It is creeping closer, Gentle Reader. The end of the off-season is almost upon us, but while that offers some small solace in this misbegotten, hockeyless night, it still doesn’t answer the question of “What in the hell am I supposed to do when there still isn’t any hockey?” Well, we know we’ve mentioned a few times in this space that the major off-season-ending landmark for us is the U.S. Open, and yesterday we made our first-ever trip to Flushing Meadows for a night session. We have been to the Open before, back in 2003 for a day session, but there’s something so spectacularly “beginning of Fall” about night tennis from Arthur Ashe Stadium that we were especially eager to experience it in person. On the TV, in HD, there’s something about the blue seats, the sharpness of the colors on the courts, the people in the crowds looking chilly in their summer-weight coats on surprisingly cool nights, and the quality of the huge stadium lights that makes us feel like we’re watching Mariano Rivera blowing on his hands to keep warm on a frigid night in late October at Yankee Stadium. (Not that we’re big Yankees fans, or anything, but if you’re a sports fan from the corner of the universe that we are, nothing says Autumn like post-season Yankees.) When our friends Eugenie and Jarrett mentioned they had extra tickets for a Friday night session, we couldn’t say no to a chance to be in that atmosphere instead of just watching it on the TV.
Our Evening At The Open started with a train ride into the City, the highlight of which was passing by the Devils new arena. Other than that the Prudential logo is only half installed, it looks done to us; what’s up with starting the season with that epic road trip anyway? (Okay, we’ll be honest: the highlight of the train ride was not spotting the arena. It was the guy who got on at Newark Airport and sat down in front of us. He answered the question women have been asking for centuries: if Dainius Zubrus, Ryan Getzlaf and Harry Connick, Jr. had a son, would he be gorgeous? The answer is, emphatically, yes. The next question, “Would superhott ZubieGetzi even notice either one of us?” is answered with an emphatic “no”. Oh well.) After a relaxing trip in the supportive cradle of NJ Transit, we took a brisk walk from Penn Station to the 7 train (along the way garnering only one, half-assed “Devils suck!” in response to the Devils t-shirt Schnookie was wearing. Rangers fans, that was a sorry showing), then were whisked out of Manhattan to the festival of Hamptonites and Eurotrashy tennis fans that is the Open.
For those who have never been there, the Tennis Center is a park-like sprawl of tennis courts, pedestrian plazas, and spots for the foot-weary visitor to rest and get some serious people-watching done. We arrived well early for our meeting with our friends, and took some time to soak in the creeping-toward-being-autumn-colored canopy of sycamore leaves over the wide footpath promenade, while keeping our eyes peeled for ZubieGetzi and his ilk. (So he was speaking loudly on his cell phone on the train! It’s not like we were eavesdropping. We couldn’t help but notice he had a foxy Eurotrashy accent and was meeting up with friends at the Open. And, no doubt, looking for us.) After the whole gang arrived at the grounds, we feasted royally on the finest meats and breadstuffs the hotdog stand outside the East Gate had to offer, because seriously, you have never been price-gouged for food until you’ve tried buying concessions at the Open.
After a bit of a crush (by “a bit” we mean “we stood, literally in place, in a mob of thousands of people for a full 45 minutes”) caused by a late-ending day session, we night session ticket-holders were finally able to take to our seats just as Venus Willams and Alona Bondarenko were warming up at center court. For us, that meant we hired sherpas to carry our extra oxygen and made for the thin air at the top of Ashe Stadium. Along the way we stopped for a scenic view of a nearby outlying court, where there was some non-headliner match going on. Again, for those of you who could have a chance to take in a day at the Open, we can’t recommend it highly enough; seriously, you just get to walk around the grounds, flitting in and out of any match that’s going on. And most of the courts are just teensy tiny ones, smaller even than the one pictured here. You end up sitting just a few feet away from the top tennis players in the world. How cool is that?
Tonight, though, we were not just a few feet from the top tennis players in the world.
And it’s a good thing, too, because we didn’t pay a lick of attention to the Williams-Bondarenko match. Alona (or, as Eug and Jarrett’s friend Lindsey called her, “Aloha”) is, um, not as good a tennis player as Venus. The best thing we could say for the match was that it lasted 53 minutes, which Pookie pointed out happily was longer than we stood in place in that mass of humanity while trying to enter the arena, so she considered that a moral victory of some kind. We also discovered, while scanning the crowd around us for celebrities, that they sell these delicious-looking waffle fries at the Open. After much hemming and hawing, and mentally calculating how brutal it would be to get back up the stairs to our seats, we decided we were willing to fork over $18,000 for some fries, but were not willing to get them ourselves. Thank heavens Eug and Jarrett were willing to wait on us! These were some damn good fries.
