Tiger and record crowds; the Open is so much more than tennis

© Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

Art Spander

NEW YORK — It has to be more than just the tennis, the simple act of knocking a ball back and forth over a net, even though the skill, the hand-eye coordination, is remarkable.

But there has to be more to the success of the U.S. Open — record attendance (540,000 in the first eight days) and huge ESPN ratings — than the actual game.

True, this is New York, with a population of some 20 million in the metropolitan area, 8 million in the city. Yet Broadway shows go bust. Restaurants fail.

The Open? Wow. Tuesday afternoon, the day after Labor Day, the unofficial end of summer, the kids back in school, the commuters back on the subways, and 23,700-seat Arthur Ashe Stadium was three-quarters full for two quarterfinals — neither involving Roger Federer or Serena Williams.

They would play in the night matches, Serena crushing Wang Qiang, 6-1, 6-0. What Grigor Dimitrov did just before midnight was upset Federer in their quarterfinal, 3-6, 6-4, 3-6, 6-4, 6-2.

The Open is as much a place to be seen as to see. Hey, on the big screen, there’s Anna Wintour, the editor of Vogue. And Alec Baldwin. And who was that cheering for Rafael Nadal a couple of nights ago, throwing his celebratory uppercuts? Tiger Woods, in the Nike box of course.

It isn’t that there’s nothing else happening in this burg. The Yankees are trying to grab a spot in the postseason — and most likely will, despite Monday getting shut out for the first time in 220 games. “Blank Happens” was the New York Post headline.

The Open is a happening. They don’t have matches as much as they have incidents. Daniil Medvedev, the Russian, gets booed and with gestures encourages the booing to continue. “It helps me,” he had said.

He didn’t need much help beating Stan Wawrinka, 7-6 (6), 6-3, 3-6, 6-1, in their semi. Nor did he get the usual amount of boos, although the spectators overwhelmingly were backing Wawrinka.

In the other daytime semi, Elina Svitolina of the Ukraine defeated Johanna Konta of Britain, 6-4, 6-4. “I have played her three times,” said Konta. ”Haven’t beat her yet.”

Konta should dredge up that quote from Vitas Gerulaitis, who after losing 16 straight times to Jimmy Connors finally defeated him in an event in New York. “Nobody beats Vitas Gerulaitis 17 times in a row,” he quipped.

The forehands are forgotten, but the comments never fade away.

Nor does Tiger Woods, though his loyalty appears to have changed. One of the times Woods came to the Open, he was vociferously rooting for Federer, who’s Swiss, against Andy Roddick, an American.

But in effect Tiger was cheering for a brand, not an individual, Federer at the time contracted to Nike as is Woods. Now Federer, after a reported $300 million deal, wears attire from Uniqlo. Nadal is the Nike guy — and Tiger’s guy.

It’s the wheeling and dealing, and gossip and the rumors, the Page Six items in the Post, which are so very much a part of the Open. At Wimbledon, the practice courts are tucked away. At the Open, they’re next to a public walkway and courts and competitors are listed on an electronic board.

There are few secrets in New York. The more people know, the more they get involved. The more attitudes change.

Medvedev semi-apologized for egging on the fans in the two matches before the one against Wawrinka. His coach, Gilles Cervara, had talked to the player and said, “He’s smart enough to know if he did the wrong thing or not.”

In New York, if you don’t know, the fans here will let you know. There’s a reason the term for booing is called a “Bronx cheer.”

Asked if he believed the vocal confrontation with the fans — well, they were vocal, he just waved — was a thing of the past, the 23-year-old Medvedev was somewhat evasive.

“Hopefully it’s not for me to decide,” he said. “As I said (in the on-court interview heard by the fans) even after the previous round, what I got I deserved. I’m not proud of it. I’m working to be better.”

There’s no more appropriate place to make amends or make friends than the U.S. Open, where there’s so much more than just tennis.