Day Nine: The Best Laid Plans

I had an idea of what I’d say in my WordPress post today.  I didn’t want to talk about tennis matches every day … but here I am at the US Open.  What can I say with a different slant?  I could talk about a pioneer, someone who has led, broken new ground.  “To boldly go where no man has gone before.”  Actually, a woman – Billie Jean King.  She fought for women to be recognized in the world of tennis, and for female players to be paid as much as the men.

But dear Billie Jean, the time is not right to talk about you.  I will do that later.  You have been nudged aside momentarily by Bianca Andreescu, the Canadian winner of the 2019 US Open.  She was playing against Greece’s Maria Sakkari, another charismatic player.  Their match started last night at 10:45 and ended at … 2:15 am!  I was going to write about Bianca developing a cramp near the end and grunting it out anyway, hobbling from side to side, trying to reach Maria’s laser shots.  Then I’d mention getting home at 3:00, and the precious few hours of sleep.

But dear Bianca, the time is not right to talk about you.  I’ve just come out of a match on Arthur Ashe – Canada’s Leylah Fernandez versus Ukraine’s Elina Svitolina, the fifth ranked player in the world.  Elina was in masterful control, just as she has been for years.  She is seen as one of the two best players never to have one a Grand Slam tournament (Australian Open, French Open, Wimbledon and US Open).  The other player knocking on the door is Karolina Pliskova.

All Leylah has done so far in the tournament is beat two players who have been number one in the world – Naomi Osaka and Angelique Kerber.  Anticipating this afternoon’s match, one tennis journalist had this to say about Leylah:

Svitolina’s gift of a draw continues.  Fernandez looks like a star of the future, but she’s also way over her head at this stage.

The two warriors went toe-to-toe.  Three long sets, totalling almost two-and-a-half hours.  Many long rallies of more than ten shots.  Leylah finding severe angles to pull Elina off court and then blasting the ball into the empty corner.  Elina fluidly finding the open spaces with her controlled aggression.

I was enthralled with the speed of the shots, with Leylah throwing her arm to the sky after hitting a winner, drawing the crowd into a massive roar.  And we thousands of human beings filled the space with noise.

As a match duration of 2:23 ticked over to 2:24, a final shot sailed long over the baseline, and the contest was over.  We rose as one and bellowed our approval.  The miracle continues.

Leylah Fernandez

Day Eight: Laughing Faces

One of the coolest things is seeing people waving and jumping around on the big screens in Arthur Ashe Stadium.  When the players are resting between games, sneaky photographers are capturing spectator antics for 20,000 of us to see.  I love the sudden jolt from placid to animated as the stars of the show realize that it’s all about them for a few seconds.  Young, old, in between … the human spirit is on display.

Late afternoon I was sitting high in Louis Armstrong Stadium, waiting for my dear Canadian hero Leylah Fernandez to begin play.  My heart was jumping up and down, which could make it difficult to sustain life.  When you’re so full, you just have to turn around and share the joy with the folks sitting behind.  I had to make sure they were cheering for Leylah, rather than the German player Angie Kerber.

A young woman and two young men seemed quite happy to clap for Leylah.  Good.  Our little cheering section.  They were most willing to talk to an old guy.  I found that refreshing.

Interlude: It’s now the next morning, just before the first match in Louis Armstrong.  We’ve just been asked to stand for the national anthem.  It’s time to sing, and I do, even though it’s not my anthem.  Feels good.

Back to yesterday.  As Leylah fashions another improbable comeback, I enjoy the “Go Leylah!”s coming from my new friends.  They’re into it!  As a matter of fact, so am I.  I stand up and yell a lot as Leylah hits winner after winner.

As Kerber’s final ball smashes into the net, the stadium explodes!  Decibel heaven.  Leylah prances around the court, arms held high.  Did she really beat Naomi Osaka and Angelique Kerber in consecutive matches?  Two former Grand Slam champions?  Yes, this lovely about-to-be 19-year-old did exactly that.

