Today is the first day of the US Open tennis tournament in New York and if you’re a diehard tennis fan like me, you’re psyched. It’s the final grand slam of the year and for the next two weeks it takes place at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows, Queens.
Though you can watch hours of live matches on television or via live streaming on the US Open website, there’s nothing like attending the event itself. So for US Open newbies, I’ve got 10 essential tips that will ease your trip.
But first a little background. Each ticket to the US Open, unless it’s a grounds pass, allows you an assigned seat in Arthur Ashe Stadium, and access to all other courts. Most of the tickets in Ashe will be nosebleed seats but if the stadium is half empty, sit as close as the ushers will allow until the real ticket holder arrives and kicks you out.
The next two largest courts are Louis Armstrong Stadium, and the Grandstand, and those seats, except for box seats in Armstrong, are first come, first served.
Since the top players usually play one day on, and one day off, there’s no guarantee you’ll see Serena Williams or Roger Federer but there are plenty of other great pros to watch.
Here are my 10 essential tips:
1. Getting There: When it comes to events like this, everone always says, take public transit, take public transit. In the case of the US Open, they’re right! Traffic and parking can be a zoo, especially if the Mets are playing in nearby Citi Field. So take the 7 train from Manhattan or the Long Island Rail Road from Manhattan, Brooklyn or Queens.
2. What to Wear: The most comfortable footwear you own. You’ll be walking a lot, so do your feet a favor and leave the heels at home. For day, bring a hat, and for night, a light jacket.
3. Tickets: Do not, whatever you do, buy tickets from a scalper. The majority are counterfeit and you won’t know the difference until the security guards turn you away. Instead, you can still buy tickets on the US Open site. For the best viewing, try to get tickets behind the baseline. If you really want to splurge, buy box tickets for Armstrong and have guaranteed courtside seats. During the first week, this is a perfect place to watch since top players who can’t fit on the Ashe schedule will play in Armstrong.
4. Strolling Around: Gates open at 10am for day matches so get there early. Download the US Open app on your smartphone so you can see schedules and drawsheets. If you’re with a group, have an agreed upon meeting place and time in case you find yourself in a phone signal dead spot and you can’t call or text each other. If you don’t have a smartphone, print out a venue map and schedule before you go and take it with you. Don’t spend money on a program, there’s a PDF version online.
Venue Map courtesy US Open.org
5. Food, Glorious Food: Repeat after me, “The food will be expensive.” Once again, “The food will be expensive.” Look, that’s just the way it is. Unlike in previous years, at least most of the food is pretty good. But expect to pay $15-$20 per person, per meal. You can save by bringing in a small sandwich and snacks but if they're not packaged properly, you run the risk of them being confiscated.
You can save on the $4-$5 drinks by bringing in a small bottle of water and refilling it periodically at the water fountains. Or get your hand stamped, leave the grounds and get hot dogs from a vendor in the park. To avoid lines and get a seat in the food court, considering having lunch late, around 2pm or 3pm.
6. Security: You’re allowed only one small bag into the grounds and make no mistake, they’re serious. Instead, consider using the express security line for people with no bags. Here’s one way to do that, wear a light jacket with deep pockets and slip your smartphone, wallet, crushable hat and small water bottle inside. Once you’re past security, you can wrap the jacket around your waist and you’ve still got all your essentials.
7. Location, Location: If you have your heart set on seeing a match in the Grandstand or Armstrong Stadium that you think might be popular, get there during the match before the one you want, and don’t leave those seats for anything.
8. DVR It: If you’re a true tennis fanatic, DVR the coverage on the day you go. It’ll be fun to watch the televised version of the matches you saw in person, and you may even see yourself on camera!
9. Don't Leave Home Without It: Take your American Express card and go to one of their kiosks for a free US Open radio. That way, you can listen to radio commentary while on site.
10. Enjoy the View: Even if you’re not going to sit in Ashe Stadium, make sure to ride the escalator to the top and take pictures of yourself in front of the marvelous view of the Unisphere.
Finally, pace yourself, have fun and maybe I’ll see you out there!
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