Jocks and Frocks

Two of the greatest shows on earth are playing in New York right now, one under the early autumn skies of Flushing Meadows, the other under the big white tent in Bryant Park. Dispensing equal doses of grit and glamour, the U.S. Tennis Open and Fashion Week offer New Yorkers a chance to see the world’s greatest tennis players and the world’s most celebrated designers put forward their best game. The dress codes may be different but the goal is the same: to make jaws drop and competitors quake.

For anyone wishing to shake off the August doldrums, you have to look no further than Flushing Meadows for drama and blood sport. In the men’s brackets, a brutal contest of skill and willpower played out for over three hours as Tommy Haas—nursing a persistent shoulder injury—aced Harlem’s James Blake—who broke his neck on court in 2004 but returned to take Andre Agassi to five sets in 2005—to win a memorable match. Meanwhile the stage is being set for a quarterfinal battle between top-seed and defending champion Roger Federer and fifth-seed Andy Roddick.

On the women’s side, defending champ Maria Sharapova fell to an unknown 18-year-old Polish contender, Agnieszka Radwanska (searching frantically for some background information about Ms. Radwanska in the wake of the unexpected upset, all commentators could come up with was that she keeps pet rats). But Ms. Radwanska’s moment of fame proved short-lived as she was dispatched, in turn, by Jerusalem-born Shahar Peer as fans waved the Israeli flag and chanted encouragement in Hebrew. And of course Serena and Venus Williams, with their 120-plus m.p.h. serves, are not about to go quietly, and may indeed end up facing each other in the semifinals.

As tennis fans flock to Queens, so do fashion followers swarm over Bryant Park. And at a time when fashion has increasingly been co-opted by bland mass chain stores at the suburban mall (hello, Target, Kohl’s, H&M), New York’s fancy and fantasy-filled Fashion Week serves as a reminder that the grand old guard—Ralph Lauren, Carolina Herrera, Donna Karan, Oscar de la Renta—are essentially urban tastemakers, grounded in Manhattan first and foremost. Yes, Fashion Week is a cynical marketing blitz, brimming with hype and ego, the clothes it puts on parade increasingly irrelevant to what the ordinary—and even extraordinary—woman on the street will wear. But the action on the runways, the deal-making in the showrooms of Seventh Avenue and all the surrounding parties evoke the giddy delights of commerce, and the always-fascinating spectacle of New York’s mastery of shameless self-regard.