The US Open in Flushing Meadows, New York, is one of the biggest, richest, brashest tennis tournaments in the world. Players, especially lesser known ones, who advance into the later rounds gleefully find themselves on the tennis world map. Kei Nishikori? Marin Cilic? Local teenager CiCi Bellis? Up and comer Madison Keyes? Now I’ll pay attention to their progress. Nothing sets up viewing pleasure for subsequent tournaments than following the ins and outs of the US Open.
With the help of my long time doubles partner, a pro at negotiating the Australian and French Opens as well the US, I spent two blissful days at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, gorging on tennis. You can do it, too.
Three months ahead and I purchased tickets on-line directly through the US Open web site. I bought reserved seat tickets in the Louis B Armstrong Stadium for Thursday and Friday during the first week of the tournament. This $100 ticket gives you an excellent baseline seat. Once you have a reserved seat in the section, you can sit anywhere in it. No one seems to care if you sit in your seat or not and this relatively small stadium has superb site lines, even if you’re in the top row of the baseline section.
This ticket also serves as a grounds pass to every other court in the complex except for Arthur Ashe, the biggest stadium, where good seats cost a fortune if you can get them. Otherwise, you’re too far away from the action. But why fret? During the first week, the matches at Ashe can be lopsided–the highest seeds playing the qualifiers. Armstrong is the place to be for some of the most interesting matches, and they run late into the night in this stadium. If you’re a doubles player, or a connoisseur of younger up and coming players, you will be hopscotching around to 17 other courts anyway.
The most efficient way to get to Flushing Meadows is by New York subway, the IRT 7 line from midtown Manhattan. Get off at the second to the last stop, the Mets-Willets Point station. There, a wide wooden pedestrian bridge delivers riders directly to the Open. The subway ride costs $2.50, and on the three 30 minute rides I took back and forth, seats were plentiful.
I happened to be in Brooklyn before the matches one Friday and took Uber to the south gate “Black Car Services“ drop off point. After a dramatic, five minute walk past the gigantic World’s Fair fountain surrounding a towering metal sculpture of planet Earth, we reached the security line. No one was waiting! We walked right through, unlike the west/subway stop gate which always had a long queue.
One way to get through security quickly is to come without a bag or purse. If you do bring a bag, make sure it is smaller than a back pack and does not contain a computer. Full sized backpacks and computers cannot be brought into the facility and must be checked. Be warned.
For first time attendees, buying a $5 program with the daily schedule of play at all the courts plus a map of the facility is essential. You can plan your day, hopping from singles to doubles. Most of the venues are so small, you will feel part of the action. As you enter between breaks in play, figure out which is the sunny side and seat yourself in the shade.
Head straight for the Food Village, a row of food stalls on one side of a tree shaded area filled with tables and chairs. I went for New York specialties: a thick, moist pastrami on rye from the Carnegie Deli booth; and a monumental meatball sandwich from Pat Lafrieda, the butcher who provides all the beef for the Shake Shack empire and the Batali group, to name a few. For the the US Open, Lafrieda stuffs a warm, soft yet crusty long roll with four big, garlicky, pillowy meat balls, a swatch of marinara and four piped poufs of whipped, herbed ricotta. Like the US Open, the sandwich is big, brash and rich, and shouldn’t be passed up.