By Scoop Jackson
Page 2

NEW YORK -- If there was ever a day I didn't want my father to miss, it was this one.

Every year we do this. The U.S. Open has become our bond time, our annual "Courtship of Eddie's Father" moment, our pursuit of happiness. But rarely has the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center seen a day like Wednesday. Rarely has any sport.

And my father missed it.

So many big names, so many courts, so much time. I heard someone call it Wild Wednesday -- due to Tuesday's rain, 72 matches on 15 courts in 12 hours. It was Super Saturday on whatever Floyd Landis took. If you looked at the day's draws it appeared that Jelena Jankovic was the only player who dodged the Wednesday bullet. And that's only because she got into the women's semis the night before.

From stadium to stadium I ran. From Ashe to Armstrong and back. And in-between. Watching the sun and the clouds fight each other for position like a mouth full of jacked-up teeth. Pulling for the sun to win the fight it lost the day before.

Mikhail Youzhny
Jamie Squire/Getty Images
By the end of the day, Mikhail Youzhny would longer be an unknown.

Watching Andy Murray begin the day and see his run end. Watching Dinara Safina lose to Amelie Mauresmo in Louis Armstrong Stadium while her brother Marat Safin (no "a," it's a Russian thang) was playing Tommy Haas at Arthur Ashe.

Watching Dinara smile when told that her brother was serving 3-3 in the fifth set, only to hear her say that she wouldn't be able to watch Marat because she had a doubles match to play, explained how the day would play out. "I still have to concentrate" is how she put it.

And as she left, so did I. Back to watch Safin and Haas finish their three-hour eventless, emotionless but somehow understatedly intense match, to watch that tiebreaker, to watch Safin lose a match he should not have, to watch Haas win the one he deserved.

Then to Court 7. On the side. My boy from the hood, Donald Young, the player my kids want to become when they get grown and play, was in the second round in the boys' singles. I had to support him as he 7-5, 6-3'd Fernando Romboli, and the ran back to Satchmo's court to see Roger Federer serve notice to the next sacrificial lamb who's been placed in front of him.

Marc Gicquel. Done in 1:46. Shake hands, shower, split. Roger's only comp is playing another sport. Or maybe another match later in the day.

Then Lindsay Davenport entered the stage with Justine Henin-Hardenne on Ashe's concrete. High drama. Gruntless tennis. Up close you can see how age is expressing itself on Lindsay's face, the life lines. Up closer you realize that JHH, running and covering the baseline, must have felt to Lindsay like Pong did to Roddick.

Then it was back to Armstrong to see Rafael Nadal against some dude I'd never heard of … unseeded Mikhail Youzhny of Russia. Then back to Ashe to see James Blake play a dude I had just heard of last year, Tomas Berdych.

And back. And forth.

Martina Navratilova
Al Bello/Getty Images
Never pass up the chance to catch a legend in action.

Through the Canon Digi Super 86II XS HD is where these images are mostly seen, how days like this are mostly told. Through edits and replays. Not this time. Life imitated the USA Network.

In Suite 243 of Arthur Ashe's Stadium a collection of men screamed and hollered a chorus line of skits every time Blake made a point or needed one. They all had on light blue T-shirts with the words "J-Block" on the front. They yelled "J-block" every time Blake reached a break point.

They were loud, obnoxious, rude, unprofessional, funny and needed. Like his own personal Cameron Crazies. Blake won in straight sets.

At 5:39 p.m. I was on Court 11 watching Safina play in the doubles match she had talked about earlier. And who was she playing against? The one person I thought had the day off -- Jankovic.

Right before Safina served out the win a roar was heard from Armstrong Stadium. Rafael Nadal had just won the second set to even his match.

I called my father.

But then something told me to go to the Grandstand. I hadn't been there all day, but something more important than Rafael Nadal was on the adjacent court.

It's not often you get to see both a legend and the future of a sport play against one another. But, unlike the case with Andre Agassi, you never know when the last time will be for Martina Navratilova. She and doubles partner Nadia Petrova were in the Grandstand playing the player I feel is the future of woman's tennis -- on and off the court.

Ana Ivanovic is it. That's all that needs to be said. The 18-year-old from Serbia and Montenegro and Maria Kirilenko pushed Martina and Nadia to a third set. But I had to get back to check on Blake (who won) and find out why Nadal wasn't done with what's his name.

Here's the beauty of tennis. This is why you love the game: On a service break in the third set, Nadal is up 0-40, triple-set point in a set where there have been no break points. Then it's 15-40, 30-40, Deuce, Ad-in, Game. Still no breaks. Now, did Youzhny finally decide to focus, concentrate and man up to the challenge or did someone lose focus, stop concentrating and choke? It happens every time. It's the essence of the sport. It is why it is loved.

