US Open Honor Speech, September 2012

August 25, 2014 speeches Comments Off

Hello New York!

You’re looking good. How is it that you never change—and I keep getting older?

Thank you for this great honor. It’s something I certainly did not expect the first time I played here. I was 16. I’d just gotten my driver’s permit. I was rocking a fluffy, spiky, two-toned mullet, wearing jeans shorts. Acid washed. And I was scared to death.

People always told me back then that I knew nothing, but they were wrong. I knew less than nothing. I didn’t even know how to get here to this stadium. Day One, I failed to leave myself enough time, took a bus from the hotel, got stuck in traffic, missed my practice court. Then I couldn’t convince the woman in charge that I actually belonged here.

Sadly I could not convince my first round opponent either. Jeremy Bates of Great Britain who sent me home in less time than it takes to say Jeremy Bates of Great Britain.

Not an auspicious start. And yet I came back, year after year, no matter what, dead or alive—this was the only Grand Slam I never missed—and the reason was you.

I wish I had words to describe the sound you make during critical matches. The roar, the applause, the love. It’s like a jet engine and a giant heartbeat. I’d start to hear it down in that tunnel. In Paris players enter center court from a stairway, in London through a club, in Melbourne a hallway—but here we enter through a long tunnel, which amplifies the noise. And amplifies the love.

That sound you make is almost as powerful, almost as inspiring, as your silence. In Paris, London, Melbourne, they fall silent many times during a match. But here in New York you don’t bestow your silence on just any moment. So when you do, it’s daunting. It’s a sound, a sign, of deep respect and high expectation. And it’s deafening. Trust me when I tell you: there’s nothing so loud as 23,000 stone cold silent New Yorkers.

People always ask if I miss the game and I think of my back, and my hips, and I remember Federer taking me apart like my kids used to take apart one of their Lego toys, and I say: Yes and no. But when they ask if I miss the US Open I don’t hesitate.

I miss your sound.

I miss your silence.

I miss giving you everything I’ve got. And then a little bit more.

Thank you for giving me everything you had, for twenty-one years—and then a little bit more and thank you for giving me this opportunity to walk through that long tunnel one more and be reminded.