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Catching Up

September 15, 2009 Leave a comment
Rod Laver

Rod Laver

[AP, John Rider]

We got home three nights ago (Saturday night) from our trip to New York and Nantucket, but I seem to be too distracted catching up on various other items to catch up on blogging. And now there’s way too much to blog about. Maybe I should do what I did with all the unread NYTs and WSJs from before we went away — dump everything and start fresh.

So what’s been distracting me? Well, first, those newspapers. I did toss the old ones, but we awoke Sunday morning to new ones. They just keep coming. And magazines. Waiting for us Saturday night were the latest issues of the New Yorker, the New York Review of Books, Harper’s, the Atlantic, and Golf World. And books. Also waiting was Ian Rankin’s newest crime novel, The Complaints, which I had pre-ordered from the UK Amazon store. Like the great Inspector Rebus series that came to an end two years ago with Exit Music, it is set in Edinburgh. I am sorely tempted to jump in. But I’m holding off so I can get other things done. And just before we went on our trip, I got Liaquat Ahamed’s Lords of Finance: The Bankers Who Broke the World, which I’ve been intending to read for half a year. I would have taken it with me, but it’s such a thick book that I decided it wouldn’t fit well in my carry-on bag. Also sitting right next to me as I write is Jhumpa Lahiri’s first short story collection, Interpreter of Maladies, which I bought last Thursday at the wonderful Nantucket Bookworks in downtown Nantucket in case I needed something to read on the flight home. I so loved her collection Unaccustomed Earth; I’m confident this will be every bit as good.

With so much to read, what am I doing instead? It seems that sports has intervened. And our remodel. I’ve managed not to say much over the last half year about our on-going remodel. No point starting now. As for sports, gosh, Sunday was a big day. And no, I don’t mean because of the start of the NFL season. Who has time for that? When ABC and Hank Williams ask, “Are you ready for some football,” I simply say no. Give me another month or two. Maybe my answer will change. But right now I don’t need it. On the other hand, there’s golf. And tennis. Sunday we had to watch Tiger win the BMW championship at Cog Hill outside Chicago. And US Open tennis brought us the women’s final and men’s semifinals. Yesterday, as we headed off to Seattle Curtain to get some samples, downloaded the US Open app on my iPhone and followed the Federer-Del Potro men’s final on it. We stopped in next door at Saba Ethiopian Cuisine for lunch, during which we continued to follow the match. They had a TV over the bar with the Manchester United vs. Tottenham soccer match, so we followed that too while we were at it. We got home just in time for the second set tiebreaker and watched it to conclusion. I’m not clear on why del Potro’s victory, dramatic as it was, is viewed as such a big upset. Given how he was playing, and in particular given his success the day before against Nadal, I expected him to do well.

I remembered last night that this year marks the 40th anniversary of Rod Laver’s second grand slam. He won all four tennis majors in 1962, then again in 1969. One can only wonder how many more times he might have grand slammed in a less benighted age, if turning pro after his 1962 victories hadn’t made him ineligible to play in the majors until the open era was ushered in in 1968. Like this year’s US Open final, the one in 1969 was delayed past the weekend because of rain. And I was there to see Rod Laver defeat Tony Roche. I went with my sister and her friend Laurie. A quick search brings up this article at ESPN, also marking the 40th anniversary. It tells the story pretty well.

This was in the (good) old days, when the tournament was played on the grass courts of Forest Hills. I have so many memories from the old concrete stadium, musical as well as tennis. My first time there was in August 1964 to see the Beatles in their first New York appearance. They came by helicopter, and when the helicopter appeared, the place went nuts. Oddly enough, the 1969 men’s final also featured a helicopter, brought in to hover over the grass court as an aid to drying it out. And how about the doubleheader of Richie Havens and Janis Joplin? (Based on the chronology here, it must have been August 1 or 2, 1970, two months before Janis’s death.) In 1971, I saw the 16-year-old sensation Chris Evert come up against Billie Jean King in the semi-finals, only to be brought to earth 6-3, 6-2. (Roy Blount, then a Sports Illustrated writer, tells the story here. It seems that Spiro Agnew was watching with me.)

I saw many great matches at Forest Hills, inasmuch as I went there about 5 or 6 days each year back in the late 1960s and the 1970s. I first went in 1964, before I really knew much about the top players in the world, when my uncle took me and my cousin to see men’s semi-finals. We must have seen the women too, Maria Bueno in particular, but I don’t remember whether we saw the women’s semi-finals or finals. What I remember is seeing the two top Australians (top Australian amateurs that is), Roy Emerson and Fred Stolle, defeating the two top Americans, Chuck McKinley and Dennis Ralston, in some order. And I remember my uncle’s scary highway driving on the way home. The two matches that always come to mind though, among the many that I saw, are Laver’s 1969 win to complete the grand slam and King’s 1971 win over Evert. The first would have been just a week or so before the start of my college freshman orientation. The coming of the Open era was a revelation to me, as the great players whom I had come to regard as oldtimers suddenly showed up on the scene — along with Laver, most notably, were Ken Rosewall and Pancho Gonzalez. What a great time that was for tennis! I was lucky to be there.

By the way, even though I wasn’t at the championships this year, I was close. On Labor Day, the halfway point of the tournament, we flew directly overhead as we took off from LaGuardia on our way to Nantucket, but it was around 9:00 AM, before play had started. And we flew by again last Friday, in the midst of the heavy rains that stopped the Nadal-Gonzalez quarterfinal match and set back the timing of the men’s and women’s semifinals. So I was sort of there.

Categories: Books, Sports, Travel