Tales from 2 awesome days at U.S. Open qualifying. Letterman remembers Robin Williams, beautifully. And a terrific speech from a Little League coach to this team

Stefankozlov

I’ve spent the last two days out at the National Tennis Center in Queens, watching one of my favorite events in sports, and the ticket didn’t cost me a dime.

I’ve written in this space before about the awesomeness of the U.S. Open qualifying tournament, when 128 men and 128 women compete for 16 spots in the main U.S. Open draw (for those not familiar with it works at Grand Slam tennis tournaments, the top 110 or so players in the world rankings automatically get into the main draw of the tournament, while the rest of the spots go to players who get wild cards (usually up and coming players for the host country, or older players whose injuries have made them drop way down the rankings) or those who make it through qualifying, where you have to win three matches in a row to reach the coveted main draw).

It’s free to the public, you get hour after hour of competitive tennis (there are rarely any lopsided matches in “qualies,” because there’s not much difference between players ranked No. 145 and No. 165, for example), and you can get even closer to the court than you can during the regular U.S. Open:

Some scattered thoughts from my heat-fried brain after two days of tennis nirvana:
— My biggest takeaway from the two days was how physically brutal tennis is. I’d say in at least 50 percent of the matches I watched, at least one player took an injury timeout (in one match Wednesday, both players took simultaneous injury timeouts, which I’d never seen before.) Tuesday a promising young American woman named Sachia Vickery hurt her knee late in the second set and tried really hard to keep playing.
She managed to get the match to a third and deciding set, while barely able to move between points. During the points she ran and played her best, but she was in agony for a good hour out there. She finally lost and had to be helped off the court.
This sport just punishes your body when it’s played at a pro level.

— Got a real good look at the two most promising young American men to come along in a while, though calling them “men” really isn’t accurate yet; 16-year-old Stefan Kozlov (above, who looks about 12 if you just see his face) won his first-ever adult qualies match, while 16-year-old Francis Tiafoe, who I’ve written about here before, lost a close night match before a raucous crowd cheering him on vociferously. Both are outstanding talents that could win the Open one day.

— Another cool feature of qualies week is you never know when you’ll stumble upon major stars practicing to get ready for the Open, unannounced. Wednesday around 3 p.m. I wandered over to the Grandstand court, just to see if anyone was over there, and No. 3 seed Stan Wawrinka was practicing with No. 6 seed Tomas Berdych. Two of the top 6 players in the world, playing a practice set just 20 feet from me.

— Maybe my favorite thing I saw in 2 days? A teenager walking around with a “Commack Tennis” t-shirt on. That’s my old high school! And man, we never had T-shirts advertising our Commack pride. I was totally jealous.

**Next up, David Letterman always is funny, but he also does a fantastic job with sad news on his show as well.
The other night Dave gave a moving speech about Robin Williams’ death, followed by a terrific short montage of the comedian’s finest moments on Letterman’s TV shows.

Watch and enjoy… Dave’s the best.

**Finally today, the Little League World Series has been going on all week, with Wednesday night seeing new Sports Illustrated cover girl Mo’Ne Davis and her Philadelphia teammates lose to Las Vegas.
As always, there are winners and losers in Little League, where millions of kids learn how to do both. But it’s losing with class and grace, and seeing the positive in defeat, that’s often hardest for kids to learn.
Which is why I loved this speech from Rhode Island coach David Belisle, who had to try to console his players after they were eliminated from the World Series. His words are beautiful, uplifting, and exactly what we want all coaches to be.

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