Concrete Elbow by Steve Tignor - On Not Going to the U.S. Open
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On Not Going to the U.S. Open 09/15/2010 - 8:13 PM

Aa It’s decompression time around the Tennis Magazine offices. For the first time in 16 or 17 or 18 days—or is it two years?—we aren’t making the stop-and-start journey to Flushing Meadows. For me, that means I don’t have to thread my way through three boroughs—underneath Brooklyn and Manhattan, over top of Queens—two times each day.

The first thing you notice is the amount of extra time you suddenly have. The second thing you notice is how much of that time you sudddenly waste. The Open, where there are always thousands of people whirling around you, is, in a paradoxical way, good for focusing your attention, especially if you have to think and write down an article every day. Now that I’m back at my desk, with no daily deadlines, I’m prey to the evil spell of the computer once again. Wow, Internet shopping, I’d forgotten all about it.

In the last two days I’ve also reacquainted myself with Slate, the PBS Newshour, David Brooks, Mad Men, Gossip Girl, the Great Gatsby, a pair of black office shoes, the Philadelphia Eagles, a classical musical station from Philly on ITunes, Vinny’s pizza by delivery, the roast beef sandwiches at the deli near my office, a local wine store, and the look and feel of my neighborhood in general. There are positives and negatives in all of this. Fall has a serious tone that’s refreshing—it feels literary, a time to use your brain. And coming back to the familiar can be soothing. But there’s also an undertow of disappointment to the process. You  feel the old limits of your world narrowing in around you again.

That’s the beauty of the Open. You’re somewhere special, somewhere buzzing. Like all of the Slams, and at most other tennis tournaments in general, the place feels elevated above the normal run of life—richer, better-looking, more thoroughly tan, better-dressed, shinier, happier, richer. Even midtown Manhattan, the great concrete and metal hub of the universe, is a grubby freak show by comparison.

For someone who works in the sport, the Open also shrinks the world considerably. You’re surrounded by people on all sides, but there’s a small-town atmosphere. You might see a friend here, a player there, or a face you recognize out of the corner of your eye. But whether you know them or not, whether you look like them or not, you're linked by tennis. Sometimes it pays off to follow a niche sport; you can feel like you’ve found your own niche in it.

That explains the most noticeable feeling I have when the Open ends: An acute sense of anonymity. It’s the prevailing condition at all times in New York, of course, and while I’ve never liked it, I’ve adjusted to it. Every year when the tournament ends, though, it gets magnified for me. Away from the tennis bubble, other people in the street seem to have no relation to me whatsoever, and a depressing lack of significance. While I never exchange a word with 99 percent of the people I see at the Open, a connection exists. This is one of the unsung pleasures of a mass event: Even more than the forehands and backhands you see, it’s the sense of gathering that gives the place that extra energy that you don’t get in your daily life.

The subway is where it hits me. After standing in cars crowded with tennis fans from all over the world for two weeks, the New Yorkers I’ve seen coming to work the past couple of days have been absolute strangers to me. The black-haired woman reading Agatha Christie. The brown-haired woman reading Inc magazine. The Middle Eastern man with his arms folded. The black woman staring at her Kindle. The skinny punk kid in red Chuck Taylors. All of them hold the typical, expressionless pose of the subway rider; people in this city have turned the poker face into an art form. This would normally never bother me, but last night I found myself thinking: If you want to know exactly how distant every person is from every other person, ride a New York City subway. It reminded me of a friend who moved here from Pennsylvania a little after I did. Part of him expected, after reading about the downtown music scene for so many years in magazines, that everyone he met would be a massive Sonic Youth fan. It was the indifference—indifference right there, in your face, all around you, visible, passing you on the street—that he found most disorienting.

