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Scheepers Creepers; or Tommy Haas Will Cut You

This weekend (Saturday), the missus and I did our annual trip to the Billie Jean King Tennis Center in Flushing, Queens for the US Open. A friend even joined us this year. I suspect that he’ll want to join us again. He was very enthusiastic about the experience.

Tennis fans tend to be pretty preppy, WASPy, and seriously entitled. So there’s a surprising amount of cutting in line and angling for position. But tennis fans are also more passive-aggressive than just aggressive, so it’s not violent or anything. Just a bunch of jerks seething and making rude comments just loudly enough to make everyone else feel uncomfortable.

We have a system that works pretty well. We line up very early (living in Queens has some advantage here) to be pretty damned near the front of the line. Then, once the free-for-all takes place, the missus lets her Scotland out, sprinting and throwing elbows to get the best seats possible in the Grandstand, where it’s truly general admission.

She always gets us great seats. To give you an idea, here’s our view of the linesman’s view:

The general admissions day pass to the Grandstand gets you as many as four matches, from 11am until they finish. We’ve done this particular pass a number of times, but this was the first time we actually stayed through all four matches. We don’t honestly care who we watch play. It’s just great to see the players this close.

The first match of the day was one of the best we’ve ever seen, between Francesca Schiavone (reigning French Open champion) and Chenelle Scheepers. A passionate Italian spark plug of a woman vs. a calm and cool and tall drink of South African water. To say that Schiavone won would be a real disservice to the excitement of the match. But yes, Schiavone won. Here’s Scheepers serving to Schiavone:

The second match I can barely remember, to be honest, until the end. It was another Italian, Roberta Vinci, against Bosnian-now-German Andrea Petkovic. Not a lot of drama, as Petko really put Vinci away. But then Petko did a little dance she’s becoming known for on the circuit. She seemed to be having a nice time, and it was rather sweet. Because I’m kind of a jerk, I couldn’t resist taking this shot of Vinci serving and Petkovic, ahem, receiving:

We’d seen Tommy Haas of Germany play twice before, including one of our favorite matches a few years ago, when he beat Sebastian Grosjean. This time he was playing someone slightly better, Argentine Juan Monaco. You’d never know this, since Tommy always seems to play in the Grandstand, but he’s sort of a crowd favorite. This year, I’m guessing he’s coming off of an injury or something because his rank is #475 or some such nonsense. But here’s Tommy serving to Juan.

Tennis is a rather lonely sport. Officially, there’s no coaching during a match, and players have to get through several hours with just their skill and their psyche. The Grandstand is very close to the action, and it doesn’t take much for the players to hear the individual voices. It’s that intimate.

When things weren’t going terribly well for Tommy, in this match he ultimately lost, he started getting pretty annoyed in general. He stopped Monaco from serving, because a dude sitting near us and in Tommy’s sight line wasn’t taking his seat and moving all around. Tommy was totally right to stop play, and even the umpire said into his microphone, “Sit down, please. What are you doing?” with enough exasperation to get a good chuckle out of the crowd and Monaco.

During Haas’s serve, the wife of the man who wouldn’t sit down had a coughing fit. The glare that Haas shot back toward her, as he let his toss fall without striking it, would’ve killed a man in his 80s. One Haas supporter shouted, “Come on, Haas-y!” repeatedly throughout the match, to the degree that Haas shouted in response, “Say something else, please!” It didn’t seem terribly gracious, but the rest of the crowd ate it up. And every time someone near us said something loudly, I was genuinely concerned that Haas was going to climb over the wall and pummel the closest spectator with his racket. That spectator could well have been me, especially if he’d noticed me shoving my camera in his face here:

Finally, as it became increasingly clear that Haas had lost the match, he loosened up, and even cracked a smile and interacted humorously with the crowd, who gave him quite the ovation when it was all over. I was happy to escape the match alive.

Also, as an aside, you know, one of those things you observe from sitting close… Tommy may have been going commando. His ass was getting pretty defined as he sweated through his white shorts. Sorry, straight ladies and gay fellas: no photos of that one.

The final match of the day was Jo-Wilfried Tsonga of France vs. Fernando Verdasco of Spain. It’s amazing: When you see great tennis, you really begin to understand, “Oh, these guys are better than everyone else.” I’ve noticed similar things at open mic nights, when there’s one person who’s actually put out a real album with a real record label and they just sort of have that extra something-something. Right, they’re just better than everyone else.

That’s how it was with Tsonga and Verdasco. Tsonga won in straight sets, but it had to have been the best tennis we’ve ever seen. These guys can freakin’ play, and it seemed a bit unfair that they’d meet each other so early in the tournament. Here’s Verdasco totally off his feet serving to Tsonga:

There was a family of about six or seven sitting all around us for the entire day. One of the young women in the family was very excited for Verdasco because he is, according to this woman, quite tasty. She got very excited when Verdasco changed his shirt during a break. The ball girl assigned to Fernando “Tabasco” Verdasco apparently agrees that yes, he is quite tasty:

Also, I got cream cheese on my shoe:

All in all, though, a fine day indeed.

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