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.