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The U.S. Open, from A to Z

With the first round of the U.S. Open in full swing, here's an alphabetical look at the people, places and things that make the two-week tournament such a colorful experience.

A is for Arthur Ashe Stadium, the $254 million centerpiece of the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center and the world's largest outdoor tennis-only facility (22,547 seats, 90 luxury suites and five restaurants).

B is for the Bryan brothers, Mike and Bob, the top-ranked doubles team that rode a wave of top-shelf publicity into this year's tournament, including profiles in The New York Times magazine and The New Yorker.

C is for the career Grand Slam. Only two men in the Open era (since 1968) -- Rod Laver and Andre Agassi -- won each of the four major tournaments until Roger Federer became the third in June. Will Rafael Nadal become the fourth with a title this year in Queens? Or will the tendinitis in his overworked knees delay his quest?

D is for decibels. The populist bent of the New York crowd has made the Open the noisiest of the majors. But if the steady rumble of Ashe isn't enough and you're really a glutton for aural punishment, check out Michelle Larcher de Brito, the 16-year-old shrieker from Portugal who defeated France's MathildeJohansson in the opening round.

E is for the empty seats in the loge sections when the action stretches toward -- and often past -- the midnight hour. The days of slipping an Andrew Jackson to an usher for downward passage are gone, but Open officials have occasionally handed out passes to allow fans to sit in any unoccupied seat when it's emptied out.

F is for Federer. Who else? The five-time defending champ is playing against history at this point. Next up for Federer: BillTilden's record of six consecutive U.S. Open championships.

G is for grounds pass, the most affordable way to catch the Open -- and the preferable option during the first week -- with full access to every court except Ashe.

H is for history. The U.S. National Championships, first held in 1881, is the oldest major sporting event in the United States besides the Kentucky Derby (1875).

I is for the Internet, which is giving office captives a free pass to the Open for the first time. USOpen.org is streaming more than 150 matches for free throughout the United States.

J is for Joe's Shanghai. The Open is known for ethnically diverse haute cuisine -- by stadium standards anyway -- with offerings from Indian to Middle Eastern to Japanese. But if $16.75 for a lobster roll is too rich for your blood, take advantage of the re-entry priviledges and try this Jon Wertheim-endorsed cult favorite in nearby downtown Flushing.

K is for Karlovic. Croatia's Ivo, the sport's tallest player, remains one of the sport's more curious entities. The 6-foot-10 whacker tied the tour single-match record for aces (51) at Wimbledon in 2005 before breaking it with 55 at this year's French Open -- he lost both matches. He's also released a crunk-inspired rap single that makes Shaq sound like Biggie Smalls.

L is for LaGuardia, the nearby airport whose departing planes typically soar right over the National Tennis Center -- save for the two weeks of the Open, when special takeoff procedures reroute air traffic (mostly) out of earshot.

M is for moms on tour. There are three in this year's main draw: Kim Clijsters, andfirst-round losers Sybille Bammer and Rossana de los Rios. Clijsters' inspired comeback has gotten the publicity befitting a bona fide contender, while Bammer was the subject of a feature story in the style section of the Times.

N is for night tennis, one of the the tournament's famous innovations. As the first Grand Slam to offer equal prize money for men and women, the Open has long been at the forefront of gender equity. That tradition extends to scheduling this year when, for the first time, the men won't always play the second match of the nightly twinbill.

O is for old heads, from 36-year-old Fabrice Santoro to 35-year-old Jill Craybas, the elder statespeople of the men's and women's draws.

P is for the practice courts, often just as entertaining theater as the matches themselves.

Q is for Querrey. It's been some kind of summer for California's Sam. He's made four finals during the hard-court season, passed James Blake to become the second-ranked American after Andy Roddick and captured the U.S. Open Series (which earns him a guaranteed 100 percent bonus on his U.S. Open winnings). Could a run to the second week in Queens be next?

R is for radio, the best way to follow the action throughout the grounds. If you're an American Express cardholder, you're entitled to a free one sans deposit.

S is for (Marat) Safin and Santoro, who play what could be their last U.S. Open matches Wednesday. Santoro is playing his 69th Grand Slam event, extending his Open-era record.

T is for Twitter. It's all the rage, from Serena (@serenajwilliams) to Andy Murray (@andy_murray) to the Bryan brothers (@Bryanbros) to even the tournament itself (@usopen). Never mind that sign in the players' lounge, locker rooms and referee's office warning players not to tweet "inside information" in violation of the sport's anti-corruption rules. "[I]t's lame the US Open is trying to regulate our tweeting.. I understand the on-court issue but not sure they can tell us if we can't do it on our own time ... we'll see," Roddick tweeted.

U is for upsets. The Open isn't known for them. "You rarely see surprises at the U.S. Open," Federer said Saturday, "because we're into a full season, everybody's match-tough and fit to go." But they do happen, from Bill Scanlon shocking John McEnroe in 1983, to Linda Ferrando over Monica Seles in '90, to Jamie Yzaga over Pete Sampras in '94.

V is for volleying. You'll have to search the grounds diligently for exhibitions of this lost art as the lengthy rallies of today's power-baseline game have become the style de rigueur. But serve-and-volley players -- like No. 15 seed and former doubles whiz Samantha Stosur -- offer a refreshing break from the game's modern-day monotony.

W is for Williams, the first family of tennis (with apologies to the Safin clan). Venus and Serena have combined to win 18 Grand Slam singles titles, including five at the U.S. Open.

X is for X-citement. No experience in sports equals the electric atmosphere of a five-set thriller under the lights at Ashe. And the Open delivers these classics year after year.

Y is for young bucks, from 18-year-old Chase Buchanan to 16-year-old Kristina Mladenovic, the youngest players in each field.

Z is for Zvonareva, Russia's Vera, who cracked the top five following her run to the Australian Open semis before an ankle injury dropped her down to No. 7. She's fit and ready to make noise in the bottom quarter of the draw.

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