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US Open is in a class by itself

Even if you are not a fan of tennis, the U.S. Open in New York City should be on your bucket list.

Over the last two weeks, I attended over 50 hours of matches between the best tennis players in the world — including Novak Djokovic, who was trying to achieve the Grand Slam (all four major titles in the same year), a feat that has not been accomplished in the men’s division since 1969.

The first four days of the tournament are especially exciting as 128 men and 128 women play their first- and second-round matches at the Billie Jean King Tennis Center.

The 23,000-seat Ashe Stadium, the 14,000-seat Armstrong Stadium and the Grandstand are the “show” courts at the Tennis Center, but because so many matches have to be played in a short period of time, most of the top players compete on the 14 non-stadium courts.

A “grounds pass” allows fans full access to all of the non-stadium courts, so fans are able to jump from court to court to see different players and matches.

You are so close to the action that you can hear the players muttering to themselves, and if you sit behind the baseline you can try to imagine returning a 130 mph serve.

Cheers from these courts can be heard echoing across the grounds and as the applause gets louder, more and more fans will be seen rushing over, crowding into the tiny bleachers, just to get a glimpse of the final set and points of a match.

No other sports event in the world offers the variety of food and drink options as the U.S. Open.

Some of the top chefs in the world set up restaurant pop-up stands throughout the grounds, and wine and liquor companies have fun venues (in the Ashe Stadium you can even have wine and champagne delivered to your seat.)

Plus, there are dozens of unique shops where you can spend $100 for a U.S. Open official umbrella.

While I love the ambiance on the outside courts, the energy from 24,000 fans in a close match in the Ashe Stadium is awesome.

The most exciting match I saw was when the young American, Frances Tiafoe, who has been on my radio show twice, upset the No. 5 seed, Russian Andrey Rublev, in a five-set match that ended at 2 a.m.

The story of the tournament on the women’s side was the two unseeded 18-year-olds, Emily Raducanu from Great Britain and Leylah Fernandez of Canada.

They met in the final with Raducanu winning, 6-4 6-3. Going into 2021, Raducanu was ranked No. 333 in the world and Fernandez No. 88, but both defeated all the top players in the world (including Fernandez’s stunning win over Naomi Osaka in the third round).

Like Tiafoe, Fernandez and Raducanu reveled in the cheers from the crowd, while the top players, who have been playing for a year and half without crowds, appeared unnerved and uncomfortable.

On the men’s side, Djokovic’s quest for the first Grand Slam in men’s tennis since Rod Laver won all four majors in 1969 was derailed by No. 2 seed Daniil Medvedev from Russia in the final.

Medvedev lost to Rafael Nadal in the U.S. Open finals two years ago in five sets and earlier this year lost in the finals of the Australian Open to Djokovic.

Medvedev is 6-foot-7 but is super quick, rarely makes an unforced mistake and has the best serve in tennis. He also ate for three straight days at my favorite restaurant in New York, Bella Blue.

I watched Djokovic win an epic semifinal match on Friday, when he outlasted No. 4 seed Sasha Zverev in five sets over 3.5 hours, but that match seemed to take its toll on Djokovic, as Medvedev easily won their final match on Sunday.

The Monday after the tournament, I saw Felix Auger Alliasane, a men’s semifinalist walking down the street on Monday in Midtown, and a passerby shouted, “I loved watching you at the Open” and Felix responded, “I loved playing in the Open in front of the fans!” That exchange captured the essence of the event — an amazing atmosphere for players and fans.

Ira Kaufman, an Altoona native, is an attorney and traveling sports fan. He hosts “Ira on Sports,” on trueoldiesfla.com on Monday night from 7-8 p.m. It is also available on Soundcloud & iTUNES, search Ira On Sports. His column appears occasionally in Voice of the Fan.

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