Friday, September 4, 2009

Multi-tasking at the Open

My buddy Tomas had a special request. He asked me to do another tennis blog. So here it is.

I don’t know what your method for watching matches at the US Open is or if you’ve ever been to the event, but I have a particular modus operandi. It varies based on first week or second week matches. I take in consideration all the players I’d like to see, but also the ones I haven’t seen before. I’m also a big fan of unsung hero matches, the ones that don’t get top billing and are usually spurned to a distant court— far away from the concession stands and the restrooms.

In the first week, I tend to look out for newcomers— the fresh crop who might soon become household names. I prefer not to commit myself to a court. Court 11, for example, has a neat set of bleachers right behind the service line. There’s always crowd lined up to get their view from that vantage point. If you sit there you won’t have to twist your head from left to right to follow the path of the ball because you’ll have both players in focus, right in front of you. There’s also that slight problem of haven’t acquired the plum seat you won’t want to get rid of. Not on a single changeover.

I wouldn’t say what I have is ADD, but when I first at the matches I sometimes wander, get a feel for the tennis I want to see. I might stay for a changeover then check out another court. I might return. I caught a bit of a young American, Jesse Levine, playing Marin Cilic. Most of the crowd was behind Levine, the local. He had raw energy and raced down balls. His shots weren’t as pretty as Cilic and his serve wasn’t as solid, but I enjoyed watching him for a bit. I wasn’t ready to commit to the match just yet.

I trailed off past 13. I knew Juan Carlos Ferrero was there, and both bleacher sides were packed. I’ve never been a fan of his, but appreciate his spirited game. I’d get to him when I was ready. First, I trailed off to Julien Benneteau and Victor Troicki. I’d never seen either of them play, but knew of both. Benneteau had plowed through the first set and Troicki was throwing a tantrum when I got there. He smashed two racquets and got a warning from the chair umpire. I’d stayed for a bit and Troicki picked up his game for the 2nd set, but was still testy.

When I made it to Ferrero’s match he was already down two sets to love. I’m always impressed at the resourcefulness of fans who want to be where the action is. Some folks stand on the bleachers of the adjacent court. No shame turning their backs on the lesser match. Somebody had procured line’s judges chair, it sat unattended between the space of the next door court’s bleachers, it was practically whispering to me. I couldn’t disappoint. I got up on the seat and watched from a vertically-enhanced POV. Petzchner, the German, was giving the Spaniard a run for his money. Ferrero, from what I could see, was playing well, pounding his shots. Petzchner was cranking them with more authority and nabbing the lines. Ferrero managed to change the momentum and took the third set. Indeed, it was a good match, but I had other fish to fry.

I was in a bit of a pickle because I wanted to catch both Juan Martin Del Potro and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga which were going on simultaneously. Now the grandstand and the Louie Armstrong stadium are right next to each other, but the event’s organizers have made it more of a challenge to get from one to the other. Also, there are more fans to contend with, some who have a similar strategy as mine of catching many matches— that’s why so many of those grounds passes get gobbled up.

You can a little from both matches if you sit all the way at the top of Louie Armstrong and look over the top rail down onto the grandstand court, but then you see neither match too well. My solution was simple. I really wanted to see Del Potro and I was content to catch a glimpse of Tsonga’s play. Is this necessarily a good use of my time waiting on line to catch two seconds of a match? Well, I saw more than two seconds— only a few games, but Tsonga has electricity. He blasted a few forehands so I think that was worth it. Plus, I was already technically in the stadium.

The problem was all the reserve gates in Louie Armstrong were full. The ushers weren’t letting anybody else through without tickets. Oh, yeah, tickets. I’d forgotten that Armstrong had its own tickets. So an Arthur Ashe holder like myself couldn’t get a reserved seat there, but I supposedly had the coveted— more expensive ticket. I wasn’t even using it. Hantuchova had already blown through her opponent in Ashe Stadium. In the early rounds many of the seeded women had lopsided matches.

I opted to take the back stairs up to the nosebleeds. Del Potro’s match was underway. He and Meltzer were evenly matched. For the first set anyway which went to a tiebreaker. The first chance I had I snuck down as far as I could go. Then when I spotted another, better seat, I moved down farther. I was close enough to the grip changes between strokes. A bunch of Argentines chanted “Ole, ole, ole, ole— River” which is the cheer for the red-jerseyed soccer team from Buenos Aires. The Americanos abbreviated the baseline-slugger’s name to “Del Po”. Wasn’t crazy about it, but I was more focused on the lightning fast rallies. I also noticed that Del Potro had a little difficulty with a jerky ball boy. I think the kid was flustered too and kicked the player’s towel to the back fence instead of placing it on the platform that was reserved for it.

These are some of the silly things I pay attention to. When I caught Fernando Gonzalez’s match later in the day the chair umpire reprimanded Gonzalez’s opponent for taking too much time to retie his shoelaces. It actually was ridiculous. It lasted seven minutes. Gonzo twirled his racquet between his thumb and forefinger. He was about to do some juggling before Ouanna got up to play. There were a lot of stragglers who kept pushing their way to see the match on court lucky number 13.

Before the day was marked in the books I’d also seen Lapentti, Gilles Simon, Gael Monfils, two seconds of Tomas Berdych, and that other guy, the number two seed, Andy Murray. My first visit to Arthur Ashe so far this year. Like I said I tend to prefer the outside courts, but I never turn down a good ticket.

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