US Open

Behind The Scenes Covering The U.S. Open

by Andrew Eichenholz


In the middle of the summer I got a phone call from one of’s managing editors, who controls content production for the US Open’s official website. I never thought that a few months later I would be sitting here writing about how I got to be the last writer to publish a feature on one of my idols, sat front row in the press conference following arguably the greatest upset in the history of tennis and walked away with a wealth of experience that I never dreamt was imaginable when I published my first tennis story a year and a half ago.

Covering a Grand Slam was epitomized for me by Day 12 of the event— my eighth day reporting on the best tennis players in the world.

The impossible was happening— world No. 1 and history-chasing Serena Williams was down in the final set of her semifinal match, just three sets away from winning her fifth consecutive Grand Slam.

That may not mean much to people who do not follow tennis, but only 12 women have won five Grand Slams in their entire career during the Open era (since 1968), forget consecutively. Williams also would have tied Steffi Graf’s overall record of 22 with a victory. I was doing the “match of the day” story, and when arguably the best player ever is going down, that is a pretty big deal.

Generally, we tried to get all match stories out to our audience within ten minutes of the last point. Every single one of us in our office thought that Serena was going to find a way to survive. Her opponent, Roberta Vinci, would later admit that she thought the same. So, not only was it a matter of trying to pump out a quality product in a short amount of time, but both the writer who was covering the match itself and I were basically writing two stories, not knowing who would come out on top until Vinci hit a winner on match point.

At that point, we had a bit of a problem—few fans knew who the unseeded Vinci was and we did not know all that much about her ourselves besides her results and ranking. Who is she? The world wanted to know and our team had to make that happen, so after filing the “match of the day” story, I did some research on my phone as a few of us ran over to the Italian’s press conference so that I could file a quick piece to help people get to know Vinci.

It was a packed house at the presser— the Italian writers were still on cloud nine, shocked that two players from their country would be playing for the title the next day when not one had made the US Open final before.

If it seems like there was a lot of stuff going on at once, think again. Keeping in mind that this whole series of events happened in the span of an hour or two, I also was responsible for wrapping up the junior tournament and American Collegiate Invitational for the day.

The world outside of our office may have frozen in disbelief, but we still had work to do. That was my day every day at the US Open— there was no sitting for one match, writing it up and getting on the train home. There were always tons of things going on at once and I embraced that.

I would not have had it any other way.

My favorite part of covering sports— not just tennis— is writing feature stories. It is nice to sit back and take in a match to tell the reader what happened and why, but there were 256 players in the men’s and women’s singles draws alone at the US Open. Each of them had a unique story.

From a 19-year-old who spent plenty of time during the summer and the Open itself practicing with Roger Federer to a little-known American woman who went without seeing her mother for four years to pursue her dreams, there were so many stories that nobody had touched yet, so why not go for it?

The freedom my editors gave me was one of the nicer parts of working for the tournament’s website compared to a newspaper. I noticed that a lot of print writers spent their entire day focusing on one thing and one thing only, simply because their newspaper did not have enough space for more.

One of the pieces I wrote that got a lot of fan interaction was probably the piece that I turned around the quickest, believe it or not. Victoria Azarenka was the No. 20 seed because of injuries she sustained last season, but for years has been considered a top-five player.

Everybody in the media center at one point or another had done the same story on her competitive spirit shown on and off the court, including myself. But, a couple of days before I filed, I found her agent on the grounds and asked if her practice partner, who is in reality like a second coach, would be willing to talk to me. He never got back to me, so I was about to send my story in, but a couple of hours before her match, the practice partner texted me, apologizing for not getting back to me sooner.

It was well worth the wait, as even though he is a member of her team and is not going to say anything close to bad about her, I got a glimpse into a different side of Azarenka that really made the story unique.

Walking past the likes of Roger Federer and many of the game’s greats every day and talking to them when they were in press was interesting, but not new. I had been a ballperson at the US Open for a number of years; so being around the best of the best was not nerve-wracking.

