How to best enjoy the U.S. Open

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Attending the U.S. Open for the first time this year? Herewith, various tips, culled from previous columns with a few new ones thrown in:

• The best value in sports: the U.S. Open qualifying rounds. And not simply because it's free. It's top-tier tennis featuring at least a few players down on their luck whose names will be familiar to casual fans.

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

• Take either the much-maligned No. 7 train or -- better still -- 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. If you insist on private transportation, take a cab over a car service, which drops you off somewhere near Canarsie.

• Buy a daily program 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.

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

• Watch at least one match on the Grandstand court, one of the better venues in tennis.

• Complain at least once about the absence of intimacy in 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 tanking portfolios in air-conditioned suites.

• 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. Last year, for instance, several of you joined me in watching Toni Nadal force his nephew, Rafael, then 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.

• 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.

• Watch Fabrice Santoro in this, his final U.S. Open. No one will ever play tennis quite like him again.

• While you're getting all nostalgic, catch Marat Safin, the 2000 U.S. Open champion, in his final major. If nothing else, you will come away with a renewed appreciation for Roger Federer's commitment to tennis.

• 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. We could tell that by how loudly you're speaking. You're "crushing it" despite the recession. In your absence, your office could be rocked to its foundation, world markets could spiral out of control. 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.

• Again, 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. 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.

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

• I'm serious about the sunscreen.

• Check back here for podcasts, blogs, schedules, results and other tennis miscellany.

To order a copy of Jon Wertheim's new book, Strokes of Genius: Federer, Nadal, and the Greatest Match Ever Played, click here.