The US Open Qualifying Experience

Spread the love

The first day of qualifying at the US Open has come and gone. The experience of going to see tennis in New York City on a nice August day can best be summed up by one tweet from a fellow writer:

The first thing you see when you come down the railroad boardwalk and enter the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center is a program stand. It’s a de facto information desk, with no fancy bells or whistles; the draw for the first day of US Open Qualifying is given out there. A box filled with hundreds of dollars of programs are guarded by the man at the stand. It is the first day these thick booklets go on sale, sold at $20 apiece. Admission for all the qualifying matches is free, but unfortunately for the fans, they are all still responsible for paying the fares on the Long Island Railroad and the New York City Subway!

The man at the program stand told me “I don’t know which matches are done,” because he isn’t allowed to have his phone out. Free Public Wifi at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center is easily accessible for fans and court assignments are easy to find nowadays, even if some of the big TV displays on the grounds are still being tested. The displays inside the courts are fully functional, with the game score, match score and the first serve countdown clock ticking down, which will be a new element in this year’s main draw. On the east side of Arthur Ashe Stadium, a booth selling US Open themed shirts and hats is already bustling with early bird buyers and window shoppers, and on top of it is the only digital ticker beyond the courts that is properly working and showing the schedule of play and final scores from qualifying.

While many players are trying to win their way into the main draw of the US Open, the fans are splitting their time up between watching matches and strolling. A showcase garage full of sleek and trendy Mercedes Benz sportscars were installed across from the waterfalls south of Ashe. An AMG GT Convertible is parked right across the Practice Courts alongside Arthur Ashe Stadium by the West Gate.

Many of the displays like, the American Express Fan Experience, are still being set up, but the outdoor food court was already buzzing. Lavazza occupies a stand in the Food Village across from Court 12 to sell coffee at over $5 per cup. It is perhaps the best deal compared to what is offered for the burgers, tacos and dessert. I’m not saying the food at Korilla Barbeque or the ice cream at Ben and Jerry’s ice cream wagon is expensive or overrated, but I am willing to bet none of you have a credit limit tighter than mine!

So many parts of this tennis ground were not at all part of the US Open experience just 10 years ago. Court 11 is one of the most breathtaking venues on site with a capacity of over 1,500 fans. Many houses around the Flushing and Corona area aren’t taller than the stack of seats at Court 11. Courts 4, 5, and 6 share a long adjoining section of bleachers installed in 2014, where crowds can watch superstar players practice or play. Not only is there no such thing as backwater venues, the slate gray decor of these stands are breathtaking for fans like myself who still remember what the campus looked like five years ago.

Fans that came out on Tuesday also got to sit inside the lower bowl of the new Louis Armstrong Stadium. This is the second stadium on-site with a roof, built on the original footprint of the Singer Bowl from the 1964 Worlds Fair. Designers touted it as the world’s first naturally ventilated stadium, designed to facilitate airflow, even through the lower parts of the structure. The top bowl of Armstrong will be open for general admission visitors, whereas the lower bowl is reserved for ticket holders. The Wilson and Adidas stores on ground floor inside Armstrong were closed off for some finishing touches. At least the new bathrooms were working!

Even though many tennis stars are touring outside of New York, many have taken to the Big Apple early to practice and meet some fans. Denis Shapovalov and Tiebreak Tens winner Evina Svitolina practiced in front of fans earlier Tuesday. Donald Young, Patty Schnyder, Genie Bouchard, Nicole Gibbs and Nicolas Mahut won their qualifying matches, which will continue to be played until Friday.

Michael Chang and James Blake will face off against Patrick and John McEnroe for the Armstrong Stadium dedication ceremony on Wednesday. The Defending US Open Singles champions Sloane Stephens and Rafael Nadal will be in Brookfield Place in Lower Manhattan for the US Open draw unveiling at 2 PM on Thursday.

Qualifying week may be a joy for the kids, but its also a nice reason for adults to play hookey from work. Given the big crowds at the food village and the merchandise stores, even the savvy tourists planned their trips well. Prospective New York City tourists, take note- New York will be brimming with tennis fans right before the US Open every year.

Main Photo:
Embed from Getty Images