Saturday, September 1, 2007

A Night at the Open 8/31/2007

by Savannah

It’s funny how things work sometimes. I had no intention of visiting the US Open again until next Thursday evening. Friday night I was going to have drinks with some fellow tennisheads and watch the matches from the bar.

Children are amazing however. My “child” is twenty and when she found out I was going out she said she was going out as well because how could her mother have plans for the evening and she be stuck at home. A few minutes later she told me she had found a ticket for the Friday night session. Since she hadn’t left the couch and to my knowledge US Open tickets don’t fall out of the sky I asked her where she’d found this manna from heaven. Needless to say I followed the bird crumbs from the ticket link on to where we were able to get two seats. Not together but in the same section. Since my printer is busted we used the “will call” feature for the first time. Imagine my excitement when I found out who was scheduled. Venus Williams was to play Alona Bondarenko from the Ukraine and Rafael Nadal was set to play Janko Tipsarevic of Serbia.

I had just checked the weather forecast for Friday and it called for rain. We’ve had monsoon like downpours in New York City lately. One such early morning shower shut down the subway system so that mention rain to a NYC resident today and hip waders come out from the back of the closet. But we decided we’d go anyway and if things were rained out we’d go out on Saturday and enjoy seeing the big names on the outer courts.

We left about five, taking the express bus to 40th Street where we caught the #7 train to Willets Point Shea Stadium, the stop for the BJK National Tennis Center. The day matches ran late so we had time to stop and graze before joining the throng outside of Ashe waiting to be let in. Serena’s match had ended and they were showing a match from 1989 featuring an almost prepubescent Pete Sampras against Mats Wilander. A group standing next to us felt that they should be showing one of the matches on the outer courts and made their feelings known rather loudly. It’s hard to argue with someone who appeared to have just come from one of the watering holes but we managed. When the gates opened the crowd moved and after a few minutes of listening to the public address announcer saying that Venus match would begin in five minutes we passed into the inner sanctum that Ashe becomes at night and took the escalators up to our seats.

The USA broadcast box

We were in a section directly across from the USA network’s broadcast booth and almost directly over the family boxes. When we settled in we could look down on Oracene Price and the other Williams family members. Pictures were taken.

I don't know how to do those mark ups people do but if you look for the woman in the reddish blond hair you will see the Williams family box. That looks like Venus boyfriend Hank Kuehne in the end seat wearing the black baseball cap. They're sitting on the right of the cameraman.

The Williams Family and friends

Before the match began the usual games of where to sit went on. You should know that almost no one sits in the seat printed on their ticket unless some storm trooper from the staff comes over to check when some obvious newbie decides they have to sit in their seats. One woman showed up and began to argue with a woman we found sitting in the row where Haruka’s seat was located. This woman was two body sizes smaller than the one making all the racket and simply gave her one of those looks that said “Bitch if you don’t shut up they won’t be able to start the match until your carcass is removed from the court.” New Yorkers are familiar with those looks. The noise maker decided to sit across the aisle until someone claimed her new seat. That’s all you had to do in the first place honey. My seat was on the aisle, my preferred location, but a couple came whose seats were next to mine. Not feeling like being climbed over I moved over. No biggie. The noise maker never had to relinquish her seat by the way. Two gentlemen came and they simply took the two empty seats next to her. Again, no biggie.

By this time the players were coming onto the court and all the drama of seating was forgotten. Venus looked nice in her black outfit with the star on the back which she later explained represented her, Venus Ebony Starr Williams. I liked the fit of the black outfit better than the teal/green and white she wore for her first match. I also liked that there was nothing fancy about her hair. That usually means Venus has come to play.

Alona Bondarenko is not cannon fodder in the strict sense of the word. She’s had some good results this year and I was anxious to see if she would be able to step her game up to play Venus. I don’t need to go into the details do I? Venus won easily. This was the first time in some time that I had seen Venus play live. She still manages to hit the snot out of the ball and look elegant doing it. It’s a pleasure watching her play.

Then it was time for the men’s match. Every seat was now taken and the little interviews that take place prior to the players coming on court began. These are flashed onto the big screens in Ashe and Janko Tipsarevic’s face loomed over the crowd as he talked about his upcoming match.

By this time the Nadal family had taken over the seats recently vacated by the Williams family. Sebastian, Ana-Maria and Maribel Nadal took their seats. Carlos Costa was there as sitting in the front row along with the last to arrive Toni and the guy I saw on the practice courts who must be Rafa’s fitness trainer since he was the one who had cut the wraps off of Rafa’s knees when the practice was over the other day.

The Nadal's arrive. That's Rafa's dad with the green sweater over his shoulders.

When Rafa’s face appeared on the jumbotron the screaming started. It didn’t matter that he was talking. The noise maker from the seat incident was screaming “Vamos” and the young woman seated with her boyfriend whipped out a camera to catch every second from Rafa’s appearance on the screen to his walking onto the court. The tiny woman who had given the killer looks had her digital camera set to record which she proceeded to do. Another woman appeared out of nowhere and took an empty seat where she proceeded to fill a memory card before the first set had even begun. She, like the look giver, didn’t speak and when she was finished simply disappeared again. Other people had come down from the higher seats to get pictures as well.

Rafa walks on court

Two men who had talked all through Venus match with their families seemed to be shocked by the reaction in the stadium.
“Well I guess he is good looking,” one said trying to explain to himself and his family what was going on around him.

I have to say I was nervous. I had seen Rafa practicing a couple of days ago but little did I know that for some experts that might be the only time I saw Rafa hit a tennis ball. I didn’t see his first match but JMac made it sound as if he was playing on one leg and that this match might be his exit out of the tournament. I was watching JMac and I think he, like everyone, was surprised at how well Rafa was moving. Tipsarevic seemed to be equally surprised. When Tipsarevic came out with guns blazing in the second set the extent of the Serbian cheering section became obvious. There were a lot of people there pulling for Janko. A lot. A mother and daughter who were sitting in the same row as Haruka now became vocal causing the fans around them to look at them in surprise. They fell silent again as Rafa managed to win the next seven games taking the second set 6-3 and going up 1-0 in the third.

Then came the parade of medics. When fans saw the trainer next to Rafa all we could do is watch and collectively exhale as the trainer worked on Rafa’s hand. When the trainer came out again and talked for what seemed forever with Janko I said out loud that he was going to retire. He made me a liar for a few minutes. I don’t think he made any new fans last night.

The Hewitt match was going on in Armstrong and while some fans made their way over there many headed for the subway and the LIRR back into the city. I got home by 1a.

We already have tickets for the mens semi finals but that didn’t stop us from trolling on Ticketmaster to see if better seats were to be had. They weren’t, at least not in the price range that doesn’t require an arm, leg or your first born.

So I’ll be out there again next Thursday night and again on Saturday afternoon.
More to come.

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