The US Open – the last of the Grand Slam tournaments, celebrating its golden jubilee this season – is one of sports’ greatest events and one of its most challenging.
For fans, that is due in part to the difficulty in getting into the USTA Billie Jean King Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, Queens. Then once inside, members of the New York City Police Department, along with the Open’s security and ushers, have a poor sense of what’s where. (I myself was dropped off on Northern Boulevard, which I surmised correctly would be the shortest walk to the Media Center.)
So unless you have the directional skills of a Lewis and Clark, it can be tough going. Equally daunting for fans but especially the players this year has been the soaring heat and humidity. Even on the best of days, the New York August sun sears the skin. This season’s fiery heat index has Open officials giving the male players, who must win three out of five sets, a much needed 10-minute break. (The women, who play two out of three, have always had this break.)
On Tuesday, Fernando Verdasco took it as an opportunity to consult with his coaches in the locker room, a no-no. This infuriated opponent Andy Murray, who lost to him.
“Verdasco is in the locker-room with both coach and trainer. The referee and supervisor are just twiddling their thumbs,” Murray, on the comeback trail after hip surgery, said. “I had to tell them because no one knows the f---ing rules.”
Novak Djokovic and Marton Fucsovics took their break as an opportunity for an ice bath.
“You’re battling with a guy for two-and-a-half hours. Then you’re naked in an ice bath next to him,” Djokovic said with characteristic impishness. “It was quite a magnificent feeling.”
(And how magnificent a feeling is it to see this physically and intellectually gorgeous player back in action this year after an elbow injury and a good deal of soul-searching sidelined him in 2017. I knew he was going to win Wimbledon this year, but it was still a wonderful thing to behold.)
In his opening round match against Fucsovics, Djokovic looked shell-shocked by the heat. But the bath seemed to revive him and he went on to win 6-3,3-6, 6-4,6-0. Numerous publications carried photographs of Nole sitting courtside, dazed and shirtless as he tried to cool himself. But when Alize Cornet briefly removed her shirt, which was on backward, revealing a modest sport bra, she was issued a code violation. (Cornet went on to lose to Johanna Lawson.)
Coming on the heels of the French Open’s catfight over Serena Williams’ catsuit – a compression garment designed to stave off her predisposition to blood clots – the code violation smacked of sexism. Open officials said Wednesday that female and male players alike can change their shirts when they’re in the players’ chairs. (Cornet appeared to be standing near the baseline.) Nonetheless, officials said they regretted the assessing of the violation, a result of a policy now clarified.
Elsewhere, the new Louis Armstrong Stadium (stunning) has bowed to rave reviews and the Open’s book stall has made a welcome return. On Wednesday, Ray Arsenault was on hand to sign copies of his new biography, “Arthur Ashe: A Life” (Simon and Schuster). Ashe, who is remembered in a sensuous nude sculpture on the Open’s campus and in the name of its largest stadium – was an elegant champion, activist and philanthropist.
He never lost his cool – no matter the heat.