So Tuesday was the first day of qualies here at Flushing Meadows, and also the first time that M and I ventured into the universe of American Grand Slam Tennis.
It’s more than just the arduous adventure of taking the subway from Brooklyn into Manhattan and back out again into Queens, and the startling contrast of navy blue instead of the bright cobalt we’re used to at Melbourne Park. It’s not just the strange SIZE of the HUMUNGOUS ball children or the impressive array of American style refreshments. (Knish, anyone?)
We roamed the wet grounds, and marvelled with amazement at the huge triple tennis courts where everyone from Marin to Richie to unrecognisable little guys were practicising (terrible face recognition, which is really embarrassing for a tennis blogger who watches tennis incessantly… though luckily I have excellent voice recognition for umpires like the Great Umpire of All Time TM, Carlos Ramos), plus about a thousand pert and pretty Russian girls on the ladies side. As you may have noticed, we’re not so WTA on this side, so the girls will have to remain nameless.
We meandered over to Court Thirteen (of course!) and went on a hunt for the Aussie boy Gooch, aka Chris Guccione, a Davis Cup mate of M & L from years back and a lovely, albeit often injured, ranga boy from Oz who needed our support. Turns out the scoreboard was there… but Gooch was not.
We visited Lleyton, reminding M of her bygone days when his posters plastered her walls. Circa 2001. Good times.
Now I am a spectator of Grand Slam tennis, and beyond that, Australian Grand Slam tennis only, so these other tournaments leave me confused. I was also unaware that the practices on the main stadiums are OPEN TO THE PUBLIC, so when the lovely folk at US Open Facebook page posted that Rafa and Marin were practicing on Louis A, I was content to sit placidly outside the arena’s brick wall, playing idly with my iPhone and lapping up the awesomeness of knowing that Rafa in his glory was nearby.
Hang on, sez M, I think I see people going in.
Indeed? I ask. So we go for a casual waltz into Louis A.
And there, mopping up the court with a squeegee that would put any Israeli housewife to shame, is Marin, lanky body doubled over in concentration as he squeezes every last bit of stubborn rain from that silly hard court surface.
We slip into our front row seats and start looking around furtively, certain that we are about to get kicked out of the front row seats on the practice courts. Surely we can’t be allowed here?
I overhear Marin’s coach, Bob Brett, giving directions in broad Strine, and all of a sudden I feel compelled to make best friends with every Australian that comes by this tournament. It’s not just a desire, it’s now a requirement.
I don’t have time though, because as Marin keeps hitting with his coach, and I let my eyes slip down to my iPhone, I hear a collective intake of breath and look up just in time to see a certain Spaniard stroll right past me.
“Well, HOLA,” erupts from my mouth, and I keep my eyes peeled at 2 o’clock as Signor Nadal continues to stroll to the next player chair (damn me for sitting behind Marin, lovely as he is!) and set his kit down, with just enough time to give us a sumptuous shirt change view.
Next thing we know, them boys are hitting up balls like there’s a grand slam tomorrow, and even playing us a few pretend sets.
It was lovely.
And I did make friends with Marin’s coach. It had to be done.