U.S. Open 2021

Sudden thoughts and second thoughts from this year’s United States Open.

—We all loved the new Arlen Specter US Squash Center. Everyone was just blown away. The video screens, the ease of movement, the community coming together after a year and a half in such a stunning space, having two glass courts side by side going at the same, and having four matches at once, all on a swivel: it was awesome.

—Some of the fans I met in the gallery were products of the Specter Center’s intentional accessibility: people who had joined the Specter in the previous few weeks and were now coming to see the Open at their club—very few platinum glass-court events have ever been staged right inside an active public club. (In fact, off the top of my head, I can’t think of any since Wembley and the British Open in the 1980s.) Anyway, a tradition made that clear. Each Open for a decade now I grab the very first person to sit down for the very first match and interview them. This year’s first fan was an example of what the Specter is so important:

2021 U.S. Open First Fan

—PSA protocol was tough. The players were sequestered off, even from their coaches. Once the tournament began, they were unable to work with their players, to talk with them inside the facility or to get on court. I liked how the players, in between games, just sat in their chairs with their thoughts: no coaches, no cell phones, no input. They had to figure out what to do next. Exactly like tennis. But the pre-match, post-match coaching was gone. One coach from Europe told me that instead of sitting together in a hotel room, he was getting up at 5am and crunching video and then sending along snippets, via WhatsApp, for his charges to watch.

—Towels. There was no hand-wiping on the walls in between points, but there was a lot of toweling off, using the towel in the box in the front of the court. It became a little like tennis, players using the excuse of toweling off to catch their breath and regroup. Very much not continuous play.

—The grand opening of the Arlen Specter US Squash Center, on the second day of play at the Open, was amazing. Such a gathering of new and old friends. During the ceremony, I was particularly blown away by the rendition of the national anthem by Cameryn Strickland a local student; the heartfelt letter from President Joe Biden; and an inspiring, forthright speech by Jamie Gauthier, a Philadelphia city council member who was born, raised and now lives in the neighborhood and represents it (including the Specter) on the city council.

—Such a moment of accomplishment. I reminisced about 211 Ford Road in Bala Cynwyd, the headquarters of US Squash from the 1980s until we moved to New York in 2006. It was an ordinary house built in 1890 with the total square-footage of something less than the Champions Deck at the Specter Center, the agora for the building.

One thought on “U.S. Open 2021”

  1. US Squash needs to relax the competition protocols.
    The State of NJ publishes COVID 19 statistics daily.
    Deaths are down to the low single digits as in 1 or 2. More people die falling off their tricycles or slipping in the shower. Time to stop being politically correct and get back to reality.

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