Friday, September 16, 2011

A night at US Open Tennis Championships

We were scheduled to visit Flushing Meadows at New York on the night of 1st September 2011. When the tickets were booked four months ago, we had no idea as to which matches we were privileged to watch. In fact on Sunday, 28th august, Hurricane Irene visited the east coast and there was no guarantee that we would be watching some match there. Thanks to the hard work of the Officials and volunteers, the tournament started on schedule and we could see the matches. And to our good luck we could see the two top most players, World No. 1 and Seed Nos. 1, Novak Jokovic and Caroline Wozniacki ! 

Everyone knows that US Open Tennis Championships is one of the majors and along with the Australian Open, French Open and Wimbledon, forms the Grand Slam events. US open is the fourth and final tournament of the year and is played a week before and after the Labour Day weekend. Labour Day is always observed on the First Monday of September, irrespective of the date and is a Federal Holiday to celebrate the economic and social contribution of the workers. This makes for three continuous holidays and such week ends are known as long week ends. The championships are played in three categories - Men's and Women's singles, Men's and Women's doubles and Mixed doubles. There are also three further categories - Seniors, Juniors and Wheel Chair players.

The four major tournaments are played over three different surfaces - French open on Clay, Wimbledon on Grass, Australian and US Open on Hard Courts. US Open is played on Acrylic hard courts and the playing area is Blue in colour with the other area in the court in green colour. This is said to provide better view to the spectators and viewers of TV coverage.  All the courts are lighted but uncovered. Therefore rain interruptions are possible, but the excellent facilities available for mopping and drying of the courts after rain stops helps in quick resumption of matches. Covering the main stadium  is not being considered by the management due to prohibitive cost. The US TA has a policy of compensating ticket holders for cancellation of sessions due to rains. The ticket holders can obtain tickets for further matches, if available, or can obtain tickets for the same sessions next year !

US Open Tennis championships was not always played in New York. It originally started in 1881 in New Port Casino, New Port, Rhode Island. In 1915 it moved to Forest Hills, New York and for three years  (1921-23) it was played in Philadelphia. New York again became the venue since 1924 and was played at Forest Hills till 1977.  The games moved to Flushing Meadows in Corona Park, Queens, New York in 1978. The playing surface also changed from time to time. It was played on outdoor grass courts from 1881 to 1974, Outdoor clay courts in 1975 to 1977 and Acrylic hard courts since 1978.

The place in Flushing Meadows was called US TA National Tennis Centre since 1978. It was renamed as US TA Billie Jean King National Tennis Centre since 2006 in honour of Mrs. Billie Jean King who won an astounding 39 major titles ( 12 singles, 16 doubles and 11 mixed doubles) in her illustrious career. She is well known for her "Battle of sexes" match of 1973 in which she defeated Bobby Riggs in 1973. Bobby Riggs, a former Wimbledon (1939) and US Open (1939 to 1941) Champion had challenged any woman player to beat him in a show match. Billie Jean King accepted the challenge, played the match and defeated him and pocketed the prize money of USD 100,000 !

The present arena at Flushing Meadows comprises of 20 courts; courts 1 to 17, The Grand Stand, Louis Armstrong Stadium and Arthur Ashe Stadium. Courts 1 to 17 are small courts. Grand Stand can seat 6,000 people. Louis Armstrong Stadium, named after the famous African-American Jazz musician who lived nearby when the arena was opened in 1968 (he died in 1971), had a capacity of 18,000 till 1997. It was the main stand up to 1997 and it's capacity was reduced to 10,200 after the construction of the main stadium in 1997. The main stadium is named after the famous American Tennis player and US Open champion of the inaugural season of Open era in 1968, Arthur Ashe. This stadium can seat 22,500 people and is now the main stadium. This is the biggest stadium among the four stadia for Tennis Majors with capacity of other main stadia for such events being Wimbledon Centre court (15,000) Roland Garros for French Open (14,840) and Rod Laver Arena for Australian Open (14,820). We were privileged to see World No. 1 players among both Men and Women playing in this stadium.

The system of ticket issue at US Open is also interesting. Tickets are issued for Day sessions and Night  sessions separately. Day sessions begin at 11 AM and go on till 6 PM. Evening sessions start at 7 PM and go past midnight. Some tickets are reserved for the members of the US Lawn Tennis Association. Members of this organisation can take part in local tournaments and get priority tickets for the US Open matches. A person with day ticket or night ticket can see any number of matches during the period and there is no restriction. Senior and Seeded players generally get to play at one of the three major stadia and top players usually are scheduled to play at either Arthur Ashe stadium or Louis Armstrong stadium. Our host being a member of the USLTA had secured tickets for the evening session of 1st September. We were informed that the day session is very hot for comfort as all the stadiums are uncovered. In fact, Rafael Nadal fell down during that week's press Conference due to exhaustion and some other players retired due to dehydration. Even during the Semi final and Final matches there were instances of spectators fainting due to excess heat !

