Monday, January 15, 2024

US Open 2023 - Day 2 - Night Edition

[Composed 9/1/2023]

After a full day immersed in tennis, we found ourselves with a bit of time before the night matches kicked off. This gave us the opportunity to explore the grounds. While I love the challenge of capturing the on-court action of tennis, the Open is way more than this. Wandering the grounds gives the street photographer in me a chance to try to tell a more complete story of the Open.

Our rambling led us to the practice courts, hoping to witness some unique action . Alas, countless other tennis fans had the same idea, so the area was packed. I caught a few games of a random ladies' doubles match on a small side court, but it too was so overflowing with spectators. Eventually, we headed into Arthur Ashe Stadium, where the night matches would start shortly. Once we made it to the general admission concourse, I headed to one of my new favorite spots on the grounds: the North-West corner. From here, we not only had an overhead view of the practice courts but were also directly above a player's lounge area.

From here, I captured Stefanos Tsitsipas refining his serve, a fatigued yet jubilant Francis Tiafoe making a fan's day with an autograph, and the world's #1 player, Novak Djokovic, entering the stadium and going through bag check. I had to smile: the Tennis GOAT had to have his bags and ticket checked just like the rest of us.

Admittedly, there's a delicate balance between capturing unique behind-the-scenes moments and playing the role of a paparazzo. I'd like to believe I was doing the former, although, with my zoom lens and shutter clicking away, I'm sure I appeared as the latter.

The night matches kicked off with Coco Gauff facing off against Elise Mertens. Our hopes were high for Gauff, as she had just won our local tournament, the Citi Open. Alas, Gauff got a slow start, losing the first set 3-6. Unlike Men's tennis, where the 5-set format provides ample room for comebacks, a Women's match can be over in a blink. If Gauff didn't regain the momentum, the match and her tournament would be over. Fortunately, in the second set, Gauff found her rhythm, winning 6-3. By the third set, Gauff was showing the crowd why she's a favorite, taking the set 6-0. While the scoreline might suggest Gauff was never really in danger of losing, it sure didn't feel that way watching the first set.

The final match of the day was between Novak Djokovic and Laslo Djere. This match was almost certainly going to be a repeat of the Iga Świątek and Kaja Juvan match from earlier in the day. Like Świątek and Juvan, Djokovic and Djere had a personal connection: they both hail from Serbia and have spent time practicing together. But more to the point, the #1 Djokovic would almost certainly crush Djere, who started the year ranked #70 in the world. Given the late hour, we assumed we'd watch a set or two of Djokovic beating this unknown player and then call it a night before the match was even over.

If this was the plan for the night, nobody told Djere about it. Djere came out on fire, and took the first set 4-6. It's not that Djokovic played all that bad, it's just that Djere played the match of his life. OK, so Djokovic was down a set. That's no big deal, it happens all the time. Then Djere backed up the first set by taking the second, 4-6. What we had assumed to be a pro forma match, had turned into a battle. Djokovic's obvious win was no longer obvious. It looked like we might be witnessing one of the all time great tennis upsets.

Alas, beating Djokovic is never that easy. Djere gave up the 3rd and 4th sets to Djokovic 6-1, 6-1. But still, we entered the 5th setting knowing that anything was possible. The audience at Arthur Ashe was being treated to an amazing battle and we were all loving it. At 1:34am, the match finally closed out with Djokovic as the winner. Djere walked off court with thousands of new fans on his side and reminded everyone, especially Djokovic, that there are no sure things in tennis. You simply never know which matches are going to be the nail biters.

I'm not sure how tomorrow's tennis is going to top all that we saw today. But I can't wait to find out.

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