Areeka, Eshan, Rohan and I go out for dinner after the match, each of us choosing our fare from the food court.  Areeka and Rohan live in Texas, while Eshan calls Massachusetts home.  We are soon joined by their friend Ronak, who lives in New York City.  The four became friends while students at the University of Texas.

We talked tennis as if I’d been part of their lives for years.  Really we were talking about life, disguised as tennis.  I thought of the US Open ticket for Friday’s day session.  “Just give it to one of them, Bruce.”  Ronak was the only possibility, since the others were heading home soon.  He beamed a “Yes!” at me.  It only took a few minutes to cancel my attempt to sell and transfer the ticket to Ronak.  He gets to see the first men’s semi-final on Friday!  And so do I … with my friend Carolyne.

Okay … it’s time to watch Belinda Bencic from Switzerland go toe-to-toe with Iga Swiatek from Poland.  I’ll see you tomorrow.

Day Seven: Old and Young and Everything Else

We’re all here.  Think of any trait that would describe a person, and it’s alive and well at the US Open.  The veteran of forty Opens, armed to the teeth with tennis statistics and history, looks across the stadium at a 10-year-old kid who’s dreaming of meeting her hero and someday playing on Arthur Ashe.

The US Open is played in New York City’s borough of Queens.  Here’s what Google has to say about the place:

Queens holds the Guinness World Record for “most ethnically diverse urban area on the planet”, and it’s also the most linguistically diverse, with at least 138 languages spoken throughout the borough.

Clothing, personality, sexual orientation, race … we’re one huge diverse family on the grounds of the Billie Jean King Tennis Center.  I love moving through the crowds, seeing parents and kids hugging each other, couples holding hands, and a fellow off by himself, apparently meditating.

I love being welcomed to the Open in the morning by smiling employees and being asked to “travel safe” by the Louis Armstrong Stadium usher as I begin my journey to the subway at night.

I love eating my eggplant sandwich at a shaded picnic table and welcoming Toby, who needs a place to sit.  We talk about … tennis!  Imagine that.  He knows more than I do on the subject.  Good for him.  I offer him a free ticket for Friday, September 10 but sadly he says no.  He has to be back to work in Vermont.  I’ll find some other nice person.  My friend Carolyne is joining me on Friday so I needed to find two seats together.

Life is good.

Day Six: Twin Roars

It was mid-afternoon.  I was watching a tennis match and wondering why I was so tired.  Then it hit me – I hadn’t had a coffee today.  Ah yes … my caffeine addiction.

Ten minutes later I was sipping the hot stuff in the open air, facing a big screen.  It was a match in Arthur Ashe Stadium (the big one), featuring Stefanos Tsitsipas, the number three player in the world.  His opponent was an 18-year-old “kid” from Spain – Carlos Alcaraz.  I’d never heard of him.

As my head slowly returned to the land of the living, I watched the match unfold.  It was tied two sets each, and they were well into the deciding one.  How is this young guy keeping up with Tsitsipas?  Alcaraz was blasting shot after shot into the corners.  Woh!

I sipped faster and then launched myself towards Arthur Ashe.  The score was something like 6-5.  This could be over in minutes and I still had escalators and concourses to navigate.  A delicious race against time.

I finally found a seat way up high, breathing heavily from the stairs.  My butt went down, my head came up, and there were two warriors facing off.  The score was 6-6 and we were starting the tiebreak.  First one to seven points, having to win by two.

We the crowd cheered after every point.  So loud!  Here’s a pic:

Who doesn’t love an underdog?  Thousands of us were urging Carlos on.

Suddenly it was match point … for the young guy!  Waves of sound rolled through the stadium.  A serve, then back and forth, and then a missile from Alcaraz that Tsitipas couldn’t reach!  It’s over!  Carlos is lying on his back on the court, stunned by what’s he’s done.  The roar from the crowd probably was heard atop the Empire State Building, many miles away.

