Thanks to a major scheduling adjustment, I was able to fit in a long-held bucket list item into the current trip: a visit to the US Open tennis tournament. Ever since Jimmy Connors’ magical runs in the late 80’s/early 90’s, I wanted to attend the Open. Until now I had always managed to miss it by a week or a month on previous NY trips. Thankfully I was able to secure a ticket ($63) to the night session on Sunday. The ticket also was for the main stadium, Arthur Ashe, which at 22,547 capacity is the largest tennis stadium in the world.
Like most tennis tournaments, there is usually action happening on several courts at once, allowing fans to move from one match to another on the grounds with little difficulty. The exception to the free access is Ashe, which requires separate admission to its all-reserved seating bowl. The US Open is also unique in that it features night sessions, a practice not employed regularly at the other three major tournaments (Australian, French, Wimbledon). During the night sessions matches are played at the show courts: Ashe, Louis Armstrong, and the Grandstand court, which is attached to Armstrong. Early rounds may also utilize Court 17, the round stadium also knows as The Pit.
Ashe is simply immense. Closest to the court, two levels of loge boxes sandwich two levels of suites. At the top of the stadium is the Promenade level, the reserved (non-box) seating area. I sat in Row G, not even a third of the way up, and the players looked like ants. At 10,000-seat Armstrong, the general admission seating goes all the way up to within six rows of the court. Fans can easily go from the east end of Armstrong to the concourse, which just happens to overlook Grandstand.
Architecturally there isn’t much to write home about. The main courts are clad in brick façade, with Ashe rising high above everything. Tennis tournaments are planned in a festival format, where a central area serves up concessions (and sponsorship opportunities), with limited food and beverage options inside the stadia themselves. Restaurants and lounges fill the ground level entry to Ashe, but they are far removed from the action.
The broader site is the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, a large facility operated by the USTA for training purposes. Over the years more facilities have been added, including expanded locker rooms, a hospitality pavilion, and the aforementioned additional stadia. Only two weeks a plan to place retractable roofs atop both Ashe and Armstrong was approved as part of a $550 million. The US Open has seen its share of rainouts and weather delays, so the roofs will be a welcome change. Unlike baseball games, there is little room for postponements because of the short, two-week playing schedule. The other three majors have already installed retractable roofs at their facilities.
I look forward to coming back to attend the tournament again in the next year or two. While most of the matches I watched were blowouts, I was pleasantly surprised to catch the last American in the men’s draw, Tim Smyczek, playing a fifth set against Spaniard Marcel Granollers. Sadly, Smyczek lost that final set 7-5 after nearly breaking Granollers late. Maybe next time, ‘Murica.