I was a very green 18 years old the first time I went to the U.S. Open tennis tournament in Flushing Meadows, NY. The year was 1984 (I'll let you do the math). Until that summer, I had never even been to New York City, much less gone to a major tennis tournament.
That year, John McEnroe and Martina Navratilova were the mens' and womens' champions, respectively. That first day I ever went out to the United States Tennis Association (U.S.T.A.) Tennis Center, I remember seeing Chris Evert play, along with some other players whose names I've long since forgotten. Subsequently, on the small TV set in my basement apartment in Woodside, Queens (just down the road from where the tournament was held), I watched a dramatic finals match between McEnroe and Ivan Lendl. We're talking edge-of-your seat nail-biting tennis (if you remember that match, McEnroe won).
I will never forget that initial thrill of watching these and others of the world's best tennis players -- 128 men and 128 women -- come together in this uniquely American tournament to determine the best of the best. Until you've experienced it firsthand -- especially if you have ever played tennis -- it's hard to describe the athleticism, power, finesse, and precision with which these pros play, and the immediacy and accessibility that fans have to that experience at the Open.
If you've ever been to the tournament yourself, you know that you are right there. On some of the smaller courts, you can almost feel the yellow ball whizzing by your face in a lightning blur. Even the sounds are dramatic...especially when there are none. One second you can hear the pounding of the ball against the racket and the grunting of a player, and the next you can't even hear a pin drop as fans wait for the next service...near complete quiet, in New York City! A rarity, indeed.
Of course, the world has changed a bit since 1984. Instead of writing on an IBM Selectric typewriter or IBM PC, Jr., I use a ThinkPad T40. Instead of a Motorola phone the size of a house brick, I have one that slips inside a pocket inside my pocket. Instead of sending a letter via an envelope that takes three days to get there, I send an email that flashes around the world at the speed of light. In short, everything happens just a little bit faster and with a little bit more immediacy.
Which brings us to the U.S Open, circa 2005. While many other things may have changed in the world, the experience of watching the best of the best in tennis has not. These professionals still play with great athleticism, great power, great precision, great finesse...and they continue to be great personalities as well. Agassi. Roddick. The Williams sisters, Venus and Serena. Nadal. Sharapova. Davenport. The list of great players goes on.
IBM has worked in partnership with the U.S.T.A. for nearly 15 years to try and help bring a better and always-improving experience to its fans, to help ensure that the always-critical match scores are distributed to broadcasters and the media quickly and accurately, and to helping the U.S.T.A. run the smoothest and most enjoyable tournament possible. I visited with the IBM and U.S.T.A. teams earlier this week to learn more about our partnership and IBM's role as the official information technology provider of this flagship event. Over the next 10 days, I'll provide a behind-the-scenes look at how IBM technology and expertise help create "the power behind the points."
In the meantime, visit the U.S. Open Website. There are a number of new features, including USOpen.org TV, a Web-based video recap of the day's big news, and the "Point Tracker," which lets you watch the replay of an already played point in near real-time, to get a sense of how IBM tries to bring the uniqueness of the U.S. Open tennis experience to fans around the globe.