I’m wiped.  Along with everyone else, I file out of Arthur Ashe, a process that took at least 15 minutes.  The stadium crew has to clean the stadium before welcoming new fans to the evening session.

I sit outside on some steps, trying to absorb what just happened.  An epic upset, and I was there.

And now for dessert.  I’m not only a day fan.  I’m an evening one.  My hero – Leylah Fernandez – is playing Naomi Osaka, formerly the number one player in the world, and now third.  Leylah is Canadian (like me!) and is about to turn 19.  She’s a huge underdog, playing an elite player, and for the first time playing in Arthur Ashe, the biggest tennis stadium in the world.

I climbed hundreds of steps (it felt like that) and gazed at maybe 15,000 souls, most of whom no doubt expected an easy match for Naomi.  Leylah had other ideas.

During the match, I stood up and cheered a lot, after brilliant Leah points.  Eventually I turned around and said hi to the couple sitting behind me.  Terry and Gavin are South African, now living in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.  We chatted on and off about Leylah, Naomi, Canada, the US, South Africa, Senegal and … beer.  Thoroughly nice human beings.

Naomi was serving incredibly well, and so was Leylah.  It was close but Naomi prevailed in the first set, as expected.  I was pleasantly surprised that Leylah was hanging with her.

Well into the second set, Naomi was inching towards victory.   But then Leylah really turned it on.  She won point after point.  Naomi smashed her racquet on the court, and then a minute later, threw it.  Both big no-no’s in tennis.  The crowd started booing her.  Leylah seemed unfazed by all the kerfuffle.

Leylah came up with the clutch points to win the second set.  As she walked back to her chair, her arm was raised.  The crowd cheered this young unknown tennis pro.

Third set – both players pressing for victory.  The crowd momentum clearly with Leylah now.  Brilliant shots from her, and some from Naomi.  I turn to my new friends and ask “Is this happening?”  It was.  Could two 18-year-olds engineer massive upsets on the same grand court, one after the other?

The answer was YES!  Naomi’s final stroke sailed wide.  Leylah threw her arms in the air and started bouncing around the court.  Arthur Ashe rang with decibels, with human beings standing and cheering.  Including this one.

O Leylah

O underdog

O Canada

Day Three: Size Matters

One of the reasons I wanted to come to the US Open is that the center has the largest tennis stadium in the world.  Arthur Ashe Stadium can seat 23,000 people.  I wanted to hear all those folks cheering the world’s best players during the evening sessions.  Nighttime in New York!

My seats in Arthur Ashe are about as high as you can get.  So far I have been directly behind the baseline, looking almost straight down at the players.  It’s a weird angle, and they’re so tiny.

As the Open enters its second week, Ashe will get more full.  But right now it’s half or less.  Hope springs eternal that the roar of 23,000 fans will blast my eardrums in the days to come.

Now … consider Court 17.  Here’s what it looks like:

Twenty-five hundred folks, and it was rockin’!  I could see the sweat and hear the breathing as Federico Coria or Gael Monfils lunged for the ball.  Yes!  This is what I want.  Small is beautiful.

Speaking of which, one of the matches on 17 featured Emma Raducanu, a teen from Great Britain.  A tiny girl in the front row held up a homemade sign for Emma.  As the breeze tossed it around, I could read the word “Love”.  Emma smiled back.

At the end of the match, which Emma won, she spent at least ten minutes signing programs and giant tennis balls.  Selfies abounded, always with that giant smile.  Every little kid who came up to the low fence bordering the court was “seen”.  Lovely and just what the world needs.

I’m happy.

Two Human Beings

The top photo shows Leylah Fernandez from Canada.  That’s Angelique Kerber of Germany in the bottom one.  They’re both professional tennis players.

