I bought my tickets for the women’s and men’s finals of the U.S. Open back in early June – before the French Open finals even took place. I snapped them up the minute tickets went on sale to USTA members because I knew that if Serena Williams and Novak Djokovic won the French, chatter about possible calendar year Grand Slams for each would pick up and ticket prices would soar on the secondary market. I have been to the U.S. Open nearly every year since 2005, so it was a no brainer for me.
Fast forward to last Friday. Serena was still barely on track for the calendar Slam after numerous heart-stopping tight wins while Novak had already lost his opportunity by losing the French Open final to Stan Wawrinka. I opened up Twitter at work Friday afternoon to see that the number two seed, Simona Halep, had been upset by #26 Flavia Pennetta. After getting by young American Madison Keys and her own sister Venus, and after Victoria Azarenka and Petra Kvitova being knocked out of the tournament (in my mind, the only players who could seriously threaten Serena in the final), Serena’s eventual win seemed inevitable. My excitement for the finals grew.
That excitement was short-lived. By the time I left for the airport, Serena had somehow lost to unseeded Roberta Vinci. I’ll admit, I was beyond disappointed. One minute I was on the verge of being present to see Serena win her 22nd Grand Slam title and complete the first calendar year Grand Slam since Steffi Graf did it more than 20 years ago. The next minute I was going to see a final between Pennetta and Vinci. Huh?
Of course, this is the risk that you sometimes run as a sports fan. I was grateful that I wasn’t one of those who had paid upwards of $1,000 or more on the secondary market. I only paid $150 for my nosebleed seat. I fruitlessly tried to sell it, but as prices dropped as low as $50, I knew I wouldn’t be able to recoup what I paid, so I might as well go and make the most of it. I tried to tell myself it might still be entertaining, a matchup between two veteran doubles specialists who had both at least won major doubles titles.
As I landed in New York, I caught the very end of the mens’ semi-finals – #1 Novak Djokovic and #2 Roger Federer both won easily, so at least I would have an excellent mens’ final to see on Sunday – if the weather held up. For days, the forecast had shown nothing but rain for Sunday, making me nervous that the men’s final may get postponed until Monday, when I had to leave first thing Monday morning. The thought of going all the way to New York and missing Serena AND the men’s final was a bit too much to bear!
I hopped on the 7 train out to Flushing Meadows just after 11 a.m. on Saturday. As I arrived, I took in the changes since the last time I was at the Open in 2013. The biggest difference? The new gallery for the practice courts, together with a large digital board showing practice times for the players. I saw Martina Hingis and Sania Mirza were currently practicing so I watched some of that before heading to Court 11 for the junior girls’ semi-finals. American Francesca di Lorenzo was taking on the #2 seed and while she lost, it was an entertaining match.
The festivities for the women’s final started on Arthur Ashe around 3 p.m., just as the skies began to darken and the clouds started to roll in. The first set was tight, with Pennetta winning in a tie break. The skies continued to darken as she raced to an early lead in the 2nd set and it soon became apparent that she was playing to beat both Vinci and the rain. Indeed, just as the first drops started to fall, Pennetta wrapped things up 6-2 in the 2nd set.
The celebration was heart felt as Pennetta and Vinci shared a long embrace at the net. Then, in the ultimate mic drop, Pennetta announced she was retiring from tennis during the trophy ceremony! What was once a forgettable final suddenly became a bit more memorable!
Sunday morning I woke up and smiled to see the sun shining. I got in my 16 mile marathon training run and then rested up a bit before heading back out to Flushing. I caught the end of the junior girls’ final (lost by American Sofia Kenin) and the beginning of an all-American boys’ final with Taylor Fritz and Tommy Paul.
Then, just before 4 p.m., with the skies clouding over once again, I headed to my seats in Ashe. While normally I try to upgrade my seats at the upgrade booth, I got to the grounds too late to do so, leaving me with my nosebleed promenade seats. And just as they announced they were about to go live with the ESPN broadcast of the final, a rain drop fell on my arm. And then one on my other arm. And one on my nose. Soon, there was a slow drizzle and the crowds started moving for the concourse.
I spent the next three hours packed in the concourse with about 20,000 other spectators. The rain stopped, they dried the courts, then it started up again. I made about five laps around the stadium and parked myself on the floor of a restroom to charge my phone in the only outlet I could find. I texted my friend Amy, who was giving me updates from the ESPN broadcast. I followed Brad Gilbert’s predictions on Twitter. I managed to leave my umbrella in a restroom stall. I got ice cream. And finally, around 7 p.m., I got to return to my seat to watch some tennis!
The wait was well worth it! The temperature had dropped about 20 degrees and I bundled up in two hoodies (one from home and one I bought as a souvenir, thank God!) but the atmosphere in Arthur Ashe Stadium was absolutely electric! I have only been to one other men’s final at the US Open – Federer against Agassi in 2005 – and I don’t recall it being anywhere close to what I experienced Sunday night! I’m sure the fact that it was suddenly a night match and everyone had three hours to drink before it started probably helped!
The guy sitting next to me was so animated while cheering for Federer that I had to move over a seat so he wouldn’t accidentally hit me! At the same time, there was a big group of Serbians behind me leading the “Nole, Nole” cheers to counter the other 20,000 fans cheering for Federer. It got to the point in the 4th set that Roger actually got a standing ovation just for holding serve! Finally, after more than three hours, Novak closed it out in four sets, winning his 10th major. During the trophy ceremony, the announcer mentioned that this final represented the most combined major titles between finalists ever – 26 combined to start with. Amazing. They definitely played like it, but Novak was just a bit mentally tougher and played the bigger points better. I’m a bit more of a Novak fan than I am of Federer, so I was pretty happy with the result.
And so I rolled back into my hotel room close to midnight, happy with what turned out to be an amazing weekend of tennis after all. Until next year, New York…