I made it out to the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center this past Thursday. It was the first time I was going to the US Open without having paid for a seat in Ashe. For some reason the matches on Ashe weren't compelling enough for me to pay a king's ransom for the privilege of being baked alive watching a match with a fore drawn conclusion. Even Serena's match wasn't enough to get me into that cavernous stadium. Instead I brought a grounds pass. Since you never know with tennis I wanted the option to go into the nosebleed section in Ashe but all of those were sold out so I got a regular pass that lets you into everywhere but that stadium and off I went.
I should mention that I had newbies with me this trip. This was their first time out to the Open. It's interesting seeing things through a first timer's eyes.
We went to Armstrong first and got seats during the Gael Monfils/Juan Carlos Ferrero match. I'd never seen either man live before and was anxious to see them square off. I figured if Monfils was on it would be at most four sets. Apparently several thousand tennis fans felt this match was compelling enough to sit and bake in the sun for. By the end of the first set there wasn't a seat to be had. I wondered how the talking heads were taking that. Armstrong was packed to the rafters while I had a feeling that Ashe was fairly empty. I found out after I got home that it hadn't gone unnoticed by those whiz kids working for ESPN. A comment was made about the crowd during Roddick's opening match and how it had helped him. It would've been different if it had taken place in a half empty stadium the talking head intoned.
I bore rather quickly these days and after a set and a half I concluded Monfils was not going to beat Ferrero. My friend said that Ferrero was hungrier. He was enjoying the match though and when we left taking his seven year old daughter with us to go watch Andrea Petkovic vs Zheng Jie he went back to watch more of the Monfils match.
Zheng is very small. Smaller than Dominika Cibulkova I'm guessing. That made me appreciate her achievements even more. While Petko is not in the over six feet club it was clear who was going to win the match. Zheng's fighting spirit wasn't enough to prevail and while she did force three sets it wasn't her day.
Have I mentioned I love the Grandstand Court? If I have I'll say it again. It and Armstrong are the best show courts. You can actually see the tennis and that is why you go to Flushing. Whatever decision they make regarding a new stadium at the NTC I hope they make it fan friendly. The monstrosity that carries Arthur Ashe's name is an ode to corporate greed and not to tennis. They should also leave Armstrong and the Grandstand alone. I understand that suits and the corporations they work for help the US Open to be the only profitable sports operation in New York but the other Slams take care of them and understand that fans who save up to make a trip to see their favorites deserve to be able to see the men and women they idolize. They shouldn't be treated like pariahs and banished to the upper reaches of a place like Ashe. The joy of live tennis is seeing the grips, the footwork, the shotmaking up close. You can stay home and watch television.
The next match I saw was one between Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Sergei Bubka. Bubka is pretty much a one trick pony. He hits the ball hard but he doesn't do anything else very well. Tsonga wasn't flying high during this match and he didn't need to. There were moments when he played up to his abilities though and when he did it was a glorious sight to see. I kind of soured on him when he did his "no mas" routine a couple of weeks ago but he is one to see live if you can.
There was no need to stay for the third set so we, along with my daughters friend Gian, headed out to Court 7 to see Aleksandr Dolgopolov. This gave my friend and his daughter a chance to see the US Open in all it's jam packed glory. Mind you the Monfils vs Ferrero match was still going on and wherever there were jumbotrons there were people standing or sitting in front of them watching. We found a table calling our name at the Food Court and while Gian and his friend went on to Court 7 we had a few bites to eat. Seven year olds love chicken nuggets and fries and my daughter got ribs. Neither one of them complained about the food so I'm guessing it was edible.
I should mention that I'm glad the US Open doesn't make you hide the water you bring in from the outside. When I was there last they made you remove the labels from your non Evian water and you had to hide your food. They don't enforce that nonsense anymore. Judging by the lines at the food court and beverage carts I don't think they lose any money. Then again people buy the large Evian bottle - the one with the red top - and refill at the water fountains.
They went on to Court 7 while I stopped and watched the jumbotron outside of Ashe along with several hundred other people. It was the fifth set and Gael, who had waved off a concerned trainer once, got another visit from him a few minutes later and this time he didn't wave the man off. There was little doubt who was going to win at that point but I got distracted by Tennis Channel's Cari Champion and her film crew walking by. She is tall and was wearing wedgies that were at least four inches. She looked cool, calm and collected in the late afternoon sun and once she was past me I headed for Dolgopolov's match. He was playing Flavio Cipolla. There is always a lot of churn on the outer courts and oftentimes you end up watching players you're not that interested in because you can see the mechanics of their games and why some will never be the superstars they dream of being.
But back to Dolgo. He is very slight, much slighter than I thought he was. The thing that struck me about his game was his service motion. I never noticed how odd it is. He twists his body and unwinds into it. That's the best way I can describe it. His ground strokes are good though and he won the first two sets against a totally frustrated, racquet throwing Cipolla. Figuring Dolgo had this match in the bag we turned to Court 6 where Melanie Oudin and Jack Sock were playing. Of course they'd drawn a decent crowd. Melanie is small. And she knew enough to let Jack Sock carry their team. I'm through slagging on Melanie though. She was thrown to the wolves by a United States tennis establishment fiending for the next blonde thing. It's a hell of a lot to ask a seventeen year old. I wouldn't want that kind of pressure on myself and I'm old. We watched for a few minutes and then headed back towards the Grandstand to see Sloane Stephens who had won her first set in spectacular fashion.
We never made it. My friend got distracted by the music and we sat down. Sloane didn't appear to be doing so well in the second set and with a bone tired seven year old in tow it just didn't make sense to join the line to get into the Grandstand. We were all stunned to find out Dolgo had managed to lose two sets to Cipolla. He won but that must've been one hell of a walkabout. We were also quite pissed at ourselves when Sloane pulled out the second set.
I don't graze like I used to so while my daughter got a frozen Cosmo from the Gray Goose stand - she loves their product - my friend got an expresso and a brownie and we listened to music.
My other regret was that I didn't get to see Court 17. God willing, and barring earthquakes and hurricanes I hope to get over there next year. I hear nothing but good things about watching matches there.
The US Open is still a fun, and expensive, tournament but as a tennishead I wouldn't dream of being anywhere else for at least a day at the end of August. As my friend said when we were leaving "This isn't a tennis tournament. It's a festival."
Indeed it is.