“The smell, oh my gosh,” Maria Sakkari said.
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The US Open is not played on grass, but there was apparently still plenty of green on Monday as the year’s final tennis grand slam began in New York.
On the women’s side, the eighth-seeded Maria Sakkari lost in an opening round upset to the unseeded Spaniard Rebeka Masarova in straight sets –– a match that the Greek Sakkari let slip away.
Leading 4-1 over Masarova in the first set, Sakkari reportedly complained to the chair umpire about a distinct smell that lingered over the court.
“It was weed,” Sakkari said after the match, as quoted by the Associated Press.
Sakkari never won another game in that set, ultimately losing in straights, 6-4, 6-4, to Masarova.
“The smell, oh my gosh,” Sakkari said. “I think it’s from the park.”
The US Open, held annually in Flushing, Queens, unfolds in a very different setting than most tennis tournaments. Nearby subway trains can be clearly heard inside the venues, and the area –– also home to the New York Mets’ stadium and a park –– attracts plenty of revelers.
Since 2021, when recreational marijuana was legalized in New York, the familiar odor of cannabis has also become part of the US Open experience.
At last year’s Open, Australian men’s player Nick Kyrgios also noted the aroma during his second-round match.
“You don’t want to remind anyone not to do it or anything?” Kyrgios said to the umpire in the match, which he won in four sets.
After the match, Kyrgios said that the smell is a hindrance for him on the court.
“People don’t know that I’m a heavy asthmatic so when I’m running side to side and struggling to breathe already, it’s probably not something I want to be breathing in between points,” Kyrgios said at the time.
CNN reported at the time that the umpire in Kyrgios’ match “reminded fans to refrain from smoking around the court as play got back underway.”
Sakkari, for her part, did not have many complaints about the smell, and downplayed its role in her loss on Monday.
“You don’t really think about it, because all you care is just to win the match,” Sakkari said, as quoted by the Associated Press. “I smelled it, but that was it. Like, it wasn’t something that I paid attention to.”
“Sometimes you smell food, sometimes you smell cigarettes, sometimes you smell weed,” she added. “I mean, it’s something we cannot control, because we’re in an open space. There’s a park behind. People can do whatever they want.”
The USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, which plays host to the US Open every year, has a strict policy against smoking on the grounds.
“Refrain from smoking, as this is a smoke free environment,” reads the venue’s code of conduct.
Adult-use marijuana was made legal in the Empire State in 2021, when then-Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a bill into law ending the prohibition. The law immediately enabled adults aged 21 and older to toke up wherever smoking is prohibited.
But Cuomo’s successor, current New York Gov. Kathy Hochul, signed a bill into law last year that limits where New Yorkers can get high.
The bill explicitly prohibited smoking “in all state-owned beaches, boardwalks, marinas, playgrounds, recreation centers, and group camps.”
“Smoking is a dangerous habit that affects not only the smoker but everyone around them, including families and children enjoying our state’s great public places,” Hochul said in a statement after signing the bill. “I’m proud to sign this legislation that will protect New Yorkers’ health and help reduce litter in public parks and beaches across the state.”
Hochul’s office explained at the time that many “municipalities and local governments already have restrictions or bans on smoking in public spaces. This additional penalty will enforce a statewide prohibition and includes a fine that will be collected by localities,”
“In addition to the health risks posed by secondhand smoke, cigarette butts are a major environmental hazard due to the non-biodegradable filters that are discarded. They are the leading item found during cleanup projects. Through this prohibition, parks and beaches will be kept cleaner and safer as will our local ecosystems,” the governor’s office explained in the press release issued at the time.
Under the new law, which applies both to smoking tobacco and cannabis, violators will be subject to a fine of $50.
New York’s legal cannabis market officially launched late last year, with the opening of a dispensary in the East Village neighborhood of Manhattan.
Under the state’s marijuana law, the first 100-200 dispensary license holders will be individuals with prior pot-related convictions.
“New York State is making history, launching a first-of-its-kind approach to the cannabis industry that takes a major step forward in righting the wrongs of the past,” Hochul said last year. “The regulations advanced by the Cannabis Control Board today will prioritize local farmers and entrepreneurs, creating jobs and opportunity for communities that have been left out and left behind. I’m proud New York will be a national model for the safe, equitable and inclusive industry we are now building.”