Bronx Open: A US Open Appetizer Worth Sampling
By Vito Ellison
(August 18, 2019) BRONX, New York – While most American tennis fans had their attention squarely focused on the happenings in Cincinnati on Sunday, some New Yorkers were (as is our nature) already one step ahead, as the main draw kicked off for the New York Junior Tennis and Learning (NYJTL)’s inaugural Bronx Open.
To be honest, the $250K WTA event exists in a precarious position. Per Adam Zagoria’s New York Times article, its WTA sanction is only for 2019, making a potential collectors’ item of any of the branded swag on sale (available for a donation to the charity). The draw was also diluted before the first ball was struck by the withdrawal of two-time Wimbledon champion, Petra Kvitova, as well as former top ten-ranked Spaniard Carla Suarez Navarro. The Bronx Open also has the unenviable position of inhabiting the vacuum known as the week before a major when many of the best-known players choose “rest” (and lucrative/contractually mandated sponsored events) over an additional tour stop. To wit, Uniqlo, Wilson, Babolat, Yonex, Asics and Citibank are among the sport’s power players who will host events in New York later in the week–all with boldfaced names attached.
While the US Open can resemble a commercial bacchanal, the Bronx Open site at the Cary Leeds Center for Tennis & Learning at Crotona Park keeps the focus squarely on the matches. Where the Open’s food court has increasingly gentrified (in recent years outposts of Momofuku, Lure Fishbar and Dean & Deluca have increasingly replaced the old-school hot dog stands), the Bronx Open was more than ably (and solely) serviced by the chicken finger specialists of the Yankee Doodle Dandy food truck…that and the tens of cookouts that dotted Crotona Park outside the event’s gates.
While the tournament obviously looks and feels more homegrown from the massive money-spinner in Queens, the Bronx Open is worth a serious look for New York’s tennis fans. The sparkling, cozy, 1,000-capacity main stadium felt positively roomy on this stiflingly humid Sunday. There were relatively sparse crowds courtside watching 18-year-old American Elizabeth Mandlik make her WTA main draw debut. The qualifier put in a gutsy, multiple-comeback effort but ultimately fell 4-6, 6-4, 6-3 to the alliterative Frenchwoman Fiona Ferro.
Former top 15 ranked veteran Kaia Kanepi being relegated to Court No. 1 delivered its own unique perspective. Off the main drag of the side-by-side stadia, the Estonian’s 6-7(3), 6-1, 6-2 victory over Nadiia Kichenok was best viewed on the park benches (and through the chain link fence) that enclosed No. 1 and the adjacent practice courts.
To be clear, all is not lost in the Bronx from a “big names” perspective either. 2011 US Open champion, Samantha Stosur may have failed to qualify for the main draw in singles, but she stuck around to partner Shuai Zhang to a 6-2, 6-4 win in the doubles over Lidziya Marozova and Katerina Srebotnik. American Bernarda Pera will follow-up her dominant 6-0, 6-2 victory over Russia’s Veronika Kudermetova with a tilt against third seeded Wimbledon semifinalist Barbora Strycova. Moreover, top seed and top Chinese player Qiang Wang and American-on-the-comeback-trail Coco Vandeweghe have yet to kick off their respective tournaments.
While the Bronx Open suggests a donation on behalf of its namesake charity, the event (like the US Open qualifiers happening at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center next week) is free to the public. That value alone makes the Bronx Open a worthy addition to the city’s annual tennis calendar. While we would never suggest skipping Fan Week and the qualifiers at the Open, in the Bronx Open we can recommend a more than worthy second appetizer to the main course that will hopefully be on the table for years to come.