That came into play one morning at about 9:00 a.m. when I was walking through the grounds toward our office while the juniors were practicing — juniors and lesser known players typically have to take what they can get in terms of practice courts, so they were out and about bright and early. I glanced around just out of curiosity, and saw a former world No. 1 coaching a couple of Russian girls.

I did not think anything of it at the time, but when the team finished our morning meeting, I realized that it would be interesting to catch up with a top player who was forced out of the sport by a back injury for our readers. So, after covering my matches for the day, I walked around the grounds only to find Dinara Safina watching one of her students’ matches.

During a break, I asked if she would not mind chatting for a bit once the match was over, but she was more than happy to catch up then and there. Safina was known as an extremely emotional player on the court, and it was not out of the ordinary to see her visibly angry with herself, as if she was not having any fun whatsoever. Yet, readers seemed to enjoy what she had to say— namely how much she loved tennis and despite being forced out of the sport as a player, would love to stay involved in it in some capacity for the rest of her life.

Perhaps the most completely reported story I wrote and the one that I spent the most time on was a long form painting of Lleyton Hewitt’s career.  Hewitt, who played his final US Open, spent plenty of time atop the world rankings over a decade ago and has become known as the prototypical warrior. Despite many injuries and a physical deficit in terms of size that he faced, Hewitt always seemed to find a way to beat players he should not have. My job was to not simply write about what made him an all-time great, but to talk to people who were or are around him to get insight into what he is like behind the scenes.

To do this, I even reached out to people Hewitt has not played or even spoken to since last millennium to get an authentic idea of what he was like before the Australian reached the top of the world, following his coaches and friends every step of the way until where he is now, laying out his career through the eyes of those around him.

I can go on for days about each and every story, but the one I may remember the most is one that I did not write.

The men’s final was widely anticipated throughout the entire sports world. A colleague and both agreed that we had never, ever been exposed to such an electric atmosphere in our lives. Roger Federer— who has won more Grand Slam titles than anybody— was the underdog against world No. 1 Novak Djokovic.

There were constant momentum shifts and the crowd responded every single time. Looking around at other press members chuckling as the waves of roars rushed through the chilly night, there was no doubt that something special was happening.

When my colleague and I walked down the stairs to head back to the office for the final time, there was one thing I knew for certain— that special match was the most fitting way to finish what was a more-than-special experience and I will never forget it.

Master Class – Djokovic Overcomes Federer In US Open Final

In one of the sport’s great rivalries, two of tennis history’s best competed in Sunday’s US Open men’s final, as No. 1 seed Novak Djokovic defeated No. 2 Roger Federer 6-4, 5-7, 6-4, 6-4. “Winning a Grand Slam is very special for any tennis player when you are dreaming of becoming a professional,” Djokovic said after the match. “To win against one of the all-time Grand Slam champions, somebody that always keeps on fighting till the last point, keeps making you play an extra shot … all these things are very special to me.”

Photo: Chris Nicholson,

Perfectly Pennetta – Italian Veteran Wins US Open, Promptly Announces Retirement

Flavia Pennetta

Saturday’s women’s final was destined to guarantee two US Open superlatives: the first Italian winner, and the oldest first-time Grand Slam singles champion in the Open Era. Flavia Pennetta, 33, claimed both distinctions with a 7-6, 6-2 win over countrywoman Roberta Vinci. The final also marked another final, as in Pennetta’s last Grand Slam match. Before even accepting her champion’s trophy, she announced she would retire at season’s end. She said she made the decision a month ago, but began considering the option in late spring. “Sometimes we are more scared to take the decision because we don’t know what … we’re going to do after, how is going to be, the life after,” Pennetta said. “But I think it’s going to be a pretty good life. I mean, I’m really proud of myself. I think I did everything that I expected.”

Photo: Chris Nicholson,

Slam-Seek Suspended – Unseeded Vicci Stops Serena

Roberta Vinci accomplished the biggest upset in tennis history Friday, coming from behind to defeat formerly Grand Slam-destined Serena Williams 2-6, 6-4, 6-4. Gracious and commendatory, Williams praised the victor. “I thought she played the best tennis in her career,” Williams said. “You know, she’s 33 and, you know, she’s going for it at a late age. So that’s good for her to keep going for it and playing so well. Actually, I guess it’s inspiring.”

