I stayed up to watch the first 3 night sessions of the US Open, was it worth it?
Every tennis fan has stayed up late for matches at some point. The nature of tennis as a (near) global
sport means there will always be tennis on in a time zone that does not suit you. Anyone not based
in Australia feels this when the Australian Open comes around at the start of the year. Australians
themselves have had this with two Aussies in the Wimbledon final the past two years in Ash Barty
and Nick Kyrgios.
We never have to stay up for these matches. In today’s world, there are plenty of ways to consume
matches without seeing it live. Full match replays, highlights and analysis all over social media allows
you to consume and understand a lot more about tennis than you might otherwise be able to if
you’re relying purely on watching live.
And yet, often times we do find ourselves on these late night escapades to watch our favourite
players duke it out. Even if we do not do it often, some of us don’t have to luckily, I’m sure we all will
have done so at some point or had the temptation to. Ahead of this North American swing, my
Twitter timeline was filled with plenty of calls for European fans to not stay up too late to watch
Generally, I’ve stuck to that myself. It simply has not been worth the hassle to stay up so late for a
couple of potentially good matches. However with this US Open, I’ve decided to break that general
rule. My plan at this slam has been to stay up for both semi-final nights, but with Serena Williams
opening the night session of day one, I couldn’t help but watch. Emma Raducanu was opening the
nigth session on the Louis Armstrong Stadium on day two as well…These were matches that were far
too tempting to ignore.
I ended up staying up beyond midnight on the first three days of the US Open for the opening night
session matches. They were all tantalising prospects and ended up to be great matches, but was it
worth the sacrifices required?
The Arthur Ashe Stadium night session at the US Open starts at 7pm local time. That’s midnight here
in the UK. Add in the warmup time and with Serena’s matches the montages they played for her and
you’re not looking at matches actually starting until 12:15. Even with straight sets wins for Serena
against Danka Kovinic and Alize Cornet against Raducanu, I wasn’t getting to bed until 2:30am at the
earliest. I usually go to bed between 11 and 12, so by the time those matches on Ashe get started
I’m usually fast asleep. That’s tough to push myself through once, let alone for three days running.
It might not sound like much pushing back your sleep schedule by just two hours, but it is really
tough to do. You’re basically fighting against your body and its instincts; it wants to sleep, it needs to
sleep, and yet you’re here forcing it to stay awake to see Serena Williams potentially retiring.
So, how do you keep yourself up for those extra couple of hours? Well the first key is caffeine. Lots
and lots of caffeine. I primarily drink decaffeinated tea so that I’m not kept up at night until 3am
with insomnia, but in these situations that caffeine is a necessity. It’s a boost to keep you going and
stay awake, but it isn’t perfect. After around 1am or 2am, the impact of another mug of tea is
diminished. In the war between caffeine and sleep, caffeine wins the sprint but loses the marathon.
You’ve got to keep your mind engaged, keep your brain active so it doesn’t drift off to sleep. Sitting
sipping tea and watching your heart rate rise doesn’t keep you awake on its own. For all of these
days, I stopped watching matches at around 10pm. There were matches on still, but nothing I was
super engaged in. It feels weird to do at a grand slam, but sometimes you’ve got to limit how much
tennis you watch.
On Wednesday night, I played a couple hours of Xenoblade Chronicles 2 on my Nintendo Switch
ahead of Serena’s second round match against Anett Kontaveit. This turned out to be an extremely
effective method of keeping myself awake as I repeatedly died trying to traverse a few obnoxious
areas and kill a few higher level enemies. Indeed, the adrenaline rush one receives when they
repeatedly shout at the eight or so character on screen to please just shut up with battle cries for a
Other nights, I took to a bit of reading which is really good to do; it got my eyes away from screens
which I desperately need. I’ve been trying to finish Little Women for over a year in between finishing
multiple books about the tactical developments of football. I’m not sure if reading about Amy and
Laurie enjoying their time in Paris was quite as big an adrenaline boost as six different voice lines
playing over each other at once, but it put my mind to ease on day one as I feared I might see Serena
The Serena match on Ashe was awesome. I was sat in the living room, the soft orange glow of the
lamps either side of the room giving a nice cosy feel as I snuggle under a weighted blanket on the
sofa. I eat my biscuits, sip my tea and get emotional as I watch the Serena montages start before her
stunning entrance onto the court.
This match was worth staying up for. The overall quality of the Serena Show improved as the
matches went on, but the atmosphere in Arthur Ashe Stadium was special on that opening night.
Everyone was here for her, not knowing if this might be the last time we see her out on the court as
a singles player.
This was a perfect advert for the night sessions. The primetime evening slot, the marquee event of
the day that everything is building up to. That opening day was very eventful in its own right; the day
session had plenty of exciting matches and upsets to get stuck into, but all of it was really waiting for
that night match. Every pan around the stadium showed a different celebrity out to cheer their
favourite all time great on.
