The Very New York Magic of a US Open Night Match
I have never played tennis at night. I mostly play on decent public courts in Los Angeles. Vermont Canyon, Riverside, and Poinsettia Park under the powerful afternoon sunlight, two o’clock being the best time to secure a court and hit with other people with loose schedules.
That is precisely why seeing tennis at night makes it so exciting. The US Open Tennis Championships take place in New York City, specifically in Queens, and start on the last Monday of August and continue for two weeks. You can, of course, go during the day, when tickets are more affordable, but the night sessions are electrifying in an almost indescribable way. Maybe it’s the still oppressive late summer city heat, the free-flowing Grey Goose (they are a presenting sponsor), or the fact that it is the season's last major tournament on arguably the world’s largest stage. The crowd is engaged, loud, and just a bit unhinged. It feels like the right way to see tennis. It’s an event, not just a match.
Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi after their epic 2001 quarter final.
In 1976, Bjorn Borg and Jimmy Connors contested the first ever US Open final held at night. Connors went on to win in four sets.
Emma Raducanu, the 2021 US Open women's singles champion.
Rafael Nadal greeting the crowd at Flushing Meadows.
Night tennis featured at the US Open for the first time in 1975.
My dear friend takes me to a night match to celebrate my birthday almost yearly. He is a diehard Rafael Nadal fan, and no matter what time it is, we aren’t leaving until it’s over. He often wears a complete Nike Rafa kit, or at least the shoes, to show his undying love and support. Being up past my bedtime, with the humidity, would typically lull me to sleep in my hard blue plastic chair, but the noise between points is too great. You don’t have to care even a little about tennis to enjoy it. If you still don’t believe me, watch the 2001 Quarterfinal match between Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi.
Both were supposed to be past their primes. Instead, they rose to the occasion. Every set of the three-hour and 32-minute match was phenomenal. Even knowing the final result, the energy and excitement are palpable through a MacBook Air screen in 2022. Sure, I am romanticizing it, but I dare any skeptic to take the 7 train to Arthur Ashe for a night session and return home without a smile on their face. The biggest winners are the spectators.
You can watch it on television, but it just ain’t the same.