By Abhishek Mehrotra
Ashe is where your socialites assemble, the corporate fatcats and the people who turn fans for a fortnight to take photos for their Facebook profiles. Of course the tennis is good, sometimes great - it can't not be, with the names that descend upon it daily and nightly. Don't count on catching all the action though; some of the spectator seating areas are high enough to require oxygen masks for breathing - "nose-bleed seats" they're called.
It's in the field courts, the ones where you can just wander and find yourself close enough to the players to almost hear their thoughts that you really feel part of something special. In one of my strolls on Tuesday night, I passed Court 13 where young Australian Bernard Tomic was playing Spain's Carlos Berloq. There was standing room only - but I decided to hang around.
The most obvious benefit of the side courts, of course, is that you're able to observe the minute details that escape detection on the bigger courts. The shudder of the net as a serve slams into the tape, the crack of ball hitting gut, the tiny changes in the players' expression as they go from having just won a point to losing the next one. And of course, the comments from the crowd - many of which are lost in the cavernous depths of Ashe.
"Fluke," smirked a gentleman behind me in a Russian accent when Tomic unleashed a backhand down the line. Next game, the Australian whipped a forehand that resounded around the court. Clean winner. "Oh my God," exclaimed our disbeliever, cynicism replaced by wonder.
In addition to some quality tennis that saw a tired Tomic prevail over Berloq in four sets, Court 13 also played host to Ryan McIntosh - a 23-year-old ballboy who lost his left leg in Afghanistan while serving in the US Army. Fitted with a prosthetic, similar to the ones used by South African sprinter Oscar Pistorious, McIntosh whizzed around court effortlessly and of course, was the subject of a full-length feature in at least one of the local publications - the Daily News.
Court 15 is where I ended up the next day, watching Brazil's Ricardo Mello face Slovenia's Grega Zemlja. Zemlja was 30-15 up serving for the match, when, and this is something that can only happen on a side court - a ball from one of the adjacent courts landed on number 15 on Zemlja's side right in the midst of a long rally. Mello, assuming the point would be replayed, purposely smacked his forehand high and wide. It seemed a fair assumption, but the chair umpire wasn't so sure. A tournament official was summoned. The crowd booed before breaking into a chorus of "Replay, replay [the point]". I joined in.
"That's an easy call," cried one man next to me. No go. The official said something to Mello, who threw his hands in the air helplessly before coming back on court - and went on to lose the match in the next few minutes.
A world apart from the show courts, the side courts have a life of their own, hosting has-beens and will-bes all egged on by a rustic crowd eager just to see some tennis; heat, cold and on many occasions, comfort, be damned.
But then "Watched Mello lose on Court 17! Woohoo!" doesn't quite cut it as a Facebook status.