It was a Monday morning in February 2012 when I saw Tim Smyczek for the first time. A friend and I were going to our first ATP World Tour tournament, the SAP Open in San Jose, California. We had no idea who Smyczek was, but on initial glance he looked like a pretty cool guy. The atmosphere in the indoor arena known as the “shark tank” was similar to a golf course; utterly silent. His match wasn’t even in the main draw, he was playing in the final round of quallies. He beat Ricardas Berankis that day, with very few fans in the arena. His ranking at the time of that match? Number 301 in the world.
From that day on I started to follow Smyczek’s results week to week. They were up and down. One week he would win a couple main draw matches, and the next he would lose first round of a challenger. A huge step in his career was this year at the Australian Open. After being awarded a lucky loser, Tim won his first round of the main draw and played David Ferrer in the second. Ferrer has a game that Smyczek strives to have, with both players being very small. Tim took a set in that match, and I personally began to believe that Tim could be a great player.
My friends and I bought tickets to the US Open in June. We really are “Tennis Nerds”, and I was pumped to experience my first Grand Slam. When I saw that Tim could potentially get to the third round, I started to think of what we could do to support him. Our friends from Ithaca College a year ago had done shirts for S-O-C-K, and I thought that doing the same for “S-M-Y” would be even better because very few fans actually know Tim. After watching great tennis all weekend, it was Sunday evening, around 6 p.m. Smyczek and Marcel Granollers were walking onto court, and we had front row seats. As I looked around the Grandstand, I was disappointed. Most fans had elected to instead watch the Haas-Youzhny match on Armstrong. Smyczek was the last American man left in the draw, and no more than 1000 people were there to watch.
I shrugged my shoulders and told my friends, “Looks like we’re going to have to carry them(the crowd).” From the opening game, all five of us were in full support of the man we like to call Smy. Tim lost the first set after being up a break, which was disappointing. He got down a break to open the second, but broke right back to 1-2. At that point, somebody from Smyczek’s camp came over to us and said, “We need you guys to get this place nuts.” That was all we needed. I was going to wear the “M” with more pride than ever.
From that point on, after every changeover, we lead a different chant. From “Let’s go tim”, to “Smy-Czek”, to “U-S-A”. Smy started to play better, absolutely crushing his forehand like I had never seen him do before. He took the second set 6-3. At the end of the set, Mike Haber, a High Performance Evaluator for the USTA, came over and told us to “make this like a college match”, with the Grandstand being Smy’s home court. Things were starting to get crazy.
Tim started playing the best tennis I’ve ever seen from him. He won the third set 6-0 and he was doing so it some style. He was painting lines and crushing serves, not exactly what you expect from a guy who is 5’9 (and that’s generous). The crowd was not only getting behind Smy but behind us; they were engaging like I’ve never seen at a US tennis match. We ran around the Stadium, getting people out of their seats and into uproar. The atmosphere was electric. It could even be described at epic. People started to file into the Grandstand, hearing how loud we were getting.
Granollers played a very strong fourth set, and took it 6-3. Still, we believed. Tim played inspiring tennis to go up 4-1. We were going nuts; a couple of us including myself voices were shot. That didn’t matter, we were so invested into the match that nothing else mattered. We were literally heartbroken when Smy dropped the match 5-7 in the fifth.
But looking back on it all, it was the greatest sporting experience of my life. Tim Smyczek is exactly the kind of player you want to root for. He plays the game the right way, has a funny personality, and is pure class. His tweets today represented exactly the kind of guy he is.
I’ve never rooted for a player harder than I did last night. Tim will likely move into the top 100 for the first time when the rankings come our next monday, something most people will take for granted. I certainly won’t. People shouldn’t be Smyczek fan’s just because he’s an American, but because he’s everything an American should be.
One last time: FIGHT SMY!