Sports Journeys: US Open Qualifiers
Photo by Greg Venuto, Stadium Journey
More than a decade ago, the US Open Qualifying round played the week before the US Main draw begins the last full week of August, was more of an afterthought. Despite still being free admission, the low-key competition has blown up into a big event named US Fan Week (debuted in 2017) by the US Tennis Association with special events, contests, daily giveaways, and plenty of food and beverages available for sale. This year Fan Week ran from Tuesday, August 22nd through Sunday, August 28th at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadow, Corona Park, Queens, New York.
The actual matches began Tuesday and continued until Friday, but this year it was not completed until Saturday due to rain. The US Open is one of the four major Grand Slam Tournaments along with the Australian and French Open and Wimbledon. At the qualifiers, 128 men and women battled for the final 32 spots (16 men and 16 women) in the main singles draw. Almost every court is used and the matches start at 11 am. and sometimes do not end until 11 pm. Qualifiers need to win three matches to make the tournament.
In addition to free admission, free parking is available in Flushing Meadow Park. The best way to experience the day is to bring a small soft cooler with food, water and snacks to offset the exorbitant prices. All bags are subject to search and must not be larger than 12”W x 12”H x 16”L. Since fans can enter and exit as they please food, ice cream and drinks can be purchased outside the grounds and brought in once clearing the security screening.
This year the USTA offered a free fan access pass downloaded to your mobile device and then used to attend player practice sessions in Arthur Ashe Stadium and qualify for daily prize drawings.
The most coveted prize was a Wilson Junior Racquet. In celebration of 45 years of partnership, Wilson donated 10,000 junior racquets to be given away during Fan Week.
By the main entrance is the Fan Week Center Stage programmed throughout the day with live tennis content, surprise player appearances, coaches, Q&As, and autograph signings.
For food choices the options are limitless.
New to this year’s tournament are Chef Melba Wilson of Harlem, N.Y.-based Melba’s and James Kent of the Michelin-starred restaurant Crown Shy. Visit Melba’s for comfort food and unique items like mac & cheese, a po’boy, spring rolls, and red velvet cake, and check out Crown Shy for chicken sandwiches, tomato and peach salad, and sticky toffee pudding.
Many of the food options are found in the Food Village near Ashe and Louis Armstrong Stadium. Some of the choices include Pat LaFrieda Meat Co., San Matteo NYC, Hill Country BBQ, Korilla BBQ and Poke Yachty, Fuku, Nourish Spot, Taqueria Nixtamal, Eataly, Van Leeuwen Ice Cream, and Crabby Shack. The signature drink of the US Open is the Honey Deuce ($22 for on the rocks or frozen). The cocktail, which debuted in 2006, is a mix of grey goose vodka, lemonade, and raspberry liqueur with two honeydew melon balls as a garnish.
As for the tennis, there is so much to see as the 2 out of 3 set matches just keep on coming, and the side courts which are never more than half capacity offer close views. With no assigned seating, it’s easy to find yourself in the first or second row and immersed in the sights and sounds of some excellent players and matches. The only disadvantage might be a lack of shade but there are shady seats in the grandstand and more shade for matches post 4 pm.
Another advantage is being able to walk the grounds without the crowds that engulf the walkways on Opening Day and not let up for the two weeks of play. The US Open began Monday, August 28, and ends Sunday, September 10.
The grounds are easy to access by car coming in from Long Island or over the Whitestone Bridge from the Bronx, Westchester, and Connecticut. The No. 7 subway and the Long Island Railroad stop at Mets-Willetts Point station which is about a 10-minute walk along the boardwalk to the South Gate. The main gate (East Gate) is accessed through the park and leads directly into Ashe Stadium.