Before I reveal my tennis fandom, however, I’d like to return to the days of yesteryear and my passion for golf.  I could glue myself to the TV set with the best of them, and the object of my adoration was Mike Weir, a Canadian professional golfer.  Mike stood 5 feet 9 inches and was a masterful shotmaker.  Speaking of which, he won the Masters tournament in April, 2003, an event that many people consider to be the most important in men’s golf.

Even before the Masters, I lived and died with every tee shot, praying that it would find the fairway, not the rough.  I’d watch Mike’s long irons soar towards the green, groaning if the ball flight seemed to be veering far away from the pin.  I held my breath as a long putt slid towards the hole.  Would the curves of the green take it to the bottom of the cup, or would the ball lip out?  I was a fanatic.

As I look back on my marriage with Jody, I feel remorse about a few things I did.  One of my most vivid pains comes from a vacation we had in Montreal in August, 2003.  On the final day of the PGA tournament, Jody wanted to go exploring.  I wanted to see Mike play in the last group.  I won.  Through a mean display of willpower, I cajoled my wife to hang around the hotel while I lived and breathed Mike Weir.  (Sigh)


“What happened to tennis?” you ask.  Two years ago, Bianca Andreescu came into my TV life.  Essentially, change the details of the sport, insert “Bianca” for “Mike”, and you have the story.  My fanaticism included the purchase of a red t-shirt online, honouring my heroine: “She The North”.  Sadly, Bianca’s been injured for more than a year, so I had to find a new shining light.  Enter Leylah Fernandez, an 18-year-old Montrealer.  It was easy to transfer my fervour to her matches on TV.

A few months ago, I looked in the mirror and saw some things:

1. I need heroes
2. I cheer for you if you’re Canadian
3. I cheer for you if you’re young and therefore an underdog
4. I cheer for you if you seem to be a nice person
5. I cheer against you if you seem to be a mean person

So I cheer for Leylah.  But what about point number five?  During one tournament, Bianca was playing Angelique Kerber, a pro who’s been near the top of the game for years.  Bianca had one or two medical timeouts to deal with an emerging injury.  At the end of the match, which Bianca won, the two players approached the net.  Angelique told Bianca “You’re the biggest drama queen ever.”  That was it for me and Angelique.  I’d always want her to lose.


Fast forward to yesterday.  “What’s happening, Bruce?”  Leylah’s match against Maria Sakkari from Greece was about to begin.  But my head was spinning.  I looked at Leylah on the screen, and yes, I wanted her to win … but it was no big deal.  I was loving Leylah, but not in the sense that if she does what I want her to do (win), I’ll be happy.  My love was vaster.  I simply wanted her to be happy.  And wonder of wonders, I wanted Maria to be happy.  I wanted both of them to make great shots.  I wanted long rallies.  I wanted the back-and-forth adventure of three sets, ending in a tiebreak.  I wanted to hear “Match Point” for one player and then the other.  I didn’t care who won.  And I felt immense sadness when Leylah played poorly, and Maria dominated the match.

I’m sitting here a day later … stunned.  Where did my partisanship go?  I still love it when Canadians excel on the world stage but there isn’t a need there.  How did this shift happen?  I certainly didn’t grit my teeth and start willing a new attitude.  I didn’t do anything.  But here I sit, enamoured of tennis, of each player giving her all, of each one pushing the other past supposed limits, of each one being happy.  It feels good.

Tonight Angelique Kerber plays Maria Sakkari.  I’ll be there with a smile.  May the match be epic.

A Sad Decision

I love tennis.  The mano-a-mano or womano-a-womano back and forth of a match enthralls me.  One of my favourite books is The Inner Game of Tennis.  Its author, Timothy Gallwey, waxes poetic about the beauty of two evenly matched players.  Far beyond the winning and losing is the epic struggle, where the best in you brings out the best in me.

The French Open (also known as Roland Garros) is on TV for the next two weeks.  This morning I watched Kristina Mladenovic from France and Laura Siegemund from Germany give it their all.

