I’ve been fortunate enough to attend a lot of great sporting events in my life. The NCAA Tournament, big NFL games, college football bowls, the Daytona 500, and the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta (I was there the night of the bomb in the park, but thankfully nowhere near the explosion).
But without a doubt the best sporting event I’ve ever been to is the U.S. Open. There is so much to love about the Open, especially if you go on one of the first few days.
For starters, you get to see world-class tennis up close, and by up close, I mean, literally, five feet away. When I was younger my uncle would take us to the Open every year on one of the opening days, and I was always amazed that you could see a Top 10 player out on Court 16 or something, and be close enough to pat him on the back.
The Open is best seen not from the ginormous Arthur Ashe Stadium (which is just way too big for a tennis stadium, but that’s another argument), but by perusing the outer courts. You can spend hours watching future stars grind out wins, and see the agony of defeat from right up close. You just can’t do that anywhere else in sports.
Then there’s the Open atmosphere. It can be cold and antiseptic on Ashe, but on the new version of Louis Armstrong Stadium and on the Grandstand, the crowd can really get into the match. You’re sitting with real tennis fans there, not the corporate shills who the USTA has sold all the good seats on Ashe too (you know, the people who are constantly on their cell phones and couldn’t tell Andy Roddick from Andy Griffith.)
The food is awesome at the Open as well, though it’s wildly, wildly overpriced. Bring your own if you can, because you’ll pay an arm and a leg, and a kidney, for lunch.
The memories I have of the Open are some of the most cherished of my life; two that leap out of my cerebellum immediately are the day my Mom and I saw Chris Evert’s last-ever Open match, a quarterfinal loss to Zina Garrison in 1989, and a marvelous full day in 2005 I spent with my then-girlfriend, now-wife, over Labor Day weekend.
By that point she’d been hearing me wax poetic about the Open for 1 1/2 years, so for my birthday that year she got me the fantastic present of two Open tickets, and basically said “Here, show me the Open.”
And so I did. We got all kinds of lucky that day; we saw Martina Navratilova, maybe the greatest women’s player ever, in a doubles match on the Grandstand. We saw Lleyton Hewitt win on Ashe, and sat next to a bunch of drunk Australians (are there any other kind? I kid, I love the Aussies) who were chanting the whole match.
But the absolute greatest moment? Sneaking over to Armstrong late in the day and happening upon a third-round match between Paradorn Srichaphan and Davide Sanguinetti. Never heard of them? That’s OK, 95 percent of the people in the crowd that day hadn’t either (though everyone got a kick out of the “Srichi-fans” rooting for the Thai guy and making all kinds of noise.)
We got to the court late in the fourth set, and saw one of the glorious U.S. Open epics. We were in the corner of the court and way high up, but we still were going nuts on every point. The noise was remarkable, the quality of play intense: Sanguinetti ended up winning 7-6 in the fifth set tiebreak, and the crowd rose as one for a standing O at the end of the match.
My arms were tingling, and as I looked over, I felt like my wife’s were, too. She finally understood what I’d been talking about all these years.
Anyway, it all kicks off today once again. I’ll be glued to the set as always; there’s nothing like the Open. I’ve been away from New York for four years now, and I never miss it more than in these two weeks.
If you get a chance, I did this piece for the News-Journal on Rafael Nadal’s chances, as well as some thoughts on the Open in general.
Saw a lot of Ted Kennedy eulogies over the weekend, but didn’t see the entire service. I have to echo what so many have already said, and that is that Orrin Hatch gave one of the most beautiful eulogies I’ve ever heard. Hatch and Kennedy were very good friends despite having no political common ground.
If you haven’t seen it, it’s definitely worth your time.
Two other quick thoughts on Kennedy:
1. Do you think we’ll ever, in our lifetime, see another family produce three U.S. senators, including one president? I have to think that kind of thing is impossible nowadays, because the sins of one will be used to slime the others.
2. I thought all the discussion about Kennedy’s career in the Senate was wonderful, but I didn’t hear enough about all the tragedy he overcame. To me, that’s what made him such a compelling figure.
Anyway, here’s the Hatch tribute. Well done, Orrin.