The US Open is my favorite favorite FAVORITE annual NYC event, but I only decided to get off the couch and go IRL last year – a friend bought tickets with a discount from work, and we made a day of it. This year, I’m watching the same friend’s dog while she and her family are in Italy, so she bought me a ticket to Monday’s evening session as a thank you. (Needless to say, I was AMPED.)
Even on a holiday weekend, the trip (while slightly long) was easy from Brooklyn via public transit – I took the G to the 7, et voila! I was into the grounds and making a beeline for my nosebleed seat.
You might be going, “NOSEBLEED SEAT?! OH NO!” Which, had I not gone last year, I might’ve thought, too. But even the “worst” seats at Arthur Ashe Stadium offer some pretty dope views of the court. In other words, there’s no such thing as a dismally “bad” seat. At least technically speaking. (It’s a little harder when you factor in your seatmates, who are sometimes slash more than often annoying AF.)
Since it was Labor Day, and I suspect most non-peasants were still poppin’ bottles in the Hamptons, I didn’t find the crowd outside or inside of the arena to be congested. In fact, my whole row was empty for a solid while. Again, not floor seats, but with the matchups (Maria Sharapova vs. Carla Suarez-Navarro, plus John Millman vs. Roger Federer) I expected things to be a little bit more buzzing. OH WELL, MORE ROOM FOR ME!
I was especially amped that I would get to see Sharapova play live. This is not because I am a fan, but because I hate her immensely, and there is much more satisfaction in vocally making that known in a public setting. Plus it was Suarez-Navarro’s birthday, and I just feel like losing on your birthday would be the goddamn worst. (And so she became my champion.)
Once people DID begin to filter into my row and the ones in front of and behind me, I realized that my good luck was beginning to run out, at least from a seating perspective. A woman and her adult son sat behind me, and they announced EVERY. SINGLE. THING. that was happening. “Oh, she’s picking up her racket,” and “Oh, you can tell how fast she served because of that number on the board over there,” and “I don’t know if I like Sharapova or not,” and “Did you notice how the umpire said ‘DEUCE’?” So THAT was great – everyone wants a more boring version of John McEnroe and Chris Evert commentating directly within earshot.
That was the least of my worries, though, because a few moments later, a woman wearing khaki cargo shorts and Tevas who looked like she could snap me in two sat down to my left. It became immediately clear that she was rooting for Maria Sharapova, while I had already dug my heels into cheering loudly for Suarez-Navarro. Fortunately the $12 can of Heineken I was drinking gave me some liquid courage, so I continued to be vocal about my stance despite the fear of being punched in the throat by Deborah. (I don’t know if that’s really her name, she just looked liked a grown-up version of this weird girl who lived down the street from me in middle school, so I have decided her name is Deborah.) She muttered the entire time, uttering creative phrases like “What the fuck?” each time Sharapova took a nosedive. And Sharapova took MANY a nosedive, much to my delight, but also to the mega-credit of Suarez-Navarro, who was ON FIRE. (Or should I say ON FUEGO?!)
Deborah, meanwhile, didn’t seem to be a huge fan of the between-game “commercial breaks”, aka the parts where they pan the crowd looking for celebrities and cute kids. I laughed and cheered every time they showed people flossing (or attempting to floss), and was equally overjoyed when they showed that Bill Clinton, Kevin and Joe Jonas, Sophie Turner (you better believe they played the shit out of the GoT theme song for a borderline uncomfortably long time when they got to her), Anna Chlumsky and John Mulaney were in the audience. Deborah, meanwhile, sat huffily with her arms folded. (I imagined what it would look like if she got me in a headlock, and it wasn’t pretty.)
While Deborah never curb stomped me, she did punish me via the plastic grocery bag full of Indian food she’d brought in and steadily consumed throughout the match. At one point, when it became clear that Sharapova was in the weeds for real, I swear to god she started farting as some sort of retribution. MY EYES WERE EVEN BURNING. Granted, Indian food notoriously makes you gassy, but this felt personal.
