- Associated Press - Monday, August 25, 2014

NEW YORK (AP) - Fireworks, strobe lights, thumping music and gyrating dancers on the court of Arthur Ashe Stadium. It can only mean one thing: the official start of the U.S. Open.

John McEnroe and Martina Navratilova, singles champions from three decades ago, slammed tennis balls into the stands before Monday night’s matches to ceremonially light the Empire State Building in U.S. Open court blue.

And first-year New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio officially welcomed the 700,000 fans to the two-week tournament, saying “the U.S. Open is where it’s at!”

That was all a prelude to pounding rock tunes from the band Fitz and the Tantrums, accompanied by booming fireworks, flashing strobe lights and a team of dancers gyrating on the court over projected images of the game’s biggest stars.

- By James Martinez - www.twitter.com/jfmartinez

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THINKING OF UKRAINE: For Ukraine’s Sergiy Stakhovsky, just keeping his mind on tennis these days is a challenge.

Stakhovsky, who lost a first-round U.S. Open match to Andreas Seppi of Italy 6-3, 6-1, 6-4 on Monday, acknowledged the current political unrest in Eastern Ukraine is a distraction.

“Two weeks ago I was there and not very far from what is happening,” Stakhovsky said, adding that he preferred not to “disclose” exactly where he was. “It all gets under your skin and it’s kind of hard to live without information about what is going on and if there’s any updates.”

Despite the instability in his country, Stakhovsky believes there was no reason for the upcoming Davis Cup matches between Ukraine and Belgium, scheduled from Sept. 12-14, to be moved out of Kiev to the neutral venue of Talinn, Estonia.

On Aug. 7, the Davis Cup committee came to a non-unanimous decision that it would be safe for Ukraine-Belgium to go ahead as planned and play in Kiev.

The Belgian Tennis Federation appealed that decision. On Aug. 12, the ITF Board of Directors upheld Belgium’s appeal and advised the Ukrainian Tennis Federation to select a neutral site. The winning country will clinch a spot in the main draw of next year’s Davis Cup.

“The Ukraine national football team is playing Portugal and Slovakia next week in Ukraine and 80,000 people will be at the stadium and that’s no threat to security,” Stakhovsky said. “And then we have a Davis Cup tie, in which there’ll be a maximum of 5,000 people in a closed venue, and it’s a breach of security.”

To make his point that it’s absurd for Ukraine to lose its right to home matches that would have been held far away from the strife, Stakhovsky noted the 1,000 miles between recent riots that took place in Ferguson, Missouri, and New York City.

“What - should we cancel the U.S. Open?” Stakhovsky said. “It’s the same topic and the same in Kiev.”

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