Today marks the beginning of my favorite fortnight* of the year: The U.S. Open tennis tournament. I believe I have previously mentioned my love of tennis and my Wimbledon ritual, but I love this tennis tournament the best of all.
There's an energy in New York that just doesn't exist at the other three grand slam events. The U.S. Open has night tennis and 5th set tie-breakers. (Ok, I guess I shouldn't say it's definitely got better energy than Australia and Wimbledon as I haven't been there, but I'm an uppity American, so I'm comfortable assuming New York supremacy.)
The U.S. Open is where Pete Sampras once puked on the court, but was still able to survive the match because he knew there was a finite end to the 5th set he'd gotten himself into. (He went on to win the tournament that year.)
The U.S. Open is where Jimmy Connors made it to the semis as a 39 year-old (where he lost to Jim Courier, the 20 year-old). The U.S. Open is where both Venus and Serena Williams first made their statements, each making her first grand slam final in New York at the age of 17.
The U.S. Open is where Younes El Aynaoui and Wayne Ferreira once played to a 5th set in front of a raucous crowd on Court 4. That match went until 2:45 and was the best thing I've ever seen, made even better by the fact that no television camera caught any of it so only the 300 or so of us who made it until the end know exactly how fantastic that match was. The Moroccan had a hearty bunch of fans, so some of us took up for the South African just to even it out. By the end, everyone in the crowd had pretty much arbitrarily started cheering for one or the other just so that the chants would be equally loud. Honestly, that was such a good match and they were both such gentlemen, I don't think anybody really cared who won. We just wanted it to continue. The chair umpire (Norm Crist, probably my favorite chair umpire) enjoyed every second of it. He had to tell the crowd to quiet down at the end of each change-over, but the smile on his face suggested he didn't mind if our cheers went on just a little bit longer. El Aynaoui prevailed in the end. My friend and I got to walk away from the court with Ferreira. I know the Aussie Open also has night matches, but there's no way that tournament could ever match the magic in the air that night.
The U.S. Open offers food from nearly every ethnicity you could want. Riddle me this: how come you can buy crepes at the U.S. Open but not at the French Open? Seriously, at the French Open, the only question is what kind of bread you want your brie or roast beef sandwich on.
The U.S. Open has celebrities. I've seen Yekaterina Gordeeva and Ilia Kulik. (They're ice skaters and they're kind of a big deal.) I've seen David Paymer. (I guarantee you've seen him in something and would recognize him.) Ben Stiller and Christine Taylor regularly attend. As well as all the guys from 60 Minutes and Tom Brokaw.
The U.S. Open is like the gateway to fall. The days are still brutally hot New York summer days (usually) with nasty humidity. But the nights can get crisp and cool. The men's final is always delayed because it's supposed to start at 3:15 p.m. (Central), but that's the first NFL Sunday, so there's always a football game that goes late.
So, yeah, it's the greatest tennis tournament in the world. I really need to go back there someday.
*And I love the word fortnight. It's entirely possible that at least part of my love of the grand slams stems from the fact that it allows me to use that delightful word which is generally not used outside of Jane Austen discussions.