There’s no city on earth like New York. Neon lights blink at noon, yellow cabs zoom past Times Square, skyscrapers touch the clouds, and Broadway shows are $450 real-life movies. The city that never sleeps is forever awake, hungry and restless.
It’s fitting that the United States Tennis Open is not located in sunny Florida or relaxed California but in the Big Apple.
I’ve been blessed to have visited the U.S. Open grounds twice, first as spectator and second as passerby, and it’s humongous. Flushing Meadows in Corona Park, where the 22 courts inside the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center are found, is sprawling wide at 46.5 acres. At the center looms the 23,771-seater Arthur Ashe Stadium, named after the 1968 Open champion who succumbed to AIDS in 1993.
Today, it’s the Women’s Singles final (at 4:30 a.m., Philippine time) and the organizers could not have choreographed a better finale. Two American ladies face each other in the only major fought on North American soil.
“Having four Americans in the semi-finals, I think that says a lot about American tennis and where we are right now,” said Sloane Stephens, who defeated Venus Williams in the semifinals.
Sloane Stephens vs. Madison Keys. Who are they? They’re the finalists. (I wouldn’t be surprised if had not heard of them prior to today.) They’re no Sharapova or Bouchard or Halep or Pliskova or Kerber.
The story of Ms. Stephens is incredible. At the U.S. Open last year, she withdrew because of a foot injury. Last January, she watched the Australian Open on TV while her leg was covered with a large cast. When she was able to move, she swatted tennis balls while seated. After 11 months, she returned to Wimbledon ranked 957th. Since then, she has won 14 of 16 matches and is en route to her first Grand Slam trophy.
“I have no words to describe my feelings and what it took to get here,” said Stephens. “When something gets taken away from you, you kind of are forced to deal with your situation. Having surgery, being on that peg leg, not being able to live my life the way I wanted to, I don’t know if it was like a humbling experience, but it was more of just like—how do you say that—realization? I just needed to just appreciate all the things I had in my life.”
Madison Keys has an equally powerful story to tell. She started playing tennis at the age of 9 at the Chris Evert Academy in Florida. Now 22, she also got injured early this year, missing the Melbourne major when she had surgery on her left wrist. She’s back and, ranked 16, is slightly favored to beat Stephens.
The all-American final is a first not involving Serena and Venus in 33 years, when Martina Navratilova defeated Chris Evert in 1984. You can say that these two are lucky because Serena Williams just gave birth, carrying her own prize in the form of a baby girl (whose name has yet to be revealed).
For the men, Rafa Nadal’s path to a 16th major was cleared by Roger Federer when the Swiss lost to Juan Martin del Potro. After watching Nadal annihilate the Argentinian in the semis yesterday, it’s hard to see the Spaniard losing to Kevin Anderson. In basketball, yes, the 6-foot-8 South African wins. But this is tennis and Nadal is the old king of New York.