Wednesday, August 27, 2008

High-Falutin' in Flushing: A Night at the US Open

Brethren: If you're ever going to attend a pro event in one of the country club sports, there has been one thing I have learned: you need to go in style. As I found out last night, if you're going to go to one of tennis or golf's Majors, well, then you need to bypass style and go straight to pretension. So once I got word that the work “field trip” was going to include box seats to the 2008 U.S. Open out in Queens, I donned my best uppityness, took the quick lane through security, rode the escalator to my Suite 103 ticket, and drank in the opening round at Arthur Ashe Stadium.

Thanks to some kind folks who are trying to sway the company that pays me on the 15th and 31st to do some more work with them, I ended up in this swanky suite, drinking Heineken Lights and Gin & Tonics, eating sliced roast beef, lobster and crab sandwiches, cheese and crackers, and fresh fruit, while Venus Williams and Roger Federer did their bidding a scant few hundred feet away. Neither Venus nor Roger even really seemed to break a sweat; they won in their respective straight sets and the matches were never in doubt. But when you’re introduced to a professional sporting event for the first time and you’re in a corporate box, the night become much less about the sport and more about the experience.

Beyond this obviously unique situation, I couldn't help but notice the U.S. Open has such a fascinating place in the New York City sports landscape. A tournament I obviously paid attention to growing up because my mother was a tennis player herself, I didn’t really understand how much the sport gripped the city until I moved to Manhattan over a year ago. This is my second Open living in the city, and I’m absolutely captivated by it. Lots has been said that tennis is a dying sport, that the game has become too fast, too technologically-advanced with not enough stars or even more importantly, not enough American stars (especially on the men’s side). But what I’ve seen in my short time here in New York is that it’s still a sport that can grip its fans and keep everyone on their toes. I’m not sure if it’s that way around the rest of the Union, but in this here island of concrete, when the U.S. Open comes a’knockin, that still means something.

More high-falutin’ country club sports reports and thoughts on how to truly attend a tennis major desde

Brethren (cont’d): The first time I attended a PGA event, I went to the Wachovia Championship in Charlotte at Quail Hollow Country Club. I went as a guest of a member of Quail, and we had close parking, clubhouse access, and tent access aplenty. It was easily the best way to experience a golf tournament – “free” drinks and food everywhere, and the ability to get so close to the players. I did not expect my first tennis tournament to be like that one bit; after all, the only tennis tournaments any casual tennis fan really cares about are the four majors (and that’s even a stretch, as no one realizes the Australian Open is here until it’s over and another is French!). So you figure, if I happen to snag a ticket to one of the two important tennis tournaments a year, I was gonna be sitting on the Hill at Wimbledon or in the nose bleeds on a side court with the rowdy New York crowds.

Instead, I squeezed a little bit of the Mad Men aspect of my job, and ended up in an exclusive box with the upscale food and beverage spread. Well, I knew what to do in that situation: get busy eating and dranking or get busy dying.

Well-to-do-ness aside, being a spectator at a tennis major was definitely quite different than being at any stadium’ed event I’d been to before. The whole stadium was deathly quiet, hushed right before the games begun, and remaining that way as high-quality rallies happened right before our eyes. No real hootin’ and hollerin’. Certainly no one on their cell phone (except for all-important texting), and certainly no one talking shit to any fans around them. It was a docile experience and I really was amazed at how silent the crowd could remain during an athletic event.

I know this stuff’s in the heritage of the sport, but it still took me off-guard. There were stretches of points that concluded with no applause at all. It was as if good points and rallies were expected and only the best Federer whip-lash one-handed backhand cross-court really deserved a slight head nod and slap of the hands. Rowdy applause must be checked at the door. Of course, this could be have been magnified by the 1st round nature of the match and the fact that both Venus and Roger heavily outperformed their opponents.

Or it could be that I’m just not high-brow yet to properly know how to attend the U.S. Open. One day, I’m sure I will. But I was definitely in new territory last night, and I’m sure a bit out of place.


Will said...

Go over to the side courts to see the hootin' and hollerin'. You can get right up next to the court for many of those matches, and while it may not be on the level of Federer/Nadal, it's still some damn impressive professional tennis.

bc2mc3 said...

I am still so jealous that you got to see the ONE event that I am dying to see. NEXT year...although I will probably be in the nosebleeds since I don't know anybody with suite seats!!