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usual cast of celebrities, socialites and sponsors – banned, along with all spectators, because of the pandemic – has been replaced by the stars of the sport themselves.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.”

Coco Gauff, Jessica Pegula reach Miami Open 3rd round

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MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — Sixth-seeded Coco Gauff opened her 2023 Miami Open with a 6-4, 6-3 victory over Rebecca Marino and advanced to the third round where she will face 27th-seeded Anastasia Potapova.

After her victory, Gauff, coming off a quarterfinals appearance at Indian Wells, said in a television interview that it wasn’t her best outing, despite converting five of her nine break points.

“It was a shaky performances honestly,” Gauff said. “I knew it wasn’t going to be a straight forward match, even if I was up a break sometimes.”

Gauff came back from a break down twice in the second set to claim her second career win versus Marino. Gauff defeated Marino in the first round at Roland Garros in 2022.

Gauff said she was a bit nervous playing in her hometown – she’s a native of Delray Beach, Florida, a small city about 40 miles north of Hard Rock Stadium, where the tournament is played. Jimmy Butler of the Miami Heat was among those in attendance Thursday.

“Jimmy Butler is here so I was a little bit nervous when I saw him,” Gauff said with a laugh in her post-match interview. “Playing home is something I look forward to, but it’s also a little bit of extra pressure because everyone wants you to do well here.”

Gauff’s doubles teammate, world No. 3 Jessica Pegula beat Katherine Sebov 6-3, 6-1 and advanced to the third round. She will face fellow American and No. 30 Danielle Collins next. Collins defeated Viktoriya Tomova on Thursday.

Pegula made the Miami Open semifinals in 2022 and is among the favorites to win the tournament this year after No. 1-ranked and defending champion Iga Swiatek pulled out of the tournament because of a rib injury.

No. 21 Paula Badosa won 7-6(2), 4-6, 6-2 against Laura Siegemund in a match that lasted two hours and 51 minutes. Badosa will face either Elena Rybakina, who defeated Badosa en route to the Indian Wells title, or Anna Kalinskaya.

Badosa hit with a ball kid during the match to stay warm after Siegemund called for a medical timeout and left the court for treatment, which took nearly 15 minutes.

In other action, Elise Mertens eliminated No. 8 seed Daria Kasatkina 4-6, 6-2, 6-2 to advance and face No. 29 Petra Martic next; No. 23 Qinwen Zheng picked up a 2-6, 6-1, 6-1 win over Irina-Camelia Begu; and No. 13 seed Beatriz Haddad Maia defeated Tereza Martincová 7-6 (4), 0-6, 6-0.

Raducanu, Stephens, Murray lose in first round at Miami Open

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MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. – Former U.S. Open champions Emma Raducanu and Sloane Stephens were knocked out of the Miami Open hours after No. 1-ranked and defending champion Iga Swiatek pulled out of the tournament because of a rib injury.

Bianca Andreescu – the 2019 U.S. Open champ – defeated Raducanu 6-3, 3-6, 6-2. Andreescu improved to 2-0 lifetime against Raducanu, the 2021 winner at Flushing Meadows.

“Miami has a special place in my heart,” Andreescu said. “I’ve been coming here since I was I think 12 years old, whether it’s for vacation or training or, yeah, Orange Bowl. I love that tournament very much. Yeah, coming back here, I think it’s just good vibes overall.”

Andreescu moves on to face 10th-ranked Maria Sakkari, who had a first-round bye.

Shelby Rogers beat Stephens 6-4, 3-6, 6-2. Stephens has six hard-court titles, including the U.S. Open in 2017 and Miami in 2018.

Rogers will face Australian Open champion and world No. 2 Aryna Sabalenka, who beat Rogers in the second round at Melbourne Park. Sabalenka is coming off a loss in the final at Indian Wells, California, last week.

On the men’s side, Dusan Lajovic beat three-time Grand Slam champion Andy Murray 6-4, 7-5.

“I served pretty well, but the rest of the game was a bit of a problem today,” the 35-year-old Murray said. “Made a number of errors that obviously I wouldn’t expect to be making. I didn’t really feel like I moved particularly well, which is really important for me.”

Lajovic, a 32-year-old Serbian, will face Maxime Cressy, who had a first-round bye.

Swiatek withdrew because of a rib injury that she is hoping will heal during a break from competition. The 21-year-old from Poland also will sit out her country’s Billie Jean King Cup qualifier matches against Kazakhstan on April 13-14.

“I wanted to wait ’til the last minute” to decide whether to play in Miami, Swiatek said at a news conference at the site of the hard-court tournament that began Tuesday. “We were kind of checking if this is the kind of injury you can still play with or this is kind when you can get things worse. So I think the smart move for me is to pull out of this tournament because I want to rest and take care of it properly.”

In other action, 24-year-old American J.J. Wolf defeated Alexander Bublik 7-5, 6-3. He’ll face No. 7-ranked Andrey Rublev, who had a first-round bye.

Gael Monfils retired from his match against Ugo Humbert due to a persistent wrist injury.