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  • Heading to the U.S. Open this year? Use our ultimate insider's guide to help maximize your time at the tennis complex and around New York.
By Jon Wertheim
August 21, 2019

The U.S. Open, starting Aug. 26, is a two-week TennisCon that will draw upwards of 700,000 fans. For those planning to attend, here are various insider’s tips—culled from previous years with some new ones thrown in. Thanks to more than 200 of you who weighed in…

Pre-Tournament

• We'll get the icky self-promotion out early. The SI.com tennis page will feature the work of various and sundry colleagues including S.L. Price, Stanley Kay, Jamie Lisanti, Daniel Rapaport  and yours truly.  

• Tennis Channel’s daily U.S. Open pregame show starts at 8 a.m. EST and—conflicts aside and disclosed—it’s good fun and crackling television. I hate playing the role of PR flack, but the show is criminally underpublicized: Courier, Lindsay, Martina, Carillo and the rest of the band talking shop and freewheeling for three hours. What’s not to like?

• The retractable garage doors over the two main courts will get all the attention. But take inventory of the various other facilities upgrades, especially the “new Grandstand” which is, well, grand.

• The qualifying event for the U.S. Open—a/a/”fan Week”— is the best value in sports, and not simply because admission is $0.00. It's top-tier tennis featuring catch-a-rising-star prospects and at least a few down-on-their-luck players with names that will sound familiar to casual fans.

• Speaking of good deals that same week…a welcomed addition to the schedule, check out the NYJTL Bronx Open.

• As sporting event websites go, USOpen.org is strong. Powered by IBM. Bookmark it. Play around with the stats. And note the practice schedules, which are posted daily.

• Unless you have a match that day, there's no excuse for dressing like a player when you attend the U.S. Open. You don't wear stirrups to Yankees games and shin guards and leotards to the ballet. Leave the wristbands at home, Champ.

• @pessimistcynic: “Check social media and hear announcements on the grounds for autograph signings. Also check for player appearances in Manhattan the week before!”

• “@T_tennis: Download the U.S. Open app and check out the order of play the night before to make a game plan of what you'd like to see.”

• Alvaro from Madrid: “To speed through security, put your stuff into a small plastic bag. Also bring a more durable, comfortable bag that you can fold or zipper compactly—keep it ouf of sight until after the security check…and bring tightly wrapped food (like an overstuffed deli sandwich, so your bag isn’t bulky), and a plastic water bottle to refill at fountains.”

• @likethemovie19: “Do NOT bring those metal/insulated Swell-type bottles, as they will not let you bring them in.

• @magicjewball: “I bought a cheap chair cushion at Ikea and brought it in my tote. It’s good for the hot benches but also more comfortable.”

Tickets

• We used to advise buying the grounds pass over the seats in Ashe. No longer. A lousy seat in Ashe —and now Armstrong— is comparable in price, gets you roving privileges and is insurance in the case of rain.

• I started in on some ticketing tips, but this page is terrific and will answer all your FAQ’s.

Transportation

• Take the safest play: the MTA's much-maligned No. 7 train from the new Hudson Yards, or Times Square, or Bryant Park, or Grand Central in Manhattan to the Willets Point-CitiField stop. Be prepared to stand, especially if the mets are playing.

• @sufed4ever: “If you are taking the subway, be friendly to other passengers. Struck up a conversation with a doctor, wife and his mom who were fellow U.S. Open attendees and they gave me an extra ticket to one of the suites.”

• Our preferred alternative: ride the Long Island Railroad from Penn Station. It’s much faster, though trains run only three or four times an hour, so check the schedule:

(As part of our crowd-sourcing, reader  @clarkcomedy  notes: “You can take a bus to the Open straight from LaGuardia.”) At the risk of sounding like a tourist-bureau, you'll be surprised how civil and efficient the trains are. If you insist on private transportation, take an Uber or cab over a car service, which drops you off somewhere near Montauk.