It wasn’t long before I had my ultimate victory, though, because Sharapova LOST DOT COM! You guys don’t even know how many times I’ve screamed at my TV because she’s managed to pull off a win, but it all felt like fate had led me specifically to this moment, where the noise polluter was suddenly quieted for at least one more season RIGHT BEFORE MY VERY EYES.
But then came the between matches part, where either I’d have to make my way out from the center of the row (which had filled up considerably since the beginning of the match), or I’d have to silently sit next to Deborah, my arch-nemesis. Again, the expensive liquid courage helped me to decide that I’d stay put, and if she wanted to beat me up, at least there’d be witnesses! (And maybe we’d even make it onto the jumbo tron!)
Weirdly, though, she took the loss gracefully (or, whatever the Deborah equivalent of gracefully is), and decided to strike up conversation. I don’t know if that was better or worse than the rivalry we had going before. Actually, I do know – it was worse. Granted, she seemed like a nice enough lady, but once you imagine someone putting you in a choke hold, it’s hard to shake the feeling of unrest.
She first asked, “Don’t you think the Sharapova ban was too long?” I did not. In fact, I don’t think it was long enough. But I didn’t say that, I just said a non-polarizing, “I dunno.”
Next, she asked me if I was a Federer fan. I said, “Well, isn’t everybody? He’s like the easiest guy to point to and say ‘I’m with him.’ He’s kind of like the Yankees of tennis, right?” and I laughed, and she did not laugh, and said, “Don’t say that.” (I wished I had not.) We somehow overcame that discomfort, because she began telling me she had won lots of money gambling on matches from the day before. I know people will bet on literally any and everything, but I mean…come on, man, it’s TENNIS! Save it for the NFL!
We then inevitably began talking about the weather, partially because that’s been the main narrative at this year’s US Open, but also because while I sweat a ton (like, abnormally a ton, and I’m not even exaggerating), Deborah had brought her own towel to mop the sweat off her face, which is next-level commitment to perspiration control. Anyway, we talked about how the players had been dropping like flies the previous week due to heat exhaustion, and I mentioned that it was absurd that they’d had anybody playing on the outdoor courts, citing the Australian Open’s policy of bringing people onto the indoor surfaces when temperatures reach a certain high. “Oh, so you’re from Australia, then?” Deborah asked this question with complete seriousness. I clearly do not have any hint of an Australian accent. I found the inquiry both funny and unsettling.
She asked me if the two seats to my right were open, because “I might try and sneak my friends in here if you don’t mind.” I didn’t mind, mainly because I am still unsure if these “friends” exist. I will take this opportunity to say, however, that it’s surprisingly easy to sneak seats that are better than the ones you bought, because no one (at least in the nosebleed section) seems to care to check them. That said, there are plenty of awkward “Is this your seat or are you actually in mine and if you are in mine can you GTFO?” moments, which is kind of annoying when it comes down to the match-in-action distraction factor. (Although, a foreign couple tried to convince me I was in the wrong spot at one point, but I schooled them v. hard, and that felt p. satisfying.)
ANYWAY, needless to say, I was starting to get nervous that Deborah and I were becoming friends. Fortunately, the Federer vs. Millman match started up fairly quickly, so we had less of a chance to embrace those gettin’ to know you vibes.
I already knew I wouldn’t be able to stay for the full match, even if it was won in straight sets, because I had a little doggo friend who needed walking. And I genuinely thought it would go to Federer in straights, because the first set felt like the odds were in his favor – Millman was showing hella nerves. Once he was able to shake those, though, the tides quickly turned. (I was already back on the train by then.)
I don’t know if Deborah stayed for that whole match, though I’m inclined to believe she did, seeing as how her arsenal of Indian food was hardly depleted when I left. I also don’t know that she cracked skulls or torched the joint, but again, I’m inclined to believe she did, because she loves her some Federer victories. Will I ever see her again? Tough to say. (But I do know I will never again call Federer the Yankees of tennis again.)