THE US OPEN is always dreamlike, set against the shimmering backdrop of a late-summer night in New York. It is hard to think of another sporting event so closely associated with the personality of a city: at once urbane and gritty, guided by a distinct appreciation for flash and greatness.
This year also marked the end of an era, as it saw the (likely) retirement of Serena Williams, the sport’s towering figure, and someone I personally delight in calling the greatest athlete of all time, if for no other reason than she participated in a Grand Slam nine months after a C-section — a claim that cannot be made by Michael Jordan, Jim Thorpe, or really anyone else you care to think up.
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She has dominated our imaginations for 25 years since she won her first championship here at 19 in a yellow Puma dress and white-beaded braids. The final set of her career — in the third round against the Australian Tomljanović — ended in an epic 22-point game where she fought off 5 match points. It was the most Serena (and the most New York) way to go out. That is what I’ll remember most from this year’s US Open. Here are some other things that will stay with me.
Not a new observation but one that bears repeating. This thought occurred while being whisked along the Hudson on a Barton & Gray Mariners Club yacht, after watching Kyrgios beat Medvedev three sets to one. Passing under the Brooklyn Bridge at night, the lights of the World Trade Center glistening in the newly fallen rain, I realized that I was having the kind of experience that you store away to recall when you need a hit of serotonin.
While most men in attendance at the US Open were still posing in their grandfather’s faded polos and rumpled chinos, some made statements in bold patterns scattered throughout the crowd — particularly the Grey Goose rep seated courtside in the Scotch and Soda printed camp shirt and matching shorts. A wonder to behold. C’mon, fellas. Live a little.
She is the only player I’ve seen who looks down at the court while anticipating the serve. Up and down her eyes go. It gives the impression of a perfect balance between internal and external, as if for her it is only tangentially about the opponent, and in reality, she is simply playing for and against herself. That, of course, is how great people get and stay great.
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If you don’t care enough, that is. This insight courtesy of the young Kyrgios fan fistpumping every point from the Greek. I’m not saying I would personally do it. I’m saying if you have the swagger, it can be done. Good luck.
By the time we reached the semifinals, there remained only one woman — Iga Świątek — with a Grand Slam victory to her name. On the men’s side: none. Federer is gone, Serena retired, Djokovic’s at home. Nineteen-year-old Carlos Alcaraz defeated Jannick Sinner in one of the greatest matches the tournament has ever seen, and Francis Tiafoe of College Park, Maryland, straight up swindled the primetime crowd from Nadal. The sport is now younger, wilder, more unpredictable. Regime change is upon us. And it couldn’t be more beautiful.
Header image: Photography by Timothy A. Clary/AFP via Getty Images.
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Carvell Wallace Writer
Carvell Wallace is an author and podcaster based in California. He writes about art, culture, family, relationships, music, sports, and memories. His memoir on love and trauma will be published by MCD/FSG in 2022.