The headliner for the evening was Rafael Nadal, who was bringing some shaky knees into a match with the heretofore unknown (to us) Janko Tipsarevic. There was some concern that Rafa was going to pull out with injury, but in the hopes of seeing a thrilling match, we decided to put our considerable mental energies to good use willing him to overcome the pain. Now, we’re Federer fans, so we normally have no love for Nadal, but last night we were willing to watch with open hearts and minds; we were ready for Rafa to win us over. We also were willing to make this concession because Jarrett and Eugenie are big Nadal fans. Of course, no sooner had we composed a makeshift “GO RAFA” sign (written in ketchup, with french fry, on our cardboard ketchup-holding drink tray) then the Jumbotron screen gave us a glimpse of the evening’s challenger, and all our plans were tossed over in favor of our new favorite tennis player. Janko Tipsarevic was awesome. Looking. Awesome looking. We could not vouch for his actual awesomeness as a tennis player. But seriously: the facial piercings! The tattoos! The beard! The glasses! The breatheright. It was love. As soon as the two men took the court, we turned to Jarrett and shouted down the length of our row to him that Janko was about to take Rafa apart. Jarrett’s retort was a calm prediction that Nadal would have this match won in an hour and a half. We were not deterred by his confidence.
The match started with a quick break by Rafa. Jarrett looked smug. We told ourselves Janko was just playing rope-a-dope. As it turns out, Janko has the same knee problem Rafa does, and shortly after the match began Pookie remarked, “My patellas hurt just watching these guys.” It was Gimp Night at Center Court. The first set was a breeze for Nadal, and when he wrapped it up, 6-2, Schnookie muttered sadly, “I think I’m backing the wrong horse.” (When she heard us grimly commenting that we thought Janko couldn’t win, Lindsey shushed us, “Shh! He doesn’t know that yet!”) But hope springs eternal when you’re cheering for a guy who looks as wacked-out as Janko, so we boldly proclaimed that the second set is known, in tennis circles, as “The Hammer Of Janko”. Jarrett was not impressed. Nor was Rafa. The second set ended not much better than the first, 6-3 Nadal, even with Janko breaking Nadal’s serve once. Ouch. Insult was added to injury when Jarrett started miming a hammer breaking. But we still had hope! A guy can’t win a five-set classic without losing two sets, right? Well, Janko barely moved on the first game of the third set, then called an injury timeout. Uh oh. Was it his knee? Was our all-time favorite tennis player (as of less than an hour before) being felled by an injury that was supposed to have stopped Nadal? No. It was, in fact, a torso injury, and when Janko tugged his shirt off to reveal the tattoos beneath, most of the crowd hilariously couldn’t help but roar in appreciation. (Eugenie later snarked jealously that Rafa had removed his shirt on several occasions but no one noticed. Except, it seemed, for her.) The timeout stretched interminably, but we had great fun trying to figure out what medicinal purpose the pink electrical tape the trainers put on Janko’s side served. And when Janko returned to play and won an amazing point after a long volley, Lindsey won the comment of the night by shouting, “That solves it — I’m wearing pink electrical tape to work tomorrow!” Well, sadly for Lindsey, us Janko fans, and Janko himself, the pink tape was only a temporary cure. With the third set at 3-2 Nadal, Janko withdrew. We claimed at least a small measure of victory, though, because the match lasted 1:39; thanks to the lengthy injury stoppage, Janko managed to hang on nine minutes longer than Jarrett predicted he would. Take that, doubters!
While we were a bit bummed not to get to see, in person, a five-set classic (like the previous night’s Blake/Santoro match), Janko’s withdrawal was actually a sign of how thoughtful and caring he is. If the match had gone much longer we might not have gotten back into Manhattan in time for Eug and Jarrett to catch the last bus, and we would have been forced to wait for a 1:41 train. Instead, we caught the 12:42, and were home by 2:15. Sleepy? Yes. Hungry? Yes. Happy about a day well spent? Absolutely. We could not be more delighted — nor feel more grateful for what a privilege it is — to live near enough by to be able to participate in one of the major sporting events of the calendar year. The U.S. Open is an absolute treat, and we couldn’t have had a better time!
(Our one regret, the one black mark on this otherwise perfect night, was that we missed IPB’s First Annual Mirtle Day. What excitement! A big gold IPB star goes to Katebits for playing IPB hostess to Mr. Mirtle in our absence [who are we kidding; we'd have been as silent and intimidated as the rest of the Irregulars], and another to Earl for [we're assuming] alerting him to Katebit’s Boxworthy-esque plan to take over Mirtle’s fantasy league.)