Autograph hounds target U.S. Open players

Tennis fan Noah Ouari, 5, of Manhattan gets Tennis fan Noah Ouari, 5, of Manhattan gets a boost from his dad Jacques Ouari. Photo Credit: Sophia Chang

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Along with the cicadas droning in the summer sun Thursday, a low buzz hummed outside the practice courts at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park as a group of fans gathered to watch the biggest names in tennis work on their technique.

The buzz erupted into calls of "Rafa! Rafa!" as the popular tennis star Rafael Nadal left the practice court and obligingly signed autographs for the cluster of waiting fans.

Miller Silbey, 10, of Las Vegas, had just gotten 11th-ranked Fernando Gonzalez's autograph, but as the boy's long brown hair attested, what he really wanted was a signature from his favorite player.

What would he say to Rafa? "Just hi," Miller said. He ended up getting the autograph.

With canvasses ranging from giant $40 tennis balls to ticket stubs to simple scraps of paper, many fans want a scribbled memento from their favorite players at the U.S. Open.

Noah Ouari, 5, of Manhattan, had waited for Roger Federer for an hour, sitting on his dad Jacques Ouari's shoulders outside the practice courts, and he was thrilled with his score.

"It even smells good," the boy said, sniffing the regulation tennis ball. This was his second Federer signature; he signed Noah's giant tennis ball earlier.

For Lauren Carney, 14, of New Jersey, the thrill of getting autographs was the chance to get close to the celebrities. "Just seeing their faces" is the best part, Charney said after she snagged a coveted Nadal autograph.

"We've been trying for that one for two years," said her mother, Karen Zimmermann. Carney said her secret to getting autographs was to just shove the giant tennis ball toward the players and hope for the best.

Kathleen McCann, 45, a teacher from East Rockaway, said she doesn't often try to get autographs. But after watching Melanie Oudin upset fourth-ranked Elena Dementieva in the second round, she ran to the side of the court and held out a tennis ball for Oudin to sign.

"I came purposely two days ago to watch her and ran into her in the hall, but I didn't have anything to sign, so today I brought a ball," McCann said.

What will she do with the ball? "I guess enclose it, put it in a case," McCann said, adding that she believes Oudin will be top-ranked someday - and her autographs harder to get.

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