I didn't go to the US Open last year. I wasn't really up to going last year so I hadn't seen any real live and breathing tennis players up close for quite some time. When I heard the line up for the BNP Paribas Showdown my daughter and I decided we would go. We couldn't do court side but the seats we got, just behind the court side seats five rows up were much better in terms of seeing what was going on. We were seated slightly to the left of the chair ump and could see all of the lines pretty clearly.
Still it was touch and go as to whether or not I'd get there. My nephew's wife who has appointed her self chief organizer for our family has a birthday this week so she instead of making it a party for her knowing that no one would come decided to include all of the Aquarius and Pisces birthdays in a celebratory brunch at a fashionable place on NYC's Upper West Side, my second favorite neighborhood in the city and where I lived for a few years. Long story short when I got dropped off at home something was wrong with my knee. Painfully wrong. It's still wrong. But I was going to see the four featured players come hell or high water - neither of which was forecast - so I went on the Extra Strength Tylenol diet. I made it there, met my daughter who came after work, and decided that if there was a good line up next year we wanted the exact same seats.
Gloria Rubin sang the National anthem and the pre match festivities began. Just as they were ending a tall thin man with a huge red afro walked by in front of the folks sitting court side. Their children - there were lots of kids there with their parents - and some of the parents mobbed him asking for autographs and posing for pictures with him. Stefan Gordy was accommodating but he was led to his seat by security who stayed around to make sure no enthusiastic fans got too close. If you think that the grousing about him on Twitter reflects how people feel about him you're wrong. Any naysayers knew to keep their feelings to themselves. I didn't hear any negativity directed towards him. The woman in front of me with her young son asked who he was and we told her. Her son was busy taking pictures.
Victoria Azarenka and Serena Williams took the court to roars of approval from the assembled crowd. I've seen Serena in this venue before so the warmth of the crowd didn't surprise me. I think Azarenka was surprised by the warmth of her greeting.
The match had just started when a late arriver and his daughter contested the seats the woman and her son were in. She flashed her tickets and he was winding up to go smack off when an usher intervened. It turned out the woman and her son had court side seats. The idjut of course said he'd take the seats she was supposed to have and of course she smiled a "f**k you" at him and moved. Like they used to say back in the day "don't start no ish won't be none."
I was surprised that the women's match wasn't carried on television. There was levity - but there was a deadly serious affair for a large part of it. Yes it's scripted, yes things are agreed to in advance but somehow, until Azarenka turned her racquet over to Stefan there was no sign of this being a fun affair. When Stefan hit an ace right off the bat there were oohs and ahhs from the crowd. After the match someone asked Serena about his serve. She remarked "he gets it in when he plays". Kids scratched their heads and adults grinned along with Azarenka. Both women are in fine form. We won't see Serena until Miami but Azarenka has what should be a fairly easy draw at Indian Wells.
I really shouldn't have been surprised that the women's match wasn't a priority. ESPN had the television rights and of course mens tennis is much more important than showing the reigning WTA numbers one and two, especially since the WTA #1 is an American. I guess it's not the right American.
Anyway both Juan Martin del Potro and Rafael Nadal were making their MSG debuts. Delpo was greeted warmly but Rafa's entrance brought the house down. Just like Azarenka was proposed marriage several times during her match both men were also offered marriage. It was also obvious that Rafa was controlling all the points until he wasn't. His movement was good and he's in great shape. You kind of knew who was going to win when Rafa was the first to go into the crowd and select Ben Stiller to play doubles with him. Delpo chose a five year old girl who quickly became the star of the match. It was amazing to see a girl so young - and so small - unfazed by being on court with two of the biggest stars of tennis. Whoever is coaching her is doing a good job. She kept her feet moving and her eyes on the ball. Time will tell if one day she'll be invited to play at the Garden.
The one thing that sucks about a week night exhibition is that kids have to go to school the next day and parents have to go to work. The exodus started after the Williams/Azarenka match and continued through the del Potro/Nadal match. That was the biggest downside to the event. I'm not sure there's anything that can be done about that though.
There was also celebrity watching tennis style. Stefan Gordy, who grew up playing tennis on his father's courts, quietly came back and watched the men warm up and part of their first set. Azarenka's coach Sam Sumyk wandered by right in front of us. Sarah Hughes the figure skating champion was there. We spotted Ben Stiller and his wife before he was plucked from the audience by Rafa. Patrick McEnroe was there on court for awhile and Mary Joe Fernandez darted by.
Still the true stars were the fans who came out with their children to an event that despite the prices was cheaper than the US Open. It wasn't a complete sell out but it was a very good crowd - better than the one I attended a couple of years ago. The format has changed too. No more than two sets with a nice comedic interlude. Well done organizers. Well done.