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Empty Seats, Slowly Filled With Energy


It was depressing. My first United States Open match this year was the men’s doubles final, with Mate Pavic and Bruno Soares playing Wesley Koolhof and Nikola Mektic at Arthur Ashe Stadium. It was supposed to rain, so the roof of the stadium was covered. It was humid, dark, and the resonating noise of machines never stopped. But most of all, the seats were largely empty.

The celebration of the winning team brightened the mood a bit, but the winners had to hoist their own trophy, instead of having it handed to them.

I was hoping Naomi Osaka would liven things up with a strong match against Jennifer Brady in the women’s semifinals. They played well and Osaka won in three sets. But I still felt something missing. I missed the cheers, the woos and the boos.

It was a wildly different feeling than what I had experienced in more than 20 years of covering the U.S. Open.

Then came the semifinal between Serena Williams and Victoria Azarenka. The energy started to fill one empty seat at a time. Maybe it wasn’t enough to fill the entire 23,771-seat stadium, but it was exciting enough to make me forget it was being played without any paying spectators in attendance.

The coronavirus pandemic is changing our lives, how we interact with each other, how we perceive each other and even how we love our family. The changes can sometimes be overwhelming.

Hopefully the energy I felt during Azarenka’s victory can continue to fill the empty seats. But even without fans, the finals of this tournament will be documented just like every championship before them.

One picture at a time.

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