Having been a very avid tennis player and fan for most of my adult life, I jumped at the chance to attend the U.S. Open in Flushing Meadow, New York during the 80’s. I was going to Chicago and Atlanta on business anyway, so it fit right in. I got the tickets from the Northern California Tennis Association, for which I was a committee volunteer. During a meeting, the Director asked if anyone wanted the tickets, and I said YES. Do you remember who won the Men’s title in 1982?
Chicago and Atlanta were just a couple of stops on the way to the big event. A friend from Chicago was planning to meet me at the Open. That did not work out, but I decided to go anyway. I landed at LaGuardia Airport around midafternoon, and found a hotel room at a nearby Marriott. If you have never flown over the New York skyline, the Empire State Building, and the Statue of Liberty, it is a fabulous, and inspiring sight.
I called my cousin to see if he wanted to have dinner and go to the Open the next day with me. He and his parents picked me up, took me to a Long Island sushi bar, and showed me their home on Long Island, right across the street from the Bethpage Golf Course. They also showed me the sushi bar they were planning to open very soon. Chet, the Jet (he was a hockey player), who later became a physician, said he would meet me after work the next day. I gave him one of my tickets, and hoped for the best.
At this point, I must tell you that New York cab drivers are in a league of their own, for good or bad. A good one is invaluable, a bad one is the biggest jerk you have ever met. I got a good one to the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center at Flushing Meadow, site of a former World’s Fair, and just a train track crossing from the Met’s Shea Stadium. The Open has been held here since 1978, and actually began in 1881 in Newport, R.I.
The tickets that I had were good for both the day session, as well as the hard to get evening session in the Stadium court. The thrill of the day session was that matches were held on multiple courts, so that you could always find a good match. And I could get a front row view of all the well-known men and women players. The grounds also had several hospitality and merchandise tents, as if New York was not expensive already. I did buy T shirts, caps, and towels for my friends back home.
I wandered the many courts, looking for a good match. I found some people I knew, believe it or not. The first was one of the referees from California, who I knew through my own tennis competition and volunteer work. The second was a player, Ann Kiyomura from San Mateo. She played a great match against Kathy Jordan from Stanford, and upset her in 3 sets. She offered tickets for the next day, but I told her I would be on my way home by then. Most people do not know that Annie, at the time, had won more Junior tennis titles than anyone in history. She never became a big star, but she did win the Wimbledon women’s doubles one year with a gal from Japan. Her younger sister Vicki lives in the South Bay, and we played in the same tennis club and circle of friends for many years.
The worst part of this whole day was the cost of food. I think a hot dog and a soda were almost $10. But it was such a great experience, I said what the heck. It brought to mind a scene from Seinfeld, where Jerry and George went to the Open. Jerry met a deaf linesperson, while George was gorging a big ice cream, all over his face, while the TV cameras were trained on him.
Another nice thing about wandering around is getting to see the up and coming young players in practice or in junior matches. We also got to see the better players and their coaches working out on the practice courts. One of the big sensations back then was the infamous Dr. Renee Richards, formerly Richard Raskin. One look at her/him, and you could tell something was not right. Also, tennis groupies followed the good-looking young players around like horseflies. By the way, the winner this year (1982) was Jimmy Connors.
As the day wore on, things quieted down a little, at least for New York. I stayed all day since I was having so much fun. My evening Stadium ticket would get me into the evening matches shortly. When I entered the Stadium, I tried to find my seats. It turns out they were box seats, right near some famous people. I saw the likes of Dan Rather, Jack Kramer, Althea Gibson, Walter Cronkite, Johnny Carson, and Donald Dell. We were about 8 to 10 rows from the court, and could hear the players talk to the referee.
Chet finally showed up mid match. The second big match of the evening was Ivan Lendl and Tim Mayotte. The crowd was going crazy since Mayotte looked like he would upset Lendl. Around 10pm, the crowd began to stir, to the point where it was a big distraction. Chet said we had better get moving. We were about to get hit with a sudden East coast downpour in a matter of a few more seconds. We got to shelter in time, but it looked like the matches would be called for the evening.
About an hour later the rain let up, and we headed for the taxi and train area. Chet wanted to make sure I got a cab back to the hotel safely, so he waited with me. I guess we waited too long, as very few cabs were going by. We were joined by another young man attending the Open, and looking for a cab back to his hotel as well. We waited and waited.
Finally, out of the darkness came a cab. We asked how much and he replied $50. Chet told him to get lost, that he was ripping us off, and should be reported. He came back again in about 10 minutes, wanting $60 and started to insult us by calling us country bumpkins, and that we should be grateful he was around to take us to our hotel. Again, Chet told him to get lost.
He came back a 3rd time, wanting $75 and started swearing at us, in prime New York cabbie vernacular. We were ready for him this time. The other fellow and I engaged in some rather spirited banter with him, while Chet let the air out of his tires on the passenger side. When he finally took off, he was running on his tire rims on the right side, and never came back. We finally got an honest cabbie, dropped Chet at the train station, and got back to our hotel.
As you can guess, New York has never been one of my favorite places. The City is just out of control. The unending energy courses through you as you walk down any major boulevard, board the subway, and walk around Times Square or Wall Street. I just do not feel that I am in control.
But you can easily see why New Yorkers responded so well to the 9/11 disaster, as they are tough, resilient, and never give up. For me, I need a little more space and time. It is a crazy place, and you must go there at least once in your life.
I will be rooting for Naomi Osaka to win her third major title.