The US Open is exactly what it's cracked up to be: the biggest matches on the biggest stage, loud, massive hype, long lines, and best of all, drama under the lights! While steroids in the game of tennis may be illegal, tennis itself is all jacked up on steroids in New York City. In more ways than one, the Open fits in very well with the persona and lifestyle of the city in which it resides.
The United States Open is one of four prestigious ATP and WTA Grand Slam events where the winner is awarded 2,000 points towards their overall world ranking. The event is held at Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, a spectacular tennis facility, which includes a grand total of 28 hard courts, nuzzled right into Flushing Meadows Park. The heart of the property is Arthur Ashe Stadium, the largest tennis specific stadium in the world with a capacity of 23,700. Previous center court, Louis Armstrong Stadium, is just to the east of Ashe and it seats 10,200, with the lower bowl reserved for individual ticket sales.
Literally in the shadows of Armstrong, Grandstand Court offers the coziest feel where a fan can seemingly be right in the action. The fourth largest stadium and newest, court 17, will boast the ability to host big matches in a very small area. Grandstand and court 17 have capacities of 6,000 and 3,000 respectively. Most impressively, the facility offers 4 additional small 1,000-seat stadium courts which accommodate good crowds for matches all over the grounds.
The FANFARE scale is our metric device for rating each stadium experience. It covers the following:
Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
There is absolutely no way that a person would have trouble finding a number of delicious options for any meal or time of the day. The selection and variety of food is absolutely spectacular. As you would anticipate, the only issue is the price. One should expect to pay a minimum of $15 per meal, and it can go as high as you can imagine depending on hunger, atmosphere, and classiness.
The list of places to eat is never-ending, including: a deli, Chinese, a burger stand, Mexican, a franks stand, seafood, Italian, BBQ, crepes, and ice cream stands everywhere. In addition, they offer public and private, indoor and outdoor, dining plazas, which offer a range of menus. Not sure that you can go thirsty either, with a unique bar, lounge, or patio at every turn, serving unique cocktails only found at the tournament, along with the traditional sodas, water, beer, wine, and even flutes of champagne.
Overall, the atmosphere was exactly what I expected except for the monstrosity of the facility. Photos and site maps give you no idea of what it feels like when you're walking the grounds or sitting atop of Arthur Ashe Stadium. Every detail of the tournament is supersized and is given the utmost attention. Even during week two, one will hear uproars of fans from outer match courts where the next big star is battling their way through a dramatic fifth set. This creates a feel of excitement, energy, and everlasting memories. Fans will be hard-pressed to match the paramount of vitality found on the grounds of the US Open.
When looking at what directly surrounds the tournament, one will find things very sparse. There is virtually nothing in the direct surroundings of the tournament site other than Citi Field, home of the New York Mets. With that being said, the good news is that the tournament is only a short cab ride outside of Manhattan, New York City, home to thousands of brilliant opportunities to eat, drink, relax, dance, mingle, or to just awe at the aura that is New York life.
It can't be expressed enough, this is the most populated sporting event of all sports for a reason. Ultimately, as the players would admit, the fans make this event all that it is. People from every walk of life and nationality come together to dress up, paint signs, scream at the top of their lungs and pump their fist in unison with their favorite player after a huge forehand winner up the line. Giant tennis balls, markers, and autograph frenzies are the highlight of a lifetime even for the biggest kids in attendance.
The three airports in which you have to choose from are John F. Kennedy International, Newark Liberty International, and the closest and most convenient to the tournament, LaGuardia. The access into the park is relatively easy no matter which part of the city you are coming from. If you plan to fly, try to book your flight to New York City as early as possible for cheap flights.
The Long Island Rail Road and the Metro 7 are the most cost efficient modes of travel right to the doorstep. Be sure to confirm whether or not your hotel offers a tournament shuttle, extremely convenient. One should be very wary of their surroundings as they travel to and from the facility itself. While the public transit is very safe and monitored, it is important that one does not get too comfortable with those around them.
The last option, and least appealing, is driving to the tournament. To put it lightly, driving throughout NYC is not the easiest or relaxing task in the world, however, if you're determined, the parking near the site is respectable. The best options that I would recommend are lot H, lots 1-7, and when there isn't a Mets game, the Citi Field parking areas (all around $20). With the Citi Field option you are able to walk to the East gate very easily, public lots 1-7 have shuttles to the East Gate, and lot H to the South Gate. Here's the link to the Parking Map.
