In a recent edition of The Tennis Podcast, Catherine Whitaker mentioned the “tingling” sensation that being at the US Open gives her. The tournament has not even begun yet and I’m already experiencing similar levels of delirious excitement. That’s because I’m heading out to New York this Sunday to attend the US Open for the first time, thereby completing ¾ of my Career Fan Grand Slam (a trip to the Australian Open is on hold until after I finish university).
I can’t wait to feel the Big Apple buzz and the adrenaline rush of a lively night session crowd that I’ve heard all about. Who knows? Maybe I’ll even take the shuttle bus back to Manhattan following the day’s play and engage in a fierce argument with the driver. Or I might just leave that to Catherine and David … (if you don’t know what I’m referring to, check out this episode from the 2016 US Open).
To really get me in the mood, I’ve been reminiscing, thinking about my US Open memories. As a UK viewer, contrary to the Australian Open, watching the US Open is a test of one’s powers of endurance, rather than one’s will to get up in the middle of the night. I tend to be slightly better at the former and I try not to miss a moment.
While some players may dislike the US Open’s position in the calendar, I’ve always loved it. As a student it nestles rather nicely into the last two weeks of the summer holidays. Besides, I quite enjoy that the Grand Slam season stretches from January to September. I always find the golf schedule, with major championships played between April and August, to be rather cramped. In tennis there’s plenty of time to savour what we’ve just witnessed at the biggest events, and also to salivate at what’s to come.
I look back fondly on the US Open of a couple of years ago. I spent the majority of the two weeks travelling around Italy. Other than New York itself, Italy was the place to be that fortnight as Fognini upstaged Nadal, Vinci shocked Serena and Flavia Pennetta won the women’s singles title. At various points I tried to use my Spanish – not a million miles from Italian - to see how the newspapers and TV channels were reacting to events in New York. As much as anything, the prominent position of the stories and the packed bars watching the action unfold suggested that even the most casual Italian tennis fan was really appreciating the country’s unprecedented success.
In order to make it back home in time for the men’s final, I had put together an elaborate travel plan. I crept out of my hotel in Rome at around 2.45am, reassured the night shift receptionist that I had already paid for my room, squeezed myself and my suitcase into the rickety lift, hurried across what felt like the width of Rome to the bus station, queued up on the side of the street with a bunch of fellow larks and then made my way to the airport for a very early departure. Once back in England, commitments during the day meant that by the time the men’s final came round at 9pm UK time, I had been awake for well over 20 straight hours and was feeling rather tired. Imagine my despair when the heavens opened in New York and, with it being pre Arthur Ashe roof, the final was delayed by around 2.5 hours.
Fortunately, when it eventually started, the tennis was superb as Djokovic and Federer played one of the most compelling, dramatic Grand Slam finals of recent times. It was plenty good enough to keep me awake, despite my bleary-eyed, part-human, part-zombie state. We’ve all had moments that prove our commitment to tennis - hotfooting it from Italy and prizing my sleepless eyes open with matchsticks was mine.
Other US Open highlights from recent years include watching a hobbling, cramping, exhausted-looking Andre Agassi battle to defeat a hobbling, cramping, exhausted-looking Marcos Baghdatis in a 2006 epic, a match that would ultimately be Agassi’s last ever win. (TRIVIA: who beat Agassi in his final match?)
Elsewhere, there was 2009 when Kim Clijsters produced the mother of all comebacks to lift the trophy in just her 14th match back after coming out of retirement. The stats surrounding it were mind-blowing – she became the first wildcard champion in US Open history, the first mother to win a Grand Slam since 1980 and the first player to beat both Williams’ sisters in the same tournament on two occasions (she also did it at the 2002 WTA Championships). But the enduring image of her victory is of the heart-warming moment her daughter Jada innocently came rushing onto court to see what the fuss was about and pose with the shiny trophy.
And who can forget Andy Murray’s maiden major triumph in 2012? Personally, I became extremely familiar with the fifth set because I analysed the TV commentary as part of a sixth form English project. “A diamond is a chunk of gold that is made good under pressure” exclaimed a giddily excited Mark Petchey, quoting Henry Kissenger to describe the moment Murray stepped up to serve for the title.
Whatever the year, the US Open always seems to throw up moments of unparalleled drama. Tennis is one of the most theatrical of sports and the vast Arthur Ashe stadium seems like the perfect setting for the spectacle. Having always watched from afar, I’m eager to see it all up close. Well, if the back of the 23,000-seat Arthur Ashe stadium counts as close…
This year it feels like a very open Open. I haven’t a clue who I’m going to pick in our Kickstarter Predictions competition. My only comfort is that I don’t suppose anybody else does either. If you have any suggestions or inklings, I’m all ears.
I’ll hopefully produce another blog once I’m back, detailing my experience. But for now, I had better get packing…
Enjoy the tennis and especially the daily podcasts!