I don’t know what you know about tennis.  Usually after a player serves, the ball bounces once before the opponent hits it back.  Sometimes they hit it out of the air before a bounce.  Two bounces and the point is over – you lose.

Near the end of the first set today, the score was 5 games to 1 for Mladenovic.  You need to win six games to win a set, and the match is the best two out of three sets.  Within a game, each serve results in a point being given.  Mladenovic was within one point of winning the game, and therefore the set.  She lofted a soft shot well in front of Siegemund, who raced forward.  But not fast enough – two bounces.

The umpire didn’t notice the two bounces.  The TV world did, especially after the video replay.  The set should have been over in favour of Mladenovic.  But it wasn’t.  Siegemund won that set, and later the match.

In that moment of two bounces, what did Siegemund do?


What did Siegemund say?


I had visions of her rushing up to the umpire to complain:  “It bounced twice.  Mladenovic won the set.”  Alas, no.  And the TV commentators said zero about Siegemund’s silence.

I felt myself slump.  A huge exhale of sadness.  I still feel it.

I read a few match reports on the Internet afterwards.  The official site of the WTA (Women’s Tennis Association) wrote fourteen paragraphs about the match.  Not a word about two bounces.  Most reports did mention the umpire’s mistake, and some criticized her.  A sole Tweet gave the reader a whiff of “lack of sportsmanship” but didn’t mention Siegemund by name.

The world needs better than all this.

Slo Mo

I love watching women.  I love watching women tennis players.  This week the best eight players in the world are competing in the WTA Finals.  The matches aren’t available on TV in Canada.  Instead I see them on DAZN, a streaming service.  It’s pretty cool … everything in HD, and no commercials.

The video cameramen and women are brilliant, not just during the run of play but also when the athletes are resting between games.  What’s especially marvelous are the closeups of human beings, and the times when the grace of tennis is revealed in slow motion.  I just stared this morning at the beauty of it all.  Here are some of my favourite moments:

1.  A young girl in the audience, eyes soft, her head resting on her arm

2.  A photographer’s index finger poised on the button of his camera

3.  A player running after the ball … the rippling of the thigh muscles as the foot lands

4.  A closeup of a player’s eyes as she ponders life while resting on her bench

5.   Fingers curled in a fist pump as she celebrates a winner

6.  An Asian spectator, her mouth forming a circle after a great shot

7.  A hand gently squeezing a ball, ready to serve

8.  The flex of the foot on the serve, the muscle above the tennis shoe moving with the tendon

9.  A cut on the leg, the blood dabbed away and then slowly reappearing

10.  Just a ball floating upwards on the serve … oh so slowly

11.  The hands of two champions coming together at the end of the match


The slow motion created these dances
I was transfixed by the loveliness, the flow, the rhythms of sport
Thank you, DAZN

Notes from the Davis Cup

For the last two days, I’ve been watching men’s tennis at the Coca-Cola Coliseum in Toronto. Canada versus the Netherlands. Here are some of my thoughts:

1. The place was only half full. I was sad for the players and for me. I’ve been to many sporting events when the building was packed and the energy sky high. I just love that energy. It makes me bigger. It reminds me of the spiritual realms that human beings can reach.

2. On Friday, Milos Raonic was playing a match when his Dutch opponent blasted a ball right at him. It went through Milos’ legs and struck the linesman standing behind. The man or woman (I couldn’t tell) crumpled, and Milos was there in an instant, offering support. That’s what the world needs. Sure, Milos has the status and the big bucks, but we’re all human beings who hurt every so often.

3. These players are so powerful and serve the ball at over 100 miles an hour, but it’s the delicate shots I love – a sliced backhand that seems to go sideways when it hits the court, a big backswing disguising a slow-motion drop shot falling softly out of the opponent’s reach, a lob that arches way over a player’s head and lands six inches inside the baseline. Give me the artists, please.

