has been called “the toughest tournament in tennis” for years. There has always been constant debate about what is the toughest test: the red clay of Roland Garros, the concrete of Flushing Meadows, or perhaps the Rebound Ace courts in Melbourne, Australia. (Wimbledon has been dismissed as hit-and-miss tennis due to the dynamics of grass-court tennis.) This is a subjective area, and there are varying opinions—but I believe the year’s last Grand Slam truly is the toughest one.
One reason the U.S. Open is so difficult to win for the men in particular is the fact that there is no day off between the semifinals and finals. This means you could play a four- or five-hour match and finish at 11 P.M. on Saturday night, then have to turn around and play the final the next afternoon. (I think this does a tremendous disservice to the players and the fans. I have feel that this has a huge impact on the likelihood that the final will feature high-quality tennis. And even if it does, how long can it be sustained? Unfortunately, TV is the issue here and the USTA has to bow to the huge revenue impact that this has, by being able to sell a Saturday semifinal and Sunday final versus a Friday semifinal, when people are at work, followed by a Sunday final. The players have never united in a strong enough fashion to change this, which is too bad.)
The weather in New York can be very trying as well. The end-of-summer heat and humidity can be a major factor, and combined with the hard courts it can feel like a sauna out there. Being at the mercy of the weather forecast can be quite a roll of the dice, so the fitness factor of a player is key. Most of the players are very fit, but not all tolerate the heat well.
The environment of the U.S. Open is one of activity and chaos. This too can be a drain or a motivator, depending on the player. It can add excitement, or perhaps add pressure. The players who handle New York’s unique conditions and can keep their focus tend to be the most successful.
The hard court surface is supposed to be the middle-of-the-road surface, best for all types of play. Great grass- and clay-court players are historically a more specialized group. The hard court surface allows for both the good baseliner and the net-rusher to be successful. Today’s player tends toward the baseline, but the hard surface allows for the possibility of each style to be successful; in theory it can make for great contrasting matches. This doesn’t make it more difficult to be successful, but the added pounding on the hard courts can take its toll.
Lastly, the aura of the U.S. Open is another factor; standing on center court in pressure-packed moments will either make or break you. Until you are there with the impending consequences of the result weighing on your shoulders, you’ll never know how you’ll be able to execute your strategy. The Open is a unique battleground where many historical matches have been played and the vociferous New York fans have played a great roll in the history of those matches.