The moments New York City became my favorite

The very first time I set foot in NYC was in March 2010, during which the Big Apple only made mediocre to bad impressions. Dirty tiny hostel dorm room with creaking metal beds and no hot water after 9. Streets filled with trash. Overpriced everything. Subway stations with rats and homeless people. Lifeless Central Park. Closed UN HQ and Metropolitan Museum. Weird MOMA. Times Square was nothing but a lot of billboards, buildings and tourists jostling to take pictures. Rockefeller Center was, again, nothing but a few blocks with the highlight being an ice rink and lots of flags. Shockingly, the people, although most of them rushing in their business suits while talking on their cell phones, were friendly enough to stop and offer help when they saw my friends and me looking at the map.

But my 2nd time in NYC in September 2011 for the US Open was a completely different experience.

After traveling, tennis is probably my 2nd biggest passion. I said “probably” because besides traveling, nothing I enjoy more than tennis – watching tennis matches, following tennis news, reading tennis articles, playing tennis – but I haven’t spent nearly as much time on tennis as on other things I enjoy less, like reading books, writing, shopping, and of course, working. Consequently, although I sworn I would never be back to NYC after the first trip with pretty negative experiences, I had to visit the city again. And I was glad I did.

Instead of staying at a hostel in Manhattan like the first time, I chose a house in Queens I found on airbnb. The stay was already so much nicer, with more freedom, a spacious clean room, a shower with abundant of hot water, and a kitchen where my friend and I could make food on our own. Although it took more time to get to major attractions, I would choose this house anytime over that hostel dorm room.

Besides the nicer accommodation, it seemed as if NYC decided to be perfect for me this time. Let’s set aside the transformed Central Park that truly amazed me with its greenness and beauty as depicted in pictures and movies. Let’s set aside also the Times Square with a totally new face – much fewer people, with tables and chairs for tourists to sit down, relax and take in the signature urbanness of the famous spot. Let’s also let aside the awesome food shopping in China town. Even after setting aside those things, that 2nd time in NYC was still perfect in every minute because of the US Open.

When I got to the Arthur Ashe stadium, I almost wept.

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Everything seemed unreal, like a dream to me. For years, I saw this scene on the TV screen, hoping, wishing, dreaming one day I would be there. And when I finally was, the feelings were overwhelming. I could finally watch the biggest tennis tournament in the U.S. in person. I could partake in the human wave, the clapping, the cheering I previously only heard on TV. Feet below me were the world famous tennis stars in action, in flesh, live and real. The howling wind of a late summer night couldn’t bother me. We saw Djokovic, Roddick, Federer, Murray, Sharapova, Wozniacki, Ivanovic, Kutznetsova, among others, with our Twilight holiday plan that allowed us access to the night sessions of Arthur Ashe and ground pass to all other courts after 4 pm from Friday to Monday of Labor day weekend. For a tennis fan, it was simply heaven on earth.

Walking around the Flushing Meadow tennis complex was also a very rewarding, enjoyable experience.

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I had seen this famous globe so many times on TV, and finally could see it by myself. On a cool, breezy summer afternoon, sitting on the grass with many other people, eating quesadilla and watching the match on the big screen while waiting for your session to start gave me such satisfaction and peace.

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This photo of the front side of Arthur Ashe stadium with the big screen that usually shows the match going on inside was taken from the spot where I sat and ate beef quesadilla.

My favorite tennis player is Roger Federer, and unfortunately, that US Open, I couldn’t get his autograph. Both of his matches that I bought tickets for were in the secured, segregated Arthur Ashe and since court side seats are not on sales to public, I couldn’t get closer than 100 feet from him. My friend, however, was lucky enough to get her favorite player – Novak Djokovic – to sign her Wilson tennis ball. I was so envious of her, but at the same time, knowing that someone ordinary just like me could get so close to her global star motivated me to try and keep my dreams.

So I went back to NYC again 6 months later for another tennis event in Madison Square Garden – another magical night filled with joy and dreams come true.

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It was just an exhibition, so there was no grandeur of the world’s biggest outdoor tennis venue, no intensity of a Grand Slam match, also no thrill of the first time watching live tennis.

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But this is how close I got to Roger. Actually, he was even closer when signing my tennis ball. He even held my hand for a while. After he moved on to sign for others, I was still standing there, shaking all over, thinking I was in a dream. It took me probably a minute to get back on earth and hastily take this picture. Maybe if I had been bold enough and asked him to lean over a little bit for a photo, I might have had one with me smiling broadly next to his friendly face.

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But this should be more than I ever dreamed of.

Besides the times I went to NYC for school trips or flight layovers, I had only been there 3 times for my own leisure. In all occasions, tennis was the reason that made NYC my favorite city but who needs more than that. Every one only needs 1 passion to be happy, and NYC offers me two – travel and tennis.

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