Friday afternoon at the US Open was when the tournament made its sweet arc from the fuzzy to the vivid. The first act of rounds one and two had ended. The draw had started to take shape. There was a sense of the picture starting to come together – but only a sniff. And that was all for the better; downright delicious in its own way.
Past 4:00 p.m., thousands milled across the grounds, some on the last hours of their day trip, others eager for a lively Friday evening. All were on the verge of a cherished languid Labor Day weekend and the imminent onset of autumn.
Fans checked out the field courts. “Who is that?” asked one. “I thought I saw her last year,” said his friend. “I think it’s over for mutual funds,” said another into his cell phone. Wardrobes varied, from those clad in tennis clothes (why not?) to comfortable outdoor wear to that classic New York City look of blazer, button down shirt and baseball hat.
Earlier in the day, the potpourri of matches happened in full flight. On the Grandstand, Diego Schwartzman upset ’14 US Open champion Marin Cilic. The action on Ashe opened with Petra Kvitova easily handling Caroline Garcia. Doubles galore on the field courts. Ashe came alive with the sizzling strokes of 18-year-old Canadian phenom Denis Shapovalov, the lefty qualifier who Friday beat Great Britain’s Kyle Edmund. That was followed by a routine win from Venus Williams, who earlier in the day had learned she was an aunt to her sister Serena’s baby girl. Another American, Sam Querrey, continued his fine play of the summer with a four-set win over Radu Albot of Moldova.
But those results mattered less than the smells, sounds and sights of this delicious Friday afternoon. This pivot period was the moment when the results have only barely come into focus. By the end of Labor Day, with quarterfinal matchups determined, attention will be sharply attuned to the matches of significance. There won’t be bandwidth to gaze across the horizon.
At this stage, though, across the spectrum of a lovely afternoon and evening, the lingering aura of the smorgasbord remained. It was not just about tennis, it was about the venue, the fountain inside the tournament’s big plaza, the constant flow of fans, the scent of possibilities and hamburgers, the pop music that echoed through Ashe Stadium at the conclusion of the day session, the Italian ices that dribbled off your sleeve on the way to buy that hat and T-shirt.
These were all the kind of moments that had been brought to life so well for decades by Hall of Famer Russ Adams, the longstanding US Open director of photographers who had died this past June. Adams’ eye had been delicate and comprehensive, not just for players like Arthur Ashe, Rod Laver, Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova, but also for those subtle moments that pervaded the grounds, year after year, day after day, even hour by hour, from the slow crawl of morning to the blaze of afternoon to the glitter of the night. To ever match what Adams had done would be impossible. But such was his generous soul that he would gladly tip his bucket hat to anyone took who took their own shot at capturing the spirit and flavor of the event he loved so much.