“What news? Come in! You’re welcome!” US Open player Elaine Vario with fuchsia hair greeted people as they entered Arthur Ashe Stadium on Monday in a first-round match between Daniil Medvedev and Stefan Kozlov.
Vario, 62, checked the people’s tickets and asked cheerfully in a Long Island accent where they came from. The department she was working in already had people from England, Australia, California, New Jersey and Brooklyn. She gave people smalls and introduced tennis fans to each other.
“A lot of it is diplomacy,” she said of her job. She said some people tried to sneak into sections with better views. But overall, she had a great experience with fans. She said there were many excited people, including celebrities, whom she would see every year. Some even send her Christmas presents.
Vario has been running as a starter at the US Open since 1997. She simply smiled when asked if she was here in 1999 when Serena Williams won her first singles title in Ashe.
“The place gets a certain charm when someone from their hometown wins and I can’t explain it,” Vario said of that night. “They did it for Andre Agassi too. It lights up the whole place.”
And she added, “And when people go, ‘Oh, it’s so loud,'” I say, ‘Welcome to New York. “It’s New York, and we have energy that’s really hard to contain.”
Vario said a lot of people came that night in 1999 just to see a Serena Williams play. “I’ve really managed to build an audience in New York,” she said.
Vario said Williams’ farewell match on Monday night would be “difficult but exciting”. “She already warned us that this would be so, so everyone would root for her.”
“She’s still her hometown girl,” she added. “Whether she wins or loses, she will be greeted with a warm welcome beyond anything I could have imagined or imagined because she is loved.”
She said that Serena has done a lot for the sport, similar to Billie Jean King. “I’ve done so much to make young girls believe they can get things done, and that’s a powerful statement in our society. Period.”
Vario, of Minola, New York, met her partner, Jeff Hyman, an Open Open pioneer who was known among friends as “The Gentle Giant” because he was 6 feet 6 inches tall, at the tournament during a rain delay in 1997, before the installation of Roof.
“I fell asleep on the stairs and woke up with a big bear’s arm above me,” she said. They started dating 15 years ago. Vario said they plan to marry in December. But Hyman had colon cancer, she said, and died Thursday at the age of 62.
With people entering the stadium, it would be hard for them to know that the social woman guiding them to their seats had just lost her soul mate, and no longer had her best ally in the tournament. He usually stood in a nearby section, and she tended to him her white hat during matches. The gesture means “I love you.”
She was still sad on Monday, but said he wanted her to be there working because, realistically, living in New York couldn’t be any cheaper and the bills had to be paid. But also because of how private the user experience is.
“You make friends from all over the world,” she said. “I’ve watched people grow up, they’re driving now, and I remember when their dads would pick them up, and they’d come over and give me big kisses.”