Unlike other American sporting events, the US Open at Flushing Meadows, New York is a truly international event, as it draws both participants and spectators from around the world.
Always a sell-out event, the US Open draws the largest crowds of any sports competition, because even a seven-game World Series doesn’t come close for attendance.
Armed with a two-day credential issued by the United States Tennis Association, I returned once again to the National Tennis Center to enjoy the opening day festivities of the last Grand Slam tournament of the year.
The US Open is also a celebrity-watching event, both in the courtside seats (the camera just panned on comedian Will Ferrell) and on the hard court of Arthur Ashe Stadium.
The first day’s evening ceremony honored tennis fan favorite Andre Agassi for his charitable foundation work, along with other similarly altruistic athletes from other fields, including soccer player Mia Hamm, football quarterback Doug Flutie and NBA player David Robinson. Meanwhile, Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Famers The O’Jays entertained the crowd with a nostalgic ride on their “Love Train.”
Even after attending several US Open tournaments in recent years, I continue to be amazed at how much fun it is to spend a couple of days at this well-organized and extremely entertaining event. You don’t even need to understand the finer points of tennis rules to appreciate what is going on.
On the first day of the US Open, every player – the 128 men and 128 women in competition – has a chance. Yet, first round play rarely sees an upset of top-seeded players. But, if you hang in for a second round, the prospects for an unranked player to topple a marquee name increases, and that can be a lot of fun to witness.
One rule that puzzles me is how the players are seeded. Naturally, the No. 1 seed for men is Roger Federer, and it makes sense in the case of the record-setting Swiss who has already won Wimbledon and the French Open this year. This guy is so good that he already has his own logo, a stylized version of his initials that can be found on an extensive line of merchandise.
The No. 1 seed for women is Russian Dinara Safina, but she has not won a Grand Slam tournament this year. Instead, No. 2 seed Serena Williams has already won the Australian Open and Wimbledon, and so I wonder why she draws the second spot.
In fact, on my second day I witnessed Safina struggling in a loss in the first set against Australian Olivia Rogowska before taking the next two sets for a victory. It’s a lot more fun when the matches are competitive and no one wins in straight sets.
The Williams sisters, Venus and Serena, are crowd favorites, so perhaps it was fitting that, as has happened in the past, they would play in featured matches of opening day and night sessions.
No. 2-ranked Serena breezed to an easy straight sets victory over fellow American Alexa Glatch in the afternoon. Meanwhile, No. 3-ranked Venus struggled against Russian Vera Dushevina, losing the first set before pulling out a victory in the first round night match.
Players often make fashion statements with their selection of tennis attire. Venus Williams sported an unflattering bright pink outfit, or perhaps it was magenta. I really don’t know what color “magenta” is, but it seemed distracting, likely to opponents as well as spectators.
Unlike other sporting events that focus on a single game at a time, the US Open offers more tennis matches than anyone could possibly absorb all at once. Sometimes it’s hard to pick the best matches to watch, and when in doubt, it is best to venture out to the courtyard area and catch some action on the enormous video screens.
On my first day, I chose American James Blake’s match with Spaniard Ruben Ramirez Hidalgo, if for no other reason than Blake’s erratic style of play can be both frustrating and exhilarating to watch.
Spending entire days at the US Open is made much easier to enjoy with the excellent selections of cuisine.
Just as the tournament has an international flavor, so does the selection of food. Since I had no access to the fancy restaurants serving steak and crab cakes that are reserved for Courtside Box seats and the luxury suites, it’s a good thing that the Food Village offers regional cuisine, from spicy Indian to Kosher to sushi to Philly cheese steak sandwiches. I settled for a mammoth pastrami sandwich from the famous Carnegie Deli.
I recently picked up a book titled “The 100 Sporting Events You Must See Live,” which naturally includes the US Open Tennis Tournament. For me, the US Open ranks in the Top 10, and I highly recommend it to everyone.
But if you can’t make it to New York, fortunately, CBS Sports is covering the men’s and women’s third-round action and concludes with the men’s singles final on Sunday, Sept. 13. More coverage is available on ESPN2 and the Tennis Channel.
Tim Riley writes film and television reviews for Lake County News.