I believe in fate.
Or destiny. Or coincidence. Whatever you want to call it, I think it exists. Flash back to Labor Day weekend, 2005. The setting is New York City…
Flushing Meadows, to be exact. The site of the U.S. Open: the most glorious two weeks in tennis. The home of unforgettable Jimmy Connors comebacks and of the infamous Serena cat suit and of 7-6 in the fifth set. Have a hankering for strawberries and cream? Try a Bronx raspberry instead.
Me, my mom, my sister, and three of our friends took advantage of the Labor Day holiday and drove up from Virginia to witness the weekend unfold. We watched brilliant tennis and came away with fantastic memories and memorabilia alike, even though it seemed the weekend went by faster than one of Andy Roddick’s serves.
Early Labor Day morning, our crew packed up the car, checked out of our hotel, and set out to do some sightseeing-via-Suburban. We circled by New York Harbor, the Statue of Liberty, and the remains of Ground Zero, all before enjoying our last meal in the city at the famed Carnegie Deli.
Stomachs satisfied, we started walking back to our car, located a few blocks away. We were busy soaking in our last few minutes in New York when something stopped us dead in our tracks. It was an enormous, jaw-droppingly-beautiful hotel—The Peninsula New York.
While my five traveling companions gawked at The Peninsula’s splendor, my eyes drifted to a Lexus parked in front of the hotel. Plastered on its side was the ATP (Association of Tennis Professionals, a.k.a. the men’s professional tennis tour) logo, claiming Lexus as the “Official Car of the U.S. Open.” I pointed it out to the group, and out of pure curiosity we asked the old man in the driver’s seat who he was waiting for.
“Uh, a Mr. Roger Feldman,” he mumbled.
Roger Feldman? We talked it over. He definitely wasn’t a player we had heard of. Could he be an official of some sort? A line judge? Anybody connected to the fame and buzz surrounding the Open?
Then it dawned on us. Did the driver possibly mean Roger Federer? Number one player in the world, defending U.S. Open singles champion, tennis-legend-in-the-making? My friends Amy and Kerry had already given up the cause and drifted down to the street corner, waiting for a walk signal, but the four of us that remained couldn’t let this go. My mom, sister, and I got our friend Jane—Amy and Kerry’s mom—to ask the driver if it was in fact Federer he was waiting for.
“Oh yeah, that’s right.”
Wow. No use stopping now. Jane asked the driver when Roger was supposed to come out of the hotel.
“Well, he’s actually running about 15 minutes late.”
I think my mom and I nearly levitated off the sidewalk. After all, Federer is not just a phenomenal tennis player, but our favorite tennis player. We would have probably camped out just to get the chance to see him up close and personal.
That is, if he didn’t happen to walk right out the hotel entrance two minutes later. We no longer stared in amazement at the hotel. This time, we had The Peninsula of tennis staring us in the face. Jane began screaming at her daughters to “RUN!” while my mom fiddled with the camera and gushed over Roger, eventually asking him for a picture.
We got the hotel bellhop to snap the photo—Roger, grandiose, towering in the middle, with six of his biggest fans flanking him three on each side. He was even nicer in person than I imagined, kindly taking the time for the photo shoot and asking us about our stay and if we were going to the matches today. We replied that we were just leaving the city, unfortunately.
Whenever I look at that framed photo sitting proudly on our kitchen counter, I always wonder what could have been. What if we had finished our meal ten minutes earlier? Or ten minutes later? What if we had taken another walking route—on that didn’t pass by The Peninsula? What if we hadn’t bothered to ask the driver who he was waiting for? What if we hadn’t deciphered Roger Feldman’s real identity?
It’s a good thing fate doesn’t leave room for “What if?”
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