Travel tips for visiting U.S. Open
The U.S. Open starts Monday, a two-week production that will draw upwards of 700,000 fans. For those planning to attend, here are various tips -- culled from previous years with some new ones thrown in -- for enjoying the final Grand Slam tournament of the year:
? Take either the much-maligned No. 7 train or the Long Island Railroad from Manhattan, which is 15 minutes from Penn Station. At the risk of sounding like a tourist-bureau PR flack, you'll be surprised how civil and efficient the trains are. (Note, sadly, that the water taxi is apparently not running this year.) If you insist on private transportation, take a cab over a car service, which drops you off somewhere near Canarsie.
? We'll get the self-promotion out early. The SI.com tennis page will feature the opuses (opii?) of S.L. Price, Courtney Nguyen, Richard Deitsch, Bruce Jenkins, yours truly and other luminaries. Also, in addition to ESPN and CBS, the estimable Tennis Channel will be offering its usual tour-de-force.
? Buy a program and a daily draw sheet when you walk in.
? Take the grounds pass over reserved seating in Arthur Ashe Stadium, especially during the first week.
? Root for any and all qualifiers in the main draw. Winning that first round could be the difference between financing another year on tour and quitting the sport.
? Root for the players who could use it. Donald Young, as he tries to bounce back from a backslide that includes one win since February. Malek Jaziri of Tunisia whose career is finally blooming, thanks to the freedoms occasioned by last year's Arab Spring. Nicolas Mahut. Melanie Oudin. Recent "All Things Considered" subject, Brian Baker. Some no-name who looks to be close to tears. Maria Sharapova, Novak Djokovic and Serena Williams can win with or without your vocal support. For these other players, it can make a real difference.
? Note the free, live streaming -- available in the U.S. -- on USOpen.org.
? If you own an American Express card, investigate whether you're entitled to a free radio that enables you to hear the TV commentary. (Aside: Whoever does the AmEx U.S. Open sponsorships gets it. These are consistently creative, fun and feel completely non-intrusive.) If not, bring binoculars. Particularly during changeovers -- "I think the trainer is on the court, icing down Azarenka's larynx!" -- they can come in handy.
? Watch at least one match on the Grandstand court, one of the better venues in tennis. And the sleeper, that is Court 17, coming off a rousing rookie season in 2011.
? Complain at least once about the absence of intimacy in Arthur Ashe Stadium. And complain at least twice about the landed gentry in the luxury suites who have prime seats yet fail to show or have their backs turned away from the court as they eat their canapés and knock back wine. White wine, at that. And complain at least three times that they built this monstrosity and it lacks a roof. And four times that the USTA gleefully announced a nine-figure capital improvement plan that entails a terrace to watch the practice courts but, unaccountably, no plan for a covered court.
? Arrive early and spend, say, half an hour watching players practice. It's weirdly mesmerizing and you can learn an awful lot about players seeing them hit balls for 20 minutes. Note: Federer often practices serves inside the service line; Richard Williams still, invariably, makes his daughters laugh; Azarenka doesn't grunt.
? Drink water. A lot of it. Waiting in line at the restroom beats dehydration.
? Speaking of good habits, wear sunscreen.
? Five non-tennis mini tips if you're staying in Manhattan:
A) Check out the High Line on the west side, which is just tremendously cool.
B) Beyond the MOMA, the Met, and Guggenheim, check out the Frick, the Morgan and the Museum Art of Design on Columbus Circle. And if you take the train from Grand Central Station, take a few minutes to walk around.
C) Korea Town in the low 30s, just east of Penn Station is an easy walk from your midtown hotel and many of the joints are open 24 hours. Same for the "Curry Hill" Indian restaurants on Lexington in the high 20s.
D) Run the loop in Central Park.
E) Just walk round. It's hard to get lost, given the grid, and you're bound to stumble past something interesting.
? Watch the top players in the boys' and girls' singles draw. One day soon they're likely to play on the big stages. Or not. Which is also noteworthy.
? If matches are canceled for rain, try to attend the following day. The backlog of matches often forces top-ranked players onto the outer courts. Last year Andy Roddick played David Ferrer on a back-court, the equivalent of Louis CK working out his bits on a Tuesday night shift in the Comedy Cellar.
? If you walk by a scoring console and see that any match is deep in the fifth set (or third set for women), watch the conclusion, regardless of whether you've heard of either player. It will give you a good sense of just how brutal tennis can be.
? We know. Your fund is crushing it this year. If you fly Delta, the upgrade will come through. Brittany needs the car tonight, so someone has to pick you up at the Darien station at 7:54. You're important. We get it. But don't use your phone during play. And switch it to vibrate.
? Most of the volunteers are tennis lovers helping the event run smoothly. Likewise, the ushers are just doing their jobs. Bear that in mind when they make you wait for a changeover or deny you unused seats in a section closer to the court.
? Bring an iPad or book/crossword puzzle/date to pass the time during changeovers.
? Again, hydrate. What's that you say? For the price of a small Evian bottle, you could built your own bilging system? Bring your own bottles and fill them up at the dozens of drinking fountains on the grounds.
? Go to the U.S. Open bookstore, which, regrettably, is hidden near the indoor facility.
? Maybe it's desensitization to overpriced ballpark food or New York prices in general. But the food-court fare -- once the subject of so much derision -- no longer seems so overpriced. The food ranges from passable to quite good. The terrific Sam Sifton cooked this up recently. The Indian joint is always my personal favorite.
? Alternatively, check out some of the restaurants in Flushing Chinatown. You can walk there or take the No. 7 train one additional stop.
? Watch some doubles.
? Unless you have a match that day, there's no excuse for dressing like a player. You don't wear stirrups to Yankees games and shin guards and cleats to watch Arsenal. Leave the wristbands home next week.
? Have a look at the Tennis Hall of Fame exhibit under Louis Armstrong Stadium. It doesn't compete with a trip to Newport, but it's close.
? I'm serious about the sunscreen.