While the US Open formally got underway Monday morning, in actuality the action really began a week earlier with the qualifying matches for the precious few wild card spots on both the men’s and women’s sides.
Frankly, the BJK National Tennis Center used to be a ghost town for the qualifiers, but word has gotten out that it’s the best sports bargain in the world, as some of the top players compete with a ton of pressure on them and it’s free to the public. The CBS Sports Network broadcast many of the matches live.
The United States Tennis Association even saluted the home borough of the US Open last week with its first-ever Queens Day. Queens musicians performed on a stage in front of Louis Armstrong Stadium, which is fitting since the late Satchmo resided not far away from the NTC. The Queens Museum and the Hall of Science each had kiosks as well.
The increased attendance for the US Open’s preview week meant a lot of business for the various restaurants at the NTC’s Food Village. Pat LaFrieda Meat Co. (which is also at Citi Field) and Maya, a Mexican restaurant started by former tennis player Richard Sandoval, join such well-known names as Hill Country Barbecue and the Carnegie Deli (which are also at Madison Square Garden).
Keeping up with the times, the USTA has placed a food truck outside Court 17 that serves only grilled cheese sandwiches. The bad news is the sandwiches are in the $10 to $12 range, although Levy’s Restaurants, the Open’s caterer, claimed they are gourmet — as opposed to the kind that our moms made for us.
Last Saturday, as part of the Arthur Ashe Day festivities, American Express had Sloane Stephens, Jack Sock, Monica Puig and the recently retired James Blake give a clinic to 10 lucky city kids who play on community tennis courts that were refurbished by AmEx.
On Labor Day, the USTA will have Laila Ali, the daughter of Muhammad Ali and a boxing champion in her own right, conduct a tennis and exercise clinic on Court 12 at 9:30 a.m.
Time Warner Cable is renting a large indoor space at the NTC and will have a slew of retired tennis greats such as namesake Billie Jean King, James Blake, Jim Courier and Lindsay Davenport taking part in Q&A sessions that are open to all during the Open.
Asics is a popular running shoe manufacturer that is now trying to achieve market share in the tennis world. As a way of getting some attention the company had reps in ballperson outfits hand out free MetroCards on the 7 train heading to Flushing on Monday.
Former St. John’s Red Storm forward Orlando Sanchez was back in town as a member of the Dominican Republic basketball team that played Team USA in an exhibition game at Madison Square Garden last week. Not surprisingly, the Americans won by 43 points. Sanchez more or less admitted that he and his teammates knew they had no shot playing against a team of NBA all-stars.
“I received my degree in sports management and I would like to become a player agent,” Orlando added.
Former Mets general manager and Newtown High School alum Omar Minaya was one of the many baseball luminaries at the premiere of the animated film “Henry & Me” at the Ziegfeld Theater last Monday. Omar is now the senior vice president of the San Diego Padres and understandably enjoys life in that wonderful Southern California city.
“Henry & Me” is about a boy named Jack who is fighting pediatric cancer. His spirits are low until he has a dream while under anesthesia that he is meeting a number of past and current prominent Yankees players who inspire him to battle his illness. The “Henry” here is one Henry Louis Gehrig (voiced by Richard Gere, who seems to be doing a Kevin Costner impression here), who serves as Jack’s guide through Yankees history.
The film runs approximately one hour, and it’s based on a children’s book written by a Yankees special advisor and longtime confidante of the late George Steinbrenner, Ray Negron. The story is inspirational and you don’t have to be a Yankees fan to enjoy this film (although it does help), which will be released on DVD in early September.
There were many delays in the production of “Henry & Me.” One was caused by Major League Baseball, which insisted that the filmmakers remove Alex Rodriguez, who voiced himself.
Two well-known former Queens residents, Paul Simon and Cyndi Lauper, provided their voices for “Henry & Me.” Lauper even sang a new version of one of her signature tunes, “True Colors,” in the film.
I have long maintained that sports is as much a part of the entertainment industry as movies, theater and the music biz. In the last few weeks The Hollywood Reporter had Washington Redskins QB Robert Griffin III on its cover while TV Guide had NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt, Jr. on its own.
CBS Sports engineer Ken Aagard, broadcasting network executives David Hill and Steve Bornstein and the late ABC sportscaster Chris Schenkel will be among the inductees at the 2014 Sports Broadcasting Hall of Fame Awards ceremonies, which will be held in New York in mid-December.
One of the fun aspects of attending PGA Tour events such as the recently concluded Barclays is being able to pick up tips on improving your game. A company called Pill Golf displayed a modified golf ball that has its right and left edges of the circumference shaved off so that it looks like a tire. By practicing putting and chipping with it, you can analyze quickly why your ball is breaking right or left. The odds are that you’re club is either too open or closed and/or your shoulders are tilted instead of straight. For more info, log onto thepillgolf.com. There are even free tutorial videos there where you can get some valuable advice.
If you want proof that summer doesn’t end on Labor Day, the best volleyball players in the world will gather on Atlantic City’s beautiful beach, just a bit north of my favorite casino resort, the Trump Taj Mahal, on the weekend of Sept. 5 through 7.
The AVP Tour has had a lot of internal issues in recent years and has held most of its tournaments in California. It’s good to see the players coming back east. Hopefully they will return to Coney Island or even try the Rockaways in 2015.
One of the most anticipated fall movies, Ben Affleck’s “Gone Girl,” will make its debut at the 52nd New York Film Festival in late September.