The rain moved in bands across the blue hardcourt like a firehouse had been trained on it. It was sudden and vicious and definitively the weather of summer.
But the U.S. Open always reminds me that this season is almost over. Every year, as these first matches lead into the next, the air in New York is hot and thick and humid. Schools are starting, uncovered corporate foreheads in Arthur Ashe Stadium burn easily, partners who’ve played together all season long drag into the doubles draw as old friends comfortable with each other’s silence. It is unquestionably summer, and this rainstorm proved it. But by the end of the tournament, when a champion holds the trophy aloft next Sunday night, students will no longer be lost on campuses, the sun will rise later than it had in July, the air will be cooler, and the tennis “off-season” will begin. As always, by the end of the U.S. Open, it will be fall.
Two hours after the first heavy drops had landed Monday, after crews had squeegeed and blow-dried the courts clean, play started again and the sun came out. Young Americans appeared in force. Nineteen-year-old Jock Sock blew away the veteran No. 22 seed Florian Mayer. Twenty-two-year-old Alabama native Jamie Hampton kept it close in a loss to the No. 11 seed Marion Bartoli. And diminutive 16-year-old Haitian-American Vicky Duval lost her first-ever tour-level match to Kim Clijsters on Arthur Ashe at night, comporting herself so well that hearts melted across the land, especially as she smiled the most endearing grin ever after realizing she had just taken a few games off one of the sport’s best and that 23,157 people were cheering for her.
The list goes on and on. The tennis riches on a day like Monday are unparalleled for anyone who loves seeing fresh American players out on the courts of their dreams. But it was also bittersweet, a testament to the end of a season. There was great tennis played, some marking the start of a career, some the end, but if you ask this tennis fan, the best part was watching the rain fill an empty stadium with Manhattan in the distance. For a little while it all looked old and empty and boring, like the best summer Sunday afternoons, the kind that make you long to have a tennis partner once things dry up so you can go find a court that isn’t too wet and play out the last few hours of sunlight.