Room with a view: U.S. Open seeds get taste of the suite life

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
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NEW YORK — The see-and-be-seen scene in the U.S. Open’s Arthur Ashe Stadium corporate suites is different this year: The usual cast of celebrities, socialites and sponsors – banned, along with all spectators, because of the pandemic – has been replaced by the stars of the sport themselves.

The 64 seeded players in the women’s and men’s singles draws, along with past champions Venus Williams, Kim Clijsters and Andy Murray, were assigned those special boxes to use as personal lounges while they remain in the Grand Slam tournament.

The suites have outdoor seats where players hang out to take in the action, including Williams’ sister, Serena, who brought her dog along to what can have the feel of balconies in the atrium of an apartment complex.

“It’s nice to just be able to watch a match and not be disturbed, not disturbing anyone else,” said 2017 U.S. Open champion Sloane Stephens, who is seeded 26th. “It’s actually a very cool vibe to be a tennis player and also be, like, a fan and watch.”

So there Stephens was Wednesday, eating edamame out of a paper bowl during 17-time Grand Slam champion Novak Djokovic’s second-round victory.

A shirtless Dominic Thiem showed up, too, keeping an eye on the guy who beat him in this year’s Australian Open final.

“They’re watching you, right? They’re there,” Djokovic said. “You can sense that there is also that kind of additional pressure to perform well in front of them.

On Tuesday, 2012 Open champ Murray’s first match at a major championship in nearly 20 months drew all sorts of attention as it stretched to five sets across more than 4+ hours.

Former No. 1 Naomi Osaka showed up, mask on. So did Murray’s second-round opponent Thursday night, Felix Auger-Aliassime, a Canadian seeded 15th.

Two-time major champion Garbine Muguruza was there, using a fork and knife to eat lunch; 10th-seeded Andrey Rublev’s utensils of choice were chopsticks.

“I wanted to see at least a couple of games,” Rublev said, “because I knew it was going to be a really high level of smart rallies.”

Murray noticed the folks there in the otherwise nearly deserted, nearly silent, arena, which can accommodate an audience of more than 23,000.

“Just sort of having some people around in a very empty stadium – the biggest tennis stadium that we play in – it certainly helped me, for sure,” said Murray, who checked out some of fellow Briton Kyle Edmund’s loss to Djokovic.

“For me, it’s not always, like, what the person is saying, but often when I’m playing, when there’s big crowds and stuff, I often engage and make eye contact with people in the crowd,” Murray said. “Gives me some energy and stuff. That helps.”

Stefanos Tsitsipas, a 22-year-old from Greece who is seeded No. 4, noted that he never could have afforded these seats in the past. He also kiddingly complained about the sightlines from his corner box – “Not the best view” – and noted: “I wish they had a picture of me in my suite, but they only have pictures of Serena, Rafa and Roger. I’ll have to wait for that.”

Clijsters personalize her porch a bit, setting up a basketball hoop so players practicing on Ashe could aim a tennis ball for the rim. Lettering on her suite’s window teases, a la at a carnival: “Win A Prize.”

“Some did OK, yeah,” she said. “Some were way off.”

Clijsters called the suites “a nice bonus.”

In the words of 2017 runner-up Madison Keys, they’re “a massive privilege.”

Fits in with the unique vibe of the 2020 U.S. Open.

Players have the run of the place when they’re not competing or training. No fighting their way through hoi polloi around the grounds. Leisure activities are set up on the plaza outside Ashe – billiards table, putting green, giant chess set and more.

A bit of the feel of an exclusive club, and the suites add to the luxury for those in position to merit one. They’re also valuable with locker-room time and space limited in the name of social distancing.

“Having a place that I can just go and there’s no one else and I can just sit there by myself is really nice,” said Keys, who’s seeded No. 7. “I spend most of my time on-site there. I eat all my meals in there. I do a lot of my warmup in there. I stretch in there. I pretty much live in my suite. … I love that I can kind of peek out and see what’s going on.”

Better keep winning, though.

Players who lose a match also lose their suite after that round ends (although anyone also entered in doubles gets to hang onto the spot until they’re also eliminated in that event).

Those areas are cleaned and disinfected, then awarded to the highest-ranked player – based on the entry list, not the current WTA and ATP lists – remaining in the departing player’s event. So aside from all of the millions of dollars on offer, and the valuable ranking points, there’s also some extra incentive for unseeded players.

Caroline Garcia, for example, effectively cleared out a space for herself by eliminating No. 1 seed Karolina Pliskova 6-1, 7-6 (2) Wednesday.

So the 50th-ranked Garcia was cleared to be movin’ on up to the suite side Thursday, as were Victoria Azarenka, Iga Swiatek, Ugo Humbert and John Millman.

It’s not exactly a win-and-you’re-in setup, although Jessica Pegula, an American ranked 63rd, found the idea intriguing.

“That,” she said, “would be a great rule.”

Still, Pegula, whose parents own the NFL’s Buffalo Bills and NHL’s Buffalo Sabres, could earn herself a turn in the fancy digs if she beats No. 8 seed Petra Kvitova, a two-time Wimbledon champion, when they play Friday.

“It’s not that big of a deal to me. But it is nice thought,” Pegula said. “That would be a nice perk.”

