By Published on .

For the fortnight ended yesterday they were playing tennis in New York at a national tennis center in Flushing that has the personality of an ashtray. And hard courts, besides, and is situated under the primary flight paths of jets using LaGuardia Airport. And where half the matches are played at night. And while the neighboring Mets were home, exacerbating the parking and traffic jams.

Turning around the beer commercial, does it get any worse than this?

Well, yes. Would you believe $8,000 a ticket for a courtside seat for all the rounds? Cheeseburgers at 11 bucks? Some of the better seats sold twice over? Want to know how that works? Corporations buy up blocks of tickets for clients and pols and if the tickets aren't used, a few of the more imaginative ticket takers and clerks sell the seats again for cash under the table to real fans buying squatters' rights. Guys make a handsome living doing this. What about rebellion among seeded players over last-minute changes some believe were dictated not by form but by television Q Ratings? Michael Chang seeded number two? If Chang's really second best, Sampras ought to have gone in saying, "What, me worry?"

Once upon a time they played the U.S. Open at Forest Hills, more formally the West Side Tennis Club. It is the Wrigley Field of tennis, with ivy on the walls and shade and nice big trees and wonderful old members in blazers and straw hats and white bucks doddering about and knocking back the gin in the pavilion. They played tennis in the sunshine back then and on grass, the way God meant them to do when He (and Harry Hopman) invented the game.

I started going there to see the tennis when I was in college (not quite back in the Don Budge-Baron von Cramm era) when you could get a ticket for the early rounds for a couple of bucks and go out by subway or the Long Island R.R. The early rounds were the time to go because there were great matches going on all over and not just in the stadium but way out on court 16 where you could lean on the chain-link fence up close and talk to the players and enjoy the beautiful women going by.

It was there I first saw Pancho Gonzalez play and Vic Seixas and Barry McKay and Ashe and Trabert and of course all those wonderful Australian kids Hopman trained, Rosewall & Hoad (and was there ever a better doubles team?) and Mal Anderson and Ashley Cooper and Stolle and Newcombe and "the Rocket," little Laver. I remember how startling it was to see the difference in the size and heft of Laver's arms, the left (business arm) so much bigger around than the right.

They abandoned Forest Hills years back for all the usual reasons, money mainly, and now I read that this is the last time they'll use the current stadium at Flushing, that they're putting up a new one with more corporate boxes and so on, the usual stuff they do in every sport. I'm not against corporations getting in on and using the tennis boom; better taking public officials to the matches than bribing them, but it does seem to me some of the beauty has oozed out of the Open with the hard surfaces and night matches and relentless hawking of logos and labels. Spectators even dressed better at Forest Hills, the men in jackets and repp ties and boaters and, in Irwin Shaw's words, "the girls in their summer dresses." And now they wear shorts and baseball caps as if they might be called upon to fill in for Thomas Muster.

I've never seen Australia but I've been to the French Open at Roland Garros and a couple of times to Wimbledon and I've seen those lovely courts of orange clay in Italy. It seems to me that although they, too, are in the business of making money, somehow they do things better there, better than we do at Flushing. I don't know just why. And I've come to love women's tennis, so much more tactical than the serve & volley of men's "power tennis."

In recent years I've interviewed some of the top players, for a time for WCBS-TV and latterly for Parade, and like any duffer I get an enormous kick out of it, and afterwards find myself rooting, as reporters shouldn't, in a way that ought to have the Columbia J School demanding my press card. Last year it was Sampras, and he won. This time it was the great Steffi Graf, and by now we all know how she made out.

Couple of years ago I had a date for breakfast with Gabriela Sabatini, who won our Open in 1990. I went up to her East Side hotel with considerable dread since the night before, at Flushing, she'd lost a match she should have won. She came into the dining room, tall, smiling, easily the most beautiful woman in world tennis, and I stood and said the usual things, and she said, well, you win some, you lose some, life goes on. And for the next couple of hours told me about her passion for motorcycles and her place in Florida and movies she'd seen and when I asked if the press guide was correct, about her height and weight (5 feet 9 and 135 as I recall), Gaby laughed.

"Oh, no, more like 145."

You find a woman (or a man) who tells the truth about weight, you root for her. Even on hard courts.

Most Popular
In this article: