Tips for attending the U.S. Open
Before the U.S. Open starts, try to check out the free qualifying tournament
Esther Vergeer, who has won 422 in a row in wheelchair singles, is a must-watch
Watch players practice, wear sunscreen, get a grounds pass, see the HOF exhibit
The U.S. Open starts next week, a two-week production that will draw upwards of 700,000 fans. And that's not even counting the extended Djokovic family.
For those planning to attend, here are various tips -- culled from previous years with some new ones thrown in -- for enjoying the final Grand Slam tournament of the year:
The best value in sports: the U.S. Open qualifying tournament, which began Tuesday and runs through Friday. And not simply because it's free. It's top-tier tennis featuring at least a few players, down on their luck, whose names will be familiar to casual fans.
Take either the much-maligned No. 7 train or the Long Island Railroad from Manhattan, which is 15 minutes from Penn Station. At the risk of sounding like a tourist-bureau PR flack, you'll be surprised how civil and efficient the trains are. Or better still, check out this free option.
If you insist on private transportation, take a cab over a car service, which drops you off somewhere near Canarsie.
Buy a program and a daily draw sheet when you walk in.
Take the grounds pass over reserved seating in Arthur Ashe Stadium, especially during the first week.
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.
Root for the players who could use it. Melanie Oudin. Some no-name who looks to be close to tears. Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer and Serena Williams can win with or without fan support. For these other players, it can make a real difference.
In the second week, seek out the competitors in the wheelchair event, especially Esther Vergeer. She makes Djokovic's 2011 look average. Why? Because she hasn't lost a match since January. Of 2003. That's 422 consecutive singles victories for the 30-year-old.
If you own an American Express card, investigate whether you're entitled to a free radio that enables you to hear the TV commentary. If not, bring binoculars. Particularly during changeovers -- "I think they're rubbing Nadal's knee!" -- they can come in handy.
Watch at least one match on the Grandstand court, one of the better venues in tennis.
Complain at least once about the absence of intimacy in Arthur Ashe Stadium. And complain at least twice about the landed gentry in the luxury suites who have prime seats yet have their backs turned away from the court while being deep in discussion. And complain at least three times that they built this monstrosity and it lacks a roof.
Arrive early and spend, say, half an hour watching players practice. It's weirdly mesmerizing and you can learn an awful lot about players seeing them hit balls for 20 minutes. A few years ago, for instance, many of you joined me in watching Toni Nadal force his nephew, Rafael, then the world's top player, to sprint off the court because he'd forgotten his water.
Speaking of water, drink a lot of it. Waiting in line at the restroom beats dehydration.
Speaking of good habits, wear sunscreen.
Watch the top-seeded player in the boys' and girls' singles draw. One day soon they're likely to play on the big stages. Or not. Which is also noteworthy.
If matches are canceled for rain, try to attend the following day. The backlog of matches often forces top-ranked players onto the outer courts.
If you walk by a scoring console and see that any 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.
Don't use your phone during play. And switch it to vibrate.
Most of the volunteers are tennis lovers helping the event run smoothly. Likewise, the ushers are just doing their jobs. Bear that in mind when they make you wait for a changeover or deny you unused seats in a section closer to the court.
Bring an iPad or book/crossword puzzle/date to pass the time during changeovers.
Again, hydrate. What's that you say, a small Evian bottle costs an extortionate amount? 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 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 Indian joint is a personal favorite.
Alternatively, check out some of the restaurants in Flushing Chinatown. You can walk there or take the No. 7 train one additional stop.
Watch some doubles.
Avoid dressing like a player -- unless you have a match that day.
Have a look at the Tennis Hall of Fame exhibit under Louis Armstrong Stadium. It doesn't compete with a trip to Newport, but it's close.
I'm serious about the sunscreen.