It's Thursday evening and the tail end of the second round. We depart the 7 train with throngs of other New Yorkers looking to put the work day behind them. For those who aren't regulars, you'd think by now the U.S. Tennis Center and Citi Field would have earned a sign from the Transit Authority, but no, Willets Point it stays. After reassuring tourists this is the Open stop, and pulling a sleeping man off my fiancee Carolyn's shoulder, it's only a matter of time before we bump into friends on the platform we'd just learned from Facebook were also coming. Tennis chatter ensues as we speculate on who we're seeing tonight. For some reason, I couldn't get the U.S. Open app to work on my phone. Rumor has it Roddick's playing some French dude and Sharapova is playing an American, which turned out to be accurate. We're happy at the very least we got some marquee headliners. Heading past the gates, we learn James Blake, no different than any other year, is battling in the third set of an afternoon session match. For most ticket-holders, that means spending a good hour and a half outside eating and drinking their way to a $100+ hamburger, garlic fries and Grey Goose tab. However, since we're fortunate to be guests in a private box, we gain access to the suite for bonus coverage. We're pleasantly surprised that Blake's annual posse, the J-Block, is spread out across different seats and not given their own suite. While still annoying and inappropriate, especially for a second round match he should win, it's better than the suite block they usually form. We decide to forgo the balance of this match and the Block's "James, James, James" to dine inside with friends.
Blake finally wins a match he should have won a long time ago, and we await Sharapova. The stadium's sound system kicks in and the now commonplace "Thriller" blasts to the delight of fans followed by a mix of Top 20 with the type of music that accompanies presidential candidates on the campaign trail. Then, to my surprise and delight comes "Cotton Eyed Joe," normally reserved for the seventh-inning stretch in the past at Yankee Stadium. I pine for a bag of peanuts I can make a mess with on the floor and look for "Cotton Eyed" in the broadcast booth, but can't find either. Because I'm in the ad business I take a look at around to see which brands are here. It looks like the Open is pretty recession-proof, with the same cast of characters give or take and couple new additions including SpongeTech, who it seems, has bought every piece of available inventory in Major League Baseball stadiums as well. I guess this is a company to watch. For some strange reason, I noticed Valspar wasn't there, but chalked it up to declining home sales.
I'm about three drinks in now, when the towering Maria Sharapova, dressed like an America Gladiator from outer space, bedazzled silver headband and all, takes the court against her understated opponent Christina McHale, an 18 year old from nearby Bergen County. It seems these days that night-time matches require a different dress code. McHale, despite her surname, looked like the girl I shared my Bar Mitzvah ceremony with, so I knew it would only take a few loud Sharapova grunts to eliminate her. Flipping through the program, I discover Maria's only 22 years old, but then I remember tennis players, like hockey players, start when they're like 15. The difference being, at 30 in tennis you're considered past your prime. We're into the second set and our minds have wandered elsewhere despite the mildly inspiring "let's go New Jersey" screamer from high above. Carolyn poises the question -- why is it that most chair umpires have foreign accents? I thought that was a good observation and tried to Google it on my phone.
Before Roddick's match commences, we engage in idle chatter with a suite mate. He's an early to mid 40-something man from Long Island who delighted us with tales of tennis anecdotes from his days as a journeyman on the tennis circuit. We're not certain if it was the junior or professional circuit, but he sure held our attention with stories about everyone and everything, from his days with Jay Berger at Clemson, to playing with Johnny Mac and bypassing ushers in the good old days at Louis Armstrong Stadium. Now a professional photographer, we think, he educated us on shutter speed, resolution, and pixilation. We asked him to shoot our wedding but he declined. Soon enough, we see him sneaking in a few young Russians who passed themselves off as a tennis player and coach (seriously).
Back to the match, somehow we're a set in already. Neither player is yet to come to net, but Roddick is intense as ever and serving like a maniac. Once again, he tugs at his shirt all match, because it just doesn't ever fit him. There seems to be a new-found hope for Roddick amongst fans after his best match ever at Wimbledon. This was a blowout, so attention shifted to the celebs in the crowd, including the ever present Alec Baldwin and Amanda Seyfried (Big Love and Mamma Mia, the movie). I wished Big Love were coming back sooner and that they had the whole Hendrick's family in the box dressed in character. Of course, the stadium deejay pumped out Mamma Mia tunes to reinforce the obvious. For the record, I only knew of the Mamia Mia connection because it was the only in-flight movie shown during a flight I had taken a year ago. The evening was clearly fading.
I'd consumed one too many Heinekens, and Carolyn was on her third Evian, so I knew it was time to head home. Before leaving the gates, Carolyn elected for a little retail therapy at the Ralph Lauren pop-up store. Despite the recession, the prices are obscene and there also seems to be a runway show going on inside the store with a man and what looks like his Russian bride. Uninspired by the price-to-goods relationship at RL, we segue into the Official U.S. Open store. We become nostalgic at the throwback t-shirts from the 80's, but end up of settling for a set of modern-day but washed out overpriced shirts. The night ends on a high note, when an older woman from Florida with her daughter repeatedly asks, "where are the shirts with the built-in SPF, why don't you have them?" Only at the Open, only in New York.