• Here’s reader Esha Bhandari: “For the cycling-inclined, biking to the U.S. Open is an excellent option. If you come up through Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, you can park at bike racks outside the Queens Museum, putting you right by the "back" entrance to the tennis (the one that subway riders don't use). Not only is it very pleasant to avoid long lines on the way in, at the end of the day you can walk out, hop on the bike, and avoid the hordes waiting for the subway.”

• Many of you wisely suggested filling up your Metrocards before heading out so you avoid the lines at the end of the session. And Long Island Railroad requires a ticket that can NOT be purchased with a Metrocard.

While at Flushing Meadows

• Arrive way early. Or fashionably late. But there’s a crush at 11:00 when matches usually start.

• @IanKatzTennnis: “Don't go on through the main front entrance by the boardwalk. Too crowded. Go around to the left and enter through the side.”

• Buy a program and/or a daily draw sheet when you walk in. The schedule of matches is critical for spectator planning, and the program is great changeover reading. The program contains a compendium of the finest tennis writing.

• @Cdhort: “While there are charging stations on site, bring a Mophie or other charging device.” @ChewyYorkie adds: If you have a Chase credit card or account, you can get a free portable phone charger. Definitely a must!

• Unless you’re my kids, in which case you should get off your damn screens, look up and experience life. You’re at the U.S. Open. You paid for this. Everything else can wait.

• @Pegconnor: “If you’re there first Monday, attend the Althea Gibson statue unveiling on Monday, August 26 at 11:00 am”

• Check out the Court No. 5 viewing platform.

• @brad_duester: “When going from Ashe to Armstrong, walk the back way, not the main way.”

• @mariayealdhall: “If you have a Chase card, reserve a spot in the Chase lounge. You get AC, snacks & free hat each day. Also great during rain delay.”

• Little-known fact: most of the players—including some stars—practice near the main gate and the miniature golf course. Mosey on over. Recently, one of you stumbled upon Fabrice Santoro hitting with Mats Wilander.

• And yes: your eyes are not deceiving you, there is a miniature golf course—and a par three with lights— mere yards from the back entrance. You’re welcome.

• 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.

• We are sending this in advance of the draw but, assuming he is playing, check out Marco Trungelliti, and cheer him on. This guy is heroic, he’s been failed by the institution, and could use the support:

Speaking of….

• Root for the players who could use it. This year, candidates include, Genie Bouchard, Jack Sock and some lesser light who looks to be close to tears. Federer and Serena can win with or without your vocal support. For these other players, it can make a real difference.

• 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 Granollers’ larynx!"—they can come in handy.

• Complain at least once about the lack of intimacy in Arthur Ashe Stadium and the overselling of grounds passes. And complain at least twice about the lucky ones 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 scandalously marked-up wine. It’s your right of passage.

• Speaking of the free market….feel free to ask yourself how the U.S. Open so easily champions equity and equality (as it should) while charging radically different prices for men’s matches versus women’s matches. Translation: we’re happy to come in for the PR win; but don’t expect us to actually, you know, take a financial hit ourselves.

• Arrive early and spend half an hour or so watching players practice. It's weirdly mesmerizing. And you can learn quite a bit about players while watching them hit balls for 20 minutes. A Federer practice session resembles a Nadal practice session in the way a Staten Island voter resembles a Brooklyn voter. (Which is to say: not at all.)

• Drink a lot of water. Waiting in line at the restroom may not be an ideal way to spend time, but it beats dehydration any day. Beth of Brooklyn: “Bring your own water bottle.  Sure you can buy a $6 Evian bottle when you get there, but why?  There are water fountains all over the site and hydration is important.”

• Join me in wondering why Evian would agree to sell their water for the price of $6. Curious how the marketing team sells this internally. “We’re looking to create positive associations with our brand. Wait, here’s an idea! We’ll charge extortionate prices, taking advantage of captive customers trying to hydrate on a sweltering day! That’ll have them buying our product in bulk next time they’re at the grocery store!”

• For those not working, alternative beverages: As @Pschrags says goadingly: “Have at least two of those Honey Deuces.”

• @steve_weisman: “Get the Pat LaFrieda steak sandwich.”

