As a former tennis player who competed on Arthur Ashe stadium, I just couldn’t wrap my head around the fact that there were no spectators in the stands.
I announced my retirement from tennis on that very same court, the day of Princess Diana’s funeral after losing in the finals to the late Jana Novotna and her partner Lindsay Davenport in 1997. I remember watching Diana’s boys walking behind the casket from the TV in the locker room and balling my eyes out before walking onto the court to play in the finals. That match seemed so insignificant to me at the time and to a certain extent that is how I have felt watching the US Open this year.
There is so much going on in the world at the moment with a pandemic that has taken almost one million lives, the social unrest that we are experiencing in our country with the Black Lives Matter movement and the impending election, that tennis matches just seemed insignificant to me even though I watched more tennis than in recent memory.
I congratulate the champions Naomi Osaka and Dominic Thiem and applaud their ability to rise above it all.
It was a strange US Open. One we will never forget. Starting with players being in a bubble, with limited number of members in their support team. Empty player boxes. And what about all the upsets. The empty stadiums where a HUGE advantage to the underdog. When Natasha and I played on a show court, in a packed stadium, we were almost always guaranteed to win the first set while our opponents dealt with emotionally managing the occasion. Lower ranked players walking into empty stadiums where normally thousand of fans would be rooting for their favorite superstar, are usually intimidated from the get go. Not this Open.
What about Novak? He had #18 on his racket. One behind Rafa, who is one behind Roger. How will he recover from that ill directed slapped ball? I was asked by a few of you what I thought of that incident. The only thing that I was appalled by was how hard he fought, imposing his power and influence, to try to have the match continue. The rule could not be clearer. You hit an umpire or spectator with a ball hit in anger and you are out of the match. To make matter worse, he left the grounds without facing the media!!
As a player, there where MANY times when I didn’t want to face the media. No one really wants to face the media after a bad loss or a good win late at night when there is a match the next day. But you do what is right because its your responsibility.
So as the Open concluded I congratulate the USTA for putting on an amazing event under the MOST difficult of circumstances.
One thing this Open should teach all players is to never take the fans for granted. The US Open is not the US Open without the screaming fans and while we lucked out with two finals with great names, the finals where not that great. I saw nervous players and sloppy play which is a testament to the enormity of the occasion for the players.
Even without 18,000 people watching and screaming, the nerves where still there. A Grand Slam win is a Grand Slam win and put each winner in a very elite category of players. We saw 4 future Hall of Famers in action this weekend, but I sure did miss Roger and Rafa. Feel how you may about Serena, I want her to break Margaret Court’s all time record, not just because she is a fellow American but also because I don’t concur with Margaret Court’s views of the world and don’t think that she should stand in that pedestal above all other female tennis players with those views. It’s not what we all stand for and I think it’s a pinnacle that Serena deserves and one that I hope one day she will achieve.
Now we look forward to the French Open in a few weeks. They are allowing fans in a limited capacity. I think the players will enjoy having them back.