As America's ad hoc men's tennis headliner, 25-year-old Tim Smyczek put on a nifty show for U.S. Open fans. Those who saw him, anyway.
Five sets. Three hours, 24 minutes. Rousing rallies with Spain's Marcel Granollers. Ups and downs and twisty turns of momentum before Smyczek lost, 6-4, 4-6, 0-6, 6-3, 7-5.
Far bigger crowds, lured by name recognition, were watching top-seeded Novak Djokovic of Serbia zip through a 6-0, 6-2, 6-2 victory Sunday over Portugal's Joao Sousa at Arthur Ashe Stadium, or packing Louis Armstrong Stadium to see Russian Mikhail Youzhny's four-set win over Germany's Tommy Haas.
When Smyczek, the unlikely last surviving U.S. male in the singles draw, commenced his third-round match against Granollers on the Grandstand Court shortly before 6 p.m., there were roughly 1,000 fans in attendance.
Four of those spectators were Ithaca College students, all wearing T-shirts celebrating their tennis blog, tennisnerds.com, positioned so the S-M-Y-! tape could be seen on their shirts.
Did they personally know Smyczek, the world's 109th-ranked player who has played almost exclusively in the tennis minor leagues? "I met him," said Joey Hanf of Visalia, Calif. Were they longtime Smyczek fans? "We're pro American," Jorge Merlos of upstate Hudson said. Did Smyczek know they were here? "He will," assured Zach Lipson of Fairlawn, N.J., and Chris Hayes of Rochester.
They generated "Smyczek" chants, "U-S-A" chants, ran around high-fiving fans as Smyczek appeared to take control in the third set. And as the drama deepened -- and other matches ended -- the Grandstand crowd steadily grew, so the 6,106 seats were most all occupied by howling fans through the fifth set.
"It was pretty cool," Smyczek said. "It was pretty disappointing to lose, especially being up a break in the fifth. But these are the situations you dream about. I'd never heard anyone yell out from the stands, 'You're our last hope.' I never had to step up to the baseline with goose bumps.
"Got a little taste of it. It's where I want to be. Love to have more of it."
Alas, Smyczek let slip some golden opportunities.
He was serving up 4-2 in the fifth but never got past deuce. He had double break point in the next game but that, too, got away. He pushed Granollers to deuce twice in the set's 10th game, two points from winning the match, but no farther.
He held a game point to go up 6-5, but Granollers "came up with some amazing shots," Smyczek said. "Passes. I didn't feel I played a bad game and he came up with some stuff and, before I knew it, we were back on serve."
He is a Wisconsin native whose U.S. Open began with a wild-card entry only after another player withdrew. He was able to play his first Open match only after being rescued in Queens from a courtesy car that had run out of gas.
His name, in Polish, means "bow" or "fiddlesticks." So: Oh, Smyzcek!