The Nassau Coliseum, located in the Long Island city of Uniondale, New York, is an old building best known as the home of the NHL’s New York Islanders. From 1980 through 1983, the Nassau Coliseum was the home of the NHL’s Stanley Cup champions, as the Islanders created one of hockey’s greatest dynasties. For a fifth year, in 1984, the building hosted the Stanley Cup Final. It was in 1984 that the Edmonton Oilers and a young man named Wayne Gretzky took Lord Stanley’s Cup from the Islanders. The Stanley Cup hasn’t made a return visit since, and the Isles now play some of their home games in Brooklyn at the Barclays Center.
Nassau Coliseum has hosted major championship events in various sports, and it has also hosted a lot of ordinary events in the decades which featured a far more pedestrian level of play from the Islanders, who are trying to recapture their early-1980s magic.
Friday, this building will host a tennis match which won’t create large-size global headlines or have #TennisTwitter on edge. This match won’t make tennis fans stop what they are doing and put the rest of their lives on hold. Yet, this match — by many measurements a very ordinary match — will be profoundly special for the two men playing it. This is how tennis creates such a buffet of delights for those who follow the sport. This is also how tennis provides a house with many rooms.
I am fond of that last phrase: “a house with many rooms.” I keep using it because the reference to the words of Jesus in the Gospel According to John is such a perfect way of expressing how tennis can satisfy so many different levels of aspiration and achievement. So many competitors can find something deeply nourishing and special about various levels of performance.
You don’t have to win the Australian Open to be elated. You don’t have to win Indian Wells to feel you are improving. You don’t have to conquer the field at the WTA or ATP Finals to feel that your season of labor and struggle as a professional tennis player meant something.
You can be Paolo Lorenzi or Brayden Schnur. You can have the time of your life at the New York Open, playing in Nassau Coliseum before a modest crowd on a February Friday. You can treat the occasion as a big deal and not be wrong, because it’s YOUR life and your achievement. The moment can be special because it is special for YOU, in your own mind.
This is what makes this match such a feel-good story.
First, I give you the significance of this match for Lorenzi:
At 37 Paolo Lorenzi is in an ATP quarterfinal for the 8th years in a row.
He didn’t reach an ATP quarterfinal in his 20s.
— enrico maria riva (@enricomariariva) February 13, 2019
The Italian made his first final at the ATP Tour level at age 32. He won his first — and only, to date — ATP title at 34. It might be a ho-hum achievement for higher-ranked players on tour, but for an athlete to invest so much of his life in a competitive pursuit and finally find a way to maximize his abilities in older age must be immensely gratifying. You know Lorenzi isn’t taking this moment for granted.
He is finding ways to evolve and not only live his dream, but live it to the best of his ability. It’s the kind of story we should all hope to write in our own lives, in our own ways.
Now, consider Schnur’s outlook on this match:
Just a few weeks ago Brayden Schnur told me confidently that, “I’ve been focusing on my game more than the results and knowing that when my game is put in place the results will come.” They sure have been this week at the @NewYorkOpen where he now advances to the quarterfinals.
— Mike McIntyre (@protennisfan) February 14, 2019
Qualifier @BraydenSchnur saved 2 match points en route to final-set TB victory over No.3 seed Steve Johnson, to reach his 1st ATP Tour QF at @NewYorkOpen. Schnur has won his first two ATP Tour main draw matches this week (0-5 at Tour-level previously).
— ATP Media Info (@ATPMediaInfo) February 14, 2019
The 37-year-old Lorenzi comes at this match as the old man who has seen it all and has managed to develop a higher level of consistency. The 23-year-old Schnur is the young, aspiring climber who will play in his first-ever tour-level quarterfinal. These are two ends of a long pole, two sides of a broad and diverse spectrum, who will meet in Nassau Coliseum, a building stuffed with decades of sports memories.
This is a Long Island moment which won’t make the sports world stop in its tracks — it doesn’t have to.
The meaning of the moment is powerful for the competitors in the arena. That’s what really counts — it is more than good enough for any lover of sport on that basis alone.
Have fun, Paolo and Brayden! You deserve it!