Away From The Lights Of Center Court, U.S. Open Offers Another World

Sep 12, 2015
Originally published on September 12, 2015 7:09 pm
Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

ARUN RATH, HOST:

OK, some tennis news now. So spoiler alert - Italian Flavia Pennetta has won the women's final at the U.S. Open. She defeated fellow Italian Roberta Vinci in straight sets. Tomorrow, Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer will face off in the men's final and all eyes will again be on Arthur Ashe Stadium. Well, NPR's Tom Goldman is at the tournament, and he's also had his eyes on some of the more overlooked courts at this year's Open, where he still found plenty of action.

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: The Wells, Robin and Tom, from Long Island are lounging on a bench between courts five and six at the National Tennis Center. To their left looms Arthur Ashe Stadium with its 22,500 seats. Robin says they watched a big women singles match there earlier in the day.

ROBIN WELLS: We were in the last row. We were in row O in front of the press box. You barely can see anything, and I was getting distracted. I find it much more interesting to be down where you can see the people playing.

GOLDMAN: Down here, there are more than a dozen courts surrounding the big stadium courts that attract the big matches. Down here during a U.S. Open, you'll find wheelchair tennis, junior matches, mixed doubles. The quality may not be as good inside those stadiums, says Tom Wells, but the surprises are worth it.

TOM WELLS: That girl out there is ranked number - is the No. one junior, which we just happened upon.

UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER: Game - Fritz.

GOLDMAN: Earlier on this day, the top junior boy pounded his way to a victory on court six. Seventeen-year-old Taylor Fritz is considered the head of a very good class of young Americans - a class that might just restore past U.S. supremacy in men's tennis. Here's what Fritz said about that in an interview room after his win.

(SOUNDBITE OF INTERVIEW)

TAYLOR FRITZ: It's tough to live up to what we were used a while ago, you know. That's a tough thing to keep going, but I think we have a really good group coming up and five or six guys that are all pretty equal and all push each other. Hopefully we'll be there.

GOLDMAN: For those more into present stars than future ones, there's still plenty of action outside the stadiums on the practice courts. Action is a relative term here - not the edge-of-your-seat kind of stuff in a big match, more like superstars unplugged. Swiss sensation Stan Wawrinka stroked his flawless backhands, wearing a red T-shirt with Stan the man on the front. Tennis fan Jonathan Bob from Seattle stood a few feet away from his favorite player, Roger Federer, peering through a screen and drinking in every detail - I mean every detail.

JONATHAN BOB: His watch rattles. Earlier in the day, I saw Serena checking Facebook.

GOLDMAN: Of course, that was while Serena Williams was still in the tournament. J-Bob, as he calls himself, also loved watching the tennis details up close. He was mesmerized by Federer's rallies with a practice partner.

BOB: I mean, he barely missed. His warm-up rallies like, you know - looking at the next guy over, Gasquet, they were hitting into the net every, like, three shots. Federer was going, like, 25 shots in a row, like flat, easy, like...

GOLDMAN: Like Federer did in the stadium a few hours later, beating France's Richard Gasquet easily in a quarterfinal match. The thousands who packed Arthur Ashe got to see the fluid Federer forehands and backhands that captivated J-Bob. Chances are, however, they didn't get to hear Fed's watch rattling. Tom Goldman, NPR News, New York. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.