Tennis Channel's Brett Haber Is Ready for Some 'Dramatic' Matches at This Year's US Open

Brett Haber
Brett Haber

The Tennis Channel Brett Haber

It's time for what Brett Haber affectionately calls the "backyard slam."

The Tennis Channel play-by-play commentator, 51, kicked off the 2021 US Open on Monday, helped to lead coverage of the annual Grand Slam in New York.

Despite a series of high-profile pull-outs of this year's tournament — including Serena Williams, who is still nursing an injury — Haber says there's a lot to look forward to as the Open always includes some "compelling, dramatic matches."

Here's what Haber thinks fans can expect and look forward to as the US Open plays out over the next few weeks.

What do you love most about the US Open?

I was born and raised in New York City, so this is my "backyard slam." Each of the four has a unique flavor — Australia is the "Happy Slam," Roland Garros is very "Cosmopolitan Paris," Wimbledon is all about tradition — and the US Open is very New York, very American, very in-your-face. It's a five-sense interactive experience.

The crowds are raucous; the sound of the seven train is the underlying score to the movie; the aroma of grill smoke from the concession stands fills your nostrils — but what I love the most at the Open are the night sessions. The atmosphere at Flushing Meadows when the sun goes down is unlike any other sporting event in the world. The crowds are unfathomably electric — and that energy transmits to the players. Some of the most compelling, dramatic matches I've ever witnessed have been at night at Flushing Meadows. Other slams have night sessions now, but they're not the same as the ones in New York.

How do you think the atmosphere will be different this year after no fans were permitted due to COVID-19 last year?

I think folks will be hungry to see the sport live this year. ... I think it will make the crowds even more raucous and engaged. I always love that New York fans are so passionate during a match, even though they don't have a home rooting interest in any of the top stars (the way they do with their pro hometown teams) They come up with a reason to be for or against a player — and they go all in. That's how we do in New York — all in.

With Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer out, how is the men's competition shaping up?

The absence of Federer and Nadal puts all the more focus on Novak Djokovic as he attempts to complete the first calendar year "Grand Slam" in men's tennis since Rod Laver in 1969. He is the prohibitive favorite, but by no means is he the only contender.

Daniil Medvedev has now made two major finals and is the best hard-court player in the world at the moment after Djokovic. Sasha Zverev was a game away from claiming the title last year (up 5-3 in the fifth set in the final against Dominic Thiem). Since then, he's won five titles, including the Olympic gold medal in Tokyo.

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Stefanos Tsitsipas is up to No. 3 in the rankings and has proven to be an all-surface threat. Matteo Berrettini just made the Wimbledon final and the hard-hitting Italian's game seems tailor-made for the New York conditions.

Do you think Djokovic can return to form after a bad ending at the Olympics?

I think Novak's form was just fine at the Olympics. He lost in the semifinal in three sets to a top-five opponent, then once the "Golden Slam" was off the table, he had an understandable let-down in the bronze medal match. If he plays his best, he'll win it.

Brett Haber
Brett Haber

The Tennis Channel From left: International Tennis Hall of Fame CEO Todd Martin with Martina Navratilova and Brett Haber on Tennis Channel’s set at the 2019 US Open

The question is: can he play his best as he gets closer and closer to completing the slam, and both the pressure and attention mount? Not even the greatest champions are immune to pressure.

Any players fans should keep an eye on for an upset?

We've had some unexpected slam winners over the past few years on the women's side; not so much on the men' side. That said, if I had to toss a couple of names out there coming from "off the menu," I'd keep an eye on Camila Giorgi. The Italian just won the prestigious hard-court tournament in Montreal despite being ranked No. 71 at the time. She displayed uncommon patience and point construction to complement her high-voltage power game.

Beyond that, Coco Gauff, Jessica Pegula, Danielle Collins are all Americans ranked between 20 and 30, who are worthy of a long look.

How do you think Naomi Osaka will perform after a challenging few months?

This is one of the questions I'm very eager to see answered. Naomi has proven herself to be one of the top stars in the game, a multiple major winner, and one of the undisputed heiresses to Serena's throne as the "alpha" of women's tennis. That said, it seems clear that the events of this summer have temporarily eroded some of her confidence. This stands in sharp contrast to the space Osaka occupied 12 months ago, as an indispensable voice in the national conversation about racial justice and the de facto conscience of our sport.

Unfortunately, her quest to find peace at the crossroads of global celebrity and painful shyness has, so far, been unsuccessful. Since her withdrawal from Roland Garros, she has played just two tournaments, losing before the quarterfinals at both. Everyone in the tennis world wants to see Naomi find the balance and harmony that she (and all of us) seeks, but it's going to take some doing. ... Some find her position to be hypocritical given the degree to which she courts the press when it suits her brand. On the other hand, thanks to Naomi (and others), mental health is now a subject that is rightfully receiving more consideration in the sports world.

The question is: can she sufficiently compartmentalize the noise and off-court drama to allow her world-beating skill to manifest in New York?

Any fun behind-the-scenes details of covering the Open you can share?

Back in 2012, I was hosting our US Open loft set with Tracy Austin and Rennae Stubbs, when Kim Clijsters played the final match of her Hall of Fame career. She came to the set for an interview after the match, and while she was bummed to have lost, she seemed at peace with the moment.

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Kim did the interview and, at the end, our CEO Ken Solomon had a magnum of champagne brought to the set to toast Kim and her incredible career. So we did an on-air toast and tossed the broadcast back to the booth for the next match. But Kim decided to stick around. She sat around telling stories and laughing with our analysts and staff — so Ken ordered more champagne.

Brett Haber
Brett Haber

Fred Mullane/camerawork usa Tracy Austin, Rennae Stubbs, retiring player Kim Clijsters and Brett Haber share champagne on Tennis Channel’s US Open set at the 2012 US Open

The control room said that everyone on the loft set was wrapped for the night, so we all had a few glasses ourselves and continued the impromptu celebration of Kim. Which seemed like a great idea — until the stage manager told us they were coming back to us for one last (unexpected) live segment. I don't know if a tape of that segment exists somewhere, but if it does, I'd pay $5 to see it.

Tennis Channel Live at the US Open began at 10 a.m. EST Monday, an hour before matches kicked off, with match encores airing at 12 a.m. EST Tuesday. Tune into the Tennis Channel daily for ongoing US Open coverage.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.