It was a perfect night - cool but not cold, no humidity, only a light breeze - when the first night of tennis at the prestigious Arthur Ashe Stadium for Round One of the US Open Tennis Championships on Tuesday, August 26 provided unique chance to see two legends of the game, probably the two best players in the history of the sport: Roger Federer and Serena Williams.
It was an enchanted evening when absolutely everything went absolutely right.
The luck of the draw proved to be my exquisite luck.
I got a $27 ticket for the seats in the nose-bleed section, at the very top of the Arthur Ashe Stadium -probably the largest tennis stadium in the world. with a 23,200 capacity. Yet, the design is such that everyone gets a decent view, and the lighting produces a miracle of turning night into day.
First up, Roger Federer, of Switzerland, seeded #2 in the tournament and probably the most accomplished Men's Singles player in history, versus Marinko Matosevic, from Australia, has never gotten passed a second round in a Grand slam event, and his record for won-lost matches for this year was 20-19 coming into this match. He's ranked 76 in singles.
Federer comes to the 2014 US Open with 80 career singles titles, including 5 US Open titles (2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008)) and the winner of every Grand Slam event at least once, the Australian (4 times), French (1 time) and Wimbledon (6 times). He was the runner up at this year's Wimbledon.
Federer barely broke a sweat in his match, bringing his A game in the critical 3-3 or 3-2 games of the set in order to win a service break. Matosevic actually got more games off of Federer than in past match-ups. And, in the third set, a small scare when Matosevic broke Federer back. That set went to a tie-breaker, but Federer prevailed.
The best shot of the night was when Matosevic hit a lob that went deep to the back line. Federer's only shot was that between the legs, with his back to the neck so he can't actually see where he is hitting. Nonetheless, Federer's rturn went over the net with a perfect arc. But Matosevic didn't believe his shot was reachable and didn't realize the ball was coming back at him - it wound up hitting him. Federer gave up a rare smile and acknowledged the delighted cheers of the crowd.
The story is told in the stats: Federer had 10 aces to Matosevic's 3; had 41 winners to Matosevic's 26; 28 errors to Matosevic's 44 and ultimately won 118 points to Matosevic's 89. Matosevic looked frustrated but for us, it was a chance to see a master at work.
Federer was a lesson in restraint - he brought just what he needed at that time. He seemed not to waste a bit of energy. I could recall only two overplayed shots that resulted in errors. Watching his classic style, his graceful fluidity is like being able to savor the rarest and finest wine, or a thoroughbred at the Kentucky Derby.
Serena Williams is the opposite. She has to go full out or fail. The five-time US Open champion (1999, 2002, 2008, 2012, 2013) who holds 62 Womens Singles Titles plus 22 Doubles Titles, and has won all the Grand Slam championships multiple times, had no problem at all dispatching Taylor Townsend, who clearly is a talented player. The crowd was encouraging to Townsend, cheering for her when she won a game or more rarely, had a break point. Townsend brings power, too, but was completely overwhelmed by Williams who powered in her serve winning many points on that single stroke. There were only a couple of rallies.
Despite the power of Williams' serve - her fastest was 122 mph which is in the same range as the Men players, and she averaged 107 mph), Williams recorded only 1 ace; Townsend, who is also a powerful server, with 102 mph her fastest and 95 mph her average, had 2 aces, but Williams never double faulted, while Townsend double faulted 5 times, giving up crucial points. But Williams had 16 winners to Townsend's 8, and only made 8 unforced errors to Townsend's 20 (out of nervousness and frustration). Williams in the end needed only 58 points to best Townsend who won 31 points, completing the first round match in just about an hour.
The atmosphere is festive, like at hockey games and baseball, with the camera that goes into the audience - and what an audience even for this early-round match. Basketball Hall-of-Famer Michael Jordan was shown on screen and tennis pioneer Billie Jean King, for whom the entire tennis complex is named, stepped out for a bow. And despite New York's reputation for raucous behavior, the cheering was enthusiastic and mostly respectful.
The JumboTrons offer replays (which I so appreciate when I watch at home, especially seeing a replay of Federer's between-the-legs shot), and you can rent headsets to listen to commentary. And outside the stadium, there is such a festive atmosphere, with the fountains, the spectacular view to the Unisphere, a relic, or rather a landmark, of the 1964 World's Fair, amazing dining options, and an excellent assortment of eateries and shops.
See details for the matches at usopen.org.
Karen Rubin, Eclectic Travel Examiner
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