© Ella Ling

Li Na

New York: Bright lights and the smell of French fries


The ever-hilarious Li Na had everyone in stitches last week when she said that playing in New York could be difficult because of the smell of fast food that wafts around Flushing Meadows at almost any given time. Li said that it can be difficult to hold serve, especially when you’re hungry and all you can smell is French fries.

Well, for those people who have not been to the US Open, and specifically to Flushing Meadows, the tournament has a life of its own, with its own rules and its own unique atmosphere that can reach fever pitch when the situation demands it. A night session on Arthur Ashe Stadium Court is a ticket like no other, with the fans seemingly believing that since they paid good money to get in, they should be part of the show.

Sometimes this crosses the line, especially when the odd fight breaks out. New Yorkers are strong, confident and no-messing kind of people, so if they don’t like something, or worse still, if they think they have been short-changed, then all hell can cut loose.

The tournament itself also has a life of its own, with matches starting at whatever time the organisers like – Tim Henman once started a match well after midnight, on an outside court, with only a handful of fans there – and in whatever conditions they like, though the hard courts are lethal when wet so they don’t have much leeway on that.

But they do have a big say on which players are on which courts. US Television still rules so within reason, what they say, goes. Back in the 1980s, Stefan Edberg was one of a breed of Europeans – Boris Becker, Ivan Lendl and Mats Wilander – threatening to break the US monopoly on the Open, which had been won by either John McEnroe or Jimmy Connors in nine of the 11 events between 1974 and 1984. Edberg had, perhaps foolishly, let it be known that he was not that at ease playing under floodlights and so he soon found himself playing under lights more often than not, especially in the mid-1980s. Edberg had the last laugh, winning back-to-back titles in 1991 and 1992, much to the annoyance of Pete Sampras, Jim Courier and Andre Agassi, not to mention the organisers, who love nothing better than a home champion.

The fact that the tournament has been forced into a Monday finish in each of the past three years has rather put egg on the faces of the organisers, but don’t be surprised to see a couple more “interesting” decisions in the fortnight to come.