Monday, August 25, 2008

Spectator Tips for the U.S. Open

The U.S. Open begins play today at Flushing Meadows Park in New York City. Each of the four Grand Slam tennis tournaments take on the personality of its host city, and the U.S. Open is no different. The U.S. Open embodies the distinctive character of New York City— noisy, flashy, celebrity-laden, expensive, fast-paced, pressure-packed, and unabashedly commercial. Advertising is plastered everywhere. Players dress like runway models. Airplanes fly overhead. Trains rattle by. Crowds can be rowdy— by tennis standards, of course. “Quiet please” is just a suggestion.

If you're heading to the Open this year, here are some tips to make your trip as enjoyable as possible:

Get close to the action in the Grandstand or Louis Armstrong Stadium. Arthur Ashe Stadium is so cavernous that it’s impossible to get close to the action. Instead, check out the action on the Grandstand or Louis Armstrong Stadium, both of which host plenty of top players, particularly in earlier rounds. The Grandstand may provide the best seats in the house. It’s a very intimate setting, and all seating is available on a first-come, first-serve basis. Seats on the west side of the Grandstand have backs and provide comfort in the shade. Outside of limited reserve seating behind the baselines, seating in Louis Armstrong Stadium is general admission as well.

The upside of the open seating in Louis Armstrong Stadium and the Grandstand is that you can get extremely close to the action. The downside is that if you’re on your own, it’s going to be tough to keep your seat if you want to get something to eat, use the facilities, or check out other matches. Plus, it’s possible that all the seats may fill up for attractive matchups and close matches, leaving you shut out from getting into Louis Armstrong Stadium or the Grandstand. So if there’s a match on the courts that’s a must-see in your eyes, try to grab a seat during one of the prior matches.

Get a birds-eye view. If you climb to the top row of the east side of Arthur Ashe Stadium, you’ll be able to look in on Louis Armstrong Stadium and other outer courts. Also, the outer east concourse of the upper level of Louis Armstrong Stadium gives you a direct view down to the Grandstand, providing a very unique perspective.

Come prepared for the weather. If you’re attending a day session, wear plenty of sunscreen and a hat as you’ll be completely exposed in most seats. (On a sunny day, a baseline seat on the south side of Ashe Stadium will provide you with some shade.) Bring sunglasses as well, particularly if you are in Ashe Stadium facing west. The sunset over Manhattan can be a great sight, but it also makes it a little difficult to catch the action below. If you’re going to an evening session, you may need to bring a jacket because temperatures can drop and the wind can pick up, particularly at the top of the stadium.

Also, be prepared for rain. It’s nothing like Wimbledon, but there can be periodic rain showers, and unlike grass and clay courts, the hard courts at the U.S. Open take some time to dry before play can resume. So bring some rain gear, and if you know that rain is likely, you may want to bring a book, magazine, or newspaper as you may have more time than you’d like to catch up on some of your favorite reading material.

Follow the rules if you bring a bag. All fans and bags go through a screening process before passing through the entry gates. That can mean long lines to get in, but there is an express line for fans without bags. There is a limit of one bag per person, and bags must be single-compartment and must not be larger than 12 inches wide by 12 inches high by 16 inches in length with only one compartment. There is no bag storage on the ground, but there is a bag check facility outside the grounds that is available for a fee. Knapsacks and backpacks are not allowed. Also prohibited are hard coolers, glass bottles, cans, alcoholic beverages, radios, televisions, video cameras or recording devices, signs or banners, and computers. Food is only allowed in small quantities or for medical, dietary, or infant purposes. And yes, you’ll have to leave your tennis racquet at home, too, if you were thinking about getting in a quick set. Rackets are not allowed. Check here for more rules of entry. 

Print out your draw sheets the night before. The USTA publishes draw sheets listing match schedules and court assignments on its web site the night before the day session begins. Printing it out the night before allows you to scout out what matches you want to see, and it can help save you a few bucks, too, since you won’t have to buy the official draw sheet.

Autograph hunting. While security is usually tight around the players, you have a good chance at scoring some autographs, even from the stars. One of the best places to get close to the players is on the practice courts. There are five practice courts on the west side of Arthur Ashe Stadium, although there is only limited access to the players entering and leaving these courts. (You can get a good view of the practice courts from the bleachers above Court 4.) Courts 5, 12, and 16 are also often used as practice courts, and these will provide more access to players, as will two practice courts adjacent to Court 12. Players will also sometimes sign on their way in from the parking lot near the west gate to the tennis center.

Photography. Cameras are allowed, and you can get some great shots of players up close on the practice courts. Unless you are well back from the action in one of the show courts, though, it’s best not to take any pictures during points as that can disturb the players. And as John McEnroe would often yell: “No flash photography!”

Take a walk in the park. A trip to the Open provides a chance to explore Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, a location that tourists to New York City often miss. Flushing Meadows was once a former dumping ground, immortalized by F. Scott Fitzgerald as the “Valley of Ashes” in The Great Gatsby. It was transformed into the largest park in Queens and the site of the 1939 and 1964 World’s Fairs. Now, it is home to a zoo, botanical garden, and museums that rival those in the rest of the city. Here's more on some of the sights to see in the park. 

No comments: