Daniil Medvedev Triumphs in Front of Full US Open
The Impact of Tennis Fans Returning to The U.S. Open
Fans made a triumphant return to the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center to watch the US Open unfold this month. They witnessed British teenager Emma Raducanu become the first qualifier in history to win a Grand Slam on Saturday. Most fans inside a packed Arthur Ashe Stadium were cheering for her opponent, Canada’s Leylah Fernandez, but Raducanu displayed great mental strength to shut out the noise and seal her place in the history books.
British spectators were in the minority, but they found their collective voice after Raducanu slammed an ace down the inside the seal the championship. The Neil Diamond anthem, Sweet Caroline, blared out of the speakers, and the 18-year-old sensation joined her fans in belting it out. By that point, the atmosphere inside the arena was positively electric, highlighting the vital role that live spectators play in sporting events. It simply would not have been as special if she were celebrating in an empty stadium, as Naomi Osaka did last year.
Djokovic is “The Happiest Man Alive”
The following day, a capacity crowd watched on as Daniil Medvedev secured a straight-sets victory over Djokovic in the men’s final. The Serbian world number one was bidding to become the most decorated male player in history, but he remains level with Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal on 20 Grand Slams apiece. Medvedev, the 25-year-old second seed, had lost both of his previous Grand Slam finals and he was the clear underdog in the tennis spread betting, but he played with poise and precision to topple the mighty Djokovic.
The Serbian superstar was naturally distraught to lose, but the match also marked a turning point in his relationship with the American fans. Djokovic has never enjoyed much love in the Big Apple – he was disqualified last year for hitting a line judge with a ball that was not in play, and his racket-throwing antics have left many viewers distinctly unimpressed – so the crowd usually roots for his opponent. That was especially true in the 2015 US Open final, when the crowd heavily backed his opponent, Federer, and it has largely been a hostile venue for him this year.
For example, Djokovic looked edgy when he beat 18-year-old qualifier Holger Rune in the first round. The crowd was cheering for the Dane, chanting “Ruuuuuuune!” throughout the match. Djokovic misinterpreted the noise, assumed he was being booed and reacted angrily. His body language made him appear irritable during his third-round clash with Kei Nishikori too, and he even jokingly chastised the viewers for not showing their appreciation after he hit a sumptuous backhand winner.
However, that all changed when Djokovic strode out into the Arthur Ashe Stadium to face Medvedev on Sunday. He received a rousing reception from the fans that packed into the world’s largest tennis stadium, and he received huge backing throughout the match. After holding his serve in the third set, he started to well up in response to the support, thumping his heart in response to the cheers.
After the match, Djokovic said to the supporters: "Even though I haven't won the match, I am the happiest man alive because you guys made me very special on the court. You guys touched my soul. I've never felt like this in New York. Thank you for your support. I love you.” It was a touching statement from a man that rarely displays much emotion, and it once again showed just how powerful a live audience can be.
Rogers Receives Raucous Reception
Raducanu and Medvedev prevailed despite receiving little encouragement from the crowd, but other players benefited by feeding off the fans’ energy. For example, the viewers roared world number 43 Shelby Rogers to victory over top seed Ash Barty. When she landed a particularly impressive moon shot, the crowd went ballistic. Rogers, who had never previously beaten Barty, was wilting towards the end of the match, but the adoration of the fans kept her going.
“I would say they’re probably the reason I won tonight, to be honest,” she said in her post-match interview. “I mean, my tactics, sure, were great, but they gave me something that I wouldn’t have probably been able to bring out of myself, so I’m super thankful for that.” At one point, the umpire had to call for calm as the place was rocking so hard. “I feel like you guys have picked who you want to win,” said Rogers to the crowd. “Thank you for picking me tonight. You guys are in control of the tournament.”
As an American and an underdog, Rogers was always likely to receive vociferous support from a partisan crowd, and her heroics highlighted the role supporters can play in swinging results. Barty may have wished that the arena was empty, but the majority of players interviewed said they were delighted to have the fans back.
Fans Bolster the USTA’s Coffers
Tournament organizers will also be delighted that the US Open was able to run at full capacity once again. In 2019, a record 737,872 people attended the tournament over two weeks, generating $400 million in revenue. Last year, that totally disappeared, and total revenue plummeted by 80%. Sponsorship deals and broadcasting rights still generated some income, but the lack of real fans seriously damaged the USTA’s finances.
It dipped into reserve funds to ensure players received full prize money last year, but the USTA may have been plunged into financial peril if fans had not returned in 2021. They wandered the grounds, spent lavishly on food and beverages and revelled in the occasion. It felt like life was returning to normal again. “We missed the people in the crowd,” said former Grand Slam winner Simona Halep after beating Camila Giorgi of Italy 6-4, 7-6 in her first-round match. “You cannot compare the atmosphere. It’s much better. You feel the energy. You feel alive on court.”