“Do you want to get a glass of Moet or one of those Grey Goose cocktails….well the cocktails are only $17, think the champagne is $25….sure we can try one and get the other later….US Open people, please take all my money…”
Having lived within a one hour flight of the ‘home’ of tennis, Wimbledon, my entire life and not having given the idea of attending said event even a second thought, I have decided it would be a tragedy to live in New York and not attend its grand slam tennis tournament.
And this is basically how it plays out;
Go on Ticketmaster, sold out except for corner nose bleeds. Check out our Ticketexchange website they say. These look like ok prices for decent tickets. Click to buy. Ticketexchange charge me an extra $20 booking fee per ticket. Sigh, take out well worn visa card and pay anyway.
Get up early’ish, have unnecessarily large Irish breakfast. Irish breakfast consists of black pudding, sausage and bacon…all salt based products. All perfect food to ensure dehydration and thirst for the six hours while we wander around a giant concrete park, under a 30 degree sun. And if you are asking then no – rien, je ne regrette rien.
Get on the subway to Times Square, change to the 7 heading out to Flushing Meadows and the tennis. Notice a stream of 50+ tennis enthusiasts, leathery brown from too much time in the sun, and dressed head to toe in their tennis gear. And by tennis gear I mean their “I’m about to get on the court and play tennis” gear. They all have a loud and enthusiastic conversation about tennis, and the tournament and Serena Williams and mainly John McEnroe (they loooovvvvvve a bit of John McEnroe).
Get out to Flushing and off the train. There is a long boardwalk which brings you down towards the stadium and the corporate schilling starts here. A hotel chain will put you in one of those bicycle rickshaws and cycle you the 100 metres to the entrance, people are enthusiastically queuing up for this. Said people are not all of a coffin dodging age (who I’d almost forgive), shake head.
Get into the venue and the corporate schilling really heats up. The US Open Tennis tournament is the perfect location for a certain type of corporate sponsor, because the people who attend are overwhelmingly middle to upper middle class, they have money and like to spend it. The whole event also gives off an air of genteel elegance, which certain companies like to project (for clues as to which brands they are, they all sponsor Federer).
Exhibit A of the type of consumer behaviour this engenders is a couple walking in front of us on the way out that evening, both dressed head to toe in brand new gear from the clothing label which dresses the event. The male in the couple also carries two brand new tennis rackets in a new tennis case. His girlfriend/wife/partner/sister/friend carries a handbag which I’m reliably informed costs about $4k. They are the sponsors’ ideal attendees…and they are not alone.
The main event is the ladies final but it doesn’t start for a couple of hours so we wander around to games on some of the smaller courts. We also purchase some cocktails on the way, they are expensive, they are delicious, I will have four or five more before the day is done. John McEnroe and his brother (a big cheese in the US tennis world but an irrelevance because he’s standing next to his brother) are playing a doubles game against two other irrelevant ex players (Pat Cash and Todd Martin if you need the detail).
It is a small court but the crowd is packed around it. The crowd is on average 50, though skewing a good bit higher. They love “Johnny Mc” and they love his “banter”. And elderly man wearing a seer sucker suit with old style suspenders gets a chant going during the warm up – “let’s go McEnroe…let’s go McEnroe”. He conducts the crowd like you would an orchestra, with a very strict flourish point as to when the crowd is to finish. He eyeballs some young person who tries to keep the chant going. There will be banter, but there will be etiquette to it….
The game starts, with the usual comedy of all involved pretending to be old and not able to serve. Their actual ability at 50 years of age is still astounding. Anything Johnny Mc does is met with laughs, cheers and wise head shakes of “oh McEnroe…what a card he is”. Johnny Mc laps it up and plays to the crowd. The very excitable 60 year old beside me can’t contain himself, and finally after the first point is won by Cash and Martin has to shout “you cannot be serious”. The crowd goes wild. The old man in the seer sucker eyeballs him. His thunder will not stolen. He gets a chant going and Johnny Mc acknowledges it and the old man. Boom, game over, old man wins. Still not sure whether or not the old man might actually be Johnny Mcs father. We get bored and decide to jog on.
Head into Arthur Ashe stadium for the main event and take our seats. We foolishly (and I say foolishly because we were here last year and should have learned our lesson) got tickets on the east side of the stadium, which means we have no shade. The sun is beating down on the large concrete and plastic bowl we are sitting in. We settle in with more cocktails and assess the crowd. There is a small group of guys off to my right, dressed in a Danish flag and cheering enthusiastically for Caroline Wozniacki. They are very much alone.
