Soaring, vibrant, loud, and boisterous.
Fast, sophisticated, expensive, and cosmopolitan.
In your face, but laid-back cool.
Colours of all seasons rolled into one energetic Pollock or a Mondrian on uppers.
Gershwin pepped up with several shots of bourbon.
This is the assault on the senses that is New York. It’s a combination of overwhelming and thrilling. It’s totally foreign yet at the same time a lot like home.
The first visit to this superb island of Manhatten was five years ago, and the virus it unleashed surfaced relentlessly until, with the added lure of tennis at the ultimate razzmatazz Grand Slam of the year, I succumbed.
As Sting almost put it so eloquently, I'm an Englishwoman in New York.
From the start, this would be a ‘special’ trip, a conclusion to a personal tour of tennis tournaments, and a no-expense-spared treat for a daughter launching into a new life.
So the hotel is on 34th, just a few blocks from the Empire State building. And it’s not your basic double, but a mini suite that we will boast of to anyone who’ll listen. We are drawn magnetically to the windows, the view, the drama of that stunning skyline.
Out on the streets, amid the cacophony of taxi horns and the smell of pretzels, we head to Flushing for the first time: Friday, week one, and we’re scheduled to see Andy Murray.
Our hearts are in our mouths, but the excitement is tempered by the fear of running the gauntlet of the subway. The premonition duly yields our first disaster: mother on the train, daughter left on the platform, separated by unforgiving train doors. I mouth to the terrified face through the glass: “Stay there and I’ll come back!” Which I do.
Line 7 eventually delivers us to New York’s temple of tennis. The weather is baking hot and humid, and our moods approach fever pitch in sympathy as Flushing Meadow slides into view.
Security is the first big hurdle. Have we dared to sneak in any of their banned items? Will my shoulder crack from carrying camera, lens, water, sunscreen, purse, sunglasses, hat, and more besides, in the prerequisite single compartment bag? With barely a glance, the stewards cheerfully wave us through.
It’s time to calm down, get our bearings, and plan our course of action. We can see the Arthur Ashe Stadium in the distance. We can also see thousands of milling fans, smell food and beer, hear roars from Louis Armstrong, where the action is already under way.
We decide to indulge ourselves with a cooling margarita before our assault on the tennis.
Finally we enter Arthur Ashe for the first time: the biggest arena that tennis has to offer.
Half way between court-side and the upper rim, we bake as local favorite Serena Williams, stunning in cerise, beats her opponent in straight sets.
Then British favorite, Murray, takes to the stage. We realised too late—Thursday afternoon—that we should have brought Union Jack Ts to brandish our support, but New York is not the place to find anything other than the Stars and Stripes!
Nevertheless, we can cheer, and it’s easy to get swept along by the music, the people, and the relaxed atmosphere. It’s harder to adjust to the constant movement of people drifting back and forward, all looking for a slightly better spot than their allotted seat. There’s no shame in being foisted out by the ticket-holder mid-rally. It’s a kind of bravado that’s totally alien to the British.
It’s hard, too, to overcome the irritation of incessant mobiles and Blackberries. But when in Rome—or New York—do as the locals do. It pays to adapt quickly. The upside is that everyone wants to chat, find out your home town, talk about you and yours.
Tennis fans are, without fail, companionable. It’s impossible to watch a match—in whatever city, in whatever country—without striking up a conversation about the players, the game, the thrill of it all. But add in that New York charm and confidence, and you have ready-made friends alongside you in every seat.
So when Murray does his stuff against Paul Capdeville, not entirely convincingly, we feel right at home. The Scot is popular here, and New Yorkers are interested in what we think. They exude patriotism in their own players, and expect it of us, too.
With Murray, that’s not always easy, as I find out only too soon in his sorry performance against Marin Cilic.
Between Murray's Capdeville and Cilic matches, though, there are more U.S. Open visits, a bombardment of impressions, shock results, and even a couple of hospital visits to add some spice to the holiday.
Meanwhile, we've ticked off a long journey to New York and a first subway adventure. We have two matches and two No. 2 seeds under our belts. And our northern European skin has endured its hottest sun of the year.
We’re ready for bed and it’s only 6 PM! Time to call it day, go for dinner and get some sleep.
It’s cost an arm and a leg. It’s used more sweat and calories than any trip I’ve taken. But this is tennis, at last, as only the USA can do it.
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