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At the U.S. Open

Excitement builds at season’s last Grand Slam

By Sean Coffey | null null , null
Venus Williams of the U.S. reaches for the ball while playing Jelena Jankovic of Serbia during their match at the U.S. Open tennis tournament in Flushing Meadows, New York, September 5, 2007. (Photo: ©Shaun Best/Reuters)
Venus Williams of the U.S. reaches for the ball while playing Jelena Jankovic of Serbia during their match at the U.S. Open tennis tournament in Flushing Meadows, New York, September 5, 2007. (Photo: ©Shaun Best/Reuters)

I’m standing a few feet away from one of the most photographed and glamorous female athletes in the world today. Her name is Maria Sharapova, the 2006 U.S. Open singles champion.

At six feet two inches, she is wearing white sweatpants and a black top, towering over a foosball table, quietly text–messaging a friend. Nearby, Bob Bryan, who with twin brother Mike makes up the No. 1 men’s doubles team in tennis, is sitting on a couch, laughing and visiting with friends. He is across the room from a cyber center, where all 13 laptops are in use by tennis players checking e-mail and logging onto Facebook.

Welcome to the players lounge at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in New York City, home of the U.S. Open Tennis Championships. This is where the best tennis players on Earth escape during the biggest and noisiest tournament of the year, an event that draws about 60,000 fans every day for two weeks.

This is where the players come to get away from the cameras, the crowds, and the paparazzi. They can relax on the couches, get a massage, or grab a bite to eat in the dining hall. Everywhere you look, people are listening to iPods, text-messaging, or talking to family and friends. During such a high-profile competition, the lounge becomes a very important refuge.

"When you play in this tournament, playing three–of–five–set matches, it’s a grind," says up–and–coming star John Isner, who
Kid Reporter Sean Coffey and American tennis player John Isner in the player's lounge at the U.S. Open in Queens, New York, in August 2007. (Photo courtesy Sean Coffey)
attended the University of Georgia. "It puts a lot of pressure on your legs. Mainly, you just want to relax." He looks around the room, from the vaulted ceilings and the wall of windows overlooking the practice courts, to the state-of-the-art video games and plasma-screen TVs that are everywhere.

"It definitely beats the lounges back in college," Isner says, smiling. Isner was defeated in the third round of play by Roger Federer. Isner says he is proud of his effort during that loss. He held his own against the world’s greatest tennis player, taking the first set in a tiebreaker. But he lost the next three sets and the match.

[The lounge] is "twice as nice as last year," adds Bob Bryan. Bob and brother Mike lost in a quarterfinals doubles match but have been chosen for the U.S. Davis Cup squad. Along with teammates Andy Roddick and James Blake, they will play in the semifinals against Switzerland September 21 to 23.

OPEN FACE-LIFT

The U.S. Tennis Association, which runs the Open, spent $7.5 million to upgrade and renovate the lounge, locker rooms, and gymnasium. There is a brown wall-to-wall carpet with tennis ball designs on the floor, along with plush sofas and soft lighting. A short walk away, the dining hall has a great selection of food and a big room full of comfortable chairs and tables. My first reaction when I walked in was, "Wow, what a great place to hang out." I had to remember I was there to interview players and take notes, not play Nintendo Wii.

Asia Muhammad, 16, of Las Vegas, Nevada, is one of the top junior players in the U.S. "Before I got here, everybody told me how cool it is, and I totally agree," she says.

Players from all over the world compete in the U.S. Open. Some of them already are rich and famous, like Federer and Sharapova. Some are hoping to get there. For almost all of them, the players lounge is their off-court home away from home.

ON THE COURT

U.S. Open action peaks this weekend with semifinal and championship matches slated.

To win a spot in the championship match, Venus Williams will first have to defeat Justine Henin of Belgium. Williams may be looking for some revenge. Henin beat her sister, Serena, earlier in the week. Henin takes on Venus on Friday.

The other women's semifinal, which is also set for Friday, pits 2004 U.S. Open champion Svetlana Kuznetsova against No. 6 seed Anna Chakvetadze. The winners of those two matches will compete for the women’s U.S. Open title Saturday night.

In the men’s competition, quarterfinal play will finish on Thursday. Semifinal matches will be played on Saturday, with the men’s final scheduled for Sunday, September 9.

CRITICAL THINKING QUESTION

Read today's news story, and then answer the following question.

 

Do you watch tennis? Why or why not? Who are your favorite players?

Join a discussion of this question on our bulletin board

About the Author

Sean Coffey is a member of the Scholastic Kids Press Corps.

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