I’ve been to a lot of sporting events in my time. Professional and college, men’s and women’s. Those involving jello and mud, and those which don’t. I thought I’d seen just about everything.
But until the holiday weekend, I’d never been to a professional tennis tournament.
So when a friend proposed that we head to the U.S. Open on Sunday afternoon, I jumped at the opportunity.
And boy am I happy I did. What other spectator sport combines top flight athletic ability, alcohol and the opportunity to make fun of people with funny names and accents from six different continents? I thought so.
It was a good time, and because of that, I want to share my experience, with you my loyal readers. So sit back, relax and enjoy, as I take you through the “Idiot’s Guide to the U.S. Open.”
One of my universal rules in attending any sporting event is to take public transportation whenever possible. Whenever I go into New York City, it becomes a must.
The fact is, trains run all day from Connecticut and New Jersey into Grand Central Station, and from there it’s just $2 to hop on the 7 train to get to National Tennis Center. In addition, since the Tennis Center is the last stop, you can even catch a little 15 minute nap, if it was an early for you morning, as it was for me on Sunday.
If you do insist on driving, well, best of luck. The cost of parking is $18, which isn’t bad. Of course the headaches involved in dealing with the traffic are going to leave you more stressed than Rick Pitino waiting for the results of a paternity test. We went on the Sunday of a holiday weekend, and still hit traffic a few miles out. Imagine trying to make the drive during the work week.
Once in you park in one of the tournament sanctioned lots (and I use that term loosely, since the lots are in fact in a grassy public park), a 15 minute shuttle ride is provided to the stadium.
But again, public transportation is the way to go. It’s just about half the price and -trust me when I say this- half the stress as well.
Don’t: Stress If You Don’t Have Tickets
My friend and I didn’t officially decide to go to the Open until Saturday night. Since both of us are idiots (hence the “Idiots Guide”), neither had the foresight to actually purchase tickets beforehand.
(Come on leave us alone, we’re 24-year-old males. Not a lot of thought goes into stuff like “purchasing tickets,” especially when our brains are filled with important things, like “Every Heisman Trophy winner since 1984,” and “Tuesday night is 2 for 1 Happy Hour at Sal’s Crab Shack.”)
However, if you’re like both of us and lacking common sense, no need to worry, there are still plenty of tickets to be found. You’ve just got a little bit of work to do.
The best strategy I’ve found is to head to the platform where the 7 train lets off, and ask anyone and everyone coming off if they have tickets. The train comes every few minutes, and there are always people looking to get rid of extras.
When trying to secure tickets in this manner, the proper etiquette appeared to be holding fingers in the air indicating how many tickets were needed (one finger equates to one ticket). Of course since I can barely spell etiquette and almost never take the time to use it, I tried the age old strategy of just yelling. Really loud. You should do the same.
If you want two tickets, just shout, “Looking for two here.” Want a single, well say it. I know tennis is a gentleman’s sport and decorum is at a premium, but this is survival of the fittest, Darwinism at its best. Besides you’re in New York City, not the public library; loud wins. This is a city where Stephen A. Smith was paid for many years to share his opinions in a decibel level that even my grandma could hear. So don’t worry about raising your voice.
In using “AT’s Shouting Theory,” as I like to call it, I was able to rather quickly track down a young nervous couple, looking to get rid of two tickets. Meanwhile, a handful of other people stood behind me with fingers still in the air, giving me a look like I had just burped at the dinner table or something. But you know what, I got tickets and they didn’t. So they can keep those looks, take those fingers and stick them… You know what, never mind.
The other advantage to buying tickets the day of rather than going through Ticketmaster or StubHub, is that prices instantly become negotiable. At a tennis match this is even more the case. Let’s be honest, most tennis crowds are, how can I say this nicely…proper. Haggling over dollars and cents is not their forte.
In addition, most of the attendees are petrified about exchanging money for tickets in public. Which I find funny of course since the procedure is actually legal (as long as you’re not overcharging).
I was able to get two tickets for the Arthur Ashe Stadium day session for just below face value, simply because this couple was afraid of seeing a cop in the distance and wanted to dispose of the tickets as quickly as possible. Tennis anyone?
Do: Splurge For Tickets To Arthur Ashe Stadium:
When my buddy was on the shuttle over to the stadium (I met him there), some guy was bragging about getting grounds passes for just $55. When my friend told him that I had scored tickets for Arthur Ashe Stadium (where all the superstars play) for just $15 more, he supposedly went into sulk mode, like the poor guy just found out his puppy died.
Seriously, this is the U.S. Open. Did you really take a day off of work, get up early, drive all that way, pay for parking and hop on a shuttle, only to get to the grounds and say, “Hey I can get in and save 15 bucks just by loitering on the side courts! Who needs Federer and Roddick when I can see 16-year-old Slovenian girls play juniors on Court 11.”
Maybe you did, but for that extra $15, I saw Serena, Venus and Rafael Nadal. You may have a little more money in your pocket, but I think I came out on top.
Then again, maybe I’m wrong. Wish that Slovakian girl luck for me though. What’s that? She’s Slovenian?
Don’t: Be Surprised If You See A Williams Sister Playing Someone, Somewhere
In basketball they call people like the Williams sisters, “Gym rats.”
Honestly, it seemed like no matter where we went, one was always playing at the turn of every corner. They're like a cold sore, just when you think you'd rid yourself of them, they reappear again.
