US Open: Climbing Mt. Ashe

by Nate Chura
At the top of Arthur Ashe Stadium, the view of the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center is surprising. It’s beautiful and has a calming quality. Yesterday, while Venus Williams was blasting her way through fellow American Bethanie Mattek-Sands, 6-4, 6-2, in the second round of the U.S. Open, I took the long hike up to row Z of the upper promenade. It's the highest point of the National Tennis Center. When I arrived I discovered I wasn’t the only one who thought the trip might be worth it.

Randy, a local twenty-something from Flushing Meadows, is a regular Ashe climber.

“The best part,” he says about watching matches from the nose-bleed section, “is you don’t have to turn your neck as much. You can have a view of the whole court without having to turn your neck left and right. And you can also see the ball where it hits the lines. Actually, the ump should be sitting up here rather than down there.”

Another fan soaking in the last remaining summer rays in row Z was, Lee Griffin from Australia, who currently lives in London, but was meeting up with her sister for a week of tennis in New York. Griffin found the surrounding views serene as she rooted for Williams to win the match.

Listen to Nate’s interview with fellow rooftop climber, Lee Griffin, at the top of Mt. Ashe.

“It’s a great vantage point to actually see a whole lot of the surrounding countryside,” Griffin said. “A bit difficult for the tennis, but good for the views.”

Down in the deep caves of Mt. Ashe, in Interview Room 1, Williams wasted no words after her victory over Mattek-Sands.

“I’m in the U.S. Open,” the older Williams sister said. “The U.S. Open, baby. I’m in the process of being in the third round. So I love it.”

At ground level, fans of the U.S. Open said goodbye to two of the game's most interesting personalities: former world number 1 and 2000 champion, Marat Safin, and Fabrice Santoro, who made his 69th Grand Slam appearance in New York.

Before the tournament began, Safin announced this would be his final appearance in the Slam that launched the big-serving, fit-throwing Russian into notoriety. In the press conference that followed his first round loss, 1-6, 6-4, 6-3, 6-4, to Austrian lefty Jurgen Meltzer, Safin confirmed his decision.

“It’s okay,” he said, “It’s the end. So, just it’s the last one. Could have been better ending, but still okay. I’m looking forward to afterwards my career, so I have no regrets. And I don’t care about losses anymore.”

Meanwhile, Santoro, AKA “The Magician,” ran out of tricks against Juan Carlos Ferrero, 6-4, 6-4, 6-4. Even in loss, the Frenchman gave the fans a show worth watching. Tennis players everywhere will surely miss seeing those two-handed, forehand slice drop shots.

When asked to summarize his 21-year career, Santoro offered up the word passion.“I love my sport,” he said. “I did it in this life for so many years. I was so happy to be on the court. You can’t do it if you’re not completely in love with your sport. The way I play tennis and the way I played the last 20 years was just a lot of fun for me. It’s unusual to play this way. I quickly understand that my style was different. For me, it was very fun to play the top guys, try to find solution with my old game. Because when you look at the way I play tennis, I will be more comfortable to play in the 70’s than now.”

In the end, Santoro’s “old game," which never won a Grand Slam singles title, turned out to be the kryptonite of at least one man’s game…Safin. Santoro will likely retire with a 7-3 head-to-head record against Safin.

How strangely fitting that the oddly matched pair retired from the Open on the same day.

(Getty Images)

Arthur Ashe Stadium
Arthur Ashe Stadium
Venus Williams returns a shot against Bethanie Mattek-Sands.
Venus Williams returns a shot against Bethanie Mattek-Sands.
Fabrice Santoro returns a shot against Juan Carlos Ferrero.
Fabrice Santoro returns a shot against Juan Carlos Ferrero.
Marat Safin of Russia returns a shot against Jurgen Melzer.
Marat Safin of Russia returns a shot against Jurgen Melzer.