August 08 2010
The US Open Tennis Championship, the fourth and final tennis “Major” of the year, is coming up at Flushing Meadows in New York from August 30 to September 12. Roger Federer, successful five times on New York’s hard-court surface, will be attempting to regain the Men’s Singles title that he lost last year to the Argentinian Juan Martin del Potro – and Rafael Nadal, Andy Murray et al will be trying to stop him.
If your only experience of watching top-flight tennis is on Wimbledon’s grass courts, the wildly contrasting spectacle in the Big Apple is well worth experiencing. For while the All England Club may still be synonymous with white shirts and shorts and strawberries and cream, the ambience at Flushing Meadows is defiantly urban and American. Set in the borough of Queens, within easy reach of downtown Manhattan, it attracts crowds which are traditionally noisy, exuberant and partisan. The 23,200-capacity Arthur Ashe Stadium and the adjoining Louis Armstrong Stadium are both floodlit, and the big games take place in the evenings. The weather is generally hot and humid, and play often continues until after midnight, but with tie-breaks permitted in the final sets, the atmosphere can be electrifying.
Before Federer, the dominant players at Flushing Meadows had been home-grown American champions such as “Pistol Pete” Sampras, the Las Vegas showman Andre Agassi and those two unrelenting street fighters John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors. The latter also won the last US Open to take place on grass back in 1974. That was at the beautiful Forest Hills Club, which is only about four miles away from Flushing Meadows, and there are undoubtedly many tennis aficionados, both in the US and elsewhere, who look back on that era with affection.
Forest Hills – or The West Side Tennis Club, as it’s officially known – prides itself on feeling “like The Hamptons in New York City”. Its 14 acres comprise grass, clay and hard courts amid trees and landscaped lawns. There is also a gabled, half-timbered clubhouse in that distinctive Tudorbethan style. It provided the backdrop for a famous scene in Strangers on a Train, Alfred Hitchcock’s riveting 1951 film of the Patricia Highsmith novel about a charming psychopath who tries to persuade a tennis player to join him in a murder plot. The tennis ace, played by Farley Granger, is desperate to finish his championship match in order to get back to the crime scene where he fears his accomplice is about to incriminate him. Hitchcock’s filming of the long rallies and cross-court action ratchets up the tension inexorably.
Andy Murray – who lost valiantly in the semifinals at Wimbledon – has described the US Open as his favourite Major. The fiery Scot has a good record on the American circuit, appearing more at home in front of a crowd of vocal New Yorkers than he does in a more buttoned-up English setting. He reached the final at Flushing Meadows in 2008, and was a finalist in the Australian Open this January. On each occasion he was beaten by Federer. But the Swiss maestro has not always looked comfortable against him, and the big question now is whether Murray can make that final step up to Grand Slam winner. He’s trading at 4-1 with Coral to lift the US crown this September, but may be thwarted once again by his nemesis Nadal, a 7-2 chance with Ladbrokes.