New York City knows how to party. And with the US Open starting today, several events were held around town for the inaugural Taste of Tennis Week to commemorate the sport and its talented players. Our Forbes Travel Guide editors were on hand at W New York for the 15th Annual Taste of Tennis Gala (held on Thursday, August 21) as well as the Party with The Pros bash, which took place at the Forbes Travel Guide Recommended Langham Place, Fifth Avenue’s Measure lounge on Saturday, August 23.
Now, just having a ball is one thing, but to do it for a good cause is another. A portion of the proceeds from the Taste of Tennis go toward City Harvest, New York City’s first food rescue organization, which has been working to end the community’s hunger for more than 30 years.
Chopped judge chef Marc Murphy set up his lamb meatball with whipped ricotta station in the VIP room at the gala. “I like watching tennis,” the toque shared. “I like the tennis players. I’m also a board member of City Harvest so that’s very important to me. I did this event four years ago and they gave me a tennis racquet. I took some lessons and it was fun and I still do it.”
Murphy wasn’t the only one cooking things up. With more than 20 vendors and some 25-plus chefs participating, guests were able to sample dishes (including The Meatball Shop’s savory buffalo chicken balls with bleu cheese dressing and Frank’s red hot sauce from chefs Daniel Holzman and Michael Chernow; The Red Cat’s potato wrapped scallops with corn and fava bean salad from culinary artists Jimmy Bradley and Andy Xu) at the food stations while listening to DJ Venus Williams — yes, the two-time US Open singles champ rocked out on the ones and twos — pump out beats in one room while an island-flavored band from the Jamaican Tourism Board jammed the night away in another.
As people moved from station to station with drinks like the Moscow mule (made with Russian Standard) in hand, we caught tennis stars Gaël Monfils and Victoria Azarenka chatting it up and dancing. Azarenka graced us with a few minutes to shed some light on why we always see her with a smile on her face. “It’s a mindset you know,” said the Women’s Tennis Association’s No. 17 singles ranked player. “I’m very blessed to be able to do what I love and travel the world and be in such amazing places, so I’m just trying to enjoy my life as much as possible.” Once this US Open is behind her, Azarenka said, “I’m going to the islands this year. I’m going to Hawaii and I’m going to Jamaica.”
Throughout the evening, guests approached the 6-foot Belarusian beauty to take photos for Instagram. She obliged and continued to beam all while explaining her active social media presence: “It’s just the most direct way to talk to my fans. It’s the first source that they can go to check out the real news about me. I do all my social media myself. I want to be able to give them part of my world because they’ve been so supportive. They motivate and they inspire me all the time, so it’s really about being able to interact with them and show love.”
Event hosts Serena Williams and Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto rounded out the evening at their cooking demo where Serena prepared sushi and onlookers ogled the world’s No. 1 singles player as she displayed her off-the-court culinary skills.
Party with The Pros
A couple of days later, the festivities continued at the see-and-be-seen Party with The Pros event where Azarenka and fellow tennis sensations Sloane Stephens, Agnieszka Radwanska and John Isner showed up for an evening of fun with fans and friends. As partygoers walked around sipping champagne and tasting dishes such as the juicy kangaroo and beetroot burgers, Isner, who donned a white T-shirt and a pair of jeans, spoke with us about what makes the US Open so magical. “You’re in the biggest and best city in the world,” explained the world’s No. 15 ranked player. “I don’t know if New York City is a place that I can live but when I come here to visit, it’s so electric. Playing tennis over at Flushing Meadows is awesome. But when you’re in the city, you’re really trying to break away from tennis a little bit and enjoy the city because it’s just so much fun.”
When he’s in the Big Apple, the North Carolina native spends a lot of time dining out. “I love to eat nice dinners,” Isner added. “I’m just a huge foodie. I spend the majority of my money on food and that’s about it.”
He also enjoys sampling the different cities on the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) circuit. “Being on tour for me is very special and I consider myself extremely lucky to be able to do what I’m doing,” he said. “I certainly travel a lot but, at the same time, I go to amazing cities like here in New York City. After this, I’ll be in Asia — Beijing and Shanghai. I travel all over the world but these places that I get to go to are amazing and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”
While continent hopping, Isner gets to stay at a variety of hotels, but the pro certainly has his favorites: “I stayed at the InterContinental in Beijing — I think it’s fantastic. And here at the Langham in New York City, it’s amazing. My room is spectacular. The rooms get cold, which I like — really cold and really dark. I love this hotel. At Wimbledon, where you don’t really stay at a hotel, I normally go out and get a house for like two weeks or so. But as far as the hotel goes, there are some good ones in Asia but the one here at the Langham in New York is second to none.”
With a grueling schedule, Isner says, whenever he’s at the airport, he checks his bags with an agent. “I have a lot of luggage, mainly because I have to bring a lot of tennis shoes for my feet — I wear a size 15,” detailed the 6-foot, 10-inch giant. “I have to pack a lot of tennis clothes, clothes to go out to dinner in and so forth and so on.” And when he gets to his hotel, he says he’s got things under control. “When I get my bags, I’m extremely neat,” Isner insisted. “I don’t like the feeling of actually living out of a suitcase so I immediately unpack no matter what time it is. I’m very tidy and organized. If I’m in a hotel, everything is put away and it makes me feel more at ease.”