Night tennis is one of the signatures of the US Open, with remarkable matches and memorable moments sharing the stage with an unforgettable fan experience.
By E.J. Crawford, USOpen.org
The scenes have become the stuff of legend: Serena and Venus Williams squaring off in the first prime-time women’s singles final; grueling affairs that stretch past 2 a.m.; Todd Martin giving high fives to the crowd following a five-set victory over Carlos Moya; and Jimmy Connors rallying from two sets down against Patrick McEnroe to ignite his magical run to the semis in 1991.
There is nothing in tennis quite like a night session at the US Open. As day turns to evening, the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center is transformed: a showpiece becomes a showcase, and the biggest stars in tennis take to the largest arena in Grand Slam tennis, Arthur Ashe Stadium to compete under the lights.
There are celebrities in the stands to watch the stars on the court, and the buzz only grows as the night rolls on, as the matches stretch longer and the clock ticks toward midnight. Because US Open fans know that this is when the magic happens, when a great match becomes an unforgettable one and the moments that define a Slam come into shape.
In 2008, for instance, the match between Andy Roddick and Ernests Gulbis started on Aug. 30 and wrapped up on Aug. 31 – which just so happens to be the birthday of both competitors. So yes, the match was so riveting that both players aged one year.
And when Mats Wilander wrapped up his victory over Mikael Pernfors at 2:26 a.m. in 1993, he was asked if he had ever before played that late. His deadpan answer: “Played what?”
Night tennis, which began in 1975 when New Zealand’s Onny Parun defeated Stan Smith at the West Side Tennis Club in Forest Hill, N.Y., also has altered the state of tennis fashion, with the players treating the great stage of Arthur Ashe Stadium as their own personal runway. Many of the top men have unveiled new attire for their night-time reservations, while Maria Sharapova’s “little black dress” (and subsequent red dress) started a similar sartorial trend among the women.
At its essence, night tennis is tennis with swagger, and it has become as big a part of the US Open as New York City and the event’s cement floors. For as Andre Agassi told the crowd after rallying from two sets down to defeat James Blake in the 2005 quarterfinals: “1:15 in the morning, 20,000 people still here. I wasn’t the winner tonight; tennis was.”
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