Which Stadium, Court?
While waiting to enter the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, we studied the matches and venues and marked preferences. What were our preferences? To get as close as possible to the best players in the most competitive match ups. This strategy is hugely dependent on venue selection:
- Arthur Ashe Stadium: With a capacity of 23,700 and assigned seating in the nosebleed section with our ticket plan, this was a vacuous venue from which we predictably felt detached from the players and excitement. Too big, too far away, for an opening match, anyway. Early Ashe matches usually feature a star against a lowly ranked player or no-name, like #1 Roger Federer against an unknown qualifier. Unless you have seats up close or simply must see your favorite player, consider a smaller venue.
- Louis Armstrong Stadium: Holds about 10,000 and can be a much better location to more closely view name players, without binoculars. Our ticket plan provided access to most seats, but not the closest (those were reserved). A decent array of early matches included #17 Tomas Berdych of the Czech Republic vs. Wayne Odesnik, USA, and eventual US Open Champ Kim Clijsters of Belgium vs. #14 Marion Bartoli of France. Armstrong was also the site of Marat Safin’s last Open match before retirement—thumped by Austrian Jurgen Melzer.
- Grandstand Stadium: Our favorite! With 5,800 seats, Grandstand makes it possible to intimately experience the intense action. Nearly all seats were available to us with our Mini-Plan package, including some that were literally first-row courtside. Another bonus: SHADE! We estimated that 20 percent of the seats at Grandstand are in precious, rare shade — practically the ONLY shade in the entire tennis center. We often opted for the shady east side of the stadium, which is excellent for visibility and comfort in that there are individual tapered seats. In some areas of Grandstand, there are only butt-flattening bleachers with no back support.
We watched Gael Monfils, 13th seed from France, vs. fellow countryman Jeremy Chardy from the first row, so close the 125-mph serves sometimes overshot the short wall and threatened to decapitate the long lens from my camera. We saw #7 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga of France dismantle Chase Buchanan, USA. Watched #16 seed Marin Cilic of Croatia win a tight match against spirited American Ryan Sweeting. Cilic would go on to bump #2 Andy Murray from the tourney. On the women’s side at Grandstand, there was #4 Elena Dementieva of Russia, US upstart Melanie Oudin, and #7 Vera Zvonareva of Russia vs. — who else, another Russian — Anna Chakvetadze, and more. We could easily see and feel the pounding, the pace, and the emotions from the Grandstand seats. We began to call it “our stadium.”
- The Outer 16 Courts: In addition to the three major stadiums, there are 16 “outer” courts, where seating capacity ranges from about 100 to 1500. These, too, are intimate spots and we found them especially inviting during the evening hours when the intense sun had faded. Again, the earlier you arrive, the better your odds of getting a great seat. We were in the first row of Court 4, just a few feet away from Croatia’s #27 Ivo Karlovic — the biggest server in the game — as Spaniard Ivan Navarro pulled off a two-tiebreak, straight-sets upset. In contrast to that unusual (for today) serve-and-volley fest, we witnessed fierce baseline exchanges amid loud Latin chants a few yards away at Court 6, where Nicolas Lapenti of Ecuador charged from two sets down to eliminate Federer’s Olympic-winning doubles partner, #19 seed Stan Wawrinka of Switzerland. Sat about four rows up for that one. But, in some cases, we were denied entry to matches because we arrived late. An apparent endless line was a clue that we would miss Germany’s #20 Tommy Haas four-set victory over Alejandro Falla of Colombia. Lots of doubles matches on the outer courts too.
Practice courts are accessible all the time but we found plenty of action elsewhere and did not attend the workouts.
Securing Your Seats
Ok, you arrived early at the venue of your choice and claimed your seats. But what happens when you need a restroom, snack or walk? Protect your investment! Have someone save your seat if your absence will be brief.
Also be advised that ushers carefully monitor out-of-seat movement during play and will demand you sit immediately to avoid player distractions. When play stops, start walking but realize you cannot reenter the playing area until the NEXT break in play. Ushers block entrance ways while spectators line up to reenter the playing area between every third game, after each set, and at the conclusion of matches.