By Thomas Swick
The greatest tennis tournament in the world (as they like to call it here), which takes place in the greatest city in the world (ditto), was held up for two days because of rain. Precipitation doesn’t bother the Australian Open in Melbourne (which is not even the greatest city in Australia), nor does it faze fusty Wimbledon, whose historic Centre Court now wears a fashionable, retractable roof.
The first day of rain, Tuesday, was a godsend, as I caught up on sleep and did my laundry. It made me see for the first time the intelligence of Wimbledon’s organizers, who forbid play on the first Sunday and thus give everyone – media, staff, and especially players – a much needed rest.
By Wednesday the rain, though less forceful, got a little tired. Though it had the miraculous effect of making people who had watched eight straight days of tennis hungry for tennis.
Thursday morning I woke up to the now familiar sight of New Yorkers with umbrellas walking down 66th Street. I took my sunglasses and sunblock out of my bag, left the umbrella in there, and headed off for Flushing Meadows, where, naturally, the sun was shining brightly. (Note to the USTA: Should you wish to hire me as a weather-influencer, I am available.)
At the media center I picked up the day’s bulletin and saw that, while the U.S. Open does not have a roof, it does have a sense of humor. “Day Eleven,” read the front-page headline, “Is Awash in Talent.”
I headed out to the Grandstand, its singles life extended even further by the rain. Kennard was back at Gate 16, and Claudia, controlling the media box, looked refreshed.
As did Andy Murray, who took care of Donald Young in straight sets. I walked through the corridor and found a strangely empty Louis Armstrong Stadium. A bubble had appeared from all the rain, an usher told me, and the Andy Roddick-David Ferrer match had been moved to Court 13.
I grabbed a quick lunch in the food court – Cordon Bleu crepe – and, returning to the media center, found a crowd of people gathered at the practice courts. (Note to Donald Young: If by chance you’re reading this, you may want to stop now.) The object of their attention was Andy Murray.
Two media seats opened up on Court 13 for the third set of Roddick-Ferrer. During the eighth game, Ferrer serving, the strains of La Bamba penetrated the stands. It was all the Spaniard needed to win his first set. Pam Shriver, who had been waiting to do a post-match interview with Roddick, headed for the exit with her ESPN microphone in hand, followed by her soundman and cameraman. “That’s gotta be a moral victory,” said the reporter next to me, “for your opponent.”
Roddick, I noticed, puffs out air through Dizzy Gillespie cheeks after each shot (including his serve), and then again while preparing to hit the next one.
He won the fourth set and did a Todd Martin by daylight, taking a victory lap around the court and high-fiving front-row fans. For the post-match interview, he got the Tennis Channel instead of an impatient ESPN.
The next match on cozy Court 13 featured Andrea Petkovic versus Caroline Wozniacki, who had last been seen in a night match in Arthur Ashe Stadium. At times during the match you could hear the grunts of Djokovic inside that stadium broadcast by the speakers in the plaza.
The young man sitting next to me represented Wozniacki and I asked him if he wouldn’t prefer representing Petkovic. “She’s Number One,” he said, a bit surprised by my question. “But Petkovic has more personality,” I said. “Caroline has a lot of personality,” he insisted. “You don’t know her. She’s a very sweet girl.”
But not on the court. She took care of Petkovic in straight sets. I thought: If anyone has the resources – and reading materials – to get over a loss on a tennis court, it’s Petkovic.
Outside Court 17, where Angelique Kerber had just defeated Flavia Pennetta, I ran into Andrzej, the photographer who sits a few work stations away from El Expresso (where I am still sitting and actually thinking of requesting a raise). “A good day for Polish-speaking players,” I told him. In addition to Wozniacki and Kerber, Mariusz Fyrstenberg and Marcin Matkowski had earlier won their men’s doubles match, and Agnieszka Radwanska (with Daniela Hantuchova) had won in women’s doubles. Of the Slavic languages left here, Polish may dominate.
Back at the media center I asked a German reporter about the Petkovic press conference. She was happily telling me what she knew and then, stopping in the middle of a sentence, she said: “Oh, Boris, sorry,” and rushed over to a small group surrounding Mr. Becker.
For the night session I took the elevator to the Club Level. “You know who I saw earlier?” the elevator operator asked. “Aretha Franklin. I wanted to get her autograph,” he said. “My mother loves her.”
While they cleaned the stadium I roamed the corridors. Champions Bar & Grill was loud with men in dress shirts and women in dresses. I squeezed my way in past the crowded bar and bumped against a waiter carrying a tray of raw oysters. So, I thought, the recession is over.
Then I realized that Arthur Ashe Stadium, during the second week of the Open, is like church on Christmas Eve. The hard-core believers are joined, if not outnumbered, by the once-a-year celebrants, people who like to dress up and be seen at big events.
A little ways down the corridor Silver Tennis Collection sold antique wooden racquets (some with broken strings), vintage tennis posters, used books on tennis, and tennis-themed glassware and jewelry, including a necklace with a minute, diamond-studded court set on a patch of black velvet.
The stadium was packed for the night match between Roger Federer and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. Federer got cheers when he appeared on the big screen for his interview in the walkway. When he stepped onto the court – The Man in Black – the roar ascended.
A fine mist interrupted the first set, creating a delay of 94 minutes. But even rain stops for Federer. He came back out and took care of Tsonga in three relatively easy sets. In the on-court interview he spoke in that soft, boyish, victory voice that always sounds strange emerging from the body of the merciless marksman and is – along with his cool comportment and movie star looks – a large part of his appeal.
Then his fans filed out of a dry Arthur Ashe Stadium, content that all was once again well with the world.