The US Open tennis tournament runs for two weeks in NYC, at the end of August. It’s summer’s final gasp and the start of back to school. It can be overwhelming for newbies because there are 22 courts on 46+ acres and more than 700,000 spectators! Following are 12 tips to help you navigate the event like a pro.
A Beginner’s Guide to Attending the US Open Tennis Tournament
A Dutch friend of mine posted on Facebook that he is constantly surprised by the tiny amount of vacation time we Americans are allotted and even more astonished that many don’t even use all of their days. I assured him that I have plans to use every single second of my vacation time and wish I had more. Sigh.
Because of my limited time off, I don’t expect to realize one of my bucket list dreams which is to attend all 4 of the major tennis tournaments, beginning in January with the Australian Open in Melbourne, heading to Paris for the French Open in June, continuing to England in July for Wimbledon, and returning home to New York City for the US Open in August.
I doubt my employer will approve my request for a tennis travel sabbatical and I know my bank account is woefully inadequate.
Fortunately, I live very close to the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing, Queens, and make the pilgrimage there every year with my tennis-playing daughters to attend at least one day of the US Open tennis tournament in NYC. That trip satisfies my lust for live tennis for the following 364 days!
If you’re considering attending the US Open for the first time, it can be overwhelming. There’s action on 22 courts and over 700,000 spectators pass through the gates, making it the annual sporting event with the largest attendance in the world. I returned home from my first visit with blisters, a sunburn, and an empty wallet. Here are some tips to make the experience of attending this tennis tournament more enjoyable for you and your family.
1. Go the First Thursday or Friday of the US Open
The crowds are lighter than on the weekend with plenty of matches scheduled for all of the stadiums and adjoining courts. If you wait for Week 2, half of the players are eliminated. The one downside to early matches is that they’re often lopsided, with the top seeds slaughtering their competition.
2. Take Mass Transit
Parking is available but it’s expensive and, if you’re not used to driving in NYC, it can be challenging. Take the 7 train to the Mets-Willets Point subway station. When deposited on the boardwalk, follow the herd directly to the main entrance.
3. Travel Light
Carry a small day trip bag packed with the bare essentials: high SPF sunscreen (non-aerosol), sunglasses, snacks, a hat, and an empty water bottle (Fill it inside at the water fountains.). You will not be permitted to enter with a bag larger than 12″ x 12″ x 16″. There are two lines to get in; those traveling bag-free get express entry.
4. Celebrity Sightings
The US Open tennis tournament attracts celebrities. Lots of them. In fact, the night sessions are advertised as the time “When the Stars Come Out.” As you’re walking around the grounds or sitting in the stadiums, scan the crowd. You never know who you’ll see!
5. Vampires, Beware!
The sun and heat can be brutal at the US Open tennis tournament and there are limited places to find shade. The first 8 days of the tournament are split in two. Consider attending the night session instead of the day if you struggle with the heat and sun.
6. Buy a Nosebleed Seat
The main arena, Arthur Ashe Stadium, is massive, seating more than 23,000 people. Unless you spend hundreds of dollars, you’ll be very far away from the action. Accept the fact and buy the cheapest seat available, currently $82 without Ticketmaster fees. Alternatively, you can skip Ashe altogether, and buy a grounds admission ticket. You can access any of the other stadiums and courts on a first-come, first-served basis.
7. Make a Plan of Attack
Print out the day’s schedule in the morning and highlight the matches that interest you. Let the kids pick their favorites too. Then plan to arrive early to those matches to get a good seat. The US Open app is an excellent resource too.
8. Dress for Comfort, Not Style
Although you will be tempted to dress up for the event, don’t do it! You’ll be miserable. Wear light-colored, cool, loose clothing and your best walking shoes or sandals. Did I mention that the grounds are vast? Attention, Fitbit wearers. You might log 20,000 steps easily.
9. Check Out the Tents
There are many ancillary events going on at the US Open tennis tournament. You can enter contests, have your picture taken posing with luxury cars, or test the speed of your serve.
10. Don’t Miss the Practice Courts
If you’re facing the fountains in front of Ashe, the practice courts are on your left. The top players get scheduled warmup times each day, so you can watch your favorites take volleys and work on their serves. My daughters love to watch the drills to see the focus of these world-class athletes.
11. Choose the Café Over the Food Court
There are many options available at the US Open food village including crepes, champagne, and bbq. But it’s also very crowded, with long lines and too many people jostling for too few tables. I eat a hearty breakfast before arriving and carry nuts and a protein bar for snacking. When I’m ready for linner (late lunch/early dinner), I get a shady table at the Patio Café. The prices aren’t much higher than the food court and I can down a couple of pitchers of water!
12. Watch a Doubles Match
To remember that you’re a mere mortal, go to one of the smaller courts and get a front row seat for a doubles match. The action is lightning fast; you’ll find yourself watching with your jaw dropped in amazement. It’s also the easiest place for your kids to get autographs.
And speaking of autographs, your kids will want one of the large, fuzzy tennis balls to schlep around in the hopes of getting player’s signatures. Unless you want to carry that large, fuzzy tennis ball, say “No!” Buy a program instead and carry a Sharpie. They’ll fit in your small bag. The ball will not.
Maybe you’ll get lucky and have a seat when two top players get locked in a 5-set battle that lasts for hours. Sandwiched together with your fellow fans because of the intimate bleacher seating, you’ll catch excited whispers between points. Swirls of German, French, Italian, and Spanish fill the air like Rosetta Stone lessons.
The grounds are elegant so you’ll forget you’re in Queens. And the crowd? It’s an extremely well-heeled bunch. Your bleacher-mate, sipping a $24 glass of Moët & Chandon, may have arrived by limo but she won’t care that you took the subway because you’ll be united by a common passion for great tennis and that’s what makes the US Open tennis tournament in NYC a not-to-be-missed event.