At the end of every night session at the US Open, throngs of fans pass through the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center's East Gate and up the boardwalk that leads to the LIRR and the subway. About a two-minute's walk down the wooden planks past the LIRR's Mets - Willets Point stop, a vocalist dressed in a flashy suit has been belting out tunes night-in and night-out throughout the fortnight. He's been a constant presence, a feel-good fellow who sends fans who just spent their day watching the world's best tennis off on a happy note.
This year's Open had its fair share of happy notes, as well. As it always does, the tournament produced amazing memories and heartwarming narratives that tennis fans won't soon forget.
Here are the Top 5 feel-good stories of this year's US Open:
Victoria Duval and Allie Kiick, both winners in the third round of women’s qualifying
Allie Kiick advanced on the final day of qualifying into her first Grand Slam main draw, when fellow American and good friend Victoria Duval retired early in the second set of their match due to a left thigh injury. But when the two cancer survivors walked off Court 4 that Friday morning, they were both winners.
Before turning 21, Kiick had undergone a total of four surgeries on her knees — two on each — and also overcome mononucleosis. The daughter of former Miami Dolphins running back Jim Kiick, went 693 days between professional matches. She returned this June and only two months later, Kiick went from never winning a match in US Open qualies to getting through to her first Slam main draw.
Duval, who beat Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 2014 and later bounced back from surgery to repair a torn meniscus is a good friend of Kiick's. In fact, Kiick had visited Duval throughout her chemotherapy treatments to provide any support she could.
"After what we both have been through, to both be out here playing in the last round (of qualifying) is pretty amazing," Kiick said.
JC Aragone goes from qualifying alternate to main draw
In 2016, Aragone attended the US Open in a suit after leaving his office in J.P. Morgan’s private wealth management department, where he spent his summer as an intern. This year, the University of Virginia alumnus got into qualifying as an alternate the day before play began and managed to make his way all the way through to the main draw.
Aragone's story gets event better when you consider that almost six years ago, the former No. 5 singles player for the Cavaliers suffered kidney and liver failure due to an adverse reaction to medication, putting him into a coma, and was later diagnosed with diabetes as well. Now, the 22-year-old checks his sugar levels every changeover using a continuous glucose monitoring system, and needs to inject himself with insulin depending on his levels. But nevertheless, Aragone persevered and earned the best result of his young professional career, losing to eventual finalist Kevin Anderson.
“One thing that my health issues and life experiences have given me — I'm not going to give up,” Aragone said. “I’m going to fight until the last point and if you’re on my court, guys [you're] going to be in for a battle.”
Petra Kvitova rising again
It is amazing to think that just over eight months ago, Kvitova’s career was in jeopardy.
Kvitova was attacked in her apartment in the Czech Republic on Dec. 20. When she attempted to defend herself from the knife-wielding intruder, the left-hander’s playing hand was cut, with two fingers suffering digital nerve damage.The Czech’s surgeon, Dr. Radek Kebrle, said in a statement before this year’s French Open that, “the chances of Petra’s hand healing well enough for her to be able to play tennis again were very low.”
Kvitova miraculously played at Roland Garros just five months after the attack. At her very next tournament, the two-time Wimbledon champion won the title in Birmingham. And here in New York just two months later, Kvitova advanced to her first major quarterfinal since the 2015 US Open.
“I think it's amazing. I didn't really think that I can come so far,” Kvitova said after losing a thrilling quarterfinal against Venus Williams. “I'm just glad that I could show it here, that there is a way to play well again.”
Juan Martin del Potro down, but not out, advances to semis
The 2009 US Open champion Juan Martin del Potro underwent four wrist surgeries — one for his right wrist and three later on for his left — that only allowed him to play two tournaments between March of 2014 and February of 2016.
But now the popular Argentine, long a Flushing fan favorite, is fully healed and playing well again.This year, del Potro was down two sets to love on Grandstand in the fourth round against No. 6 Dominic Thiem before rallying back for the five-set win. In the next round, he ousted five-time US Open champ Roger Federer, to reach the semis--his best showing at a major since Wimbledon of 2013. After winning the first set, he lost that semifinal to eventual champion Rafael Nadal.
Though he didn't win the title, del Potro reminded us all why he's one of tennis' most popular players.
Venus Williams: the tennis gift who keeps on giving
Venus is a champion. There are no ifs, ands or buts about it.
No, the 37-year-old did not win the US Open. But even in Venus’ loss to eventual champion Sloane Stephens, she showed the resolve that has her back near the top of the sport 20 years after she played her first US Open. Always graceful in defeat, Williams left Flushing Meadows with her head held high after another stellar Slam showing.
Despite not winning her first major since 2008, Venus still led all women this year with 20 Grand Slam match wins. Who would have ever thought that someone who had made one major semifinal since the 2010 US Open would advance to two finals and a semifinal in one year after all that time? To boot, Williams will re-enter the Top 5 of the rankings for the first time since January of 2011.