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Queens Chronicle

Fan-friendly times at the US Open

Qualifiers, journeymen and game’s elite mingle at Flushing Meadows

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Posted: Thursday, August 30, 2012 10:30 am | Updated: 11:06 am, Thu Sep 6, 2012.

While the qualifiers for the US Open were still going through their paces on Friday, the stars were taking the time on the practice courts to loosen up and make those last-minute adjustments before the final grand slam event of the year.

And tennis fans young and old were standing in line hoping to get a glimpse of their favorite players, or even an autograph.

By midday Daniel Leach of Cornwall, N.Y. had already amassed a fine collection.

“I have Roger Federer,” he said, pointing with pride to the signature on the oversized souvenir tennis ball available at the ubiquitous merchandise stands. James Blake and 2009 U.S. Open men’s champion Juan Martin del Potro of Argentina, also accommodated their young fans young fans after a tune-up.

“We’re hoping to get Victoria Azarenka, said Daniel’s father, David. “She ought to be coming out any minute.”

As if on cue, the top-seeded woman in the tournament, who hails from Belarus, emerged from Practice Court 5, signing programs, notebooks and tennis balls of all sizes.

“I got her,” said an excited Valencia Valencia of Rosedale, a life-long fan and player.

Valencia, attending her second US Open, also met del Potro and 6-foot-5 boomer Milos Raonic of Canada.

“I’m a tennis nut,” she admitted to the agreement of family and friends present.

Beverly Klein of Long Island was waiting for Andy Murray with a sheet of postage stamps from his native Scotland.

Udbahan Prabhu of Austin, Tex., and Txaboi Sumastre of Calgary proudly showed autographs from del Potro, whose career has been sidetracked by a serious wrist injury and smaller maladies since capturing the Open in 2009.

“It would be great for tennis if he could come back,” Prabhu said.

David Leach said most players are generally approachable, though his son last year was not yet been able to get an autograph from 2010 men’s champion Rafael Nadal. Nadal will not play this year due to a knee injury that also forced him to withdraw from Wimbledon.

He said former women’s No. 1 Maria Sharapova “came over and signed one or two before leaving.”

Valencia said Federer, with 17 grand slam titles including five U.S. Opens, enjoys a great reputation.

“I’ve heard if there is a bunch of kids along this fence, he’ll go right down the line and sign an autograph for each one,” she said.

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