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 US Open Qualifying Tournament- The Place For Crossroads

by Bob Lovinger

Yesterday I spent the day with about five thousand hard core tennis fans in a 95 degree sauna watching real athletes fighting for their professional lives.

This is my favorite time of year. I love the US Open. I don't even mind the outrageous cost of everything associated with the open as long as I get my tennis. But I especially love the qualifying tournament. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy watching Federer, Nadal, Roddick, the Williams sisters, just like everyone else, but the qualifiers has a special place in my heart.

At the qualifiers you have the up and coming "wannabe's", you have the aging veterans hanging onto their careers by a thread, and you have the phenoms of the past who just have not panned out. And they all make for a great story.


Smyczek signing autographs after his big win

The first match I watched had both the "wannabe" and the aging veteran. Arnaud Clement, 31 year old from France, was taking on Tim Smyczek, 22 year old from Milwaukee, Wi. Clement had once been ranked as high as 10 in the world and is a former quarterfinalist at the US Open, but he now languishes at number 143 and out of the main draw. Smyczek has never won an official match. But on this day, Smyczek got the best of Clement in an exciting 7-6, 7-6 win. In the end, it appeared as though nerves were actually getting the best of the Frenchman, despite his many years of experience. Only he can tell us the kind of tension he must be feeling trying to hold onto his tennis career.


Next up, Donald Young, 20 year old former phenom. Young was to be the next American great hope, but instead has learned the hard lessons of defeat. His career pro record is 10 wins and 35 losses and he is currently ranked 185 in the world. And after four years of getting automatic entries into the Open, he now must battle with every other hopeful outside of the top 100. He moved on to the second round, his hopes still alive of playing in a fifth straight US Open.


Vince Spadea, 35, has appeared in fifteen straight US Opens, once making it as far as the fourth round. It apparently won't be sixteen Open appearances for the American as he lost to a 25 year old unknown from Slovenia, ranked 299th in the world, Luka Gregoric. Spadea was once ranked as high as 18 in the world, but he now stands at 130, only winning two matches in the nine tournaments he has played this year. While Jimmy Connors received automatic invitations into the US Open at 35, if you are Vince Spadea and ranked as low as he is, you must fight for every spot you can. I have to wonder how much fight he has left.

And then there is the interesting spiral of Gaston Gaudio. Gaudio, 30, the winner of the French Open just five years ago and once ranked as high as five in the world, is now at 307. He is now back to playing challenger and futures tournaments and is so far from the main pack that he can't even see it.  Things didn't get any more promising for Mr. Gaudio as he lost to unknown German, Julian Reister.

Qualifying tournaments are full of tales. Some promising, some sad. Some riddled in injury and suspensions. But in almost all cases, it is about people trying to either latch onto a dream or hold onto a career. You can see it in their eyes. I could see the consolation in Clement as he shook his opponent's hand. I'm certain he was already thinking about his next step. Across the net stood a bundle of hope. We was a step closer to living out a dream of making a career out of his passion. No matter what happens next, he could always tell his kids that he beat a man that was once ranked number ten in the world. And that's not so bad.

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