Nuts and Bolts, 9/1: Gear Around the Grounds
4:12 p.m., sun torrid and erumpent, and I’m out on Court P5, watching, fence close, a diminutive junior spar with Stanislas Wawrinka. The junior is cutting figure eights in the air with his red Yonex VCore Tour, drilling Stan metronomically along the baseline at the Swiss’ behest. Stan’s feet stutter and recover. He’s moving fast and clearly working hard, at least on one half of his body, which sweats profusely but asymmetrically; his grey t-shirt’s sweat pattern is a long streak that runs down his right side. Suddenly the diminutive kid nets a backhand. He says “sorry,” rolling his r’s in a non-native way. Stan’s face is impassive, weathered by acne and bedaubed, Rafter-like, with thick white sunscreen. In his hands is also a red Yonex. But unlike the junior’s, his is taped up to the hilt with lead, four long silver strips of it, which run along the inside of the frame at the three and six o’clock positions. It tells in Wawrinka’s overheads, which yield radical cracking sounds. He scoops up a ball with his feet. “Can you make me run more?” A small boy who’s standing against the fence decides to place down his jumbo ball. He sits upon it, Pilates-style, but a minute later pulls the ball from under him. It’s covered in signatures. He checks it for scuffmarks.
4:35 p.m., U.S. Open Official Citizen time, and Melanie Oudin is having a hit about with Louisa Chirico on Court 5. USTA coaches hover observantly and gesture enthusiastically every handful of exchanges. Oudin’s on-court countenance can be anticipated. Her mouth opens and eyeballs widen when she sets up. And hitting the ball, Oudin scrunches up her face, a little rictus of obstinate effort, which flares her nostrils and nose ring. When she makes a mistake, she looks down in a tired, slightly dejected kind of way.
5:15 p.m. Out on Court 4, Matthew Ebden and Bernie Tomic (Aussie/Aussie) are taking on Raven Klassen and Alex Bogomolov, Jr. (South African/Russian). Bernie’s got on the most intensely colored, highlighter yellow Nike hat, while Raven and Bogie wear Prince and Athletic DNA, respectively. The crowd is not so much a crowd as a gathering, which fills the bleachers sparely and is sleepy and laconic; at one point, Bogomolov hits a nice backhand dipper, but there’s only a smattering of claps.
The official time reads 5:31 p.m. in Louis Armstrong stadium, where Angelique Kerber and Olga Govortsova are futzing with their bags. The stadium has clearly seen some traffic, what with all the empty bottles and munchie wrappers scattered about me; the smell of ketchup and fries nauseously wafts over me. I look down at the court, transfixed by Kerber’s warm-up top, which sports no sleeve on the right side and half a sleeve on the left. Is this a functional design? Like the baseball pitcher’s half jacket? Whatever it is, it isn’t battle tested. The warm-up comes off and Kerber walks out to the baseline in this year’s ubiquitous yellow and Adidas threads. You must already know this, but her legs are huge; in person, they’re just absolutely gigantic. Walking, her quads becomes throbbing rectangles; serving, they judder as shock waves resonate up and down through her hips.
6:00 p.m. It’s the marquee Grandstand match of the day: James Blake and Milos Raonic. Raonic is threatening to sweep away the first set, and it’s clear why: Blake just can’t return the serve. Time and time again, 140 M.P.H. pounders come hurling down the T. Blake’s known for using one of the heaviest racquets on tour, and his Donnay Pro One shows it, with the layers of lead tape that reflect in the light. But all that tape can’t catch up to the ball. Raonic pounds another ace down the T, which goes bouncing off the edge of the backdrop and sails, pop-fly high, through the air. All the crowd looks up and follows it for what feels like a very long time.
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