Wednesday, January 03, 2024

US Open 2023 - Day 2 - Tennis. Finally!

[Composed 9/1/2023]

As we made our way to our first US Open matches of 2023 at Flushing Meadows Corona Park, it was hard not to feel a buzz of excitement. By now we have this down to a routine. It starts with picking up pastries at both Iris Tea & Bakery, and their neighbor Tous Les Jours . Nothing eases the pain of sitting on your butt for hours like fresh puffy doughy deliciousness filled with cream.

Then it's a walk along a grimy Roosevelt Avenue until the Arthur Ashe Stadium appears in the distance like an oversized temple; our pilgrimage's destination. At the #7 Mets-Willets Point station, we go off-road, taking a derelict boardwalk to the grounds' entrance. Every time we walk over the uneven wooden planks, we remark that surely this is an unnecessary safety hazard; yet the park remains unconcerned. We pass by an individual hawking the day's program (no thank you) as well as bag check. I always wonder: is this the year, thanks to ambiguous security instructions, that we'll be forced to use this service?

We timed it well this year, arriving at security just after it opened. Despite having no line, the security officer turned me away at the sight of my backpack. "No backpacks," she said. "True," I replied, "but there's an exception for single-pocket cinch-bags." Despite its appearance, my bag was Kosher. I knew this from both a careful studying of the venue's website and years of bringing it in. The guard was unmoved, and we agreed that a supervisor should settle the matter. After 45 seconds, no one came, and I won the standoff by default. Victory!

Once on the grounds, we made our way to our seats at Armstrong Stadium. There, I had one of the most remarkable moments of the day as I captured these pictures:

Admittedly, these photos may not be much. However, what makes them unique is the subject and my proximity to her. Meet Iga Świątek, the current number one female tennis player in the world. These pictures capture a practice session, where I managed to snap shots just a few yards away from her. It still blows my mind that I essentially had a private photo shoot with a top player in the sport. That right there is what makes a trip to the Open so very unique.

Finally, it was time to get down to business and watch some tennis. The first match of the day, held on Armstrong, was between Taylor Townsend and Karolina Muchova. Townsend became a favorite of ours back at the 2019 US Open when we saw a memorable match of hers. She continues to be fun to watch, broadcasting her emotions in a way that makes it so you can't help but feel part of the action. The first set was a nail-biter, going all the way to a tiebreak. Muchova ended up taking the first set and then took the second set with less difficulty. Despite the crowd pushing for it, it just wasn't Townsend's day.

Up next, Iga Świątek took on Kaja Juvan. Check out these pictures, and tell me what you think happened in the match:

Judging from the smile on Juvan's face, you might suspect that she--ranked 101 in the world--had just beaten Świątek. At the very least, she must have put in one heck of a battle. In fact, it was a bloodbath: Iga trounced Juvan 6-0, 6-1 in 49 minutes. Another aspect of this match only became evident after an especially long post-match hug: Iga and Kaja are best friends. Still, that's some world-class gratitude gaming that allows you to lose so badly and yet walk off a court with such a smile. Well played Juavan!

The last match we'd see on Armstrong for the day was between Francis Tiafoe and Adrian Mannarino. Fresh off watching Tiafoe play in DC , we relished the opportunity to see him again. As he walked on the court with his signature extra-pair-of-shoes-wave, the crowd made it abundantly clear that they were all in. Tiafoe got a slow start, and Mannarino took the first set. But, Francis got into the groove and took the next two sets with his quintessential combination of high-powered play and seemingly exhausted loping movements between points. To me, it looks like he plays every point like its his last. I love it. He almost bobbled the fourth set but still managed to pull out a win.

Tiafoe's match capped off a captivating day of tennis at Armstrong Stadium and it was time explore the grounds. From there, it was time to settle in and eat more pastries. Uh, I mean, watch more tennis. Onward!

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