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Some hard court entertainment

September 1, 2008

by Matt Kane

Sometimes a guy just falls into a good thing.

It happened to me last Monday night, while I was lounging on my sofa watching late-night television.

The Twins were in Seattle with Francisco Liriano on the mound, so, with a 9 p.m. Central Standard start time, I knew some of my much-needed beauty sleep was going to be sacrificed.

The Twins lost the game 4-2 on an Adrian Beltre two-run home run in the bottom of the 11th inning.

Liriano pitched pretty well, I got to see the return of everyday Eddie Guardado, and, unfortunately, I also got to watch usually lights-out closer Joe Nathan give up a one-run lead in the bottom of the ninth inning.

Watching baseball is what I love to do, but the good thing I fell into had nothing to do with America’s Pastime. It had everything to do with US Open tennis.

A short attention span and a total lack of interest in the television commercials between half innings of the Twins’ game had me flipping through the guide to see if there was an episode of Ice Road Truckers or House Hunters to flip to for a two-minute buffer. I didn’t find either, but in the area of those channels is the USA Network — the early round home of the US Open tennis tournament.

I’m not a huge tennis buff, but I always enjoy watching tennis, especially during one of the Grand Slam tournaments.

Wimbledon is probably the most famous tournament in the world, but, for some reason, I’ve always been a bigger fan of the US Open. Maybe it’s because the tournament is played on a surface I have actually touched before, but I think it has more to do with it being played in New York, a place I could easily get to to watch a US Open some day. A childhood buddy and I used to talk about heading to Flushing Meadows in Queens to attend a US Open, but we still haven’t fulfilled that dream.

Watching the final match of opening day between Americans James Blake, the ninth ranked player, and Donald Young, a 19-year-old from Georgia, rekindled my desire to experience a US Open tennis tournament some day.

Put simply, the match between Blake and Young was awesome.

Blake, who grew up in New York, has been a crowd favorite at the US Opens since he first played in one eight years ago, but, during Monday’s all-American match, Young quickly drew the bigger reactions from the people in the crowd.

The idea of an underdog, especially an American, winning a first-round match tends to get a big reactions, and Young deserved it.

Blake dominated the first set, winning 6-1, but, then, Young, who came into the tournament with a 10-30 ATP record in singles matches, chased the butterflies from his stomach and settled down to even the match at a game apiece with a 6-3 win in game two. The veteran, Blake, though, wasn’t rattled by the game-two loss, and, again, dominated a set, winning the third set 6-1 to take a 2-1 lead.

I missed those first three sets, but, luckily, I tuned in during the fourth set, when Young’s back was to the wall.

Young tied the fourth game score at 2-2 on his seventh break point, and, with the crowd of night owls now on his side, went on to win the set 6-4.

That meant the first-round match was to be determined by a fifth set, which took everyone on the east coast into the wee hours of Tuesday morning.

In the final set, the two played to a 4-4 tie, but Blake took over like he was supposed to, and claimed the match when Young hit a forehand into the net on match point.

The 6-4 win in the final set gave Blake his third five-set win.

Writing this column Tuesday morning, I have no idea how far Blake will go in the tournament, but I’m not sure it matters.

For myself, I will remember, mostly, his first-round match against Young, and how excited that New York crowd was.

I can’t wait to see Young play again. At times he looked obviously ticked off at himself, and, then, after sneaking a forehand down the line, he would pump his fist. With the black Nike baseball cap on his head, and the pure emotions he displayed, Young almost reminded me of Tiger Woods on the hard court.

Tennis can sometimes be a dull sport to watch, but when true emotions come out, it is just as exciting as any other sport. Pete Sampras is one of the best players to ever grip a racket, and I love him as a player, but think about how fun it was to watch guys like Jimmy Connors and John McEnroe. They pumped their fists and flapped their gums like nobody else. And fans loved it.

Talent-wise Young will have to win a lot of matches to be considered a real threat around the tennis circuit like Connors and McEnroe were, but Monday night he showed he belonged, and made tennis exciting.

I know one thing, that Blake/Young match sure was more exciting than the outcome of the Twins game.