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Official Review by Sean Rowland, Stadium Journey Special Correspondent
For 25 years, this impressive tennis complex on the athletic campus of Yale has hosted professional tennis and that tradition continues with the WTA playing it’s penultimate event to the U.S Open. The women’s tournament moved here in 1998, however the Men were playing back to the early 1990s. After a couple of separate stints in New Haven, the ATP left permanently to Winston-Salem in 2011, leaving just the WTA for the last several years. This event is classified as the “Premier” level and the draw typically has between 28 and 32 players. The field often features a nice handful of Top 15 players, though withdrawals occur as players take great care to make sure they are healthy for the following week. Fans visiting the Tennis Center will experience a nice plaza to relax in between sessions and enjoy some amazing food. Inside the massive, 15,000-seat stadium, plenty of open seats enable fans to basically have their pick of the best angle, though the sun is a factor for daytime sessions.
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Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
The utilization of local food trucks in the main plaza is a brilliant idea that has resulted in excellent food choices and quality to visitors. The lineup of trucks in 2016 included: Lobster Shack, Crepes Choupette, Tony's Square Donuts, Naples Pizza, Valencia Luncheria, Cheese Truck and Spuds Your Way. It is a very impressive group and one that makes the decision of what to get, a tough one. If I had to narrow it down to three, my list would be topped by a Pernil Arepa ($7) from the Valencia Luncheria truck, which features Venezuelan food. Next up would be a Grilled Cheese and Tomato Gazpacho ($10) and that meal can be completed by a delicious square donut ($3) over at Tony's. You really can't go wrong with so many great options. Also worth considering for a dessert is Ben & Jerry's, which have many of their classic flavors available. For those looking to grab a quick bite in between sets, the main stadium has a traditional concourse and a concession stand that offers the typical sporting event options.
Drinks are widely varied and available as well, with the Goose Island Tavern featuring the best options. Many types of beer and wine can be had for $6 - $8, plus the CT Tennis Center offers liquor ($9) including Tequila, Gin, Rum, Vodka and Scotch. Non-alcholic beverages ($4) are of the Coca-Cola label and they also push Gold Peak Iced Tea pretty aggressively.
Lining the walkways from the main entrance to the stadium are plenty of swag-offering exhibitors and a few of them are worth stopping to check out. While taking a break between matches, there is a nice assortment of activities for fans of all ages. One of those is the FitZone, where adults can test new equipment and kids can play various games. The main plaza is a great spot with shade trees, picnic tables, lounge chairs and even a stage with occasional musical acts. Crowds are minimal throughout the tournament and that makes this a nice, relaxing area to hang out.
The small field means that most of the singles matches are at the main stadium. Completed in the early 1990s, the stadium is decent in that the octagon shape provides nice sightlines to the court. The lower bowl is comprised of all individual blue seats, while three of the four sides feature an upper-deck with bleacher seating. It is a huge stadium, the third largest in the United States, and that is a disadvantage because it is way too big for this event. Thus, the upper deck is closed off, robbing fans that like a view from higher up. There is also a lack of atmosphere with fans well spread out in the lower bowl. Another negative is the complete lack of shade from late morning to mid afternoon. Fans should be prepared to sit under the August sunshine during these matches. A pair of temporary video boards are set up at each end of the upper deck and these do the trick for score, stats and video, despite the somewhat small size of the board.
The Tennis Center is located within Yale's athletic complex that includes both Yale Field and the historic Yale Bowl. These athletic facilities pretty much comprise the immediate neighborhood and though it is lacking, this particular area is only a couple miles from Yale's campus, which is intertwined within downtown New Haven. It is highly recommended to take an official tour of campus as the history and architecture is awesome. Along with the University, New Haven has become a dining hotspot and there are many bars, lounges and restaurants to check out after the game. One suggestion: head a little past the city to the Wooster Square area to Sally's or Frank Pepe's for an authentic (and delicious) New Haven style pizza. The other pizza choice is Modern Apizza, which many locals tout as their preferred choice. After one slice, I can agree.
The Connecticut Open features a huge contrast to the swarms of fans and craziness that follows down the road at the U.S. Open the following week. Crowds are tiny from Monday to the semifinals Friday Afternoon as they number anywhere from 50 to 500. The evening semifinal and Saturday Final lead to more fans, but the lower bowl isn't close to half-full as it looks like a couple thousand are on hand (despite the tournament's official attendance numbers, which are quite inflated). This leads to a very quiet atmosphere and unless an American is playing, expect nothing more than polite applause after points. It is a shame the tournament does not draw better because this state supports both tennis and women's athletics very well. The out of touch ticket prices likely make it difficult for more fans to attend.
Getting to the Connecticut Tennis Center isn't bad as a couple major interstates converge on the New Haven area (I-95 and I-91). It is a little easier to come in from 95 and though there can be traffic from both directions, it is straight forward to get to the complex, which is off of Route 34, Derby Ave. Parking is well organized by both signs and attendants as cars utilize the grassy lots reserved for Yale Football parking. Traffic is minimal both upon arrival and departure. Another option if touring downtown and Yale is to take the shuttle bus from the center of the city. From Monday-Thursday, it runs every hour to the Tennis Center and every half-hour on Friday and Saturday.
Inside, the walkways, plaza and stadium concourse are generally not too crowded. The exception is towards the weekend in the early evening, where it may be a little challenging to find a table to enjoy dinner. Bathrooms both inside and outside of the stadium are adequate.
Overall prices for the event seem higher than expected, especially when you factor in parking that costs $10 - $25 and food/drink in the $10 - $20 range. The cheapest tickets for the day sessions are $32 - $45, while for the more desired evening sessions in the later rounds, a face value ticket will cost either $61 or $71. Prime sideline seats average around $100 during the week.
Outside of the high prices, the experience at this WTA event is a good one, especially with the level of intimacy as fans can get pretty close to watching the best in the world. The ESPN studio outside the stadium also offers a nice opportunity to see players as they do post-match interviews. Several Top 10 players play in this event and seeing this kind of tennis quality and athleticism up-close and live is great.
Adirondack Chairs are set up in many spots around the grounds and plaza. Have a seat in one and enjoy a drink as these are very comfortable to take a load off and relax for awhile.
Walking into the Tennis Center, it is hard to ignore the Yale Bowl right next door. This historic football stadium is over 100 years old and holds quite a bit of history inside. Try to sneak a peak and take a look around while in the area.
If you like to watch tennis with limited crowds and congestion, then the Connecticut Open is the place for you. Top players compete in the event and it is easy to relax, spread out and enjoy the action. Ticket prices are high, so take advantage of the extra matches available in the early rounds. Even though the 15,000-seat stadium is too large for the event, it is still a decent to watch the event. Just be aware that the lack of cover means sitting in the sunshine during much of the day session.
Follow all of Sean's journeys at Stadium and Arena Visits.
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