It’s the Friday before New York City gets slammed by Hurricane Irene the 2011 U.S. Open starts, and I thought that a a day at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center – before the tennis-loving masses and/or the wind and rain really start pouring in – was in order.
My day started bright and early (4:30am!) so that I could be at the Open by 6:00am in order to volunteer for the Wilson Guiness Book of World Records Event with Mardy Fish and Andrea Petkovic. It was great to see so many families and community groups show their love of the game. Plus, being part of a World Record isn’t a bad way to kick off the weekend.
After spending the morning with the next generation of tennis players, I decided to wander around the grounds in my brand new limited edition NYC 2011 US Open Tour Vision Tennis Shoes (thanks Wilson!) to check out who was on the practice courts. Much to my delight, the practice courts were packed with players – from James Blake to Andy Murray and even young Aussie Bernard Tomic.
Later, I peeked in on the 2nd and 3rd Qualifying Round matches. In an era in which we’ve come to expect nonstop “history book” achievements in tennis – Roger Federer’s 16th Grand Slam title, Novak Djokovic’s great run this summer, John Isner and Nicholas Mahut’s 2010 Wimbledon marathon – the Qualifying Tournament of a Grand Slam can be a refreshing change of pace.
As a tennis fan, the recent barrage of tennis history making is exhilarating, sure, but can also lose a little of its splendor as it becomes commonplace. (My fellow New Yorkers can relate to this concept: A rare earthquake? A little scary but cool. A rare earthquake and an impending rare hurricane … In the same week? Not cool at all, Mother Nature.)
The Qualifying rounds offer opportunities to see players who may never appear on Letterman. The matches are free of charge (and fantastic), and I soon found myself drawn to one match in particular: Conor Niland (pictured below) vs. Matwe Middelkoop.
These payers didn’t go out on court today to win a trophy or make tennis history. They were just hoping to keep their chance to play another day in Flushing alive. The playing was scrappy at times but – with a first-time-ever spot in the 1st round of the U.S. Open on the line for both players (and some questionable line calls throughout that inspired many Hulk-esque roars from both players) – it was impossible not to get swept up by the excitement of the match which, while not of great import to tennis history, was undeniably important to both players.
And when, after a daring forehand return on match point, Conor sank to his knees with his head in his hands and Matwe crossed the court to congratulate him … Well, I’m a fan of tennis for moments like that.
And now I might just be ready to watch Serena Williams win her 3rd U.S. Open title. Or to see the Bryan Brothers’ Grand Slam title #12 to surpass Mark Woodforde and Todd Woodbridge’s record of 11 grand slam doubles titles. But I’m going to be sure not to miss the smaller, less-historic victories along the way.
So NYC: Let’s batten down the hatches, stay safe and dry this weekend, and have a great first week at the U.S. Open!