Under the lights, with a crowd so heavily engaged and roaring for Serena Williams on every point she
won, that is the perfect night match on Arthur Ashe Stadium. A crowd enraptured by the spectacle
they were seeing, the drama and the thrill all heightened by the night time setting and the spotlights
beaming down onto the US Open’s centre court. The night session is for blockbusters and Serena
Williams is and forever will be blockbuster.
I watched the end of the match with a yawn and tiredness creeping in, enjoying the ceremony put
on for the greatest player of all time knowing I was cosy and soon about to head to bed. I’d had my
fill for the night (and day) with the chaos of that opening Monday, and I was hardly desperate to
watch Nick Kyrgios and his best mate play following the greatest player to ever grace Arthur Ashe
That is a bit of a problem with the night sessions I fear; what do you do with the second match. With
a 7pm start for the first match, anything running even slightly long will see the second match
probably not get started until gone 10pm and with a men’s best of five sets match to play, that’s a
long night. It’s a bit of a tough sell to stay up even longer into the night after you’ve had the emotion
and excitement of Serena gracing your screen for a couple hours, and that’s if you’re a local. For me,
there was nothing on these opening nights to justify staying up until 5am for. Last year, I did it for
the Emma Raducanu semi-final match- a historic, incredible and unprecedented achievement. Nick
Kyrgios beating Thanasi Kokkinakis is not that.
Wimbledon and Roland Garros have tried to solve this by only having one night session match
(Wimbledon does not have an official night session, but third on Centre Court does not usually start
until 6-7pm local time as the “primetime” slot). This causes its own problems, though, with Roland
Garros this year coming under pretty heavy and valid criticism for scheduling only one of those night
sessions as a women’s match; Alize Cornet vs Jelena Ostapenko in round 2. It’s not easy to get right.
The balance didn’t effect me too badly this week, fortunately. I got my Serena thrill, took a shower
and headed to bed.
Day two and the dread of Emma Raducanu dropping 2000 ranking points began. I think we all
expected Raducanu to lose to Alize Cornet, but having it on the night session just makes it more
painful in a way. You’ve got all day to wait and wonder, and then very little time after to stew on it.
Rafael Nadal was on Arthur Ashe Stadium against Australian wildcard Rinky Hijikata to open his
campaign while Raducanu was on Louis Armstrong. I think it is a real shame Raducanu didn’t get
Ashe – she’s the defending champion, she deserved it. Is Rafael Nadal getting a rather comfortable
win really that exciting?
Well, apparently so, because Nadal did actually have an interesting match on his hands. He dropped
the first set to Hijikata who was loving the occasion and playing his heart out. This, really, was the
best case scenario for the crowd and audience watching Nadal at this early stage. A bit of jeopardy, a
real contest and some fun, eye-catching points. Nadal was never going to lose this match, but at
least his opponent managed to make it interesting.
This is the problem with the show courts in week one of grand slams. Most of the time, it’s just the
top players going through the motions and getting straight sets wins. Upsets are a rarity, dropped
sets a welcome bit of intrigue. The entertainment in week one is almost always on the outside courts
where the epics or entertainment is going on. Meanwhile, the TV focus for “primetime” is on those
show courts where, aside from Serena here, it is often boring.
Raducanu on Armstrong did give a bit of excitement in that the defending champion lost round one.
Even in a straight sets loss to Cornet, it was an entertaining match and the crowd were up for it.
Armstrong isn’t the huge, echoing arena that Ashe is and in a way it suited the feel of the match
more. I think it could have become awkward watching her struggle on that huge court once again,
even if she deserved the stage.
It was a big story but not an unexpected twist; the night session went about as you might have
expected. We knew what the headlines about Emma would be in the morning, that Nadal’s win
would get a few words about how well Hijikata did for that one set. For me my part, I had some fun
staying up again. I’m glad I saw Raducanu play, even if her game isn’t fully there yet.
I was doing ok staying up fortunately. I was feeling the tiredness by the end of the evenings, but it
wasn’t too bad overall. The caffeine was working, my brain was sufficiently worked as I crafted very
smart sounding tweets to improve my Tennis Twitter Influencer status. I was asleep by around 2.45
or 3am on both nights, but it wasn’t hurting me too badly. I got lie ins in the morning after, ready to
digest yet more opening week tennis- things were good.
I had not intended to do any more late nights, but Serena was once again on the night session
against Anett Kontaveit on day three. That was extremely tempting. In the end, I changed by my
mind; I could not miss what I thought could be the last match of Serena Williams’ glorious career. I’d
had two good nights before, a third wouldn’t hurt, right?
Dear reader, a third night staying up hurt. I, to use a technical term, fucked up. It was an exciting
match once again, even better than the Kovinic win on day one. Serena looked even better and
Kontaveit, world number two let us not forget, was giving a great showing herself. The crowd were
right behind Serena as per they were before, willing her on to make sure the win was secured.
I was surprised by the level of Serena and just how much better she was after just one match. It still
felt awkward for Kontaveit with near dead silence if she ever won a point, which made it a bit
uncomfortable when she was hitting great shots herself and getting barely a cheer for her efforts.
