The Australian Open has its stuffed koala bears. Roland Garros has its red socks. Wimbledon has its strawberries and cream.
The U.S. Open has night tennis.
It had Andre Agassi winning his last match ever against a player he shouldn’t have beaten. It had each Williams sister winning a Grand Slam on a Saturday night in their Sunday best. It has Justin Gimelstob.
Who? Justin Gimelstob, a 30-year-old American journeyman who has never seen the second week of a major. He’s known more for his penchant for the dramatic than for any aspect of his game. His signature shot, which is diving for a ball – as opposed to running for it, might have been the catalyst for his bad back, but he’d hardly regret it. Gimelstob may have been a bit mentally flaky, but he is a character. Which makes him a perfect candidate for a retirement sendoff at Arthur Ashe stadium, New-York style.
Tuesday night’s match at the zoo featured Gimelstob playing against his friend, and fifth seed Andy Roddick. Roddick, whose coach is former U.S. Open fan favorite Jimmy Connors, also knows a little something about being a character. So, what do you get when you cross two characters, a stage and an audience with perhaps a little Captain in them? You get a performance.
Second set. A group of military men in nosebleed seats decides to leave, and the audience, feeling patriotic, applauds them for nearly a minute. (So Janet Jackson gets better seats than guys who fight wars? Where’s the risk in hooking them up with decent seats? You know there won’t be a wardrobe malfunction.) Once the hubbub dies down, the referee informs Gimelstob that he must take a second serve because he’d been penalized for a delay of game. Gimelstob tosses up his arms, walks to the referee and argues he should have a first serve, but is rejected. Enter Roddick, who also approaches. He overrides the ruling and gives his buddy a first serve. Gimelstob proceeds to double-fault, to which Roddick yells, “You go on for an hour, and then you do that?” The crowd laughs, and Gimelstob answers, “Trust me, I’m more disappointed than you are right now.”
And scene. There’s more later, after Roddick wins, and Gimelstob, who’ll now concentrate on a career as a commentator, interviews Roddick. “What did you think were the keys to the match?” Gimelstob gamely asks, and in moments, Roddick’s turned the tables on him, and is the one holding the microphone.
This doesn’t happen at Wimbledon, because there aren’t any lights, and too many manners, at the All England Club. But sometimes, when you expose a sport like tennis to
the dark side, it’s a good thing. Tennis is an Andy Roddick, a six-pack and a heat wave from breaking out of its box.
That could happen any time under the lights at Flushing Meadow.