“When you do something best in life, you don’t really want to give that up; and for me it’s tennis.”
—Roger Federer (1981– )
Attending an early-round match at the U.S. Open can be a gamble waiting to disappoint. Top-seeded players matched up against lower-ranked ones usually means a lop-sided match, usually favoring the more experienced athlete. We had the opportunity to attend a first-round match that pitted 17-time Grand Slam winner Roger Federer of Switzerland against Marinko Matosevic from Australia. It was not a disappointment.
When approaching the U.S. Open venue from the Long Island Railroad station platform, the first sight seen is the Mercedes-Benz advertising display. The German carmaker has been supporting men’s tennis since 1996; and it is the presenting sponsor of the Men’s Singles Championship at the U.S. Open. Roger is the Mercedes-Benz Ambassador.
Arthur Ashe Stadium, which replaced Louis Armstrong Stadium as the primary stage for the U.S. Open Tournament, opened in 1997. Named for the Richmond, Virginia native, Arthur Ashe won the U.S. Open in 1968 when the matches were played on grass at Forest Hills; he defeated Tom Okker. Ashe was a runner up in 1972, having been beaten by Ilie Nastase. Ashe also won titles at the 1970 Australian Open and at the 1974 Wimbledon Championships, where he defeated fellow American Jimmy Connors.
“I am a sucker for those old traditional places, and Rome is as good as it gets, particularly when you throw in Italian food.” —Roger Federer
We could see the outer courts as we rode the escalator to the top of Ashe Stadium. Before hand, we enjoyed a filling dinner of Indian curry in the Tennis Center’s Food Court. Italian food is also offered.
Also visible on our escalator ride was the ever-fabulous Unisphere. This stainless steel model of Mother Earth is a lasting reminder of the 1964 World’s Fair held in Flushing Meadows, also home to the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. I never tire of seeing it!
“I can’t stay No. 1 for fifty years, you know. We’ll see what happens.” —Roger Federer
Roger has held the #1 men’s ranking for a record 302 weeks; 237 of those weeks were consecutive, also a record. He is currently ranked #3 in the world.
“I used to get nervous if my parents would come watch. And then I would get nervous if my friends came and watched. Today it’s not a problem anymore actually, because now I enjoy it. I see that they respect me immensely, and I try to put on a good show and show that I can still play very good tennis.” —Roger Federer
It’s a good thing that Roger no longer gets nervous in front of crowds; with a seating capacity of 23,547 Arthur Ashe Stadium is the largest tennis venue in the world.
“When I was 25, if you’d have said I was going to be a commentator, that would seem like, ‘Oh, my God. That’s a huge step down.’ ” —John McEnroe (1959– )
He may have taken ‘a huge step down’ from his days of screaming at chair umpires and smashing his racket on the court, but John McEnroe (left) is above the action as he calls the match with sports broadcast pro Chris Fowler (right).
“If Roger stopped right now and never won another match, to me he’d already be one of the greatest players to ever play the game. To me, he’s the greatest all around talent that I’ve ever seen.” —John McEnroe
I agree with Mr. McEnroe. I was happy after the match that I was able to see Roger’s great talent win him another match; this time the final score was 6-3, 6-4, 7-6 (4).
“Sometimes I am a different character in different languages. I have different enjoyment from them. Sometimes different answers come out of me.” —Roger Federer
Roger speaks four languages fluently, Swiss German, German, French and English. Plus, he speaks a bit of Italian, Spanish and Swedish. The Italian and Spanish are the weakest of linguist skills.
“The serve, I think, is the most difficult, in terms of coordination, because you got the two arms going, and you got to toss it up at the right time.” —Roger Federer
Stopped in mid-motion, with the yellow ball contrasted against the green of the court, Roger’s serve is a thing of beauty.
“I don’t mind fans coming up in a friendly, respectful way. That’s all part of the fun of being a top tennis player. But if people take pictures without permission, particularly if my children are in the shot, I feel uncomfortable.”
A very public man, who rightly guards his privacy, Roger has an entourage of other famous people around him. At last night’s match his player’s box included A—Anna Wintour, editor-in-chief of American Vogue and hobby tennis player; B—Michael Jordon, former NBA champion; and C—former pro tennis player and Roger’s wife, Mirka Federer. His four children, twin daughters and twin sons, must have been home—wherever home is for the next two weeks—asleep. They are more often seen at their father’s day matches.
Mr. Jordan attended the match to see how Federer would perform while wearing Jordan’s new brand of sneakers, which are modeled on the Nike Air Jordan 3, reworked for tennis. Roger’s pair was branded with his own RF logo. Mr. Jordan was Roger’s basketball-playing idol when he was a kid.
In a view from the topmost level of Ashe Stadium, the skyline of Manhattan is silhouetted against a dusky, sun-setting sky. The line of lights, near the center of the photo in the darkened land of Queens, belong to the #7 train and the Long Island Railroad’s Great Neck train, which we ride to reach the Open.
The women’s match, played immediately following the men’s, saw Serena Williams defeat fellow American Taylor Townsend. This was the match that disappointed, as the final score shows.
The Tennis Center’s Court of Champions seems to stretch to the flood-lighted Unisphere. It does not; it is an illusion of the darkness. The South Plaza begins to empty of its tennis fans, until tomorrow that is!