Thursday, September 06, 2018

US Open 2018 - Day 1

[Composed 8/31/2018]

Our tradition for the middle Friday of the US Open Tennis tournament is to arrive at the stadium before the doors open, and be among the first on the grounds. But that would have meant getting up at a ridiculous 4:00am to be there on time.

So at 4:30am we left our hotel room in Delaware, and at 8:43am we were standing 4th in line to enter the Billie Jean King Tennis Center grounds.

Some traditions are not to be messed with.

Our first stop of the day was in the new Louis Armstrong Stadium. The stadium is pristine, and having a roof and so many opportunities for shade should make for a much more pleasant viewing experience. But I do miss the old crufty Armstrong that let you get significantly closer to the players using your grounds pass. The same can be said of the new Grandstand: gorgeous, but I do miss the good old days. Still, that's progress for you. Still, court 17 and other outlying courts do continue to give a grounds-pass holder an amazing up-close and personal view of tennis.

Our first match of the day was between Strycova and Martens, which provided a nice bit of action to get things started. We left the match mid-way through to see Stephens prevail over Azarenka, and you could tell the level of slugging was clearly up a few more notches. From there we took in the Nadal, Khachanov match. Every time I was sure Nadal would kick it into high gear and leave Khachanov in the dust, I was wrong. Khachanov pressed Nadal all the way, almost bringing the affair to 5 sets. This was exactly the kind of match you hope to see, one where all the conventional wisdom goes out the door and you walk away with new respect for an up and coming player. Khachanov will certainly be one for me to watch going forward.

The night matches included Williams vs. Williams and Del Potro vs. Verdasco. The Williams Sisters match was clearly bitter sweet. As Serena recounted in the post match interview, on one hand she played her best tennis since she's back. But on the other, she was forced to defeat her sister, something she is obviously unconformable with. This may have been a novel match for the crowd, but for her, it was anything but pleasant. Despite our love for Del Potro, we left his match early: between the late hour, his early lead and our 4:00am start, we knew we needed rest. It's not just the players who need to pace themselves during the tournament, if I want to keep up with Shira's see-as-much-tennis-as-possible philosophy (and improve on our line placement in the morning), I need to get my rest, stay hydrated and not let down my guard for a minute.

For the past 5 years(!) we've stayed near the Queensboro Plaza train station, which means we can jump on the 7 express train and be at the stadium in about 20 minutes. This year, we stayed the other direction on the 7, near the terminus at Main Street Station. To my surprise, we found ourselves in what appeared to be a massive Koreatown. As we headed off to the stadium in the morning we stopped into a cafe and picked up 3 different types of fresh bread. All turned out to effectively be donuts; they were in short, heavenly! This was not an amenity I was planning for, but so enjoyed.

Given our early start, we arrived before our hotel room was ready. As we asked the hotel to take our bags, the lady at the front desk checked our reservation. We had a room, but she was a bit concerned: you do know you reserved a compact room? Uh, aren't all hotel rooms in NY City compact? The entire day my imagination went to work, what would a 'compact' room turn out to be? Finally at 11pm, we made it back to our hotel room and got our first glimpse of the room. It was small, though not ridiculously so. And while the bed wasn't queen sized and was tucked up against a wall, it was big enough to fit us both. And to the room's credit, it had a nice cubbyhole area that let me store my gear in an organized way. But the best feature: the sink and shower were in the same space. What an engineering marvel! I could just imagine at 3am trying to wash my hands and accidentally turning on the shower head. But still, very cool. Only in New York.

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