US OPEN TENNIS TOURNAMENT MARKS GOLDEN ANNIVERSARY IN STYLE
A Special Article by Tim Riley
The 50th anniversary of the US Open Tennis tournament marks the completion of a five-year, $600 million transformation of the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park in New York City. The newly completed Louis Armstrong Stadium, with a retractable roof that became necessary only days into the tournament, is a real jewel even if the top-seeded Simona Halep of Romania, who lost in the first round to 44th-ranked Kaia Kanepi, could think the place is jinxed.
How did a great jazz musician get his name on the venue, you may ask? The US Open sits on the site of the 1964 World’s Fair and its outdoor arena for concerts was renamed in 1973 for Louis Armstrong, who had lived in Corona Park. Apparently, the jazz great was a fan of tennis and his name lived on when the eponymous arena became part of the US Open venue when it relocated to this spot in 1978 from its previous home in Forest Hills. He would probably love the golden anniversary festivities. What would make for a really nice celebration is for the American men to excel once again with a chance to go the distance? Not since Andy Roddick in 2003 has a player from the United States won the men’s singles trophy, but all hopes rest this year with 11th-ranked John Isner.
On the distaff side, American women are doing just fine. Sloane Stephens took the title last year and is back again in the hunt. In fact, the American women have won five of the last ten women’s singles championships. Meanwhile, all eyes are on Serena Williams’ return from taking an absence last year for motherhood. You probably caught the news that Serena faced her sister Venus in the third round, winning in two straight sets to advance.
As this is written, there is a real possibility of a showdown between 26th-ranked Serena and 3rd-ranked Sloane Stephens (but by the time you read this that chance may or may not have come to fruition). While John Isner is moving on to the Quarterfinals, there is a pair of 20-year-old American men also on the rise for the future. Both of them survived the first round, which is at least an encouraging sign.
Taylor Fritz and Frances Tiafoe are definitely two contenders to keep watching. During a spirited match in the second round, the 42nd-ranked Tiafoe thrilled the crowd during a valiant stand to win the third set only to ultimately fall to his Australian opponent Alex de Minaur. Meanwhile, the 70th-ranked Taylor Fritz struggled for nearly four hours in the first round for his first five-set victory over Germany’s 46th-ranked Mischa Zverez. Yet he also survived so far as to win the second round over Australia’s Jason Kubler.
At this moment, last year’s US Open champion Rafael Nadal, ranked 1st, is headed to the Quarterfinals and may soon be joined by 2nd-ranked Roger Federer, who already won the third round by beating Australia’s 30th-ranked Nick Kygrios. Federer and Nadal have played each other at Grand Slams but never at the US Open, though they have been one match away from meeting in New York on several occasions. Even though it would be great for John Isner to have a shot at the title, a Federer-Nadal showdown would be epic.
Interestingly, Federer’s most recent vanquished foe Nick Kygrios was at the center of controversy in a second-round match. In an unprecedented move, the chair umpire stepped down to have a chat with Kyrgios for reasons that appeared to be beyond the norm. The US Open had to release statements that first suggested the umpire Mohamed Lahyani had to intercede because of concern the Australian might need medical attention but also to warn that action would be taken if the player continued to show lack of interest. The next day, the US Open determined that Lahyani’s conduct “went beyond protocol,” noting the umpire was advised to “adhere to proper protocols in all matches.” In other words, he might be on “double secret probation” (a movie reference, guess which one. Hint “John Belushi”).
Another little kerfuffle erupted when France’s Alize Cornet changed her shirt on the court, revealing a black sports bra. The chair umpire informed the female player she would receive a code violation for this perceived faux pas. Amid a backlash, the US Open had to issue a change of attire policy so that all players, regardless of gender, can change their shirts when sitting in the player chair. Thus, Cornet has only assessed a warning with no further penalty or fine.
Fortunately, there is no controversy over the cuisine offered, unless of course, you object to paying $20 for a turkey club sandwich. The Food Village offers many tasty options with the likes of Korilla BBQ, Farm 2 Fork, Curry Kitchen, Angry Taco, and Fish Shack among others. The US Open does draw the “champagne-and-caviar” crowd, and it has celebrity chefs on hand with restaurants open only to Courtside Box seat holders and Luxury Suite guests. Attending the US Open Tennis tournament is one of the best experiences in sports, and the appeal of this venue is such that the US Open has for the first time exceeded more than 70,000 guests in attendance on a single day.