Yes, it remains hard to deny that the men’s U.S. Open is almost certainly going to be won by one of only three players, and that the drama of the tournament is reduced to a certain degree by that reality.
Yes, the men’s U.S. Open and other present-day men’s majors are events in which the first five rounds form a prelude to the final two rounds, when the big boys play for keeps and the pretenders are ushered to the little kiddie table.
Yet, it is still true — and will always be true — that not every tennis player is measured by major titles. Not every career has to be evaluated through the prism of trophies, especially in Melbourne, Paris, SW19, or New York.
No, plenty of careers can find great validation and satisfaction by making the second week of a major, or by finding a ray of light in a dark time. The achievement might not seem spectacular to the outside world, which is naturally focused on who will lift the U.S. Open trophy, but for the person himself — and his team — making the second week of a major can be a very big deal.
It should be.
Saturday, then, was a day for pride, for old soldiers carrying on and being rewarded for their perseverance and staying power.
Gael Monfils discussed how winning matches at a major tournament was necessary to cover expenses fo himself and his team:
In my case to earn minimum 100k NET, you have to reach 4th round (maybe 3rd, deepening on the expenses ) but as usual people twist the answer and make up stories . Maybe my answer was not clear enough . I will make sure I’ll be clear next time.
— Gael Monfils (@Gael_Monfils) August 29, 2019
Monfils has certainly covered those expenses now, after beating Denis Shapovalov in a match which delighted fans and impressed analysts such as Tennis With An Accent contributor Mert Ertunga:
— Mert Ertunga (@MertovsTDesk) September 1, 2019
Monfils was playing the best tennis of his career when he got hurt at Indian Wells and gave Dominic Thiem a walkover in the quarterfinals. Monfils could have allowed this bad luck to keep him down, but instead, he forged ahead.
He now has a golden chance to make a major semifinal. The man he will play next in the fourth round is another survivor of tennis, a man for whom a fourth round at a major feels like a major title.
Pablo Andujar, like Monfils, is 33 years old. (Monfils turned 33 on Sunday.) The Spaniard has endured multiple elbow surgeries and fought a war with his own body, something Monfils and other athletes can relate to. He could have walked away from the sport, tired from its punishment — no one would have blamed him.
Yet, here he is, sticking around not only in terms of not retiring, but in terms of staying in the field at the U.S. Open. His fourth-round paycheck will compensate for a lot of the expenses he has accumulated. Much more than that, Andujar has realized — directly — that he can still be a factor in men’s tennis.
That means the world to someone who has given as much of his mind, body and soul to tennis as Pablo Andujar has.
Then consider Marin Cilic. For a man who has won the U.S. Open and made major finals at Wimbledon and the Australian Open, the fourth round of a major is not cause for a ticker-tape parade. Yet, after the very low valleys Cilic has walked through in 2019, a fourth round — under the current circumstances — feels like an achievement and not a ho-hum occurrence not worthy of commentary.
Yes, a fourth round is just a bus stop on a destination to bigger things for the Big 3, but for Cilic and other veteran tennis players, it can take on more meaning than one might think.
Even on the WTA side, Saturday was “Veterans Day.” Julia Goerges, who — like Cilic — is 30 years old, reached the fourth round of a major after a relatively quiet year at these big tournaments and, for that matter, the larger WTA Tour. Goerges made her first major semifinal a year ago at Wimbledon. She wasn’t able to immediately build on that, but this round of 16 result in New York — with the chance to go even deeper into the tournament — is a bright, shining light with a message of hope and affirmation for Goerges.
Monfils. Andujar. Cilic. Goerges. Four players in their 30s all received powerful statements from the spot of tennis on Saturday at the U.S. Open. The statements were the same: You have been rewarded for your perseverance. Savor this.