A Time in September

Tuesday, September 11th, 2012

High in the sky on Wi-Fi enroute to Dallas from New York City in a brand new plane of the American Airlines fleet. Walked out of 590 Madison Avenue at 3:20pm, cab immediately pulls over, arrive LaGuardia at 3:45, no wait at TSA, snappy walk to my gate to receive a window seat on an earlier departing flight, gate agent holds door while I visit the men’s room (wouldn’t share this if it were not so incredible), board plane, flight leaves LaGuardia on time. Sort of expecting to have a seat next to Rod Serling of Twilight Zone. Compounding my sense of the abnormal is that my trip from Raleigh to NYC began in a similar way with beautiful weather, no inconvenience with TSA at the Raleigh airport, an early arrival at LaGuardia by nearly 30 minutes. It’s as though nature or life or the gods remind us once in a while of how things were or could be or even should be so that we are able to appreciate how far we’ve fallen in the execution or decline in the standard of delivery of contemporary goods and services.

My munificent fortune contiuned with the overheard comment that there must be seats at the US Tennis Open Championship Match because the rain delayed this match from Sunday to Monday and not all ticket holders could make the rescheduled event which was supposed to begin as we were supposed to land. Since we arrived early and the Billy Jean King Tennis Complex is nearly across the street from LaGuardia Airport, I took a cab to BJKT instead of to Manhattan. At the tennis complex, one of NYPD’s finest informed me that scalping tickets is illegal in NYC and that my chances of finding a good ticket would be at the south end of the facility. I walked around with a certain look of hope, I suppose, cause an older man looked me in the eye and said ‘I have one for $100.’ A quick check of my travel bag by security then into the tennis park where I heard the player introductions meaning that I left Raleigh at 2:20pm and sat in my seat at the U.S. Open at just after 4pm. At times this past summer, I’ve waited on both Raleigh and LaGuardia runways for longer while awaiting scheduled take-offs.

How was the Murray vs Djokovitch match? Exciting, even thrilling; long at over four and one-half hours. Up for grabs until Murray’s 3-0 lead in the 5th set and for certain his victory when the Joker (respectfully described) pulled-up lame at 3-5. After Murray’s courageous start began with victories in the the first two sets at 7-6 and 7-5 (first set required 90 minutes and a 12-10 tie-breaker). Down 1-5 in the second set, Joker rattled off wins in 16 of the 23 games to even the competition at two sets each with Murray rescuing 2 games in the second set after the Joker tied the set at 5-5. Despite my awkward accounting of the match, the fifth set began after a 7-6, 7-5, 2-6 and 3-6 history meaning the Joker won 23 games to Murray’s 19. You could look it up and in the end the games were split 25 for Joker and 25 for Murray. Oh yeah, they each scored nearly the same number of total points over the 5 sets. Unlike basketball with its quarters and baseball with its innings, in tennis it matters when you score your points.

For tennis fans, both players struck nearly twice as many unforced errors as winning shots. A rare occurence at the professional level. I doubt if the boxscore will record for posterity that the third opponent of this championship match was the weather in the form of a prevailing north to sound wind. It’s consistent strength in one direction was an obvious handicap for both players and an inhibitor for the player serving or receving serve or hitting a shot at nearly any time from south to north. Consequently, there were many long rallies of safe and conservative shots where the players tried to gain advantage by changing spin, height and pace without often attempting angles or put-aways. As the British Golf Open enjoyed American weather for its late July tournament (mild and windless), the US Tennis Open swapped for customary British Open conditions: windy, prevailing and mentally exhausting. Had to be an advantage for the Scotsman Andy Murray. Good on him. The Joker was a generous and complimentary finalist. The crowd favored Murray and appreciated the former champion’s caliber of play.

Two moments that I’ll remember for a while: the presence of Sean Connery in the audience. When feted with the 007 theme song, he looked to the Jumbotron screen, seemingly surprised to see himself, then smiled broadly, lifting his US Open Panama hat in greeting to all and deftly, debonairly and with the savoir faire and comfortable sense of the moment that one would expect of… you must agree, he’ll always be James Bond.

Moment two of my personal highlight reel will be filed under ‘just like you and me no matter how different they are’. At the bitter end of the evening, after the photographers were gone and the presentation tables folded and carpet rolled-up and carried away, after the final on-court and television interviews, Andy Murray gathered his tennis bags to head for the locker room, walked to the edge of the court with only a left turn to near seclusion, then stopped and dropped his bags at this intersection in front of less than 25 fans cheering and beseeching him. He nearly emptied his tennis bag, removing towels, wrist bands old and new in their packages and tee-shirt or two (I think). He shouldered his bag of now only racquets and showered the handful of fans with these momentos. Reminded me of throws or beads from a Mardi Gras float. The better part for me was his obvious delight in rewarding those who were the final assembly of his on-court well-wishers. Like his brave match, he gave them nearly all he had and could.

I’m a Federer fan. Andy’s victory will extend for a bit Roger’s #1 ranking giving us acolytes further hope for a modest postponement to his understood eventual retirement. Murray’s victory last night allots each Grand Slam tournament to a unique victor: Djokovitch in Australia, Nadal at the French, Roger at Wimbledon and Murray for the US Open. Despite the vicissitudes of the game and, especially this particular tournament, such seems fair and just about right in proper acknowledgement of their talents.