Auger-Aliassime, Shapovalov give Canada 1st Davis Cup title

Peter van den Berg-USA TODAY Sports
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MALAGA, Spain — Felix Auger-Aliassime fell to his back behind the baseline, then waited for teammates to race off Canada’s bench and pile on top of him.

A few minutes later, the Canadians finally could lift the Davis Cup.

“I think of us all here, we’ve dreamt of this moment,” Auger-Aliassime said.

Canada won the title for the first time, beating Australia behind victories from Denis Shapovalov and Auger-Aliassime.

Auger-Aliassime secured the winning point when he downed Alex de Minaur 6-3, 6-4 after Shapovalov opened the day by rolling past Thanasi Kokkinakis 6-2, 6-4.

Seven years after leading Canada to the top of junior tennis, Auger-Aliassime, Shapovalov and their teammates finally got to lift the biggest team trophy in their sport.

“We wanted to grow up and be part of the team and try to help the country win the first title,” Shapovalov said, “so everything is just so surreal right now.”

Shapovalov had dropped both his singles matches this week and needed treatment on his back during a three-set loss in the semifinals to Lorenzo Sonego of Italy that lasted 3 hours, 15 minutes. But the left-hander moved quickly around the court, setting up angles to put away winners while racing to a 4-0 lead in the first set.

Auger-Aliassime then finished off his superb second half of the season by completing a perfect week in Spain. He twice had kept the Canadians alive after Shapovalov dropped the opening singles match, and he replaced his weary teammate to join Vasek Pospisil for the decisive doubles point.

This time, Auger-Aliassime made sure the doubles match wouldn’t even be necessary. After his teammates poured onto the court to celebrate with him, they got up and danced around in a circle.

Canada had reached the final only once, falling to host Spain in Madrid in 2019, when Rafael Nadal beat Shapovalov for the clinching point after Auger-Aliassime had lost in the opening match.

But with Auger-Aliassime having since surged up the rankings to his current spot at No. 6, the Canadians are a much more formidable team now. They won the ATP Cup in January and finally added the Davis Cup crown to the junior Davis Cup title Auger-Aliassime and Shapovalov led them to in 2015.

Australia was trying for its 29th title and first since current captain Lleyton Hewitt was part of the title-winning team in 2003.

But it was finally time for the Canadians, who were given a wild card into the field when Russia was suspended because of its invasion of Ukraine.

“Look, I think we were very close today,” de Minaur said. “Just wait until the next time we get the same matchup. Hopefully we can get the win and prove that we can do it.”

But Canada will be tough to beat as long as Auger-Aliassime and Shapovalov play.

Shapovalov is just 23 and Auger-Aliassime 22, but both already have been Grand Slam semifinalists and Auger-Aliassime ended 2022 as one of the hottest players on the ATP Tour. He won all of his four titles this year, including three straight weeks in October.

He also beat Carlos Alcaraz in the previous Davis Cup stage in September, just after the Spaniard had won the U.S. Open to rise to No. 1 in the rankings. That victory helped send the Canadians into the quarterfinals, which they started this week by edging Germany.

“They’re not kids anymore, that’s for sure. Not after today – well not after the last couple of years,” said Pospisil, the team veteran at 32. “They’ve been crushing it.”

Australia beats Croatia 2-1 to reach Davis Cup final

Day Four - Davis Cup Finals 2022
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MALAGA, Spain – Australia had to fight back twice to reach its first Davis Cup final in 19 years after beating Croatia 2-1.

Lleyton Hewitt’s team recovered from losing the first singles. Then the Australian doubles pair battled back from a set down in the decider.

Australia won its 28th and last title in 2003. It has finally got back to the final.

“I am so proud. Australia has a really rich history in this competition,” said Hewitt, who played a record 43 Davis Cup ties for Australia from 1999-2018.

“We have been fortunate to win it all on a number of occasions a long time ago. And I know what it meant to me as a player to play a final, and I am glad these guys can play it.”

Borna Coric put Croatia ahead by beating Thanasi Kokkinakis 6-4, 6-3, but Alex de Minaur leveled after defeating Marin Cilic 6-2, 6-2 to send it to the doubles.

Jordan Thompson and Max Purcell then secured the semifinal win against Nikola Mektic and Mate Pavic by 6-7 (3), 7-5, 6-4.

“This is what this team is about, that never-say-die attitude,” De Minaur said.

Canada will face Italy on Saturday in the other semifinal.

In the opener, Kokkinakis struck 11 aces, but Coric was able to break him once in each set.

“On my serve, I felt like it was an ace or he put it back on my toes,” Kokkinakis said.

Cilic, who was on the Croatia team that won the title in 2018, committed 10 double faults. That erratic serve helped De Minaur break Cilic four times and level his head-to-head record with the former U.S Open winner at two wins each.

Thompson and Purcell bettered the more experienced pair of Mektic and Pavic, both ranked in the top 10 in doubles. Thompson and Purcell combined for 13 aces, broke the Croats twice, and never dropped a service game to come back after losing the first-set tiebreaker.

Two-time winner Croatia was the runner-up last year.

“It proved too difficult on the court today,” Cilic said. “(But) for us it has been a great year again after the finals last year to reach the semis.”

The final is on Sunday on the indoor court in Malaga.