What does a sporting venue say about the city in which it is located? When I visited Melbourne Park earlier this year, I could feel the typical Aussie warmth all over. There was beer and music wherever you looked, and the whole atmosphere was unmistakably like that of a fun, laidback, athletic party. While Melbourne as a city may not be quite as laidback as that, what with its intense focus on discipline and generally quiet demeanour, there’s no doubt that the venue of the Australian Open is distinctly ‘Aussie’.
The Chinnaswamy stadium in Bangalore is cool and airy and pleasant, much like the Garden City of India (Bangalore residents, don’t shoot me for calling a traffic-clogged city ‘pleasant’; the city is nice enough if you somehow avoid the busy areas!). There’s also a lot of respect shown to the cricketers who descend on to the pitch, which is pretty synonymous with the Rahul Dravid-worshipping city.
But Corona Park in Flushing Meadows probably takes the cake when it comes to being an accurate representative of the city. It’s bustling, business-like and fast-paced, with not many stopping to look at the players locked in the titanic battles on the outer courts. It’s also thoroughly cosmopolitan; the diversity on display is nothing like I’ve ever seen in my life, and it’s hard not to think of the arena as a microcosm of New York City in every aspect.
Fortunately, that also means the people can get boisterous and loud when the occasion really calls for it. Rafael Nadal drew plenty of cheers and screams, even when he was going about his mundane serving drills on one of the practice courts. And although it was disappointing to see that two-time Slam champion Svetlana Kuznetsova barely garnered any attention, former finalist Caroline Wozniacki was greeted with enthusiastic applause – probably because of her generally sunny disposition and PR-friendly face.
But it was Ryan Harrison’s match against Milos Raonic that was the blockbuster event of the day session yesterday. Harrison was once bracketed alongside Bernard Tomic, Kei Nishikori and Raonic himself as the potential next-gen stars of the tour. While that may have been a product of the American Hype Machine (hello Donald Young), there was plenty to like about Harrison’s game – big serve, nice roundhouse forehand, and quick footwork.
Unfortunately for the American, that last bit proved to be more of a liability than a weapon in the early going. Because he was good at defense, he often found himself too far back behind the baseline, spending more time retrieving than dictating. And without the raw power of a Rafael Nadal or evern a Gael Monfils, that meant Harrison could never really impose himself on any match against a high-quality opponent.
Now 24, Harrison isn’t quite considered the Next American Superstar anymore. But he’ll be damned if he doesn’t get every bit of crowd support at his home Slam, and sometimes, that can make all the difference.
Don’t get me wrong; Harrison played quite well yesterday to knock out Raonic, who many considered to be a bit of a dark horse before the tournament started. He was particularly good with his forehand passing shots, and came up with plenty of clutch serves when he needed them most. He was also helped a little by the fact that the wheels suddenly came off Raonic’s game around mid-way through the second set, which the Canadian later attributed to cramps.
As a spectator though, the most fun part of the match was seeing the crowd getting behind their hero. Shouts of “Let’s go Ryan, let’s go!” and “Here we go Ryan, here we go!” rang through the stands all match, and it seemed Harrison struck a spectacular winner after almost every one of those chants. “Anything is possible if I’ve got you guys behind me,” he said in the on-court interview. The delighted spectators could only roar in approval.
This was the first major upset of the tournament, but it was topped just a few hours later as women’s third seed Garbine Muguruza continued her summer of despair by losing in straight sets to Anastasija Sevastova. Two ground-shaking results probably made up for the absence of Novak Djokovic, who was given a walkover after his opponent Jiri Vesely pulled out with injury, and it helped that Nadal was there to finish things off in resounding fashion late in the evening session.
It’s another packed schedule today in Flushing Meadows, and thankfully the rain has stopped long enough for the matches to begin on time. But even if the rain does return, it’s unlikely that the spirits of the spectators will be dampened. After all, Corona Park represents New York City in its full glory, and nothing comes in the way of a New Yorker’s business – not even a torrential downpour.
Also, we’ve got the spanking new retractable roof over Arthur Ashe – which made its debut in Nadal’s match yesterday – to ensure that everything goes on as planned. Why can’t every place in the world be as efficient as Flushing Meadows?