It happened to Nadal. Just like that. Up 5-4 in the third set, ready to take a 2-1 lead, he had Youzhny on the ropes with one point to score to Youzhny's five. And in the blink of a blind man's eye, Youzhny's shots found blue while Nadal's found green. The set went into a tiebreaker. Nadal lost the tie breaker 7-5. Lost the set. Lost the match in the fourth set.

Later on he would say, "Today I not have the best of luck." Understatement. Today, Rafael Nadal played a player who was out for fame.

No time to sit, had to get back to the G'stand to see Ms. Martina Navratilova, the greatest woman tennis player ever against the woman Nike should have done that "pretty" fly commercial on instead of Maria. But Ana rocks the stripes.

Maria Sharapova
Jamie Squire/Getty Images
Maria looked good in black -- and on the court in a 7-6, 7-6 victory that moved her into the semis.

Got back just in time to see Ana rip a backhand by Navratilova to even up the match in the third. The match is full of classic serve-and-volley doubles tennis. The pace, Picanté. Rich. Some of the best tennis of the day. Between each point each woman dialogs with her partner, rackets hiding their faces in order to hide their words.

My phone rings. It's my man we call West Wing. NYC DA. Calling me from Arthur Ashe. Telling me he's up in section 328, row T, seat 15. Criminal. Telling me to get over there. Telling me Sharapova is about to start. Telling me I'm about to miss that match.

I bolt from the Grandstand after the final point, after Navratilova and Petrova hug, after they avoid an upset.

As I run through the mall, past the 12-story high screen on the side of Louis Armstrong Stadium, I stopped because twice I heard people -- men -- talk about Maria's dress as they looked up at the jumbo screen. I pump my breaks. Force 1's skid. Look up. Black on white. Damn. It's a beautiful thing.

I get back into Arthur Ashe in time to hear the sounds of Maria playing. The shrieks and squeals. The upgraded Monica Seles of it all. I hear the crown yelling out Tatiana Golovin's name for encouragement. I hear shot after shot go past her. I hear the tension of another tiebreaker. Then another. I hear Sharapova scream. Twice. 7-6, 7-6.

Another one bites her dust.

I hear the crowd over at the Grandstand making noise. Again! What … could it be … oh hell no … impossible … not now

I tell West Wing I gotta go. "Why?" he asks. Because he is at it again.

Back to the Grandstand.

Mikhail Youzhny is now playing doubles. He and Leos Friedl knock off the top-seeded Bryan brothers. Watching Youzhny take out the No. 2 seed in singles and the No. 1 seed in doubles in the same day (in the span five hours), is something unreal. An unranked player. For the first time all day I sit in one place, no movement, still as if I'm posin', stiff as if I'm frozen, soaking up the moment because I know I'll never be able to say I'll see it again.

Andy Roddick
Matthew Stockman/Getty Images
Roddick hammered Lleyton Hewitt in straight sets to reach the semis.

Knowing, though, that I will see Youzhny again. In the semifinals of the singles, the quarters of the doubles.

Knowing that it was something my Pops woulda loved to have seen.

At this time, 10:30-ish to be inexact, Andy Roddick is on the stadium court where Blake, Hardenne, Sharapova, Haas, Davenport and Safin all played, playing against the player who has been outed as his mirror image: Lleyton Hewitt.

Twenty-three thousand-plus filled every promenade, loge, lux suites and courtside. Cameramen created space behind ball boys and ball girls, media moved around slow like roaches with the lights off.

I got in where I thought I could fit in, but was wrong. Of all the matches I'd seen all day, this would be the one I'd wind up missing. The heavyweight title match. The McEnroe/Lendl of today. So I got in, but didn't fit. SRO. And standing after 11 hours of this was not an option.

So back to Louis Armstrong I went. This time outside the stadium. On a bench. Feet up. Watching a screen. I saw Andy Roddick separate himself from Lleyton Hewitt. Maybe for good. I saw a player on a larger-than-life screen play larger-than-life on a larger-than-life day.

I saw a player become un-overrated. I saw words get swallowed.

I went to the interview room inside of Arthur Ashe Stadium to hear what Roddick had to say about his resurrection, about his rebirth of cool, his advancement into the semifinals.

"It feels nice, I feel good," he said. "I feel like it's a new chapter."

12: 40 a.m.. A new day had come.

I called my father again. I wanted to tell him everything he missed. Maybe the greatest day in tennis. A day we should have shared together. He was already asleep by the time I called. He has to get up early. Blake is playing Federer. Got a plane to catch today. He's coming to Queens.

Scoop Jackson is a national columnist for Page 2 and a contributor to ESPN The Magazine. He has a weekly segment on "Cold Pizza" and is a regular forum guest on "Rome Is Burning." He resides in Chicago. Sound off to Scoop and Page 2 here.


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