Strictly by coincidence, the Times has a feature on the Op-Ed Page Saturday about the vanishing storefronts of New York, victims of rising rents.
I was already planning my ode to the vanishing landmark of Queens, the house of upsets, the cramped, smoky pit known as the Grandstand.
Once upon a time it was the second court at the United States Open, an afterthought grafted onto the main arena, Louis Armstrong Stadium, itself a tennis improv. But now in the name of modernity, the Grandstand has been phased out. It is serving as Practice Court 6 for this year’s Open but then will be bulldozed, gone, like ancient temples destroyed by vandals.
The Open is one of the two best sporting events in my home-town, along with the one-day phenomenon of the Marathon in the fall. I can look past the money and the privilege and see the Open, with its roots at the West Side Tennis Club in Forest Hills, as still very much a Queens event, right off the No. 7 elevated train.
This year the Open has a new retractable roof over Ashe Stadium to keep the show moving when the monsoon hits. The Armstrong will be replaced by a new second stadium. The Open also has a new generic bowl, called the Grandstand with 8,200 seats. I am sure it has more amenities than the old Grandstand but it does not exactly have the feel of an Elizabethan bear-baiting den.
For many years, the players had to inhale the meaty fumes from a restaurant suspended above the west stands. Something was always out to get the favorite at the Grandstand:
In 1985, Kevin Curren, the fifth-seeded player from South Africa, was bumped off in the first round by upcoming young Guy Forget of France. Curren promptly emitted a Hope Solo solo, blaming the site for his troubles.
“I hate the city, the environment and Flushing Meadow,” Curren said. “There is noise, the people in the grandstand are never seated and it takes an hour and a half in traffic to get here. It’s sickening that with all the money they get from TV, the USTA doesn’t build a better facility. The USTA should be shot. And they should drop an A-bomb on the place.”
Curren was not the only player to get bushwhacked in the Grandstand. On Friday I ran into a former player who had benefited from the blood lust of the fans.
In 1981, Andrea Leand, all of 17, met second-seeded Andrea Jaeger in the second round – in the Grandstand.
“Andrea was up a set and 5-2,” Leand recalled. “I could hear a broadcaster saying, ‘That’s it, she’s done.’”
Then again, you could hear everything in the Grandstand. “I heard a man asking his son, ‘Do you want a hot dog?’”
The mob began howling for a new victim to be sacrificed to the Grandstand deities. “The sound went right through you,” Leand recalled with a beatific smile. She beat Jaeger, 1-6, 7-5, 6-3. It could happen to anybody, and often did.
The litany of Grandstand upsets is long – best left to an expert like Randy Walker, who last year wrote a farewell to the Grandstand, well worth reading:
The great thing about the ramshackle center of the 80’s was that reporters could watch Grandstand matches from the back of the press box in the main stadium. One match turned into a heavyweight fight -- Roscoe Tanner, one of the hardest hitters on the tour, and Chip Hooper, a big fellow, trying to drill each other, up close and apparently quite personal.
This being the yappy borough of Queens -- Trump! McEnroe! Archie Bunker! -- the fans egged them on.
Competition was also nasty in the lines as fans tried to get into a match that had suddenly turned epic. I visited the old den the other day – a few fans watching John Isner and a hitting partner whacking the ball around, but no yelps from fans seeking a new victim.
The Grandstand could have served forever as an anarchic, irregular heirloom – a tribute to history. But Open executives can still revive the gritty aura of the old place: pipe fumes from the grille directly onto the court. Kevin Curren would feel right at home.