The Morning Journal (Lorain, OH)

Full stadiums welcoming fans

- By Howard Fendrich

NEW YORK >> Full-throated shouts and hearty applause returned to the U.S. Open tennis tournament Aug. 30, bursts of sound that offered some form of reaction to nearly each and every action. Also back: lengthy lines to get through the gates and to buy something to eat or drink.

A year after spectators were banned entirely from Flushing Meadows because of the coronaviru­s pandemic, lending a dystopian feel to a normally lively event, 100% capacity is once again being permitted — proof of vaccinatio­n needed; no masks required — at this and other sports events.

College football resumed Aug. 28, with tends of thousands on-hand for such as matchups as Illinois vs. Nebraska or Hawaii vs. UCLA. The NFL is letting its teams sell every ticket for the regular season; its first Sunday is Sept. 12.

Makes it tough to tell there’s been a recent surge in COVID-19 cases thanks to the highly contagious delta variant. Ready or not, our fun and games are moving forward, with full stadiums and, in some cases, few protocols.

“Playing without fans here last year was brutal,” 2017 U.S. Open champion Sloane Stephens told the crowd at Arthur Ashe Stadium after beating Madison Keys in three sets in a rematch of their all-American final four years ago.

As for the varying degrees of noise Aug. 30, including what she termed “calling out at random times”?

“We missed all of that,” Stephens said.

Yes, we all did. Having an audience there makes it all mean more — to those competing and to those watching, who are more than just part of the scenery.

They’re a character in the show.

“After all, that’s what we’re here for. We try to put on the best performanc­e possible for them,” said Lloyd Harris, a South African scheduled to play Aug. 31. “For me, the more people I play in front of, the bigger the audience, the better tennis I play.”

People in the seats add to the to the soundtrack, as Stephens noted, but also to the pageantry, to the swirl of emotions for everyone involved, providing a human element at a time when that is disappeari­ng in many ways. Just one example: This U.S. Open is the first without a single line judge on any court, just chair umpires assisted by an electronic line-calling system.

Elsewhere, though, folks were everywhere.

They ordered the Honey Deuce, touted as the U.S. Open’s signature cocktail, served for $20 in a souvenir glass.

They stood along the walkway between Court 13 — where Serbia’s Dusan Lajovic defeated France’s Benoit Paire — and Court 14 —

where Canada’s Leylah Fernandez eliminated Croatia’s Ana Konjuh.

A particular­ly boisterous bunch at Court 5 offered support for Argentina’s Diego Schwartzma­n, twice a U.S. Open quarterfin­alist.

“The event changed 100 percent. It’s a totally different feeling,” Schwartzma­n said, adding that it “also feels a little bit weird” to be at the first Grand Slam tournament in more than 18 months with full capacity.

Every so often, a burst of sound could be heard from one of the 16 courts hosting action.

There’s something significan­t about the shared experience that’s simply absent when we’re atomized, fragmented, forced to be apart from each other, as we’ve been lately. Sports, along with other forms of entertainm­ent, offer a measure of escape from day-to-day life.

Perhaps that’s why Americans are going to Broadway shows, movie theaters, music concerts. All despite COVID-19 deaths running at more than 1,200 a day nationwide, the highest

level since mid-March. New cases per day are averaging over 155,000, returning to where things were in January.

That’s why there was a hint of worry on the part of Juan Manuel Gómez, a fan from Guadalajar­a, Mexico, who watched French Open runner-up Stefanos Tsitsipas practice Monday.

“We know there was risk, but we think it was worth taking,” said Gómez, whose wife, Lety, shot video of Tsitsipas with her phone.

Compared to visiting Times Square during their vacation with their two sons, ages 9 and 13, she said, “We feel safe here,” knowing spectators needed to show proof of vaccinatio­n to get in.

According to guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, fully vaccinated people don’t need to wear a mask in outdoor settings, even among crowds — unless they can’t avoid close contact with unvaccinat­ed people. (The vaccinatio­n requiremen­t doesn’t apply to players, about half of whom have gotten shots.)

 ?? JOHN MINCHILLO — THE ASSOCIATED PRESS ?? Fans watch Ricardas Berankis serves to Diego Schwartzma­n during the first round of the U.S. Open on Aug. 30 in New York.
JOHN MINCHILLO — THE ASSOCIATED PRESS Fans watch Ricardas Berankis serves to Diego Schwartzma­n during the first round of the U.S. Open on Aug. 30 in New York.

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