US Open Buzz: Grand Stands, Suite Moves and Bi-Partisan Boos

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Photo by Alex Goodlett/Getty Images

It’s a thrill to be around at big historical moments. Call it big history.

No, I wasn’t at Normandy for that D-Day invasion, and my tambourine was on injured reserve, so I didn’t make it to Woodstock.

But lucky me, I was at Venus Williams‘ 1994 debut in Oakland, the John IsnerNicolas Mahut three-day Wimbledon marathon in 2010 and the classic NadalFederer Wimbledon final in 2008. Sweet!

And it’s also fun to be around at moments of far less historical importance. I saw “the play” at the 1982 UC Berkeley-Stanford “Big Game” and traipsed out to the Altamont rock festival that went oh-so-wrong. In tennis, I was there for the openings of Arthur Ashe Stadium and Wimbledon’s Court One in 1997 (when there was an astounding parade of champions), and have felt the desert dust at the openings at three different Indian Wells stadiums. Plus, they actually let me into Buckingham Palace when McEnroe and Borg played an exhibition match there, and I was nearby when Melissa Johnson, the naughtiest pizza waitress ever to step out on a tennis court, streaked virtually naked across Centre Court before the 1996 Wimbledon. (Excuse the expression, but for purposes of full disclosure, I actually was back in the media centre when Johnson made her near-naked dash.)

Anyway, this year’s US Open will have at least two historical moments: the first match ever played on the glamorous new Grandstand court and the first played under the dazzling new Arthur Ashe Stadium roof.

So I dashed off to the Grandstand, where American Taylor Townsend and Caroline Wozniacki had the honor of playing the debut match. Wozniacki is an old hand at these things. She opened a court at her home tennis center. But Farum, Denmark and the Big Apple are worlds apart. And the new Grandstand is a small wonder with a curiously-shaped semi-roof (providing a tad of shade), assorted nooks and crannies, and a moderately intimate feel that only stokes the juices of the crowd. No it doesn’t quite have the creative architecture of Indian Wells’ gem – their intimate Court 1. And the Grandstand doesn’t have the retro-appeal of the old Grandstand or the French Open Bullring court. But it is more interesting then the Aussie Open’s Margaret Court Arena and Wimbledon’s less-than-inspired Court One.

As the Townsend-Wozniacki match went into a deciding set, the throng – in their Jets hats and Bronx shirts – downed their Fish Shack entrees, their Hill Country chicken and their Grey Goose vodkas to fill the Grandstand and combat the sun. Unfortunately for Townsend, the result wasn’t so sunny. Inexplicably, the Atlantan kept hitting indifferent drop shots against one of the swiftest players in the game, a tactical blunder that allowed Wozniacki to fight back and notch a 4-6, 6-3, 6-4 win.

Another win for the Grandstand fans came when the court next hosted an even more scintillating match – an All-American battle of the generations between 31-year-old John Isner and Frances Tiafoe. Despite being just 18, Tiafoe, the product of Maryland’s Junior Tennis Champions Center, rushed to a two-set lead. The match seemed his to take, but Isner – far more experienced at managing the momentum and endurance required by the best-of-five format – began to fight back. Playing a pair of mighty tiebreaks, he scored a 3-6, 4-6, 7-6(5), 6-2, 7-6(3) victory. It wasn’t easy, but ultimately the veteran schooled the youngster.

SUITE MOVE: CiCi Bellis, who has now won four US Open matches in a row in the qualies and the main draw is an amateur who isn’t going to pocket her prize money. But she can apply her winnings to her expenses. With that in mind, she changed her lodging from a lowly room to a suite at the Marriott.

SOMETHING TO CHEER ABOUT – BI-PARTISANSHIP: Tonight New York Mayor Bill de Blasio was booed almost as loudly as Donald Trump was last year. BTW: In an obvious play to New York’s huge Puerto Rican population, de Blasio told the crowd that many would be rooting for Puerto Rico’s Monica Puig. Too bad the Olympic gold medalist had already lost. The incident reminded observers of the time when the French Open commentator John McEnroe asked his fellow broadcaster what player he thought would win. The commentator said Amelie Mauresmo. McEnroe promptly informed him that the Frenchwoman had already lost on an outer court.

FROM GOLD TO DUST: Olympic darling Monica Puig, who became Puerto Rico’s first-ever Gold medalist, lost in just 79 minutes to No. 61 Saisai Zheng. The Open is her worst Slam. She’s won only one once in five matches. The result brought to mind the letdown suffered by Angie Kerber. In her first Slam after winning the Aussie Open, she lost in the first round in the French Open.

QUOTEBOOK:

“I hope I’m still playing like this when I’m 39 years old, but it’s highly unlikely.” – 29-year-old Andy Murray

“She’s not a normal player with normal expectations. The thing that is on her shoulders is very, very heavy, believe me. Everybody expects her to win every single match of the year.” – Patrick Mouratoglou on Serena

TYING STEFFI: With her Wimbledon win, Serena tied Steffi Graf for the most majors won in the Open era – 22. And here at the Open, no matter what happens, she will tie Graf’s record of 186 consecutive weeks atop the rankings,

TIP OF THE OPEN: Nick McCarvel reported, “[On the roof of the Refinery Hotel] Novak Djokovic donned an apron and explained to a group of 20– and 30–somethings the history behind the dish they were about to eat, a zucchini lasagna with cashew ricotta and pistachio pesto, his own recipe that is specific to Djokovic’s gluten– and meat–free diet.”

NO KIDDING: No one hypes tennis like the US Open: A-list celebs, non-stop music, amps that rock, non-stop music, light shows that gleam, misty steam machines and all that jazz. Sometimes it’s hard to figure out where the entertainment ends and the tennis starts…Kei Nishikori said that Juan Martin del Potro, who’s playing his first US Open since 2013, is “the most dangerous unseeded player in the draw”…Cliff Drysdale asked whether there could be any two more different personalities than the cerebral, somber Milos Raonic and the free spirit Dustin Brown. BTW: The duo sport two of the most distinctive hairstyles in the game.

“CHASING” SPONSORSHIP MONEY: To its great credit, the USTA named its prime venues – the National Tennis Center and its major stadium – after players with great societal impact, Billie Jean King and Arthur Ashe. But now there are two huge Chase Bank signs on the new Ashe Stadium roof.

YOUNG AMERICANS GO DOWN IN FIVE TO THEIR AMERICAN ELDERS: Frances Tiafoe lost to the older John Isner in five sets, and Taylor Fritz lost to Jack Sock, also in five.

NOT ALL WAFFLERS ARE BELGIANS: When asked whether she was waffling about whether she would actually attend Stanford or not, CiCi Bellis said, “I am, for now.”

HEADLINES:

A PALACE FIT FOR QUEENS

A SEALED STADIUM FINALLY, BRINGS CLOSURE

OLD GRANDSTAND TO BE USED FOR ONE MORE US OPEN AFTER ALL