New-york-039 Like I said, there are positive and negatives. Yesterday, I got caught up listening to my IPod during my ride. It was one of those relatively rare days when I wasn’t sick of all 15,000 songs in there. For once I didn’t scroll past everything and finally click on Yo La Tengo out of desperation, just so I wouldn’t have to scroll back up. Maybe it was having that New York groove going again, but I stopped on Bruce Springsteen and dialed up his Hell’s Kitchen saga, “Incident on 57th Street.” It has the best intro and best fade out of any of his songs, though I found myself wondering what kind of “incident” could possibly happen on 57th these days—shoplifting at Bergdorf’s? I’d forgotten that the song melted into “Rosalita,” which I hadn’t heard since high school, on a Panasomic record player. Bruce's Jersey street characters made me start to laugh right there in the subway: “Dynamite’s in the belfry, baby, playing with the bats/Little Gun’s downtown in front of the Woolworth’s trying out his attitude on all the cats.”

The upshot is that I missed my stop and ended up heading over the bridge, across the East River, and into Williamsburg. I got out at the first stop and walked over to the other side of the platform, to catch the train back into Manhattan. After two weeks of heat and wind, the weather was finally perfect. So perfect, so comfortable, it made you feel safe. It was just after sunset, and from where I sat, I could see the Williamsburg Bridge, its curves lined with lights, and the lower city skyline behind it. I’ve lived in New York for almost 20 years and have never glimpsed this particular, beautifully industrial view. I wasn’t worried about getting anywhere. I didn’t even want the train to come right away. For the first time in a while, I felt like I had some extra time. It felt good to waste a little of it.


Posted by skip1515 09/15/2010 at 09:59 PM

"Fall has a serious tone that’s refreshing—it feels literary"

Great. Yes. Thanks.

Posted by innocent bystander 09/15/2010 at 10:39 PM

I had to laugh when I read this as I ended up playing Yo La Tengo in my iPod many times for exactly the same reason - it never disappointed me though :)

Posted by Papo (Got Nadal?) 09/15/2010 at 11:04 PM

Nice way to wrap up the fortnight, Steve. Personally I'm still on tennis overload. Tennis Channel is still replaying the US Open finals and the Fed/Djokovic semi, but for me it's time to take a break for a while.

Posted by nyc 09/15/2010 at 11:21 PM

3 boroughs sounds unnecessary. Why don't u take the G to Roosevelt, then pick up the 7. Alternatively, u could take the LIRR from Atlantic to Jamaica (or the J/Z), then take the LIRR from Jamaica to Willets Points. 2 boroughs. BK and Queens are on the same land mass. Manhattan's the outlying island, so not necessary to cross to stay on the same chunk of land.

Posted by reckoner 09/16/2010 at 01:11 AM

it hit me on the subway too

i went to law school in chicago and the first thing that hit me those few yrs in the city was, riding on the L, how "indifferent" ppl were... the general sense of jadedness

dude when its rush hr, big city public transportation is the vastest, saddest collection of weary faces ive ever seen, its sad and melancholic and i remember sitting in my cube every day feeling like neo waiting for something, anything, to maybe receive a fedex package w/ a cellphone in it telling me this was all a dream

anyway... sonic youth rules

Posted by felizjulianidad 09/16/2010 at 04:59 AM

Tennis fan, please show some dignity, restraint and sense of shame in displaying your ignorance and stupidity so publicly.

Posted by lilscot 09/16/2010 at 07:33 AM

Man, it sure would be nice to pop into a blog here sometime and NOT see Tennis Fan's stupid moniker and comments.

Posted by fedfan 09/16/2010 at 07:39 AM

Nice, Steve. It does seem like a different world from the start of the Open, with the shorter days and and chillier temperatures, but as you say it's an interesting and invigorating one. I do understand your feeling a bit of angst after the party has ended, though. Although the indoor season is ahead, it sort of feels as though tennis has packed up for the year as well.

Posted by Martin 09/16/2010 at 08:26 AM

Thanks Steve,

I'm starting a Narrative Therapy course tomorrow and have really enjoyed reading your "mindful" articles over the may not be your intention, but I find your writing very therapeutic..thank you.