The biggest thing that will stand out to the ordinary sports fan once they are ready to find their seat inside Arthur Ashe Stadium is the difficult initial access into the stadium. No matter where your seat is, you will enter through one main gate on the south end of the stadium. From there you will want to figure out just how high you will be taking the escalators. Once you reach your appropriate deck you will look for your gate, which may still be a decent walk depending on which end you are sitting.
When it comes to restrooms, be prepared to stand in line (what's new?), but there must be a very large deficit in number of restrooms compared to the number of fans on site. This becomes extremely inconvenient and this is where the deduction comes from.
Bottom line, if you are expecting to get from your hotel to your seat in time for the match give yourself a minimum of an hour and a half or more, especially on your first journey to the facility (you'll want plenty of time for trial and error, moments to stop and say "WOW", explore, get food and drinks, enter the stadium, and most of all to wait in lines at every step).
Even though tennis fans have come to expect high prices overall for the sport, I'm not sure if you're getting the most for your money here. The cheapest ticket to get you in the gate is a grounds pass for $60, which doesn't get you into Arthur Ashe Stadium. However, for only an extra $10-$20, you can sit in the upper decks of Ashe and still get access to all of the other courts on site. The last option to the general public is a ticket to Louis Armstrong Stadium in the lower bowl for around $100. This has pros and cons. While it's more expensive than a nosebleed seat in Ashe, it does get you a reserved seat very close to the top action, but it's also substantially pricier than a grounds pass, which gives you similar access. The biggest problem of all with paying the big bucks for tickets to Armstrong is that since it's such a dated facility, the access is tough with large crowds, and the legroom at the seats is very difficult with long legs. It's all about preference and which court your favorites are playing on during each session.
Food and beverage prices inside the grounds of the tournament reflect those of similar products in NYC, very high. Depending on how long you plan to spend at the tournament each day may impact which meals you plan to eat in advance. However, the tournament offers excellent cuisine, I recommend giving it a try.
Similarly to everything else, the souvenirs are very pricey. Having said that, the selection of retail outlets within the grounds is unbelievable. In addition to the official tournament souvenir booths, there are at least 30 more individual vendors scattered about. It all depends on what you're looking for and what you're willing to spend, you'll find more than you can afford for sure!
Bottom line here: if you plan to spend a few days at the tournament, budget your funds wisely, and be sure to spend at least one session in Ashe, you won't regret it.
Unlike similar Grand Slam events, tickets are fairly easy to obtain in advance through multiple outlets online and at the ticket office.
The Smash Zone presented by the USTA is an air-conditioned indoor facility designed specifically to promote tennis and entertainment to kids of all ages. The facility includes a half court, table tennis, photo opportunities, tennis video games, and contests and giveaways of all sorts. The inner-kid is sure to come out in anyone upon entering this wonderful area.
The Court of Champions and Avenue of Aces are the two phenomenal main entryways in which you have the opportunity to observe as you enter and exit the park. Each celebrates examples of the deep history that this tournament has to offer. It's worth spending a few minutes to learn a thing or two.
In addition to the food village there are numerous shaded courtside patios where one can enjoy a cold cocktail and some tennis. These make for a very unique tennis experience, unlike any other.
Whether you're a tennis enthusiast, a club player, or you can only name a few of the top players, you will get goose bumps and gain an even higher appreciation for the sport after attending a match in Arthur Ashe Stadium. Overall, the US Open is a spectacular event and a definite addition to your bucket list.
Check out these other tennis venues:
Sony Ericsson Open
Western & Southern Open
ATP World Tour Finals
Tickets are now $71+ for the early day sessions including admission to Ashe. This is a great deal, I spent over 10 hours on site and saw bits and pieces of at least 6 matches. Food and drink can be expensive, the $5.50 smoothies are a good bet, but bring your own water and fill up the bottles at one of the many water fountains.
Too many people move around during the breaks between games and this causes traffic jams and sometimes you are forced down the stairs, so be careful when trying to change seats. There is a ledge between Armstrong and the Grandstand that provides a unique view.
Not much in the immediate vicinity, but Queens and Manhattan are nearby. Easy to get to on the 7 train from Grand Central.
All in all, well worth a day's visit. I recommend the earlier days, from the 4th Thursday to the Labour Day Monday.
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