Golf, Shuffleboard & Cheering For Zverev: Melo's Time In New York
Hi everyone, my name is Marcelo Melo and I play doubles on the ATP Tour. Some of you might know that I’m actually good friends with Alexander Zverev, who reached his first US Open semi-final on Tuesday.
You might be wondering how a Brazilian became very good friends with a German. I first met Sascha in Rotterdam in 2015 and we have been close ever since. My partner, Lukasz Kubot, and I lost in the first round of the US Open. But since I knew I needed to go directly from New York to Rome, I decided I would stay here a bit longer and watch Sascha play.
A lot of people see Sascha and I joke all the time off the court, but he was winning, so why not support my friend? Everybody knows we’ve become very close and if there's a way I can support him, I do it. I think this year, it is especially important.
When I was playing, I could feel how different it was without the fans, so I knew how important it was for players to get that energy from their team and friends. It has been like that for everyone during the tournament. It’s a different feeling inside Arthur Ashe Stadium this year, too. There are always 23,000 fans cheering for the players and it makes for a very exciting atmosphere.
Sascha’s team and I would react after he played a good point to try to motivate him. After we'd stop clapping it was just quiet because the stadium was empty! It was a little bit weird.
That is one of the reasons I wanted to be there to cheer for him. It’s very important to have people there who try to keep your energy up. Usually that’s not so difficult because of the atmosphere all the fans create. Even still, yesterday it felt like a very important match for Sascha. Even if there were no fans, it was the quarter-finals of a Grand Slam! Players still need to be very focussed and mentally very strong.
Of course I’m very happy for him for the results he’s earning. For me he’s improving. You can see it with two semi-finals at a Grand Slam in the same year. Before this season, he never made a major semi-final. He’s such a talented and great player. I’m close to him so I see how he practises, I see how seriously he takes tennis on and off the court. I think he really deserves the results he’s getting and maybe even better, winning a Grand Slam.
Off the court, he is very happy that he was beating me in different games, too! Since we are in a bubble here in New York, we of course couldn’t go anywhere. What the US Open did was very nice: They brought in many games and activities to the hotel to give us some fun things to do in a safe environment.
Almost every night at the hotel I played games downstairs with Sascha. They have golf, shuffleboard, mini-basketball, table tennis, foosball and more. They brought in food trucks and all the players would be there, too. All of these things were pretty popular with the players. Sascha and I mostly played golf and shuffleboard. He actually plays better golf than me. He actually beat me at shuffleboard as well. He’s going to be upset if I don’t say that!
Of course on-site I was still training in the gym and on the court as well. Now that it’s near the end of the tournament, it was weird having so few people around, but it’s always like that during the second week of a Grand Slam. It reminds me of when I made the final of the US Open in 2018 with Kubi. It’s pretty much the same. We don’t see many players once it gets to this point. Of course there are many spectators all around the grounds normally, but the quantity of players is pretty much the same. The only difference this year is it has felt empty since the beginning. We miss the fans.
Unfortunately it’s tough for me to stay any longer because Sascha plays his semi-final on Friday. I need to practise on clay, especially since we’re changing surfaces. I’m flying to Rome tonight to get ready for the clay swing with Kubi.
It’s going to be weird because normally after leaving New York we go to China, where I usually do pretty well. I’ve won three titles in Shanghai and made two finals there, so this is always an important time for me. To go play on clay in Rome and at Roland Garros is going to be different, but we need to adjust. We need to be strong mentally to know it’s better for us to go there since they are making the effort to allow us to play safely.
Overall I think it was a great experience to be here playing again after five months without competing. Even if Kubi and I didn’t do as well as we expected, it was nice to go back to a tournament in the safe environment the US Open made for us. I think they did a great job. Now it’s time to reset and get ready to compete again. And on Friday, I will definitely watch Sascha from Rome.