Posted by David 09/16/2010 at 08:36 AM

"The Wild, The Innocent and the E Street Shuffle" is such a ghetto album, in the best sense of the word

Posted by David 09/16/2010 at 08:41 AM

I should say, in the truest sense of the word

Posted by Geellis 09/16/2010 at 09:18 AM

I'm gay and offended by the association with the kooky likes of Tennisfan.

And I'm certain you know of the miracle PED that could, overnite, tweak Nadal's serve? Cause PEDs work that way, right?

Posted by Linz 09/16/2010 at 09:39 AM

Thanks for this article Steve- I live in NY and attended the Open a lot this year, and been feeling very lost the past few days, and you have perfectly summed up why.

Posted by Bibi 09/16/2010 at 09:57 AM

What a nice article... - back to work now for me - but tomorrow it starts again - Davis Cup!

Posted by humanzee 09/16/2010 at 10:02 AM

I had never seen this doping in tennis website until Tennis fan mentioned it. The case they make isn't especially strong, but it has gotten me interested. I'm curious about the opinions of people here. How extensive is doping in tennis really? And can anyone direct me to good sources (e.g. more credible) on the topic?

Posted by ebh 09/16/2010 at 10:07 AM

Doping is moot point. If Nadal is doing it, I guarantee that all the others are as well. If they discovered tomorrow that he was, I wouldn't be surprised, but then I would be expecting an onslaught of other discoveries about the other to players (Fed included). Let's hope this is not the case and until we have real evidence let's drop the accusations.

Posted by Slice-n-Dice 09/16/2010 at 10:48 AM

"If you want to know exactly how distant every person is from every other person, ride a New York City subway. It reminded me of a friend who moved here from Pennsylvania a little after I did. Part of him expected, after reading about the downtown music scene for so many years in magazines, that everyone he met would be a massive Sonic Youth fan. It was the indifference—indifference right there, in your face, all around you, visible, passing you on the street—that he found most disorienting."

Beautifully written, Steve. And precisely why I could never live or work in New York City. The constant reminder of my utter meaninglessness to every person I passed would suck the very life out of me.

Posted by wlee 09/16/2010 at 11:41 AM

steve, thank the rain for being somewhat of an equalizer for the men's question to you is: 1) are the TV gods so fearsome we have to have semis on saturday and the final on sunday ? 2) if 1) cannot be questioned could we at least have some rules about which semi is played first along the lines of a) the age of the higher seeds of each semi finalist determines the order, as he would take more time to recover ? b) or the smaller difference between the 2 semi finalists' ranking goes first ? the reason being it will be the more likely of the two to have a tougher match.

ex: a) compare nadal's and federer's age (reasoning they would likely be the winner of their match. (of course in real djoko won the semi and he is younger than nadal.
b) the difference of rankings between nadal and youzny was greater than federer and djoko. so they should have played later that fed/djoko. this way the difference of their rest times would have been-only C. 2 hrs, while the other way the difference was about 4 hrs. also those in the longer match need more time to recover.

really it's so lousy to have a final determined by the rest time which would have been the case had it not been the rained out sunday. aren't we happier that djoko lost because nadal was a better player rather than having seen the final determined by the tired body with a poor quality match?

Posted by Steve 09/16/2010 at 12:20 PM


Posted by Steve 09/16/2010 at 12:24 PM

wiee: you're right, the rain helped, and the tv gods really are that fearsome when it comes to the open. back to back semi and final need to go away.

opening lines of "incident on 57th st."

Spanish Johnny drove in from the underworld last night
With bruised arms and broken rhythm and a beat-up old Buick
But dressed just like dynamite

some "comments" above were deleted, in case it seems confusing.

skip, slice, reckoner, david, others: thanks

Posted by Michele 09/16/2010 at 12:29 PM

Every year, I anticipate the inevitable downward shift in feeling and mood that the end of the Open presents. The adrenaline drains from my body and I have to re-adjust back to normal life. Sigh.

