Bryan Armen Graham
Sunday August 29th, 2010

South Gate

The South Gate to the National Tennis Center is a farther walk from public transportation compared to the East Gate, but the lines move a lot faster. (AP)

Whether you're a first-time attendee or a grizzled vet, don't leave for the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center without a healthy review of these 30 pointers. Share your own U.S. Open tips, advice and personal experiences in the comments.

• Take either the much-maligned No. 7 train or -- better still -- the Long Island Railroad from Manhattan, which is 15 minutes from Penn Station. If you insist on private transportation, take a cab over a car service, which drops you off somewhere near Canarsie. At the risk of sounding like a tourist bureau PR flack, you'll be surprised how civil and efficient the trains are.

• Buy a daily program when you walk in. Or if you're on a budget, print up a copy of the draw sheet and order of play before you leave your home or hotel room.

• The security lines at the East Gate  -- nearest to the subway, LIRR and main parking lot -- are longest and slowest in the morning. Walk past the crowd and enter at the South Gate near the Unisphere to get inside faster.

• First week especially, take the grounds pass over reserved seating in Ashe.

• If you own an American Express card, you're entitled to a free radio.

• Watch at least one match on the Grandstand court. The intimate 6,000-seat venue has the best views of any court at the National Tennis Center ... not to mention shade and no reserved seating.

• 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 have their backs turned away from the court as they discuss their floundering portfolios in air-conditioned suites.

• Check out the Tennis Hall of Fame Exhibit. It doesn't compete with a trip to Newport, R.I., but it's close.

• Arrive early and spend, say, half an hour watching players practice. It's weirdly mesmerizing and you can learn an awful lot about players watching them hit balls for 20 minutes. Two years ago, for instance, several of you joined me in watching Toni Nadal force his nephew, Rafael, the world's top player, to sprint off the court because he'd forgotten his water.

• Speaking of water, drink a lot of it. Waiting in line at the restroom beats dehydration. What’s that you say, a small Evian bottle costs an extortionate $3.75? Bring your own bottles and fill them up at the dozens of drinking fountains in the grounds.

• Speaking of good habits, wear sunscreen.

• Watch the top-seeded player in the boys' and girls' singles draw. One day soon they're likely to play on the big stages.

• 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.

• 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.

• Two locations to stake out if you want to monitor the action on multiple courts. From the top of the bleachers on Court 7, you can view the matches on Courts 6, 8, 9 and 10. Same with the furthest-up seats on Court 11, when you can see matches on Courts 12, 13, 14 and 15.

• 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.

• Yes, you're important. You're "crushing it" despite the recession. In your absence, your office could be rocked to its foundations. But switch your damn cell phone to vibrate and save the BlackBerrying until changeovers.

• Ignore the imperious attitude of the ushers. They're not representative of New Yorkers. And they're just doing their jobs.

• Bring a book/crossword puzzle/date to pass the time during changeovers.

• Hydrate. What's that you say, a small Evian bottle costs an extortionate $3.75? Bring your own bottles and fill them up at the dozens of drinking fountains in the grounds.

• It's hidden near the indoor facility but check out the U.S. Open bookstore.

• As for eating ... Maybe it's desensitization to overpriced ballpark food or New York prices in general. Maybe it's these inflationary times, when filling up your car requires a financing plan. But the food court fare -- once the subject of so much derision -- no longer seems so overpriced. And it's quite good. (Check out the Indian joint.)

• 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. They do this crazy, old-fashioned thing with the ball, hitting it out of the air. Volleying, I think they call it.

• If you are bringing your own sustenance, food must go in clear plastic bags and beverages in plastic bottles. You'll have to pay to check to your backpack or knapsack so leave it at home. The exception: a single-compartment bag that will fit into a 12" x 12" x 16" test container.

• Avoid dressing like a player -- unless you have a match that day.

• Download the U.S. Open iPhone app for live scores, news and streaming radio. Also, follow @SIOpenSource on Twitter for the latest dispatches from SI's staffers at the Open.

• It's hidden near the indoor facility but check out the U.S. Open bookstore.

• It's too late if you missed it this year, but check out the qualifying event in 2011. Admission is free, the quality of tennis is high and tension is higher.

• Office-bound in Manhattan? The jumbotrons showing the matches at Madison Square Park are back after a one-year hiatus. Bleachers and AstroTurf included. • I'm serious about the sunscreen.

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