Serena and Caroline come out and warm up (I will be calling both players by their first names from now on, because that is the familiar way it happens at a tennis game). Caroline is pretty aggressive in her warm up, really going at Serena. Serena looks half asleep. Caroline easily takes the warm-up round.
First set, first game. Caroline gets a break point. Serena serves an ace. Serena is noticeably stronger than Caroline. I start to fear for the Dane and we are one game in. Everyone around me is listening to the commentary on the little ear pieces you get on the way in. The over under on how many times the commentators are going to mention Rory Mcilroy, the break-up and how Caroline has “overcome adversity” is at about 25 at the moment. I’d wager my next cocktail on the over.
Serena breaks Caroline and wins the second. Feels like this game might be done within an hour. Calls from someone behind us already for Serena to “finish her honey”. ‘Merica, great place, great people. Caroline breaks back in the third, whoop, game on. We decide to support Caroline, if for nothing else but to give us an opportunity to be as obnoxious as the people around us supporting Serena. And also because we’re Irish and want to apologize on behalf of our nation for what Mcilory did to her. And because she has overcome adversity…. I go get more cocktails.
Both Caroline and Serena break each others’ serve and it is 4-2. I wouldn’t be hopeful of Caroline winning but at this stage I’d settle for it not being a blow out and lasting over an hour. No guarantees on that. During breaks between games the camera pans the crowd looking for celebrities. Most are shown on the big screen with their names flashed up below. A few don’t get the name flashed up. And as much as you can feel bad for somebody who is wealthy/famous and in great seats you kind of do. In front of 20,000 people the production team have basically gone “oh yeah, I know that guy….what is he in….maybe one of the five NCISs that CBS are currently showing??…just show his picture anyway, it will get a cheer”. I cheer. It’s almost my favourite part.
Serena takes the first set, in worryingly dominate fashion. Caroline is starting to look like a junior tennis player who mistakenly ended up in a senior tournament. I’ll see someone describe Serena later as having a singular talent in that she makes other talented professionals look like they are amateurs. She is a rare talent who should be appreciated (Tiger Woods and Roger Federer at their absolute peaks are the only others that spring to mind).
Second set, we have another cocktail and we are hopeful. The Danish flag wearers appear to be similarly refreshed and are in good voice and spirits. They continue to be very much alone. Serena wins the first two games. Hope is melting away. The sun is very slowly setting behind the stadium and blessedly we are beginning to cool down a little. Though my personal sweat situation is still at an embarrassingly high level.
Caroline gets it back to 4-3. We continue to hope Serena might give her friend a break and let it go to a third set, just for lols and bantz and jk, and because I paid over $150 per ticket and would like more than an hours’ worth of entertainment. 5-3 and we are just ticking over the one hour mark. I’m taking that as a win. The crowd behind us is getting whipped up into a frenzy now, cheering between points, enthusiastically appealing for Serena to “finish her”. One lady comments “I got a dinner to go to in twenty minutes, finish her off Serena”. Shit Serena did you realize you are messing with this ladies dinner plans, hurry up and win it already.
6-3 game over. Caroline you tried hard, but if we’re truthful it should possibly have been a worse scoreline. They present the trophies, Caroline gives a small interview thanking everyone, smiling and saying Serena has to buy the drinks later. That is part of the issue with Caroline, she appears to be a very nice person, who lacks any killer instinct. She is probably fun to be friends with (and/or nearly marry). Serena seems to be a very nice person when it suits her, and a bit of a dick the rest of the time. And there is no point in being precious about it, because that is probably how an elite sportsperson needs to be.
We collect some cocktail cups as souvenirs and head for the exit. The sun has nearly fully set and so it is almost cold now. We move with the masses out of the stadium. Past the giant bracket billboard which now shows Serena as the tournament champion. Past the corporate sponsors, champagne stands and giant tennis balls. Up the boardwalk and onto the subway back into the city. I give up my seat to an elderly lady who is coming out from the tennis. I notice she is wearing a Nike tennis skirt and top. She is pushing 65. She asks me did I see Johnny Mc play his game, because he’s such an entertainer. I tell her I did, and that it’s not the cocktails talking but I think he’s a great entertainer too. She nods in appreciation of my appreciation. The 7 train rattles on back to the city. I’d murder a cup of tea.