Scenes from Queens: Empty Corridors

Sunday, September 09, 2012 /by

The U.S. Open is more than just the matches, it's an experience. Each day, we'll highlight one part of what makes the Open the Open.


This weekend ushered in the U.S. Open's big finale: Super Saturday (men’s semis and women’s final) and the men’s final. At least that was the plan: Half of Saturday’s roster got pushed to Sunday and the men’s final has been delayed to Monday for the fifth consecutive year, thanks to some especially brutal weather, this year featuring the threat of a tornado.

When it's all over, and the champions have been crowned, the tournament will ostensibly have reached its high point. But while the seats in Arthur Ashe Stadium may be packed with ecstatic fans in the Open's final hours, there's an emptiness throughout the grounds that tells the rest of the story of this or any tournament.
 
With a very few exceptions, the outer courts, jammed from morning until late night less than two weeks ago, are not in use today, and the practice courts all but deserted as well. Save for the three tour-level singles matches yet to be played or completed, and the doubles and juniors singles finals, there are no more elimination rounds to be contested. Behind the scenes, the players’ lounge, players’ dining room, stringing room, and other venues that exist to serve the combatants here—not to mention the tangle of corridors that lead them to and fro in the credentials-only reaches of Ashe Stadium—are sparsely populated. Gone are most of the players and their coaches, physios and friends, the hundreds who filled this complex for the first week and a half. Gone, too, are all but a few junior players and their entourages in-the-making. It's become something like the bunker in a post-apocalyptic melodrama, where civilization has been wiped out and the leadership is guarded by a small force of yellow and red shirted security agents. 
 
Actually, it's a stark reminder that success in tennis comes at somebody else’s expense: you win and advance; he or she loses, does a press conference, and heads home, or to the next tournament, or to wherever this nomadic sport takes them. 
 
Even before I had the privilege of writing about tennis, before I got to see how empty the inner sanctum becomes by the second weekend of a Slam, I found attending the semis and finals of the U.S. Open to be a bittersweet, even melancholy, experience. Walking past those outer courts where I’d cheered as early-round action played out just a few days prior, and seeing them eerily empty now, filled me with the same fleeting, philosophical wonder—that brief mortal reflection that sometimes comes when driving past a graveyard. 
 
Following yesterday’s storm, the air blows cool in New York City this morning. As is so often the case, fall seems to have come just before the Open leaves town. The spectacle of those fallow courts will have greater resonance with a new season upon us. Television spares us all of this, whittling the Open down to its center court and commentators, its trophy ceremony and champions’ speeches, allowing us to forget that the vast majority of players who came to New York City left empty handed. This is for the best: Sympathy for the vanquished shouldn’t dim our joy for the champions. In tennis fandom, as in life, it’s best not to think too much about the bigger picture, but rather to stay in the moment and enjoy.

More Scenes from Queens:

Monday, August 27: Getting to the Open
Tuesday, August 28: Night Matches
Wednesday, August 29: Photography
Thursday, August 30: Autographs
Friday, August 31: Food at the Open
Saturday, September 1: Practice Courts
Sunday, September 2: Getting In
Monday, September 3: Staying Connected
Tuesday, September 4: Ball Kids
Wednesday, September 5: The Corporate Connection
Thursday, September 6: The Outer Courts
Friday, September 7: Flushing Meadows Corona Park
Saturday, September 8: Arthur Ashe
Sunday, September 9: Empty Corridors

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