NEW YORK — Sometime tennis is actually about the game. But usually it’s about the personalities, the gimmicks, the controversies, the comparisons and virtually everything other than the results of a given match, unless Roger, Rafa, Novak or Serena are playing — and Thursday in the U.S. Open none of them was.
That doesn’t mean Taylor Townsend’s 2-6, 6-3, 7-6 (4) victory over Simona Halep was unimportant. A month ago Halep won Wimbledon, crushing Serena Williams.
Or that Naomi Osaka’s tidy 6-2, 6-4 triumph over Magda Linette should be ignored. Osaka is No. 1 in the rankings and defending women’s champion in this 2019 Open after last year beating, yes, Serena in a final full of the stuff that seems the essence of the sport, anger and arguments.
Osaka’s win was expected (yawn). Townsend’s indeed was a surprise.
But hardly as large a surprise as Francis Tiafoe, the American who was defeated, showing up for his post-match interview wearing a Brooklyn Nets jersey (no T-shirt underneath) bearing Kevin Durant’s new number, 7.
Or hardly as large a surprise as Colin Kaepernick joining Kobe Bryant as spectators for Osaka’s match at Arthur Ashe Stadium.
Or probably not as large a surprise as 2017 U.S. Open winner Sloane Stephens and Monica Puig, who both lost first-round matches in straight sets, blaming one another because Puig’s coach, Kamau Murray, went back to coaching Stephens. Nasty, but it does get people’s attention.
As does our young pal Nick Kyrgios, who after a Monday night win that was completed at a minute or two after 1 a.m.Tuesday — you could yawn at this one, but because of tiredness and not boredom — called the executives of the ATP, the men’s tour, “corrupt.”
The reason was that because of statements and actions befitting a rogue (and a rude one at that) more than a world-class athlete, Kyrgios had been assessed fines this month totaling more than $100,000. Kyrgios, the Australian, semi-apologized, saying corrupt was the incorrect word.
Whether the ATP (in the days before everything was transformed into initials, it stood for Association of Tennis Professionals) is accepting of the explanation and reduces the fines is yet to be determined.
Tiafoe, 21, who grew up in the suburbs of Washington, D.C (as did Kevin Durant), determined win or lose Thursday — and he lost, 6-3, 3-6, 6-2, 2-6, 6-3, to Alexander Zverev of Germany, the No. 6 seed — he would dress up, or down, for the media.
“I’ve always been a KD fan,” said Tiafoe. “He’s unbelievable. He changed to No. 7 (from 35, of course, which honored a counselor who was shot) and I wanted one. That’s the NBA story. (Wednesday) I was like, I want this. That’s it.”
Not quite. In January, Tiafoe faced Rafa Nadal in the Australian Open. He couldn’t overcome the great Nadal, but the match went five sets. Tiafoe never quite equaled his play the rest of the year.
Nadal on Thursday was scheduled to meet Thanasi Kokkinakis (also an Australian) but Kokkinakis withdrew because of an injury. All you people who paid to see competition involving the No. 2 player in the rankings, Rafa, tough luck. You get men’s doubles.
Townsend, 61st in the rankings, got her biggest win in defeating Halep and becoming the first American to beat a reigning Wimbledon champion at the Open since 2008 and, yes again, it was Serena.
“She was very inspired,” said Halep. “She came a lot to the net and didn’t miss much. It’s unbelievable.”
No, it isn’t. It’s tennis, where people wear basketball jerseys or curse at officials — and occasionally hit shots that make us appreciate why they’re on the court, shots Townsend managed to hit.
“It’s been a long journey,” said Townsend, 23. “You flood with things you went through, positive, negative. Just to be able to get over the hump is such an amazing feeling. It’s just a confirmation I’m on the right path. That I belong on this level.”
And belongs for the tennis she plays, as opposed to everything else.