Stan and his backhand

Stan and his backhand

I experienced a very discombobulating adventure the other day during my second visit ever to the US Open tennis tournament. I went with some tennis buddies who have gone annually for decades and knew their way around.

Prior to going, I had viewed an interactive graphic about the one-handed backhand (OHB) tennis swing that is a dying stroke. It’s what I do, although almost no one learns it anymore…the two-hander is easier to master. But world number 4, Stan Wawrinka, won the Aussie Open last year with one of the most beautiful OHB in the game. So imagine how excited I was to read that Stan was playing in Arthur Ashe stadium, and I could watch him live from my seat.

Surprise! There are maybe 18 courts at the Billie Jean Tennis Center with so much simultaneous action you are frustrated often about who to watch next. And you are right up close to the players in these outer courts and smaller stadiums, rather than practically touching clouds in the uppermost cheaper seats we had at Arthur Ashe. So my group watched Andy Murray, Jo Willie Tsonga, Juan Monaco, Angelique Kerber and many other top-ranked players everywhere except Arthur Ashe. I loved it.

But around 4:00, I left my fellow enthusiasts, said that I had to see Stan the Man and mentioned that my cell phone was running out of battery. No problem, just meet us at Parking lot “F” at 6:00. Easy.

Off I went to admire Stan’s graceful OHB and try to learn how I might do what he does. It’s so elegant and powerful. You never see it on TV the way you can live. A real highlight of the day. At 5:30 I headed alone to the parking lot, following a map and guidance from a policeman and many US Open staff members. Still no problem…until I didn’t remember all the grass and trees when I was walking that morning from Lot “F” to the tennis courts. Nor did I recognize the lot when I was taken there by the shuttle bus. It was totally under the highway, rather than open to the sky as I remembered. Sim the driver drove me all around it. But nothing looked familiar.

Was I in a dream? Had I lost my mind? Intense disorientation. With my phone dead by now, I asked the bus driver if he would call my buddy on his mobile. Sure, but Sim only reached voice mail. A second call to a different friend resulted in the driver being told that he had the wrong number. Very strange, because Sim said he dialed the number I gave him. When I dialed the second number, I reached my friend and told him I was “lost.” I’d gone to the lot, been looking for almost half an hour, but still couldn’t find him. Where was he?

Only when I handed the phone back to Sim did he realize that my friends were parked in a DIFFERENT Lot “F”!!! There are two of them, and my buddies never realized that during 25 years of attending the Open: I was directed to the lot that caters to the tennis center. They always parked in another lot nearby that serves Citi-Field, the home of the New York Mets baseball team. As Clint Eastwood’s character responded in one of his films, “What a clusterfuck!”

When I finally headed back to the US Open exit/entrance and walked a bit to the left out the gate instead of a partial right, I found my mates, and heard their version of what happened. My first friend Phil hadn’t recognized Sim’s phone number, so he didn’t take the call. My second friend Y heard the strange message and ethnic accent, so he thought it was a wrong number. Then the first said he heard the message and became very concerned and nervous. Here is what he heard: “Hello Phil, this is Sim, and I have Ira here in the car. We are driving around, and he wants to talk to you.” Phil thought I had been kidnapped, and when he spoke to Y, they were both disturbed by this total stranger with a foreign accent using their names and stating that “Ira” was in his car. My buddies were sure Sim was going to ask for a ransom!

When I asked them how much they thought the ransom would be, I imagined they’d say $5-10,000. But no such luck, they figured my life was only worth $200. That gave us another laugh. Phil said with a dying phone, I should have stuck to the group “like Velcro.” Friend Y never realized that I would go to the wrong Lot “F,” because he didn’t know it existed. So he never mentioned Citi-Field.

And that is how my desire to improve my OHB caused my friends to decide that I was kidnapped for a ransom.

An unexpected conclusion to a great day of tennis. And an hour later Sim called to make sure I’d found my friends. Unforgettably nice guy. I hope he never finds this story and learns how misunderstood he was and how confused some Connecticut tennis players can be, when they make it to Queens in New York…