Last call

Ben Shelton.

I've been watching way too much professional tennis lately – so much that I haven't even had time to write about it. But there are only a few days left before the last of the four major tournaments of 2023 is over and I can take my eyes off the game for a while.

They're down to the last two women singles players now at the U.S. Open in New York: Coco Gauff, the 19-year-old American wunderkind, against Aryna Sabalenka, the screaming Mimi from Belarus. They'll play for the big trophy tomorrow. The winner gets $3 million; the loser, half that.

Gauff defeated Karolina Muchova of the Czech Republic yesterday in straight sets. It seemed like a pretty tight match at the end, but unfortunately, for the first half hour or so, Karolina hadn't put up "Muchova" fight. (Sorry.) She fell behind and never quite caught back up.

Coco, the crowd's darling and deservedly so, is showing the maturity that it takes to win. Her year started out badly, but she's clearly peaking at the U.S. Open. To be in the major finals again at her age is not an everyday thing. She's potentially headed into Serena Williams territory. The way she grips her racquet makes her forehand shots shaky sometimes, but the rest of her game is a monster.

Sabalenka, at 25 years of age the No. 1-ranked woman player in the world, lets loose with a blood-curdling shriek every time she hits the ball. It's super-annoying and unnecessary. It makes it hard for me to leave the sound on on the tube. But she pulled off a stunning, if overly loud, come-from-behind victory over American sweetheart Madison Keys last night. Keys won the first set 6–0! And was up a couple of games in the second and third sets. But she faltered in the big moments, as she is wont to do, and Sabalenka wiped her out in two tiebreakers to make it to the finals.

Muchova and Keys won $775,000 apiece for the two-week tournament.

On the men's side, there are four players left. They'll narrow it down to two today. Carlos Alcaraz of Spain will face the Russian Daniil Medvedev, while Novak Djokovic, the Serbian executioner and all-time major tournament champ, will face an American kid nobody saw coming, a 20-year-old named Ben Shelton.

The Alcaraz-Medvedev match will be a fascinating study in contrasts. Alcaraz, another 20-year-old man-child, plays a lot of the time with a michievous grin on his face that shows what a hell of a good time he's having out there. In contrast, his opponent, Medvedev, a curmudgeon at 27, carries on with the expression of your Grandpa when he's constipated. They're both wicked good players, though, seeded 1 and 3 in this tournament for a reason. Everyone's anticipating an Alcaraz-Djokovic showdown in the finals on Sunday, but the Russian could make it interesting today if some random thing doesn't send him into a downward psychic spiral.

The Djoker, 36, should annihilate Shelton, but I must say, that American lad has a bazooka of a serve. In the Queens, New York heat, they're clocking it at 140 miles per hour. Novak can return everything, but that's a difficult ball to see, much less hit back between the lines.

At the U.S. Open, the men get the same prizes as the women. It's been that way for 50 years, and they're bragging about that this year. As well they should. 

By Sunday night, it will be on to fall sports in earnest. But for the next couple of days, it's history in the making on the hard court. Go, Coco.


  1. Keys vs. Gauff would’ve been a quietly exciting all-US final.

    1. Keys vs. Pegula was potentially interesting. But Pegula didn't really show up.

  2. One of the few downsides of dumping cable a few months ago is missing the US Open. It's ALWAYS a great tournament. Entertaining from beginning to end. Worth paying $85/month to watch? Probably not.

    I'm looking forward to seeing what ESPN offers when they cut themselves free of cable and go it alone in a few years. The NFL, for example, is offering me all locally broadcast games (CBS, Fox, NBC, Monday and Thursday games) AND the Red Zone channel for $80 for the season. Seriously...who needs cable.

  3. I’m not a big tennis watcher usually, but this years US Open has been incredibly entertaining and captivating to follow and watch.


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