Friday, August 29, 2008

pat and tina at the u.s. open: guest post

yesterday pat and her sister, tina, went to see a little tennis in queens: day four of the u.s. open. in what's practically a summer ritual, they go almost every august. here is pat's report of the action - including a major upset!
How I Got Inside the U.S. Open: My “Inside Tennis” Connection

At about 7:00 this past Wednesday night, my sister Tina - - known to the rest of the world as Christina, the photographer (and muse) for her boyfriend’s New York City-based jazz quartet, the Piers Lawrence Quartet - surprised me with a tempting invitation: “Uncle Bill just called and offered us two tickets to the U.S. Open tomorrow! Do you want to go?” It took me all of ten minutes, consulting with my husband and daughter, as well as a couple of colleagues, to decide, “Yes!”

Boy, are Tina and I lucky! My uncle Bill, is the publisher of a tennis magazine based in California, “Inside Tennis,” which has been on the cutting edge of tennis for about 27 years. “Inside Tennis” is not your run-of-the-mill, “huge corporation” sports magazine, but rather an up-to-date, personal, sort of folksy, really FUN magazine - - with very witty writing by my uncle, who was, I’m quite sure, a bona fide “hippy.” I love his writing! In fact, Uncle Bill’s editorial for this month’s edition is called: “First Serve: Off to See the Wizard: Of Babs, Buba and the Bishop (and Other Adventures in U.S. Open Celebrity Hunting.” Here's how the piece starts out:

In many ways, I’m quite the serious fellow. Truth be told, few in the press corps ask more “What’s it all about?/meaning of life” questions to aspiring teens than I do. But, all that shifts at the U.S. Open.

While the Aussie Open has its beer-swigging fanatics, Roland Garros displays continental gents and Wimbledon is crowded with dukes and duchesses, the U.S. Open draws celebs: tall ones (the late Wilt Chamberlain), short ones (Barbra Streisand), sweet ones who come out for the love of sport and vain ones who come out for the love of being seen.

After all, we Americans live in the greatest celebrity-loving society in the history of the known universe, where Brangelina’s baby pics sell for $11 million and to some Paris Hilton, Britney Spears and Lindsay Lohan are a kind of Holy Trinity. Let’s face it, many souls are captivated by the red-carpet glitz of snazzy stars who sparkle, the political powerhouses who rule and the mighty tycoons in our midst.

So, inevitably, at each U.S. Open, I seek ‘em out. A not-exactly-shy, celeb-seeking missile, I get to them with the help of media-friendly USTA presidents or kind PR handlers. I do it by schmoozing security guards and, on occasion, by sidestepping the Secret Service. When “A-list” celebs gather at their usual watering holes, talking with them can be like picking low-hanging fruit. Other times, you better know the hidden staircases, VIP elevators, dank back corners and the glam-heavy power suites of that Alice In Wonderland maze they call Ashe Stadium. . . .

And, after a funny vignette about an interview with Barbra Streisand, here’s how it ends:

Certainly, other times will come when the magic works. Like nine years later in ‘01, when I was about to take my press seat to cover the Sampras-Lleyton Hewitt final, the L.A. Times’ Lisa Dillman simply gestured up to the suites section and said, “Bill, I’ve got an assignment for you. McCartney’s in the house.”

Without hesitation my quest began as, with some effort, I found out precisely where Paul and his then-girlfriend Heather Mills were seated. Never mind that, as the crowd roared with a U.S. Open final fervor, I was relegated to waiting — seemingly forever — in a bare concrete corridor that had all the cozy charms of a Prussian bunker. But the long wait was worth it when, just as the final ball was struck, McCartney emerged into the still-quiet passageway.

“Excuse me, Sir Paul,” I began. “Could I possibly introduce myself? I’m Bill Simons, the publisher of Inside Tennis, and I named my daughter, Abby Rose, after The Beatles [as in Abbey Road] and I just wanted to ask...”

But McCartney interrupted, and offering a beaming Fab Four smile, said, “Oh, that’s just so wonderful.” Then, incredibly, Paul put his arm around my shoulder. Now, in total disbelief, I couldn’t resist gingerly placing my arm around the icon’s waist. Soon we jauntily strode down the bare concrete corridor, miraculously transformed into a kind of Yellow Brick Road. Bubbling with glee, I was now but a wide-eyed kid filled with wonder, who — shall we say — was simply off to see the wizard, the wonderful...

(Notice any similarity to my “hot fudge sundae” moment at the Mad Men premier this past June, with Jon Hamm?? - I guess it’s genetic!)

Like clockwork, Uncle Bill comes east every year to report on the U.S. Open, the premier tennis event in America. Without fail, he offers tickets to me and Tina, and usually I am available to go. I missed it the past couple of years, but this year I was itching to do one more summery thing before the end of August and the beginning of the school year.

