NEW YORK—The action at the U.S. Open so far has mostly been on the newer, west side of the grounds. That’s where CiCi Bellis turned Court 6 into a rowdy city of tennis fans, and where Roger Federer and Michael Jordan staged their promotional love fest inside Ashe Stadium. In general, the buzz, and the crowds, have gathered around the new bleachers above the west-gate practice courts.
So a trip to the old east side of Flushing Meadows, which was fairly sleepy on a humid Wednesday, felt a little nostalgic. This is where the Grandstand sits. Once the second-largest arena on the grounds, it’s now the equivalent of an outer borough. Through the years, the new construction has slowly moved away from the Grandstand, and it no longer fits into the mainstream of the pedestrian traffic flow here. Short of a (deserved) preservationist intervention, the court is slated to be demolished.
But it’s still the best place in New York, and just about anywhere else, to watch tennis. To hear it as well: The acoustics here give the sonic power of the sport its due. Today the Grandstand seemed like the right spot to check in on another seemingly ageless tennis veteran, Jelena Jankovic, who played and won her second straight match on this court, 7-5, 6-4, over Tsvetana Pironkova. Jankovic is not as old as the Grandstand—JJ is 29; the GS is 36 (both are twice CiCi Bellis’s age)—and she doesn’t get demolished often. But this venerable stadium suits a former U.S. Open finalist who, six years later, has worked herself back into the lower reaches of the Top 10.
It also suits Jankovic’s game and personality at this stage in her career. Her shots are as solid and reliable as they ever were. She still makes very few errors, and like her fellow Serb Novak Djokovic, she’s still the master of the down the line; she opens up points with it the way most people open up points by going cross-court. Judging by what I saw today, I’d even say that her serve is better, with more upward extension and flow, than it was when she was at her best in the late aughts. Jankovic isn’t as fast as she once was, she doesn’t do the splits like she once did, and she doesn’t get as much air as she used to on her leaping forehand. She also did more than her share of huffing and puffing on this hot day. Yet she still tracked down pretty much everything that came off Pironkova’s racquet.