Roger Federer has conquered virtually everything in his two decades on tour but even the greatest tennis player of all time can’t beat New York’s notorious traffic snarl-ups.
The US Open, where the Swiss star has been champion on five occasions, is staged in the New York borough of Queen’s, across the East River from glamorous Manhattan, where players and media stay for the fortnight.
However, the 10-mile journey can often take an hour or more during the working week.
It’s one of the many challenges, on and off the court, which reinforce the city’s reputation as no place for shrinking violets.
Federer has found one way of making the tournament come to him by practicing on public courts in Central Park.
“I was like, ‘Yeah, anything that doesn’t make me drive very long,'” said Federer.
Fellow superstar Maria Sharapova, never one short of confidence, admits that when she first saw the city of 8.5 million souls, she hated it.
“When I first came to New York I was intimidated by the noise, the traffic, the people. But now I love it,” said the Russian star who was 2006 champion at the US Open. The feeling appears to be mutual.
When Sharapova played her first Grand Slam match since the end of her 15-month doping ban on the 24,000-capacity Arthur Ashe stadium on Monday, she wore a black dress, dotted with Swarovski crystals.
“It’s prime time baby!” said Sharapova.
The Ashe stadium, the largest tennis venue in the world, can be a constant cauldron of noise. At night, the din is ratcheted up with music and commercials thumping out during changeovers while fans chat and fidget, usually on their way back from the bars around the sprawling venue.
“It’s intimidating, it’s so big, there’s so much going on. The screens are working during the points. Yeah, there’s a lot of people moving and talking. It’s not easy to play in,” said Canadian 18-year-old Denis Shapovalov.
Shapovalov even interacted with a spectator who was merrily enjoying his evening out. “I noticed a couple of guys had a little bit too much to drink. I mean, some of them were standing and, like, just talking to me as if we’re buddies.
“I was up a break in one game, I think it was probably 40-15, I just miss a backhand. He’s like, ‘Ah, no.’ I’m like, ‘Don’t worry, man, I got this.'”
The noise on Ashe is always impossible to ignore, although it wasn’t to everyone’s taste on Tuesday when the $150 million roof was shut all day as torrential rain washed away most of the programme.
With fans happily chatting away, the sound turned the arena into a giant echo chamber, much to the irritation of Rafael Nadal
“I understand it’s a show, but under the roof we need to be a little bit more strict about the noise,” said the world number one, a two-time champion at the tournament.
Most players who experience Ashe insist that you have to get the crowd on your side — otherwise you are doomed.
“It’s hard to beat a New York crowd when they’re for you – it’s a lot to go against,” said CoCo Vandeweghe of the United States.
Provided by AFP Sport
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