Photo: Chris Nicholson,

Historic Rain – Weather Washes Out US Open For Perhaps Last Time

Rainy US Open

Precipitation poured on Flushing Thursday, creating what may be the last rain-out ever at the US Open. The women’s semifinals were postponed until Friday, creating a stellar daylong extravaganza of penultimate men’s and women’s matches (Super Friday?). Next year Arthur Ashe Stadium will be roofed, so in the future, whatever the weather, the game will always be on.

Photo: Chris Nicholson,

30-All – Vinci Victory Propels Her Toward Another Vet

Roberta Vinci

While in one Tuesday quarterfinal a 30-something woman proceeded exactly as expected, in another a 30-something woman explored new territory. Roberta Vince, 32,  reached her first Grand Slam singles semifinal with a 6-3, 5-7, 6-4 win over the decade-younger Kristina Mladenovic. “I’m not young, so probably my experience helped me a lot,” she said. “I think I’m at the end of my career, so my first semifinal, it’s incredible.” Her upcoming semi will be an Ashe Stadium showdown with that other 30-something, Serena Williams. In this matchup, Vinci doesn’t expect her age and wisdom to much affect the outcome. “I know that I have a lot of experience, but when you play against Serena, that doesn’t matter. You have to play better, then better, then better.”

Photo: Chris Nicholson,

Superserves – Federer And Isner Battle From The Baseline

Roger Federer

Roger Federer has won more night matches at the US Open than any other man in history. John Isner’s serve hadn’t been broken in Flushing in two years. Odds were that one of those two stats had to give in their fourth-round match Monday night, and at the end it proved to be the latter. After winning tie-breaks in the first and second set, Federer finally broke the American in the last game of the third, winning 7-6, 7-6, 7-5.

Photo: Chris Nicholson,

All Clear – Cilic Healthy And Ready To Defend

Marin Cilic

Last year Marin Cilic surprised most of the tennis world by winning the US Open, whilst charting a route through Tomas Berdych, Roger Federer and Kei Nishikori. This year he may have surprised tennis again by not winning another title since—or even advancing to a final. A few months of that drought can be attributed to the cloud of a shoulder injury that now appears to have cleared. And that timing is good, as his path to the semifinals also is relatively clear, with Novak Djokovic being the only other Top 10 player left in the top half of the men’s draw. Cilic’s 6-3, 2-6, 7-6, 6-1 Sunday victory over Jérémy Chardy brings him into the quarterfinals, where he’ll face No. 19 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.

Photo: Chris Nicholson,

Here Again – Warinka Returns To Familiar Fourth Round

Stan Wawrinka

Stan Wawrinka is no stranger to the second week of the US Open, and the two will be reacquainted again this year after his 6–3, 7–6, 6–4 Saturday win over Ruben Bemelmans. Wawrinka advanced to the fourth round for the fourth straight year, and for the seventh time overall in 11 US Open appearances. His next foe is American Donald Young, who fought back from 0-2 to win in the fifth set for the second time in the tournament. “He’s a tough player,” Warinka says. “He’s improved a lot—especially his attitude on the court. He’s fighting way more, he’s always trying. He will try to get the crowd with him, so it’s going to be, for sure, a great match to play.”

Photo: Chris Nicholson,

Jimmy Project – With New Help, Bouchard Advancing

Eugenie Bouchard

In only her third appearance at the US Open, Canadian Eugenie Bouchard has become a fan favorite, evidenced by the spirited crowd support she received on Armstrong Stadium in Thursday’s 7-6, 4-6, 6-3 win over Dominika Cibulkova. Bouchard now advances to the Round of 16, tying for her best US Open result so far in her young career. The 21-year-old attributes some of that success to recently working with a fan favorite from a previous generation, former champion Jimmy Connors. “He has so much experience, obviously. Just hearing his stories and listening to him speak, I obviously respect him so much,” she says. “The fact that he told me he truly believes in me reminded me, ‘Hey, I need to believe in myself as well.’ He’s definitely helped me in my time of need.”

Photo: Chris Nicholson,