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Today this blog swings back to tennis.

It’s the final round of qualifying for the US Open, the last major tournament of the year. Before I moved to Hawaii, it was also the beginning of the slow slide to shorter and colder days which meant less time on outdoor courts.

The US Open used to be referred to as Forest Hills as it was played on grass courts in that neighborhood in New York City at the West Side Tennis Club. In the last three years at Forest Hills, the tournament was played on clay courts before the venue was changed to hard courts at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows.

There used to be an L in USTA for United States Lawn Tennis Association, but thanks to Billie Jean King and many others, tennis moved away from grass courts at private clubs to public courts that are much easier to maintain and far more accessible. I’ve been lucky to have played many years on grass and clay only because I worked at private clubs and was allowed on the courts as part of my employment. Hard courts and the move of the US and Australian Opens to them opened the doors for millions of average players like me.

I would bet that the majority of women and men who are fighting their guts out in the last round of qualifying at the US Open in Flushing Meadows grew up on hard courts. They are one round away from the main draw when prize money and ranking points explode.

For tennis buffs who travel to Flushing Meadows, it’s easy to move from court to court and see world-class athletes contest qualifying round matches. As the sport has grown, the competition has become much tougher. Although most players are in their 20s, qualifying is also a showcase for precocious teenagers and for veterans who are in the last chapters of their professional careers. It’s an exciting prelude to the main event and the beginning of heaven for the next two weeks.