The qualifying rounds of the US Open are underway at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, Queens. The actual tournament – the last of the four Slams – begins with first-round play Monday, Aug. 28. In the meantime, enjoy the game’s stars in a lighter mood at Arthur Ashe Kids’ Day on Saturday, Aug. 26.
On the tournament’s infrastructure front, the big news is the temporary Louie (as in Louis Armstrong Stadium) while the United States Tennis Association readies the new Louie for its Big Apple Bow next year. On the personnel front, a number of big names will be missing this year. Serena Williams is expecting the birth of her first child. And Novak Djokovic is expecting the birth of his second – well, wife Jelena is – and recuperating from an elbow injury.
The big story this year, however, has been the brilliant return of two “elder statesmen” – Serena’s big sister, Venus, and Roger Federer. But don’t count out the young guns. Certainly, Vogue’s Anna Wintour, always courtside, hasn’t. The thick 125th anniversary September edition features Alexander Zverev and Dominic Thiem, looking elegant in navy and tennis white, as well as reigning Wimbledon champ Garbiñe Muguruza.
As is always the case when tennis comes to town, not all the action is on the court. Through Sept. 2, Neil LaBute’s play “Break Point” is part of “Summer Shorts” at 59E59 Theaters in Manhattan. In typical LaBute fashion, it uses the eve of a French Open semifinal clash between two friendly, world-class rivals as a metaphor for male power and dominance. It’s a reminder that part of the attraction of tennis is that it’s like an elegant form of boxing. 59e59.org.
Hollywood has always loved tennis. Witness Alfred Hitchcock’s superbly taut “Strangers on a Train,” an inspiration for Woody Allen’s equally fine character study, “Match Point.” The latest tennis movie entry is “Battle of the Sexes,” based on the 1973 match between the in-her-prime Billie Jean King and middle-aged former player Bobby Riggs, who said he could beat any of the top women and then beat Margaret Court to prove it, before King took him down.
The film – starring Emma Stone as King and Steve Carell as Riggs – opens Friday, Sept. 22, but you can get a sneak peak at the Pelham Picture House’s sixth annual “Picnic in the Park” fall fundraiser Sept. 16. After the 6 p.m. screening, guests will head across the street for a picnic dinner and dancing under the stars. thepicturehouse.org.
Bookworms needn’t feel neglected. John McEnroe, not one to hold back, serves up his signature forthrightness in the new “But Seriously” (Little, Brown and Co.). Maria Sharapova discusses a career eclipsed by a 15-month drug ban in “Unstoppable: My Life So Far,” out Sept. 12. Douglas Brunt considers the challenges and pitfalls of being a tennis prodigy in his new novel “Trophy Son” (St. Martin’s Press).
But for sheer tennis originality, it would be hard to top Álvaro Enrigue’s “Sudden Death” (Riverhead Books), about, among other things, a 16th century tennis match between the Italian painter Caravaggio and the Spanish poet Francisco de Quevedo, played in Rome with a ball stuffed with luxuriant locks from Henry VIII’s beheaded second wife, Anne Boleyn.
It’s a reminder that while tennis is an age-old sport, it is always waiting for future imaginations.
– Georgette Gouveia