I walked through the gates of the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center on the hot and humid Friday afternoon. I didn’t have an entourage and there weren’t thousands of fans awaiting my mid-afternoon match, but in a way, it felt like the actual US Open. The grounds are in their final preparations for the hundreds of thousands of fans who will soon descend on this final major site to crown another year of champions.
But here I was, a kid who dreamed of hoisting the Wimbledon trophy as a kid, walking the player tunnel where Mary Joe Fernandez interviews the players. Then I stood at the doorway where the players always wait to be introduced. And then in my head, my name was called and the fans went crazy for I am an American in the twilight of my career and this may be my last best chance to win!
And there I was, in Arthur Ashe Stadium, on the court. I’ve watched probably a dozen matches in this enormous building, but to be able to walk out with my racquets in hand was breath-taking.
I looked at the American flag whipping in the wind on the South end of the stadium. I looked at the box seats wrapped all the way around mid-level. I looked at the chairs. Incredible.
And just like it was a match, we started to hit. I must say, that the court is huge. I mean huge! But I have to say, it felt like home. Not only was I back on the court, but this court and building that I have been watching matches unfold on for over a decade, I was hitting forehands, baseline-to-baseline and cracking backhands to Andrew’s backhand.
I wish I could find the words how to describe the entire experience, but I can’t find them. It was never something I thought I would have the chance to do, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything. After nearly an hour on the court, it was time to go and as if I had won the match at the US Open, I took a ball and smashed it into the stands for my fans.
Not bad for a Friday afternoon. Funny thing is, all I had to do to make this happen, was ask.