It’s vibrant, loud, and cosmopolitan.
Spring green, golden summer, and blue autumn skies all rolled into one.
A Fauve painting: Matisse’s Dance made flesh.
Gershwin’s Blue Rhapsody interlaced with Ella Fitzgerald’s Summertime.
The zest of an icy margarita cut through by the aroma of pepperoni pizza.
In-your-face fire, but laid-back cool.
It’s a combination that’s overwhelming and thrilling. It's totally foreign yet a lot like home. It’s the energy and confidence of London but in fast-forward mode.
This is the assault on the senses that is New York, is Flushing Meadows, is the U.S. Open.
It is one of the biggest tennis events in the world: The charismatic one, the loud one, the icing-on-the-cake one that brings the year’s Slams to a fitting conclusion.
Flushing Meadows draws fans down Line 7 from Manhattan’s cacophony of taxi horns and the smell of pretzels, and hails into view amid the industrial landscape of Queens.
A quarter-mile of boardwalk funnels the thousands towards security checks: No backpacks, no food, no alcohol.
The rules are draconian and the modest permitted bag, stuffed with camera, water, sunscreen, and much else, weighs heavy on a single shoulder.
But run the gauntlet and the reward is a banner-fringed vista that sucks the milling crowds towards the branching arms that embrace the biggest arena in tennis.
Arthur Ashe beckons.
The scale inside the vast bowl is shocking. Its $450 mid-rank seats accelerate skyward to the $40 upper rim where nosebleeds come free of charge.
So great are the distances that, sitting in the upper reaches, it’s barely possible to hear line calls or even the strike of the ball. Yet more unsettling, when the sound of a mighty thwack does penetrate the air, it’s with built-in time-lag.
The basin of the arena, though, brings with it a party atmosphere. People drift back and forward, looking for a spot just marginally better than their allotted seat. There’s no shame in being foisted out, mid-rally, by the rightful ticket-holder. It’s a kind of bravado that is totally alien to the British.
But it pays to adapt quickly. Tennis fans are, without fail, companionable. Add in a dose of New York charm and confidence, and there’s a ready-made friend alongside you in every seat.
Everyone wants to chat, find out your home town, talk about you and yours.
The enthusiasm and openness are infectious, welcoming, and generous.
In the height of a September afternoon, sun blazing, humidity in the 70s, the U.S. Open is a cauldron. The pace of the action, the throng of people, and the heat of high noon take their toll quickly.
Even outside Arthur Ashe, there can be little respite. People vie for a spot in the shade, throw down a blanket, and just give in to the moment with a cold beer.
When it all gets too much, it is possible to retreat to the lovely park outside the South Gate: Home of the famous huge globe.
There are trees, grass, flowers and, best of all, tall fountains playing around the globe itself.
While adults sit around the edge, admiring the beauty and scale of the artwork, children find pleasure in simpler ways: a paddle in the cool water.
The U.S Open ploughs its own furrow with a kind of confidence that steers a narrow line between cheeky and pragmatic.
It screams commercialism, from the cost of the tickets to the extended breaks in play for TV advertising; from the banning of personal food to the rapid changes of sponsor logo on nets between matches.
Yet the transport work likes clockwork, and the organisers work hard on environmental credentials.
There are more opportunities to spend a fortune here than you can shake a stick at, and it has a personality that makes you want to do just that. A long draught of margarita and a second helping of pizza oil the purse strings just fine.
New York sees no reason to follow London, Paris, and Melbourne in the vagaries of the unlimited final set, either. Not for Flushing the duel-to-the-end of its cousins.
Here, the fifth set—as with all the others—is decided by a tie-break.
The men’s doubles are played over best-of-three sets rather than five.
And not for New York the untidiness of court covers when the heavens open. It will dry up in no time!
Yes, the U.S. Open is its own man, the biggest and boldest of them all.
It’s the Bruce Willis of Slams, the Aretha Franklin of Slams, the Empire State of Slams.
It’s the take-me-as-I-am Billie Jean King Slam: The fashion statement Federer-in-black Slam.
It raises expectations, raises temperatures, raises a flush to the cheeks.
It is a raucous rainbow of a place that, despite all efforts to resist its power, gets into the bloodstream.
It must be love.
Now read about the technique of playing the USO compared with the clay and the grass Slams by fellow scribe antiMatter