Venus in singles a singles match at center court? Sure. Serena playing mixed doubles on Court 8? Absolutely. The two playing doubles in the parking lot? I’m almost positive it happened, I swear.
Listen, ladies I know you love tennis, but please, for my sake, take an hour off. You’ve got more money than God, and more talent than the rest of the tour combined. I don’t even think Jon and Kate have gotten more face time than these two in recent weeks. Someone save me!
Do: Question Your Ballboys and Ballgirls
Easily the most fascinating subplot of the entire day was of the origin of these mutant children.
Seeing them in action was a sight to behold. They were all able to be able to run, jump, throw, had good hands, and the coordination to catch balls at all kinds of funny angles and off every conceivable surface. Forget Ortiz, Ramirez and A-Rod, I want urine samples on these rug rats.
After watching them for a day and having another day to digest what I saw, I have so many questions. Were they trained in the former East Germany? Why are they more athletic than me? How come that little girl has a mustache?
Someone get me George Mitchell on the phone, I want answers.
Don’t: Miss The Opportunity To Make Fun of Players During an Injury Timeout
Example No. 2151 of why attending the U.S. Open is infinitely more fun than you’d expect are things like “injury timeouts.”
On a telecast, during an injury timeout, the commentator will tell you exactly what the problem is then simply go to break. But when you’re there in person, well, that allows for your own running commentary.
Early in the third set of the Nadal match, a male trainer was called out, and instructed to rub his stomach. While some were concerned, this immediately led my friend and me into a barrage of “Did his water just break,” and, “Do you think he knows who the father is?” jokes. Apparently only two people in the stadium thought these were funny, since the 45-year-old gold-digging house wife in front of us turned around repeatedly, to the point that I thought her neck might snap.
Of course that didn’t stop us from continuing on, and adding the obligatory, “I wonder if it’s a boy or girl,” and “As long as it has 10 fingers and 10 toes that’s all that matters,” comments when Nadal resumed play.
Which of course led to even more looks.
Do: Catch a Juan Martin Del Potro Match
And if he’s not playing the day that you attend, hide in the bathroom and stay until tomorrow. Del Potro alone is worth the price of admission.
For those of you not familiar with JM DP (as I now like to call him), let me tell you what you’re missing out on. He’s a 20-year-old Argentine and the No. 6 ranked player in the world. He’s also the Ron Artest of tennis. On some points he seems to be able to hit any shot he wants, while on others he’s got the look of a kid getting lectured by his parents, ready to yell, “Whatever mom!,” as he storms off to his bedroom for the night.
During Sunday’s match with Daniel Koellerer, he appeared to have about as much interest in playing tennis as my father does in the new Jay-Z CD. Watching him sit on the sidelines between games, I honestly said to myself, “I wonder if he’s thinking about going home and playing Madden.” He genuinely appeared that disinterested.
But beyond his demeanor, was his erratic and goofy play on the court. This is a guy who at one point actually challenged his own serve…when it was called in! Has that ever happened before? Ever? Of course the serve was good, JM DP lost the game, and he put his head down and trudged back to his seat courtside.
And after all that, you’d assume that JM DP lost the match, right? Wrong. The guy won in four sets, which was all the more amazing since he basically exerted zero effort in the second set. None. At one point he was playing so poorly I actually wondered if he had money on the match.
Of course when the third set started, there was my man JM DP ripping winner after winner, and sending Koellerer into a frenzy of racquet throwing and swearing in whatever his native language is.
JM DP ended up winning sets three and four 6-3 and 6-3, and advanced to the round of 16. I know one guy who will be watching.
Don’t: Stare Directly at Gael Monfils
He was maybe the most entertaining player I saw on the day behind JM DP, and may be the most underrated men’s player in the world.
But seriously, have you seen this guy? Murder scenes are easier on the eyes than the 23-year-old Frenchman.
Watch Monfils because he is highly entertaining, and even more highly skilled. But like a solar eclipse, don’t stare directly at him. Or at the very least, wear strong sunglasses and SBF 40.
Don’t say you weren’t warned.
Do: Buy Tickets to the Day Session As Opposed to the Night
We’ve had a lot of fun here with the “Idiot’s Guide to the U.S. Open,” but this is a serious piece of advice.
Here are the facts:
Even when the day session matches are done, U.S. Open officials still allow you to stay on the grounds of the National Tennis Center. No you’re not allowed to go back into Arthur Ashe Stadium, but you can still pretty much get in anywhere else.
Also, having a valid day session ticket allows you to get into Louis Armstrong Stadium and the Grandstand, where a lot of good matches take place at night. Just in those two stadiums my friend and I saw JM DP, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (No. 7 ranked male player), Monfils (ranked No. 13) and the Williams sisters doubles match.
First off, that’s some pretty good tennis for you the consumer, and of equal importance it fills the stands, which makes the tournament organizers happy.
Also, since you’re already in for the evening, if you’re crafty you can sneak back into Arthur Ashe Stadium for the night matches as well. I did, and got to see the Andy Murray-Taylor Dent match as well as Flavia Pennetta’s comeback.
I would tell you how I got back into Ashe Stadium at night, but I’d probably get into trouble.
Besides, some things need to be left for you to figure out. This is the “Idiot’s Guide to the U.S. Open.” But it’s not All-Inclusive.
Photo Credit: http://z.about.com/d/queens/1/5/V/C/usopen-tennis-flushing-mead.jpg