What could be more civilized than a world-class Grand Slam tennis tournament, an opportunity for New York City to show its best, most competent and sophisticated face to players, tourists and viewers from around the world?
Nope: This year’s US Open, which ended Sunday, encapsulated everything that has gone wrong with New York in the past four years, from disgust to disorder to disruption.
First, the pot smoke. Not even halfway into the two-week tournament, Greek player Maria Sakkari complained that the court reeked, probably from (supposedly smoke-free) Corona Park; other players agreed.
To New Yorkers, what was odd was Sakkari’s surprise. “I didn’t expect to smell it,” she said.
How naïve! We’ve all grown resigned to that permanent stink — on the streets, in the parks, coming through apartment windows and even, two weeks ago, on the Metropolitan Museum of Art roof bar, until a security guard actually told two tokers to knock it off.
We should all be more like Sakkari and that guard — no, this is not acceptable.
Second, the rowdy fans. Tennis comes with its own etiquette; basically, fans are supposed to be quiet.
Instead, they’re sneaking in cheap alcohol and getting so drunk that they’re screaming and yelling. One fan called fellow attendees “feral.”
A boor can still get kicked out — for chanting a slogan favored by Hitler.
Absent such egregiousness, attendees who behave themselves are stuck with the fact that a high percentage of people have just stopped knowing how to act in public.
We’ve all learned from traversing the streets and sidewalks in the past few years that people are ruder and quicker to get mad.
Then, protest disruption. During a semi-final last week, climate protesters, including one who glued his feet to the ground, delayed play for nearly an hour.
Guerrilla-tactic protesters aren’t helping to save the planet (the glue is made of fossil fuels).
They’re just adding new tension to an already-tense public environment.
Event organizers and museum guards must now second-guess attendees’ every move, lest a visitor throw eggs or paint on someone or something.
Climate protesters plague other global cities, as well.
But in New York, when we already must worry about heightened random crime and are already plagued with low-level dystopian chaos, from the constant sound and smell of (gas-powered) illegal mopeds to locked-up mouthwash at the drugstore, they’re another unpredictability and aggravation we don’t need.
Finally, there’s the sense of fatalism. Last week, on his way to the finals, Russian native Daniil Medvedev darkly warned that because of the 94-degree heat and near-saturation humidity, “One player gonna die. And they’re gonna see.”
This was overdramatic. Nobody died, and baseball players vie in summer heat and humidity.
But it fits right into New York’s post-2020 sense of helplessness.
After all, it also made no sense for Mayor Eric Adams to similarly warn in an apocalyptic tone last week that the migrant crisis “will destroy New York City.”
No, the migrant crisis will not destroy New York City — unless the mayor lets it.
But too many New Yorkers — including, in this instance, the supposedly swaggering, always-optimistic mayor — have given up.
The city dealt so poorly with COVID starting 3½ years ago that we’ve lost our belief in our ability to thrive.
Thirty-three years ago, a horrific event that occurred during the US Open did change New York.
In 1990, 22-year-old tennis player Brian Watkins came with his family from Utah to view some tournament matches — and was knifed to death on a midtown subway platform as he defended his family from a random robbery attack.
It was partly because then-Mayor David Dinkins was an ardent tennis fan and player that this murder personally outraged him, as several sources have told me for the book I’m writing.
Yes, Watkins’ was one of only 2,262 killings that year. But it happened during Dinkins’ favorite two-week period of the year, during the event at which Dinkins wanted New York to show its best self to the world.
New York rose to that challenge — and turned itself around.
We are nowhere as bad off as we were then — so we should get out of our funk.
If we can go from 2,262 murders to 292 in 2017 (up, alas, to 438 last year, although lower than 2020 and 2021 levels), we can keep the tennis courts clear of pot smoke and deal with our more serious problems, as well.
Nicole Gelinas is a contributing editor to the Manhattan Institute’s City Journal.