By Joseph Staszewski
Returning for Opening Day of the US Open brought back memories that go beyond tennis for Roy and Daniella Gemal.
The Kew Gardens Hills couple has an 18-year history at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. It is the place of their first date and where Roy, after falling asleep in Louie Armstrong Stadium, proposed after an Andre Agassi match.
“I still know where he did it,” Daniella Gemal said “It was in the nosebleeds.”
She, Roy and their 9-year-old son Rephal, a budding tennis fan, were back again Monday to join thousands of fans who flocked to Flushing Meadow Corona Park for the first day of action of the two-week tournament. Rock star Lenny Kravitz performed at the opening ceremony attended by the likes of Donald Trump, Cuba Gooding Jr., Billie Jean King and Mayor Michael Bloomberg later that night.
The day started with American James Blake announcing he will retire after the tournament. Fans throughout the day got to take in American competitors Sloane Stephens and sisters Venus and Serena Williams along with fan favorites like Rafael Nadal of Spain. Stephens played one of the best matches of the day, fighting back to beat Mandy Minella of Luxembourg in a third-set tiebreaker. After the match she said she didn’t want to disappoint the enthusiastic crowd.
“It’s always tough to get through the first round of a grand slam, but especially at home and in front of American fans,” she said. “You want to do so well.”
Spectators like Judy Chandon, of Jackson Heights, and friend Hermine Weiss particularly liked the start of the tournament because it was a chance to see all the world’s best talent up close. They took in Germany’s Bernard Tomic besting Spain’s Albert Ramos in five sets.
“The power that they have and it’s so disciplined and it’s so trained and they are such athletes,” Chandon said. “When you sit up close, you can see the power that they have hitting the ball. Oh, my lord.”
It’s the intimate setting that keeps bringing Rockaway native Jay Wilson and his wife Siobhan back after moving to Atlantic Beach. He says he doesn’t care much for watching matches at the bigger venues like Arthur Ash Stadium. He would much rather take in action up close on the peripheral courts.
“What I like the most is standing right next to Court 13 and being 5 feet from the players,” Wilson said.
He and Daniella Gemal have both seen the tournament evolve over the years, but not always in a good way. Gemal thinks it has become less intimate and more expensive. Wilson enjoys the beauty and amenities to the courtyard, but said the event doesn’t have a hometown feel.
“This place is so snobby it’s not even Queens,” Wilson said.
At its heart the tournament remains a place where fan and players from all over the world come together to celebrate the game of tennis and enjoy its beauty and unpredictability.
“You never know what you are going to see out here,” Chandon said.