I will admit, it is a bit hard to write about this match for me, mainly because I didn’t see all of it. It
went much longer than either of the matches I was staying up for previously and I didn’t even last
until set three. I was yawning more, feeling the tiredness more. I wonder if pushing my sleep for a
third day in a row was beginning to catch up. I had my blanket on me again, lying on the sofa, and so
I decided to set up some cushions as pillows just to comfort myself.
I had no intention of falling asleep, but, well, you can see where this is going. I fell asleep. I don’t
exactly know when it happened and I don’t know exactly when I woke up. I just saw that there was
more tennis on still, I think it was a third set by then, and that I should probably head to bed. My
body needed sleep, I couldn’t stay up any longer. The Serena Show was brilliant, from what I saw of
it, but my body mattered more. I stumbled upstairs, took a shower and slept some time after 3am.
Thursday was awful for me. I woke up at noon, far later than normal and what I would have liked.
My whole body ached badly, I had a headache, I felt a bit sick and I was sweating like Nadal in
Australia. I hardly ate breakfast when I managed to bring myself to eat, I felt bloated the entire day.
It was like I had a fever or a cold, but just seven hours ago I was completely fine.
I had sort of jetlagged my body by trying to push my sleep schedule back when it didn’t need
moving. My body clock was a mess, my body as a whole was a mess. And all of that from staying up
until 3am for a couple nights.
I went to bed at 10pm that night, I wasn’t staying up for anymore tennis this time. I was pretty much
ok by Friday, resetting myself and getting my body back to normal, but the effects still somewhat
lingered. I had felt awful all day and called it a night after being awake for around ten hours at most.
I had wanted to start writing about experiencing the night sessions on that Thursday, but I spent
most of it sat on the sofa trying to get my stomach to stop lurching every other second.
So, was it worth staying up for the night sessions? Ultimately, no. The tennis for Serena was great,
but that is because it is Serena. It is not worth killing your sleep schedule and torturing your body for
some tennis matches, even Serena Williams.
I could have watched matches back in full if I wanted, experienced every detail in my own time and
turned off notifications so I don’t see what went on. But I didn’t, because there is still an alure to the
night sessions I find. Maybe it’s just FOMO (fear of missing out), knowing there are still blockbuster
matches going on that everyone is watching eagerly while I’m happily sleeping. Did I really want to
miss the potential retirement of Serena Williams on court?
It was special to watch here in the UK, too. Staying up late for it makes it even more special I find; I
was going out of my way to see Serena, committing myself to it in a darkened room with a tea and a
blanket. No one else around, just me, that blue court under the lights and Serena Williams. It felt
special to watch the Raducanu semi-final last year because of this, too. When people talk about that
run to the title now, I can tell a story of how I stayed up until 5.30am to watch her get there.
I find that a lot of the beauty of live sport is the shared experience. We are all here to watch Serena
Williams get one last win, whether in the stadium, at home from the TV or in another country and
time zone entirely. We share the last moments of a glorious career or the early upset of a champion.
In the dead of night, I get to watch that live from a small house in England and it feels rather special
in its own silly way. I would probably do it all over again just as before if I had the chance.
And yet, even with all that romantic notion of sharing the moment and the glorious atmosphere of
sport under the lights, I say it is not worth it. Because even if it was fun, even if it was special, it hurt
my body. If I had not stopped after day three and kept staying up, I might well have ended up even
worse just a week or two away before I go back to university and end up with 9am lectures to gear
myself up for. I felt like hell for a day. Tennis is great, it is my favourite sport by far, but it is not
worth hell. You will always feel the temptation to stay up, to push your body just beyond its limits to
see this great, silly sport, but it is never worth the consequences for going too far in my mind.
I contemplated staying up for another Serena match on the Friday night, round three against
Tomljanovic. I was close to saying yes and pulling another late night, unsure if she would win this
one or not. I opted not to, knowing the wrath my body would lay down upon me if I dared try.
Serena lost that match in a three setter, her career is now over. From the highlights I’ve been able to
see and from everything I’ve heard, it was an amazing match and she played her heart out. I wish I
had got to see it, but I’m glad I didn’t cross the line again. I had stayed up for the night sessions in
part because I was hoping to see the retirement of Serena Williams, but because I pushed it too far I
missed that retirement. I’m sad about that and I’m frustrated with myself because of it.
When people ask me where I was when Serena Williams retired, I won’t be able to say I was staying
up watching and sobbing as she spoke in her last on court interview live. I’ll have to admit I was fast
asleep because I needed it. Maybe it will be my wise wisdom to whoever is listening to get to bed on
time themselves, maybe they will tut and say what I fool I was.
There is a romantic notion to the night sessions of tennis and particularly that of the US Open and
Arthur Ashe. The gladiatorial arena now lit up with a full crowd immersed in the thrill. I love all of it, I
wish I could experience more of it. Alas, I am merely mortal. I have a body and it has its limits. Those
limits must be respected, even if Serena Williams is on TV.
You can find more of Tom’s work here: https://welcometowombledon.substack.com/
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