Publisher Roger Parker reviews the drama that is the US Open
The US Open in New York usually has everything – in trumps. Drama, glamour, intense sticky heat, tropical storms, emotion, “A” list celebrities and a few “wannabes”.
Raucous, partisan fans especially at the night sessions more akin to a voluble soccer crowd than a genteel tennis match. Some of the behaviour would probably lead to ejection from the grounds in SW19.
Razzamatazz opening ceremonies, with fireworks atop the main scoreboard, can you imagine that on the lush grounds of the AELTC?
Performances by world renowned artists, inventive renditions of The Star Spangled Banner you’ve never heard before, right there on Arthur Ashe Stadium Court prior to play.
Award ceremonies to Hall of Fame players and characters, such as the legendary Bud Collins (RIP) Boston Globe Tennis correspondent and TV commentator. He of the loud trousers.
Oh, and of course the World’s best Tennis players turn up too.
As part of the entertainment the U.S.Open is the only one of the four grand slam events to play music before and during matches – at the changeover of course. Most of the players have taken on board the entertainment aspect of their job.
Some players have even sent in special requests to Dieter Ruehle who doubled up as the US Open resident DJ with being the full time music director to the LA Lakers and the LA Kings at The Staples Centre.
Serena Williams chose Katy Perry’s “Roar” as her entrance music for one of her Finals, David Ferrer walked on to the punchy “Eye of the Tiger” by Survivor for Rocky IV. Even the “shy and retiring” Andy Murray has asked for Ed Sheeran and Roger Federer’s diverse musical tastes called for “Hall of Fame” by The Script and “Vogue” by Madonna.
Director of Entertainments Michael Fiur insists on striking a balance, and that they don’t try to be too cute, especially as the tournament enters the sharp end of events, though they once got caught out when Rafa Nadal was changing his shirt and the speakers belted out Justin Timberlake’s “Too Sexy”.
Come to think of it, the US Open is the diametric opposite of Wimbledon, but it’s chutzpah is part of the attraction and is reflected in the average New Yorker’s DNA.
It is certainly no place for shrinking violets, on or off the court.
On a more serious note, two world changing events are indelibly etched in my mind as I reflect on my years of covering the US Open.
The first such date was 31 August 1997. I was in the bar of a media hotel, The Grand Hyatt in Manhattan which was it’s usual hubbub of excited activity and chatter. Then all the TV news channels broke the tragic news of Princess Diana’s horrific and soon to prove fatal car crash in Paris, and a sombre hush descended on the whole room.
Princess Diana was a keen Tennis fan, and a regular visitor to the Royal Box at Wimbledon. Her death left a hole in the world’s heart that can never be replaced.
Converted Canadian now Brit Greg Rusedski was a surprise but worthy finalist in 1997, but his four set defeat to Aussie Pat Cash was totally overshadowed by Princess Diana’s funeral. He wore a black ribbon during the final as a mark of respect.
An even bigger disaster, in terms of sheer numbers at least, was to follow in 2001. 9-11. 8.46 am, Tuesday 11 September, 2001, when flight AA 11 flew into floors 93-99 of the World Trade Centre’s North Tower, changing the world forever.
My wife and I, as we usually did at the end of the Grand Slam Tennis season, had flown to Sarasota Florida for a holiday. We were watching host Bryant Gumbel on NBC’s “Today” programme in bed as the tragedy grew and grew. By coincidence President George Bush was also in Sarasota, addressing the local Emma E Booker Elementary school, when an aide whispered into his ear that a second plane had crashed into the World Trade Centre.
That image, the shock on the President’s face, captured by AFP photographer Paul J Richards is frozen in history.
Even more of a chilling coincidence was the fact that my wife Anne and I had been tourists at the World Trade Centre just two days before the terror attack that shook the World.
On a happier note, one of my fondest memories of the US Open was of Andy Murray winning his first and only Grand Slam Juniors title of his career in 2004. (SEE PICTURE) This launched him into the limelight in the wake of fading British No. 1 one Tim Henman and he would go on to win the Men’s singles there eight years later.
Celebs abound at the US Open. It’s that sort of tournament. In 2008 I snapped “The Douglas Clan” Kirk and his wife Anne, alongside Catherine Zeta Jones and husband Michael Douglas
sitting in the Presidential Box.
There is an abundance of glamour, supplied as much by the girls on the court as well as those watching from the stands. Sometimes, as in the case of the very photogenic Anna
Kournikova, the players return as celebs.
A special atmosphere
The night sessions really to create a special atmosphere, unique to New York, especially when the local heroes are in action and the celebs turn out. The pizzas
and hot dogs are consumed in vast quantities.The beer and wine flows.
Rain stops play
It makes me laugh when our American colleagues arrive for Wimbledon, and immediately complain about the “awful British weather” at the first hint of a shower. From 2008 to 2013 the Men’s final was delayed by bad weather five times to a Monday finish.
In 2008 Hurricane Hannah played havoc with the schedules, and a total wipeout of four consecutive days play was accurately predicted. I took an executive decision and flew to Florida for a four days holiday, and never missed a match.
This will not be a factor this year as the long awaited new roof is now in place, however the odds are that it will be hot and sticky at times, and the players will need the ice towels to keep their cool.
Sometimes you are lucky enough to capture a perfect shot in a fleeting moment, like Gael Monfils’s eyeballs popping out, the Williams sisters poised to go for the same ball down the middle, or the racket forming a perfect frame around Marin Cilic’s face.
You can only prepare yourself for that moment of luck, but as South African golfer Gary Player frequently said “the more I practice – the luckier I get”.
We are raring to go to New York soon – and get some more practice.