Tuesday, September 14, 2021

Look, It's Margie

TigerBlog watched more tennis than any other sport this weekend.

This is significant, considering that it was the opening weekend of the NFL season and Week 2 of college football, not to mention the last weekend with no Princeton football until just before Thanksgiving.

He watched all of both of Leylah Fernandez' final two matches at the U.S. Open, and he also watched both of Novak Djokovic's final two matches as well. Fernandez, turned 19 last week, defeated Aryna Sabalenka in the semifinals in a thrilling three-set match before falling to Emma Raducanu 6-4, 6-3 in the final. 

Raducanu, for her part, is still 18. She started out having to go through three rounds of qualifiers to get to the main draw and ended up standing at center court with the big trophy and a check for $2.5 million. Along the way, she dropped exactly zero sets.

Watching the two teenagers play with such emotion and joy was fascinating. During the semifinal the commentators on ESPN (including Chris Evert and Pam Shriver) focused on when Fernandez was going to fade physically and mentally against Sabalenka, the"old" one in the match at 23, only she never did. 

In the final, it was pretty clear that the crowd was still very much in love with Fernandez. Raducanu, who might not have had the same relationship with the New York fans as her opponent, still wore down Fernandez and in doing so became 1) the first qualifier ever to win a Grand Slam tournament and 2) the first British woman to win a major since Virginia Wade won Wimbledon in 1977 and the first from her country to win the U.S. Open since Wade in 1968.

As for the men's side, the drama was much different. Instead of two teenagers who had never been on the big stage before, there was a 34 year old (almost as old as the two women's finalists combined) chasing history by trying to finish off the Grand Slam. Djokovic had already won the Australian Open, the French Open and Wimbledon, and now he was trying to become the first player since Steffi Graf in 1988 and the first men's player since Rod Laver to win the Grand Slam (Laver did so in 1962 and 1969).

Standing in the way in the final was Danill Medvedev, a 6-6, 180-pound Russian. Yes, that's 6-6, 180. 

From the start, it was all Medvedev, who never let Djokovic get into a rhythm. Part of it was the fact that Djokovic had played with fire for much of the tournament, losing the first set in five straight matches. As a result he had played a lot more tennis than Medvedev, and he certainly looked tired, both physically and mentally. In the end, it was Medvedev, 6-4, 6-4, 6-4.

The New York crowd never really could make up its mind about Djokovic. They seemed like they sort of wanted him to win but didn't love him. Maybe they wanted to see history more than anything else.

Of course, none of any of that was the best part of the tennis this weekend. You know what was?

It was when the ESPN cameras showed the celebrities in the stands. In one row were Brad Pitt and Bradley Cooper. The row in front of them featured Ben Stiller.

And who was in the row in front of Stiller? There was Stan Smith, the former Wimbledon and U.S. Open champ. And who was sitting next to Smith?

Why of course it was his wife, the great Margie Gengler Smith. By TigerBlog's count, Margie made it onto the broadcast three times.

Margie Gengler Smith is one of the great woman athletes in Princeton history. She's also from one of the great Princeton athletic families of all time, as her sisters Louise and Nancy were also great Princeton athletes (and Louise coached the women's tennis team for 25 years).

Here's one part of the upcoming women's history book, about Margie Gengler Smith:

Their family dates back with Princeton Athletics to another the time of an iconic figure, perhaps the most iconic figure Princeton has known. Gengler Smith’s maternal grandfather was John Logan, who was a football teammate at Princeton of none other than Hobey Baker, a member of the college football and hockey Halls of Fame. When Gengler Smith was a Princeton senior in 1973, her picture was on the cover of the Princeton Alumni Weekly, with a captain reading “Princeton’s Best Athlete.” This prompted a letter from her grandfather. “He said he never thought in his wildest dreams he’d ever see a woman on the cover of the Alumni Weekly, or for that matter at Princeton at all.”

Margie Gengler Smith was one of the first two women to compete for Princeton, along with Helena Novakova, back in October of 1970, when they played in the Eastern Intercollegiate tournament in New Paltz. Margie won the singles, and she and Helena won the doubles together.

Novakova was Princeton's first von Kienbusch Award winner, in 1972. Margie won the following year, in 1973.

She and Stan Smith have been married for nearly 50 years now. Their son Trevor (one of their four children and somewhere around 11 grandchildren) was a first-team All-Ivy League tennis player at Princeton before graduating in 2003.

In the end it would be Stan Smith who presented the trophy to Medvedev. 

It was a great weekend of tennis at the U.S. Open. Seeing Margie on TV made it that much better.

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