So, at about 1:00 yesterday, I met Tina at the front gate of the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center at Flushing Meadows-Corona Park in Queens. As usual, Uncle Bill had given us tickets for seats in Arthur Ashe Stadium, the main court of the tennis center, which holds about 24,000 people. Yay! We had great seats, about half-way up, on the loge level. When we arrived, we saw Venus Williams (seeded number 7) play her last few games against Rossana de Los Rios, who she defeated 6-0, 6-3. Although we only saw Venus play for about fifteen minutes, she is an amazingly strong player and a thrill to watch!

After a ten-minute break, during which Tina and I munched on the sandwiches, crackers and fruit we had brought, the announcer introduced the next match: ninth-seeded James Blake, born in Yonkers, N.Y., would be playing Steve Darci of Belgium. Speaking of Blake, this month’s “Inside Tennis” has a piece written by his mother, in which she recounts this cute story about James and his older brother Thomas: “They would find sticks and hit rocks or bottle caps into the trees, seeing who could hit the furthest. One day my friend Herb said to James, ‘You’ll hit anything with a stick won’t you.’ Three-year-old James gravely considered the question and replied, ‘Anything but doo-doo.’ ”

Well, I digress. The match began on an ominous note for Blake, as he lost the first set 4-6. He came back in the second set to win 6-3. The third set promised to be a tight match and Tina and I were both looking forward to it. Suddenly, after Darci lost the first game of the third set and sat down on his courtside chair, the announcer informed us that Darci was “retiring.” It turns out that he injured his lower back and couldn’t go on.

Well, Darci’s loss was our gain, as the powers-that-be at the Open decided to move a match from the Louis Armstrong Stadium into the Arthur Ashe Stadium. And we were in luck! The match was the number one seeded woman, Ana Ivanovic, against a non-seeded player, Julie Coin, from France. Little did we know what was in store.

As the match began, we learned from the large screen in the stadium that Coin was ranked 188th in the world. I turned to Tina and said, “This is bound to be a rout.” How wrong I was. From the beginning Ana seemed to be a bit off her game, making many unforced errors and not dazzling Coin with her serve. Before we knew it, Coin had won the first set 6-3. I honestly didn’t know who to root for. On the one hand, I hated to see the number one player be humiliated. On the other hand, how great is it when the true underdog wins? Maybe by default, Tina and I did not pick sides, but rather just enjoyed the thrill of seeing a good match.

In the second set, Ivanovic seemed to be making a comeback, and she won it 4-6. When the third set began, I thought Coin would get tired and be over-powered by Ivanovic, but was hoping for a close match. As the set began, I could tell that Coin was really fighting hard to win and that Ivanovic did not seem to have much momentum. Also, Coin, despite an unorthodox serve in which she does not bring her racquet hand all the way down before swinging it up, seemed to be getting stronger, not weaker. As the set progressed, Coin pulled ahead 5-2, and then Ivanovic won the next game, bringing the score to 5-3.

As Coin began serving the next game, I was hoping Ivanovic would continue to win the next few games and put the match into a tie-breaker. No such luck, as Ivanovic seemed to get more tentative and Coin more aggressive. Finally, Coin pulled ahead 40-30 and, after a few more serves, won the game, set, and match! This was one of the biggest upsets in U.S. Open history: For the first time in the 40-year history of the Open, a woman ranked number one was out of the tournament before the third round! I suppose the best part of the match was seeing Coin’s on-court interview - - when she was asked whether she thought she could pull off the upset, she candidly replied, in her cute French accent, “No.” Tina and I could not help but join the crowd in giving her a standing ovation.

Although our time in Arthur Ashe Stadium ended with Coin’s victory, Tina and I strolled out with photographs galore (hers from a wonderful digital camera, mine on a mini point-and-shoot) and a neat feeling that we had just seen history in the making. Although we had tried to spot celebrities in the stands, we saw none. But we had seen a great match that had us both on the edge of our seats. Although she and Uncle Bill had played telephone-tag all afternoon and had not actually spoken to each other, we did try to see him in the media center. Alas, we were not allowed in and had to settle for leaving him one more message, thanking him for the tickets and telling him we were headed home, me by car and Tina by subway. As I was boarding a shuttle bus back to the parking lot, Tina called and said that she had just spoken to Uncle Bill, who wanted me to call him. I did, but got his voicemail. Then he called me but I missed the call. Finally, I sent him a text message thanking him for the wonderful day he had given me and Tina. Although I haven’t yet heard from him yet, I suspect I will soon. In the meantime, I will savor the great day I had at the Open!

here is a link to a few more photos.

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