I’ve watched the US Open from different places in the world and different stations in my life for more than 40 years — yes 40!
I began watching it as a boy when the championships were still played on grass tennis courts, then briefly on clay when some still referred to the tournament as Forest Hills, and then on hard courts in Flushing Meadows.
I’ll never forget watching two finals exactly 20 years ago. Princess Diana had just died and a Canadian who later adopted British citizenship named Greg Rusedski made it to the last day of the tournament. I have always loved symbolism and tried to talk to my boyfriend at the time how moving it was for Greg to wear a black armband to signify he was in mourning for Diana as so many of us were. Just a few days earlier, I had placed a bouquet at the gates of the British Embassy in Washington.
He was my first boyfriend, and he didn’t want to hear about Diana, Greg, nor about my love for tennis nor symbolism.
On the women’s side, a 17-year-old debuted at the Open and reached the final before she lost to Martina Hingis. I remember feeling sorry for her because she lost badly after such a brilliant run, and Martina, never the most gracious player on the court, mocked her a bit after she won the first set 6-0. I also, though, took a deep breath when she received her runner-up check from Tony Trabert, an elder statesman of the game who won the title twice in the ’50s. Tony, one of the most gracious ambassadors the sport has ever known, said kind words to the young woman who stared past him and then tossed the check into her belongings like it was an old grocery list.
What a difference 20 years make! Venus Williams is now herself one of the most gracious ambassadors tennis has ever known and she is in the semifinals again at age 37!
As for Martina Hingis? She retired twice from singles competition partly because Venus and her sister Serena began to easily outhit and win routinely against her. No stranger to controversy that includes a two-year suspension from the game, Martina is still winning championships in doubles.
Tony Trabert? A father of five and grandfather of 12, he has been referred to as “an American treasure.” As a boy, I once wrote Tony Trabert to find out about earning a scholarship to his tennis school. I’ll never forget receiving a personal, handwritten note from Tony thanking me, encouraging me to love and pursue the sport, and to apply for a scholarship. I instead went to music camp that summer, but I still have Tony’s note.
My first boyfriend? The relationship more or less lasted a year. Truth be told, I believed back then that my first serious boyfriend should be the man I marry. I’m so glad I revised my dreams! Sometimes things need to change. I’m just glad, though, that some things, like Tony Trabert and Venus Williams playing her way far into the second week of the US Open, and my love for tennis and the history of the sport seem to last forever.