On a positive note, I still have the last season of the Wire waiting for me; just not sure what I'm going to do after THAT.

Thanks for capturing yet again how we all feel.

Posted by Kristy 09/16/2010 at 12:29 PM

Nice post, Steve. It is hard to deal with the indifference of New York and with the lifeless faces commuting at rush hour. And it was very different to ride the 7 train out to Flushing and the tennis -- so festive, lively, so unlike normal subway attitudes. I find I really dislike myself on the subway and I don't know if it's because I can't shake the bored, miserable feeling I'm projecting back at people or because I feel so anonymous as to be totally negligible. Either way, I'd give a lot to live somewhere in Ma'hatta' so I wouldn't (necessarily) have to endure that darkness every day.

Now: What subway did you take that you were above ground the first stop into W'burg? The JMZ? Not the L anyway. (Sorry for nerd NYC focus.)

Posted by Steve 09/16/2010 at 12:35 PM

Michele: last season of the wire: i wish i still had that in front of me. i seem to remember liking seasons three and four the best. but one and two were awesome as well. after the wire, try treme, if it's out. i liked that a lot as well.

it was the M, train, which has snuck it's way into the broadway-lafayette stop. definitely makes living in williamsburg better, if you live there.

Posted by susan 09/16/2010 at 12:36 PM

david brooks?! i haven't forgiven him for dissing michelle obama for her sleeveless dresses and bare arms. bleh!

that feeling of anonymity is nyc. i've never experienced it anywhere else. however, i often found it liberating and exhilarating.

the night image of the lit bridge (forgotten which one, 57th st?) from my window. could see the entire bridge, as well as the empire state building. time stands still.

well i will see if i experience the same buzz at a tournament that will feature some atp players here... rinky-dink...but close to the action.

Posted by 40love 09/16/2010 at 01:07 PM

AHH, The Open! The best and brightest, laid low and raised high. I find it so inspiring to see the level of tennis played, the amount of determination brought to bear.....
To combat feelings of autumnal isolation amongst the madding crowd one simply needs a consuming obsession, a beautiful dream and a regular work-out schedule.
Perhaps it's time you actually worked on your serve until the sweat drips, your arm throbs, the blister forms and then tears. Then tomorrow, tape and the same, workout, sweat,dream, repeat.
You could finally learn to play that Sonic Youth riff on the guitar, egad! form a band with like-minded dreamers, play some open mike sets, LIVE LIFE NOW!!
Sell your pathetic television and buy a saxaphone, ask John Coltrane to be your mentor and practise obsessively until you can stand in the subway doing your best to play "a love supreme."
Finally, play tennis every day-even if it's just forehands and backhands off the wall with a practice ball in your apartment. Play the person who beats you, raises your game, makes you burn with desire to be better. Practice, workout, practice, play. You are living now and you can pity all those grey-faced robots swaying on the subway, counting the minutes to another fairy-tale installment of "Gossip Girl."

Posted by Steve 09/16/2010 at 01:16 PM

david brooks, like him sometimes/don't like him many other times.

i always read brooks and gail collins, sometimes read krugman and dowd and douthat and herbert. never read kristof. stopped reading friedman when i knew what he was going to write before he wrote it

Posted by Rafalution 09/16/2010 at 01:50 PM

Last night After clicking on the link "TennisFAn" had put I was outraged!
How is it possible that there isn't a better screening of the garbage people put out here..
I am not sure how many people were really responding or commenting on that website, or if that was a one man show with a few sidekicks spewing such hate against the world's #1 player.
I for one am a huge fan of Rafa whole identity. His game, attitude, demeanour, humility....all of it. For there to be such hate for this young man is virtually reprehensible....
Mr. TENNISFAN my question to you is.......WHAT HAVE YOU DONE LATELY??????? OTHER than waste your precious time and energy creating and representing yourself shamelessly and negatively to the genuine TENNIS FANS on this forum who are here to express their "generally" positive feelings for the champion of such an arduous event such as the USOpen fortnight.....

