Serve and Volley

Queens and Kings

Serena Williams keeps her crown and Rafa Nadal triumphs at Flushing Meadows.

By 9.10.13

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It is September, Tishrei (and the new year) in the Jewish world, it is the new school year in New York and every where else in America, it is the time of the U.S. Open, it is the end of the U.S. Open, the book opens, the book closes, life goes on.

This is taking place against a dreadful background of war and disaster everywhere and peace prosperity and exuberant success elsewhere. Everywhere and elsewhere, the crises and the follies continue, unrelenting. It has got to where I cannot read the news; you glance at the headlines and they make you sick, or they make you nuts or they make you wonder or they make you say I told you so, it never ends, the crisis continues, the follies, the madness, the stupidities.

You cannot not think this is the end of everything. But you cannot think that either, because l’chaim, choose life.

I will say this about the one matter of some public interest I have been paying attention to in the past fortnight, namely tennis: tennis is both super and not so super. It is super, the way they play. The young players, and even the “old” players -- Federer, the sisters Williams, the brothers Bryan, Stepanek, Paes, Robredo, Haas, Blake, Date-Krumm, the others. And the organization of the tournament is super, even if the USTA is threatening to overdo it. I sometimes worry about that, think it may not be so super. All the money that goes into sports these days -- you cannot really blame anyone, it seems to have its own momentum, but you have to worry nonetheless. Three hundred million to build a roof over Ashe Stadium, with ticket prices already going through the roof (you pay around $150 per seat, but there are various price structures depending on what you watch and when.) So sure, it will make the place weather-proof. But tennis is an outdoor sport, subject to climatic conditions. It is part of the challenge. Why not spend the money to teach kids to read? And play sports? They do, in fact, put money into such programs. Players do, too, as individuals: the most successful set up foundations to distribute some of their earnings to worthy causes, which usually involve education.

Should I be negative? Why not embrace it all? The USTA is partaking not of gigantism but of the New York melting pot tradition, albeit in a decidedly upscale manner. You never saw such a melting pot as the U.S. Open, the true World Series of Tennis. 39 countries represented (with the U.S. and France each sending 15, and Uzbekistan, Uruguay, India, Israel, Estonia, and several others one each.)

Kids from little Croatia won the boys’ and girls’ nationals. Pretty young ladies from the Czech republic won the women’s doubles, a marvelous Indo-Czech team won the men’s, beating the fantastic American Bryan Bros. team -- all good things, even such outstanding runs as the Bryans’, which fell just this tournament short of earning them the classic Grand Slam, every major in a single calendar year, must after all end and it could not have happened under more honorable circumstances.

And a Spaniard from Majorca beat out a Serb for the prize of prizes (though the money’s the same as on the women’s side, $3.5 million), the men’s singles crown. It is indeed a show, a mighty show made possible by the largesse, the greatness, the energy of the first city of our free society. And are we working to keep it this way? Such questions are of the moment, but not this moment.

And to make it more interesting, consider this, they decided to make repairs on the G train. Now the G train is an important line. It runs like a shuttle, north south under the pavements and the cobbles of the city, from Church Street in Brooklyn to Court Square in Queens. Sometimes unfairly referred to as the go-nowhere-line by the natives, this is a heroic and important subway line.

If you live in Brooklyn, the best way to get to Willets Field and go to Citi Field and see the Mets play baseball or, on the other side of the tracks, walk through Flushing Meadows to the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center and see the greatest tennis players in the contemporary game, the best way is to take the G to the end of its northern run and transfer to the 7, the famous 7, the cross Queens express (it also runs on local schedules) and enjoy the ride, because it is an elevated and it traverses Queens and you can see all of Queens in its amazing mix and melt. No, that is not true. You cannot see it all. But you can see part of it. You can never see it all. New York, you can never see it all, it is too vast and too fast, vast in its human richness, fast in the tempo of its people, the people who make New York the city that never sleeps.

