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9/11 anniversary: Memories of a decade ago

September 11, 2011 |  1:33 pm

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Ten years ago I was in New York for the U.S. Open and because of that and a couple of other random circumstances, there was a moment or two when I had a seat on American Airlines Flight 11, the first plane that was taken by terrorists and flown into the World Trade Center.

Back here again, a decade gone by so quickly and there is no embarrassment from me in saying, for certain, when the United States Tennis Assn. holds its 9/11 ceremony before the women’s singles final Sunday between Serena Williams and Samantha Stosur, tears will be shed. Mine.

Some things the U.S. Open doesn’t do well: preventing rain, having covered courts, needing ball kids with towels to mop up the spills from the sky.

But ceremonies the Open does do well and it seems appropriate to have “9-11-01” inscribed on the Arthur Ashe Stadium court.

I had to look up who won the 2001 men’s Open final, held on Sept. 9. It was Lleyton Hewitt, who beat the diminishing Pete Sampras, 7-6 (4), 6-1, 6-1.

On Monday, Sept. 10, instead of flying home to Los Angeles as planned, I got a new assignment: to write about the Yankees and Red Sox and Roger Clemens aiming for his 20th straight pitching victory. The game was rained out, of all things, but in the rescheduling of my flight home I briefly held a seat on American Flight 11 on Sept. 11.

Because I’m not much for getting up early, and because of the luck of the airline sticker upgrade lottery, I switched off Flight 11 to one later in the day. My husband woke me up that morning and from that moment, I will never not cry if I’m in New York.

And so I’m back again, 10 years later, staying at the same place, the Grand Hyatt.

It’s always the media hotel for the U.S. Open. Some hate it for its largeness and busy buzz and crowded lobby, but the hotel will always feel like home to me. It felt like a safe hideaway 10 years ago. After helping report on the awful personal tragedies around the city, that Hyatt room was where I’d go to cry.

It’s also attached to Grand Central Station where, within hours of the Twin Towers tumbling, people from all over the city had taped up handmade fliers or pieces of cardboard or business cards with photos and pleadings that if anyone had seen their father or mother, son or daughter, neighbor or friend who had suddenly disappeared, to please, please, phone or fax or text or email. A year later when I was back at the Hyatt many of those handwritten, hope-filled postings were still up. Two years later they were gone.

They stay in my mind, though, as if they had been written just yesterday. That day will always stay in my head, as if it were yesterday.

ALSO:

Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic reach men's final

Samantha Stosur advances to women's finals

Caroline Wozniacki, Serena Williams: Who's No. 1

-- Diane Pucin in New York

Photo: Fireworks are used during a U.S. Open ceremony to honor the victims of the Sept. 11 attacks on Saturday in New York. Credit: Charles Krupa / Associated Press

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