You're an absolute disgrace.....Look to share positivity and enlightenment wherever you go next time, instead of being the ANTI-Tennis Fan representative that you are your groupies are.....

Steve as much as I adore all your writing, please have someone filter these posts a little more carefully...
I truly enjoy your work and read them regularly!!

Thank you.

Posted by tina (forever proud to be in the "Đ-block") 09/16/2010 at 02:54 PM

The only match I could have attended in person this year - aside from not being able to snag tickets to the Monday final, hard as I tried - was the Ferrer/Verdasco barnstormer. Man, what a case of *kicking self*.

But Bibi, I'm with you. Just enough time to celebrate and digest the Open; tomorrow the excitement begins anew with Davis Cup!

Posted by Joy 09/16/2010 at 03:28 PM

Steve, now that I know you watch ''Gossip Girl'', I love you even more.

Posted by Legoboy 09/16/2010 at 03:57 PM


I had the pleasure of enjoying the start of the Open this year (actually kept my eyes peeled for you...but you were probably in some A/C'd press-room instead of court 11 sweating to death by 12pm! *grin*

But even pre-open I felt it...I didn't get it...but the Subway was the single most lonesome feeling I had...not even a passing glance, or smirk, or side smile...just dead-pan faces (if you could even get eye contact).
I'd love to come down there and work for a year...but a part of me knows that the experience of disjointed people riding together would eventually grate into my ever optimistic soul. I'll stay up North....for now.

Posted by goku24 09/16/2010 at 04:03 PM

Really nice piece.

Posted by adicecream 09/16/2010 at 04:03 PM

I'm feeling bereft without the Open and I was only in NYC for 3 days. Thanks for writing about your feelings.

Posted by goku24 09/16/2010 at 04:09 PM

New York, I love you.

Posted by Mr Rick 09/16/2010 at 05:12 PM

really nice piece Steve, thanks

Posted by Foot Fault 09/16/2010 at 06:10 PM

thank you for this last evocative gem and for all of your boots-on-the-grounds reports from Queens. "After two weeks of heat and wind, the weather was finally perfect. So perfect, so comfortable, it made you feel safe." As a relocated east coaster (I live in the SF Bay Area now) that brought back a flood of autumn-tinged memories, disparate impressions having nothing to do with tennis but much to do with love.

Posted by 78x27 09/16/2010 at 07:23 PM

I haven't watched a grand slam live.
I haven't been to New York City.
I haven't ridden a subway in America.
I haven't been interested in Bruce Springsteen's music.
I haven't read a better article that's about or related to tennis.

Thanks Steve.

Posted by Manly Norris 09/17/2010 at 12:31 AM

My first tennis tournament and US Open was last year and the moment I walked onto the grounds I felt that same sense of belonging. Finally, after months of forcing people to watch obscure Masters tournament semis, or making them listen to my philosophical tennis rants, I was among people who understood! It was nothing short of group therapy, that unspoken understanding and shared passion. Even if you don't talk to anyone you aren't anonymous. Contrast that to the indigence of the city and its certainly a reverse culture shock. I wasn't able to go to the Open this year, but next year Im going for season passes. I can think of no better way of starting the fall season off right than clearing your mind with a week-long hiatus at Flushing Meadows.

Posted by jawad 09/17/2010 at 01:01 AM

@Tennis Fan

If doping or Performance Enhancing Drugs exist in Tennis and tests conducted are not enough to catch any cheaters then rest assured that everybody including Federer will be using them not just Nadal.
Pics u have posted on your blog showing almost all the Tennis players except Federer in Arnold like physique are obviously not real and just a creation of ur imagination.
3 Players who have beaten Federer this year at Grand Slams are not that "muscular" (which is an indication of doping for you) and these players beat him all fair and square in very closely contested matches.
When federer was beating these guys 10 times in a row it was all very normal for you and now at the age of 29 Federer being beaten by these younger opponents in close matches is a sign that all these players are taking PEDs, is a very illogical inference to say the least.
You also mentioned in your blog that ITF and ATP wouldn't speak against this but why do you think Federer is not speaking against it if all players except him are using PEDs?