Rehabilitation of the storm-devastated tunnel between Queens and Manhattan and, with this, repairs on the G, have been going on all summer, and you might think working on the G during the Open is like making repairs on the 7 during the World Series with the Mets in it, which they will not be this year, however. But it is okay. First of all, with the New York subway system and buses, there is always a way. And here they are making it easy: on weekends (which is when they do the work), you take the G to Nassau Street, because there are signs on the platforms of the stations that read thus: Brak pociagow G miedzy Court Sq I Nassau Ave. Beplatne autobusy wahadlowe zapewniaja alternatywna usluge na dwoch torach.

The reason they read thus is that at Nassau Street you are in a deep Polish neighborhood and all the way toward Queens, on Manhattan Street, you see the restaurants and the lawyers’ offices and coffee shops with signs in Polish, even as you pass neighborhoods where the young internationalized millennial kids are in a pot that is rapidly melting them all into New Yorkers wherever they come from whatever their color, religion, political orientation, favorite poetry. I sorely hope that in school they are reading Walt Whitman, Brooklyn’s greatest poet. Then you pass Greenpoint, another gentrifying zone and before you know it you are flying over McGuiness Ave. and the Pulaski bridge into Queens, Court Street, the mighty elevated No. 7 is waiting. Or leaving. Or arriving.

Personally, I have to thank Mayor Bloomberg, the development, the security, the improvements at all levels of infrastructure and transportation and the rest, but you have to keep in mind he was able to do this only because of the work of his predecessors, I do not want to get into New York politics now -- other than to say that this paper has endorsed the Republican candidate in the coming election --, because it is a sensitive subject and you want to avoid naming names or you get into spitting matches over who did what when and who was really responsible for this that or the other improvement. New York City has the lowest crime rate in the nation. However, with regard to the subway redevelopment, the rebuilding of Brooklyn Bridge and the rest, you have to thank them all, and especially the New York taxpayers, because it allows you these great touristic excursions, where you leave the subway and travel in a MTA bus across this part of Brooklyn you did not even know existed.

As to the tournament, well you get there in good time and there it is, the greatest players in the sport, which of course is nonsense. I never go into these who-is-number-one games. Roger Federer or Rod Laver? Mr. Laver was on hand for the final, tossed the coin to see who would serve first, as between the mighty Novak Djokovic and the mighty Rafael Nadal. Or would you say Chris Evert, or Serena Williams? All I mean is that here and now, at tournament’s end, Rafa Nadal and Novak Djokovic, are still standing and on this gorgeous afternoon, just as the sun begins to dip because we are nearing summer’s end, they -- I am talking about the men now -- are stepping on the court at Arthur Ashe Stadium in front of 23,500 supporters, the same place where yesterday stepped the greatest female players in the sport, by which I only mean Serena Williams and Viktoria Azarenka because they were the ones still standing, stepped and played wild crazy tennis in the swirling winds and it went back and forth for three sets and today the conditions are calmer and so everyone expects it is going to be not wild crazy tennis but a to-the-last-ounce-of energy five set match and at the end one will be in tennis heaven and the other will be on the floor just below. Or the annex. Or maybe they will both be in tennis heaven, so happy to have given their best on this court, this Queens court, this court of kings and queens and princes and princesses of the sport.

It is not quite that.

To be completely honest, these were not the best matches of the tournament. They were fine, very fine matches, but in the women’s final, the conditions were such that they had to play against the wind as much as against each other, and in the case of Serena Williams, as the tennis authority Steve Tignor points out, there is always an element also of Serena v. Serena, though in fact it is to some degree this way with everyone, which is why they say it is all in the head. And in the men’s final, it was outstanding tennis in the second and third sets, rich in breath-taking rallies -- one went on for 50 shots or more and there were several others of unusual length --, superbly executed drops shots at the nets, shots to the wings and recoveries of same, and always the nearness. They hit so near the net when they slice low. They hit so close to the baseline when they hit deep, which they do over and over to blunt each other’s spins. They split those second and third sets, but in the first and third, the one man jumped ahead, and in the last, the other man grew weary and flagged. That is what happened.

But we can and should thank them all for making this happen, and thank the men and women in uniforms that made the place secure and pleasant and an island of civilization throughout the fortnight.

For the scores, as Ring Lardner used to say, You can look it up.

Photo: Roger Kaplan

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About the Author

Roger Kaplan, a Washington-based writer, covers the Middle East and Africa (and tennis) for The American Spectator.