As the end of summer nears, there is no longer the sense of dread that I once felt knowing that a new school year was about to begin. My school days are far behind me. This feeling is now replaced by a quiet excitement about a 14-day event in a thoughtfully designed complex in Queens N.Y.: the US Open.
For those of you who don’t know me (all of you), I am not necessarily one to sit and watch sporting events on television, with the occasional exception of certain soccer matches and some Olympic winter sporting events (particularly that one in which very attractive lycra-clad, mostly Scandinavian women cross country ski, with rifles slung across their backs, stopping periodically to drop to their knees and fire said rifles at a target in a grove of evergreens, then swiftly resuming their race to the finish line. I don’t know what this sport is called and I don’t care, but I hope to someday marry one of these Nordic athlete/warrior queens). The only sporting event I have been known to watch on television for days on end, neglecting all professional and domestic responsibilities (children included), is tennis. About a decade ago, I was invited to the US Open and thus began my obsession with not only watching but attending.
The complex itself, championed by Hizzoner David Dinkins, is a breath of fresh air in a city where sometimes we feel we can’t breathe. It attracts people from all the boroughs and beyond, from all walks of life, creating a connection between them and a sense of celebration that one doesn’t feel at larger venues. Center court is sizable but somehow never seems to lose a sense of intimacy, allowing for a visceral connection between the spectators and the players. To watch Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Kim Clijsters exhibiting their profound athleticism and grace right before your eyes is more than thrilling. I am often very privileged to view matches from the coveted President’s Box. It was from there that I watched the great and elegant Federer hit a winning shot from between his legs that shocked not only his opponent and all of us, but I think him, as well.
It was at the US Open that I was very happy to participate in Arthur Ashe Kids’ Day and “umpire” a “doubles match” between four great players, and although I have been lucky enough to be on many stages—both film and theater—I have never been as nervous as that day. Stepping onto center court (to attempt an anemic comic turn with a racquet and ball that fell terribly flat, now on YouTube, I’m sure), I felt that somehow I was stepping onto sacred ground, a place where mere mortals were not to tread.
It was also at the US Open that I met my friend Virginia Wade, who won the US Open in its first year. I remember watching Virginia play, seated with my parents (both avid tennis fans and the reason I love the game so much) in front of the television, and admiring her understated prowess year after year. (Having the opportunity to hit with Virginia from time to time has been a terrifying joy and luckily is not on YouTube, as far as I know.)
In short, tennis is a great game to play, not only when we are young, but throughout our lives and until we are very old, albeit more slowly. It is also a great game to watch, and there is no place better to do so than the US Open. Let the games begin!!!
Stanley Tucci is an Emmy Award-winning and Academy Award-nominated actor who has starred on stage and screen in productions such as The Hunger Games, The Lovely Bones, E.R., 30 Rock, Winchell and Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune.