Fans root for John Isner-Gael Monfils match to go all night in the city that doesn't sleep
About Thursday night's geographically challenged U.S. Open scene, when the raucous New York crowd chose to throw its vociferous support behind Frenchman Gael Monfils midway through his comeback attempt against American John Isner:
This is New York. Patrons of the athletic arts demand a show, and it has virtually nothing to do with my-countryman-right-or-wrong loyalty.
This is the U.S. Open, where -- just around midnight -- a howling-at-the-moon atmosphere regularly evolves.
This is tennis, a sport without borders when it comes to fan favorites, and a sport that becomes decidedly more entertaining with the dramatic possibility of a fifth set. Also, as the night deepens, plenty of fans become a bit oiled up with adult beverage.
As the highest-ranked (17th) American man, playing in his nation's own Grand Slam tournament, Isner expressed "disappointment" in the spectators' decision to back Monfils.
It's bad enough that Isner has to put up with constant questions about U.S. men's tennis mediocrity, and whether he feels a duty to do something about it.
As Monfils scrambled back from a two-set deficit, won the third and pushed Isner to the tiebreaker limit in the fourth, the New York crowd was chanting Monfils' name.
Later, on Twitter, Isner -- born in North Carolina, educated at the University of Georgia, living in Florida -- said, "I miss the South."
But the fact was a match that had been dulled for two sets by Isner's mighty serve -- 23 aces, 70 percent of his first serves in play, a top speed of 139 mph -- became gripping stuff in the third. And the spectators wanted more.
Especially because Monfils, ranked as high as No. 7 two years ago but now 39th, is one of the sport's most theatrical players.
"You know, he's a fun-loving guy," Isner said after his 7-5, 6-2, 4-6, 7-6 (4) victory, "and an exciting guy to watch no matter where he is playing. But honestly, it was a little bit surprising.
"If I was playing him in France, it certainly wouldn't be like that," with Parisian fans cheering Isner.
Monfils, a U.S. Open quarterfinalist in 2010, when he lost to Novak Djokovic, said: "I always love playing in New York, and I always had a good crowd here, and many fans. They were very helpful for me to hang around and grab that third set. It was an amazing atmosphere out there, and I am very thankful for them."
He called New York "my second home."
Isner tried to ignore Monfils' playing to the crowd. "I just wanted to stay focused," he said. "I didn't want to get too friendly out there, even though he's a very good friend of mine."
In the end, Isner had to admit "it was a lot of fun; I'm not saying it wasn't," having prevailed with solid play in the fourth-set tiebreaker and suddenly hearing thousands of voices, when he reached match point, chanting "U-S-A! U-S-A!"
Only in New York.