4. Then there are the very few fans who make a noise just as a Dutch player is starting his serving motion. No one does this when a Canadian is serving. Spare me from the world’s ethnocentric folks … my group is better than your group and maybe I can do something to have my group win. I love cheering for Canada and I also love applauding a brilliant shot, no matter who makes it.

5. The first day, I had a lovely couple on my right and two lovely women on my left. I had a great time bantering in one direction and then the other. Strangers became friends. Caution gave way to smiles. Yesterday the two women sat several seats further to my left. I don’t know why. I had fun with the couple but within that was a sadness, that a relationship had faded, that close had become distant. I hope the two women come back today but they may not. It seems that so much of life is a letting go.

6. The Coca-Cola Coliseum has been the home of the Toronto Marlies hockey team for a long time. They’re one level down from the National Hockey League’s Toronto Maple Leafs. Inside the front entrance is a sign: “Building Maple Leafs since 1927.” Very cool. And all around the arena, on the little wall separating the lower seats from the balcony, are many of the team’s leafy logos, each with a name.

“Armstrong 1949” – the year of my birth. And that must be George Armstrong, whom I idolized in the Stanley Cup years of the 1960’s. George was the Leafs’ captain for 13 years. I looked up at all those names and thought of the history of the place. Tennis below … hockey above. May we always remember the history of those we love.

7. Daniel Nestor. The greatest tennis player in Canadian history. And yesterday was his final match, a doubles loss to the Netherlands. Daniel played poorly and later admitted that he wasn’t good enough anymore. Jean-Julien Rojer, his opponent and friend, said “You can say that eventually Father Time was undefeated because it catches up to you.”

Daniel cried as he spoke to the crowd after the match. “I love you guys [the Canadian team]. I love you fans. I love the city.” Well said.

I read an article last night about Daniel retiring. The writer said that Nestor “lost his composure”. Thank God he did. I don’t want to be a composed human being. I want to feel life, down deep in my bones.

Like you, Daniel

Strings Of The Heart

I’ve rediscovered tennis over the last week, first in person at the men’s Rogers Cup tournament in Toronto, and then on TV as the men and the women (in Montreal) battled for the championship.

I played tennis long ago and, just like golf, would occasionally hit a great shot that kept my spirits high.  But eventually the knees said no to the quick movements needed on the court.  My love went underground.

Sitting in the stands a few days ago, I was enthralled with the brilliant strokes … a zooming serve that just caught the line, a thirty-shot rally that exhausted both players, a sweet drop shot that just ticked over the net, and a high lob over the opponent’s head.  So cool.  It was mano à mano, and womano à womano on TV, each one drawing the best from the other.

Last Monday night, I watched Denis Shapovalov, a 17-year-old Canadian, best Nick Kyrgios, one of the top-20 players in the world.  On match point, the energy in the Aviva Centre was astonishing.  Transformational.

As stirring as the competition was, another factor emerged for me – the personality of the athlete.  Some stoic and strong and tough, almost machine-like.  But one player’s humanity caught my attention.  I watched a match on TV between Canada’s darling Eugenie Bouchard and Kristina Kucova from Slovakia.  Genie was supposed to win but Kristina was tenacious.  And as the last stroke was struck, the winning Kristina went down on her knees, overwhelmed with joy.  She was ranked 121st in the world and wasn’t supposed to be doing what she was doing.

On Saturday, Kristina played Madison Keys, a hard-hitting American, in the semi-finals.  Madison’s serve was so fast, and smacked into corners that Kristina couldn’t touch.  Late in the match, as the players rested in their chairs between points, TV showed us a tear rolling down Kristina’s cheek.  My heart and soul stopped.  I was lost in the beauty of the moment.

In 50 minutes, the contest was over.  Madison completely dominated.  Kristina walked off the court crying.  She later told the press she was sorry that she hadn’t given Madison a better battle, and that she had let down the fans.  Not this fan.  Give me a full human being any day.

Next summer, the women come to Toronto for the Rogers Cup.  I’ll be there … in Kristina’s court.