Posted by adman 09/17/2010 at 04:49 AM

to goku24: "New York I Love You" was a HORRIBLE movie. Try watching the original "Paris, Je T'Aime". An absolute gem. Even if you dont speak french it is wonderful. I did think it was funny that Natalie Portman was in both movies.

P.S I thought this was a very great article. There is not much to talk about now that the open is over, but you manage to keep me reading with your awesome writing.

Posted by susan 09/17/2010 at 09:23 AM

78x27: nice.

no kristof? yes some freidman columns are predictable: we are now 2,589th worldwide in (anything). we are falling down the slippery slope fast. chindia will be kicking our butts before we can say 'come on". sound the alarm.

well i wonder if david imonlymotivatedfordaviscup nalbandian will show up in a few weeks here. i doubt it.

Posted by Eugene. 09/17/2010 at 12:46 PM

to wlee
>>>really it's so lousy to have a final determined by the rest time which would have been >>>the case had it not been the rained out sunday.

I think it was determined right after Berdych and Andy lost their matches.
Djoko would had his chance to get US Open - if he played Nadal first and Federer in final.
Same way as DelPo did last year. The reason behind this is simple. DelPo having still rested and having 15-20% energy/power superiority over Nadal. This let him to overwhelmed Nadal fairly inexpensive way.

Had Djoko played Federer first( which is way more expensive, no matter what), he would be in par(or lower) with Nadal in energy/power department, which makes it impossible to get through final, as you need serious superiority over Rafa to beat him.

Indeed, the history of last three finals shows , that beating Federer is actually kiss of death. No one made much further.

Ironically, precisely Joko (and Safin)... were those exceptions from the rule.

Pity he did not pull it off this time. I love DelPo syndrom !!!

Oh, well ... I guess, we needed rain breaks in the middle of every set ... That might have helped. LOL !!!

Posted by Eugene. 09/17/2010 at 12:48 PM


"Had Djoko played Federer first..."
Please, read ...
"Had DelPo played Federer first..."

Posted by TennisRone 1000 09/17/2010 at 02:14 PM

Oh man....this is so true Steve. Even moreso since I have a hard time getting myself into Davis Cup. I guess I've always felt somewhat isolated as a tennis fan since it's not on the tips of most people's tongues like baseball, football, or European football (:->) in the US. I'd say this blog almost hepls me feel 'important'...or perhaps 'home' that I can share my observations with the Twibe while experiencing their varied takes and absorb their passion. It's a pleasure.

But there is that cold wind that certainly blows Steve as Septmeber rolls the rubble of the 2010 tennis season is slowly dying and being blow away and absorbed into the earth.....and awaiting the re-birth of the cycle again in 2011. As goes the Grand Slam experience of 2010.

At the same time, I am a little relieved as I feel like I isolate myself from the world when this tournament is held...:-). Like you, one rediscovers the other parts of your life you enjoy. I'm feeling like it's finally time to go buy that couch I need to make my apartment feel like 'home'.

Posted by Annie (Vamos Heavenly Creature) 09/23/2010 at 08:34 AM

Michele: after you finish "the Wire" try "MI-5" - I became totally addicted to it.

Steve: sigh. what a great piece. and so so true of the subway, and New York in general, during rush hour. At other times, I find the city a very friendly place. But when folks are going from A to B and on the clock, it's a pretty cold place.

Can't wait for the Open next year now that I've gone the train/subway route. bye bye Whitestone!

Posted by Annie (Vamos Heavenly Creature) 09/23/2010 at 08:38 AM

oh and as for music: my son and I just drove all through the south looking at colleges. We listened to the new Linkin Park cd almost exclusively. It's that good.

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