For tennis fans, the U.S. Open at Flushing Meadows, one of the four major events in the tennis calendar, is truly the greatest show on Earth.
Two myths surround the U.S. Open for first-time attendees. First, that it’s too hard to get tickets, and second, that it’s too complicated to navigate the many options for choosing dates, seats, or plans.
So, let’s demystify the whole thing and have you on your way to Queens.
When you watch the key matches on television, you’re typically seeing the action on the Arthur Ashe Court, the looming, spaceship-like pavilion by the Grand Central Parkway, with its iconic blue court and famously crazed New York spectators.
Tickets for Ashe are indeed the most expensive, and it’s where you’re most likely to see the biggest names. The downside is that while you may see a famous player, unless it’s the semis or the finals, you’re most likely to witness a one-sided match.
I’ve got a much better idea for you. Buy grounds passes. And buy them for the day sessions.
Most of the really stirring action at the U.S. Open takes place on the smaller courts scattered around the facility, where you are literally a few feet from the best players in the world.
There’s no other sporting event where you can get so close to the action. Tennis is often thrilling, and you can see some of your favorites and find new ones to cheer for.
Grounds passes give you the freedom to traverse the entire tournament with the exception of the Arthur Ashe and Louis Armstrong courts. Giving up the Ashe and Louis Armstrong courts is a small price for having an array of tennis for your viewing pleasure.
You can buy grounds passes simply by going to the U.S. Open site, which will direct you to Ticketmaster. Pick the day, punch in the number of tickets you want, and you’re done.
The match planners try to give top players two days of rest between matches. So, If you want to see a big-name player like Rafael Nadal, you can assume that if his first match is on Monday, his next match will likely be Wednesday, and then Friday, and so on. Additionally, high-profile players like Nadal or Williams are typically scheduled to play at night to get the best TV ratings, so if you are there to see them, you’ll want to buy a ticket for the evening session.
If you want to go to the men’s or women’s finals, the walk-in price for nosebleed seats is around $300, and the best seats will set you back $3,000 to $6,000 or more. While you might see a lot of celebrities, you may not see a great match—sometimes the finals are thrilling, and sometimes they’re boring blowouts. That’s why I’m a fan of going the first week when you have plenty of great options to choose from, and there’s always a competitive match somewhere on the grounds.
A few other suggestions:
Nothing starts on time. A match may be called for 1:00 PM, but don’t be surprised if things don’t get underway until 1:30. The prior match may go long and the breaks between matches can drag on.
So don’t worry about rushing to a given spot. Unless Roger Federer suddenly decides to enter the competition at the last minute and they put him on a side court, which is not going to happen in our lifetimes, you’ll pretty much always find a seat. Instead, pick out the matches that look the most appealing and take a leisurely stroll to those courts.
If you’re bored by a match, move on. Plenty of other matches are going on at any given moment. The best way to find the most exciting matches is simply to listen to the crowds. As a match heats up, you’ll be able to hear the crowd yelling, often from across the entire grounds. So just follow the sound and grab a couple of seats for a match that might be surprisingly great.
A few tips about the weather. First, remember the sunscreen. New York in the weeks around Labor Day can be shockingly hot and sunny. There is literally no place to hide.
Conversely, if the weather is really bad, don’t go, especially if you bought tickets for a night session. The roads surrounding the Tennis Center flood easily, public transportation can shut down if it’s rainy enough, and you run the risk of being stranded, possibly for hours, as has happened on occasion in the past.
Use public transportation or take an Uber if you can. If you drive, from the time you get close to the venue until the time you actually enter, a full hour could elapse, as you slowly snake around the grounds and are directed to a parking spot at some distance from the festivities.
The Long Island railroad and the 7 Line of the New York City subway system both run directly to the Tennis Center. Grab public transportation or a ridesharing service and save yourself the parking hassle.
If you want additional strategies for enjoying the U.S. Open, visit roadto45.com, the brainchild of tennis super fan P.J. Simmons, who knows the territory better than anyone. His guides to the inner secrets of the U.S. Open are the best in the business.
So there you have it. Stick to the daytime, go with the grounds pass unless there’s a particular star you’re dying to see, and leave your car at home.