NEW YORK - The US Open is a celebrity magnet, but the sight of NBA icon Michael Jordan watching tennis great Roger Federer compete creates a stir even among jaded New Yorkers.
Jordan, known for his love of golf, not tennis, turned out to see 17-time Grand Slam winner Federer kick off his bid for a sixth US Open title in Flushing Meadows on Tuesday.
In a courtside interview with ESPN, Jordan admitted he knew nothing about tennis - but even he could appreciate Federer's smooth movement on court.
"He's a good athlete," said Jordan, who sat in Federer's box and received cheers when his image was shown on Arthur Ashe Stadium's video screens.
"I know he played basketball a bit." Federer and Jordan - who both have long associations with apparel maker Nike - met for the first time in New York on Monday, Federer posted an Instagram selfie of the two.
In his 6-3, 6-4, 7-6 (7/4) win over Marinko Matosevic, Federer debuted a new Nike shoe - the Nike Zoom Vapor 9 Tour AJ3 - designed to resemble the Jordan 3 - a sneaker released in 1988 that remains one of the most recognizable of the 29 signature shoes associated with Jordan.
Asked about the shoes on court after the match, Federer seemed momentarily at a loss, but later said the collaboration on the shoes was "very special to me".
"It's just amazing having Michael here," Federer said of the player who led the Chicago Bulls to six NBA titles and is now majority owner of the Charlotte Hornets. "Growing up he was my big sporting idol. To have him here is unbelievably special." Federer said he was drawn to Jordan because of his "longevity, the way he made it look easy, his will to win, wanting to be the best, delivering under pressure," all traits that many would say apply precisely to Federer himself.
"I'm just so happy that he came into the world of tennis a little bit, you know, got to see some tennis, that it was me, sort of being the character in the whole show," Federer said. "Meeting him yesterday for the first time was a big deal for me."