One wonderful thing in the US is the availability of secondary market for tickets of Tennis, Baseball or Football games. A holder of ticket will be able to legally sell the ticket and there are dedicated websites like for such sales. The only restriction is that the tickets can not be sold in the vicinity of the stadium area. Thus, tickets are not wasted if the holder is not able to watch a particular game and another person prepared to pay a premium (or discount in rare events) can buy the ticket and watch the game.

Another  interesting fact is that US Open is the only major tennis tournament where tie-break is enforced even in the final set ie. fifth set in Men's match and 3rd set in Women's match. In the other three major tournaments, tie-break is not enforced in the last set. Three Player challenge calls are permitted in each set of the match as in the case of other majors.

It was nearly three hour drive for us to reach the US TA Billie Jean King National Tennis Centre at Flushing Meadows in Queens, New York. There was heavy traffic with roads clogged due to cars going in the direction of the venue. Flashers positioned in the roadside showed that delays were expected due to heavy traffic and advised taking public transport to reach quickly. Our host drove us through the New Jersey Turnpike, then along Route 440 and after Outerbridge crossing into Staten island.  I asked whether there is an inner bridge as well and then came to know that Outerbridge is so called because it is named after Engenius H Outerbridge, the first Chairman of New York and New Jersey Port Authority. Then we moved further and reached the Flushing Meadows after passing the LaGuardia airport on the left. Frequent movement of aircraft over the Arthur Ashe stadium can be seen due to the proximity of the LaGuardia airport. Walking through the Parking lot in the middle of tailgating groups itself was an experience. There was two way stream of spectators across the Flushing Meadows Railway station - those exiting the arena after day session and those going into the area for night session.

Once inside the centre, the first outlet we saw in the food court was one by name "DELHI". We got excellent Nans and Chana Masala with Alu Gobi. After a hurried supper at 6.30 PM we saw one match in a side court for a few minutes and enjoyed the outer atmosphere of the Centre. The walking space between the courts/stadia is lined with display of photographs of past champions. We later went into the Arthur Ashe Stadium and took our seats just before No. 1 seed Caroline Wozniacki of Denmark and Arantxa Ruz of Netherlands entered the court. We could see yesteryear's tennis Queen Chris Evert in the commentators' box across us. The match itself was one sided and Wozniaki won 6-2, 6-0.

After this match World No.1 men's player Novak Djokovic  of Serbia and Carlos Berloog of Argentina entered the stadium. We could feel the imposing presence of Djokovic. Chris Evert had made way for John McEnroe in the commentator's box. This match was also one sided and Djocovic won in straight sets 6-0, 6-0 and 6-2. The whole stadium erupted in joy when Carlos won his two games as if he has won the match itself ! we thoroughly enjoyed the atmosphere of revelry and music in between games and matches. Usual quota of french fries and drinks could not be forgotten. Beer lovers did not complain for paying 9 dollars for a mug of beer which would cost one dollar when purchased outside. The atmosphere is to be actually felt to be believed. The matches concluded around 11 PM. Though rain threat was there we were spared of any interruptions and could enjoy our day at Flushing Meadows.

We spent some time in the Gift shop and purchased some souvenirs. It was well past 2 AM when we crossed New York via George Washington Bridge and checked in to our Hotel in New Jersey.

The wonderful experience of the US Open Tennis matches will linger in our minds for a long time.

.................................P Keshava Murthy


  1. USA is sports mad and facilities for spectators and sports in the country are second to none. However there is one thing I find really annoying at almost all major sporting events - The behaviour of a few spectators. Shouting just when the server is ready to serve, screaming " get in the hole" after a US golfer has played his shot 150 yards from the pin, booing when a non-US player hits a good shot are just some examples. Vocal support and appreciation for the home player is fine but this is rank bad manners.

  2. Misbehaviour of some spectators is mainly due to tailgating. The "Quiet please" followed by pin drop silence of Wimbledon can not be seen at US Open. Tailgating and Sailgating will be dealt separately

  3. Nice Reading sir... the true behaviour human behaviour exemplified very much....