• @jasongay: “The Momofuku chicken sandwich line is worth the wait.”

• Speaking of good habits, wear sunscreen—though bring cream, not aerosol, as some of you have told me that a can won’t make it past security.

• 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). Either way it makes for good theater. (Two years ago you could have seen Amanda Anisimova and Coco Gauff.) Adds @meganfernandez: “And watching them playying let serves is different, fun - and sometimes heartbreaking.”

• If you walk by a scoring console and see that a 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.

• @tomvanarsdel: “Sounds simple but this is a must: if an American player is in a final deciding set, go to that court. The atmosphere will be awesome.” I would agree and edit slightly to remove the word “American.” A critical fifth set = atmosphere, regardless of who’s playing. And sometimes the fact that neither player is American and the crowd splits on arbitrary lines—see: Dominic Thiem/Juan Martin del Potro inter alia from 2017— only adds to the theater.

• We know. Your fund of funds is shredding it this year. If you fly Delta, the upgrade will come through. You wish your nanny drove, so you didn't have to waste a day going to Maine to pick up Ashley Madison from summer camp. You're important. We get it. But don't use your phone during play, and switch the ringer to vibrate.

• Most of the volunteers are tennis lovers helping the event run smoothly. Likewise, the ushers are just doing their jobs. Same for the security folks. Bear that in mind when they make you wait for a changeover or deny you unused seats in a section closer to the court or insist you check your bag.

• Bring an iPad/book/crossword puzzle/fellow tennis fan to pass the time during changeovers.

• Go the outer courts and watch some doubles matches. It’s making a comeback, you know.

• Watch wheelchair tennis. Not out of any sense of obligation, but because it’s superawesome— terrifically entertaining tennis and filled with the kind of shotmaking we all love.

• Have a look at the Tennis Hall of Fame exhibit under Louis Armstrong Stadium. It doesn't compete with a trip to Newport—which we also recommend. But it's close.

• Again, with the hydration. 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 a few years back. The Indian joint is always my personal favorite. Also, at the Wine Bar near the main fountains, try the burrata—if only because burrata is the single greatest substance known to man.

• Alternatively, check out some of the restaurants in Flushing's Chinatown. You can walk there or take the No. 7 train one additional stop. Says @veryape: “Queens has the best food in the city. On the way back, stop off at Sunnyside or Woodside for authentic everything!” @Mel1612ancholia” Go to Astoria for some good Greek food”…. a few of you mentioned the Queens beer garden.

• @andrewikesports writes:  “Keep an eye on the sunset behind the NYC skyline—Manhattan-henge, the kids call it— from the top of Ashe as the night session gets going.”

• @galloots: “If you want great value, go see matches on the Tuesday after Labor Day, everyone back to work and tickets on stubhub less than face.”

• Note the Bud Collins Media Center—and pause a moment to acknowledge the eponymous. And pay homage to the good, hard-working folks inside. Realize the vile abhorrence of the term “enemy of the people.”

• We’re serious about the sunscreen.

While in Manhattan

If you're staying in Manhattan, take some time for some of these:

• Check out the High Line on the west side, which is just tremendously cool. Eat at Chelsea Market and end your tour at the new Whitney Museum.

• If you’re feeling adventuresome, go to Williamsburg in Brooklyn—especially if you can time it with a trip to Smorgasburg. And if you take the train from Grand Central Station, take a few minutes to walk around the terminal.

• Closer to the Grand Hyatt, where many of the tennis out-of-towners stay…. Koreatown in the low 30s, just east of Penn Station, is an easy walk from a midtown hotel, and many of the joints are open 24 hours. Same for the "Curry Hill" Indian restaurants on Lexington in the high 20s.

• Run the six-mile loop in Central Park or stroll around the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir.

• As in many other cities, the bikeshare program is a tremendous value and great way to see the town. Citibike.

• Just walk around. It's hard to get lost given Manhattan's grid system, and you're bound to stumble past something interesting.

• We already mentioned the sunscreen, right?

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