By P.J. Simmons Note: I originally posted these tips in 2012 but continue to update them based on new learnings and feedback from readers. At the advice of a fellow tennis fanatic/blog expert (who knows how much I spend on tennis!) I finally added “affiliate links” for ticket sites I had been recommending for years. This way, ijf you end up getting a ticket through one of my links you won’t pay a penny more but the seller may give me a small commission versus giving it to Google Ads or another referring site — which, in turn, helps support my tennis obsession and The Tennis Congress, a passion project I do on the side of my regular job. I appreciate the support!
A SERIOUS TENNIS FAN’S TOP 10 TIPS FOR THE 2018 US OPEN
Updated September 5 2018 (** See “Important 2018 Updates” box for key updates specific to this year’s tournament)
The 2018 US Open tennis tournament (August 27- September 9 2018) will be my 11th consecutive year at Flushing Meadows, and I’ve learned a ton through trial and error about how to maximize the opportunity, find the best tickets and seats, and generally get the biggest bang for the buck. Likewise, I’ve learned so much thanks to fellow fans around the world who have shared their own insights since I wrote the first version of this about 5 years ago.
As a serious tennis player and fan myself, I feel so lucky that the US Open is in my backyard. I absolutely love the tournament, and find nothing more educational and inspiring for my own game than seeing world-class live tennis. Below are my top 10 recommendations for serious tennis fans like me.
Do whatever you can to see world-class players and great matches up really close— which if you’re on a budget may mean bypassing Arthur Ashe stadium in favor of the sixteen other courts where matches are played.
For my first US Open, I spent about $250 per ticket for a decent seat during early rounds in the famous Arthur Ashe stadium (1/2 way up in the Loge section) so I’d be guaranteed to see at least one Top 10 player live. While it was certainly thrilling to experience the electricity of an evening at Ashe stadium, I still felt somewhat distant from the action (it’s a mammoth 23,700-seat venue) and spent much of the time watching the match on the huge video screen. Moreover, because the tournament prioritizes putting the biggest stars on Ashe over the best match-ups, the matches I saw weren’t terribly exciting.
Since then, I’ve become addicted to the unparalleled thrill of seeing many world-class competitors from a few feet away in epic duels on several of the smaller non-Ashe courts (Louis Armstrong Stadium, the new Grandstand Stadium (behind courts 4-6), the very cool Court #17, and other courts #4-#16). Once you have this experience you’ll be addicted too. While it’s rare that you’ll see the Top 5 players on those courts, you WILL see other awe-inspiring players in very competitive matches. A collateral benefit: you’ll be ahead of the curve in seeeing the rising stars, and feel the excitement of “discovering” new talent to cheer for. I’ll never forget the first time I saw Milos Raonic blast a tournament record 145 MPH serve from the first row of the old Grandstand. Or, in more recent years, when I saw next gen players like Sloane Stephens, Madison Keys, Dominic Thiem, Sasha Zverev, Stefanos Tsitsipas, Karen Khachanov, and Borna Ćorić up close for the first time.
And if you play it right, you may just see one of the biggest stars up close: In 2011 I saw Novak Djokovic from the second row at Armstrong (yes, I took the photo above of Djokovic and wasn’t using a zoom lens!).
Tip for serious players: After watching a ton of pro matches, I started challenging myself to watch more deliberately from the perspective of a player who wants to improve. I wrote down ten ideas for watching a pro match that may resonate with fellow fanatics who not only want to enjoy the drama of the match but also learn from it.
If you’re on a tight budget, try to attend during the tournament’s first week (Monday August 27- Friday August 31) and purchase relatively inexpensive Ashe DAY session tickets. An Ashe day session ticket will get you access to all the courts on the grounds in addition to Ashe during the day, then enable you to stay on the grounds to watch matches on all courts except Ashe in the evening (Ashe day/night sessions are sold separately). You’ll get hours and hours of tennis watching for your money, as many matches on the outer courts will go well into the evening. And if you can take a day off from work and go during these first 5 days, you won’t have to battle hordes of fans for access to the non-Ashe venues– whereas things get very crowded Labor Day weekend.
Do NOT heed the conventional wisdom to buy a “Grounds Admission” pass to save money until you’ve explored whether reserved day session seats in Ashe or Armstrong are also available for around the same price! Grounds admission tickets (cheaper tickets sold on the tourney’s first 8 days that give access to all the courts except Ashe) can be a good deal, but there are often reserved Ashe Promenade-level tickets (and, occasionally, Armstrong courtside seats) available for nearly identical prices– making them far better deals. Ashe and Armstrong Day Session tickets gives you all the privileges of a “Grounds” pass with added bonuses. In particular, buying an Ashe or Armstrong reserved seat gives you rain insurance, because these stadiums both have roofs so matches cannot be rained out.
Go for quality over quantity. As a general rule, I encourage fellow fans to budget their time and money in ways that maximize the possibility of a few magical experiences versus a ton of forgettable ones. For instance, if you’re opting between multiple days of cheap nosebleed seats in Ashe’s Upper Promenade versus appying the same budget towards excellent seats for a couple sessions, I generally recommend the latter. (Note: if you’re wondering whether it’s worth it to spend a bit more to sit in the Loge level of Ashe versus the Promenade level, my answer is always yes).
If your budget can swing it, I strongly recommend getting a courtside reserved seat in the new Louis Armstrong stadium for Sep 1-3, or in Grandstand on August 31 or September 1. (If watching Doubles is a priority, consider getting a reserved courtside seat in Grandstand for Sun/Mon Sep 2-3–however if singles is a priority, know that there’s a risk they may not schedule a men’s singles match on Grandstand on Labor Day Sunday/Monday). During this window, you’re very likely to experience thrilling matches up close that you’ll never forget on these two courts. The first time I did this in 2010 I saw a marathon slugfest between David Ferrer and Fernando Verdasco from the FIRST ROW BASELINE! I had arrived that morning at 11am and left around 11:30pm at night, leaving my seat only twice for a total of about 9 minutes for rapid-fire bathroom breaks and to grab snacks so I wouldn’t want to miss a second of the action.
If you’ve never done it, consider splurging once on a courtside Ashe seat — if possible after the 2nd round of play when matches start getting more competitive. After dreaming for years of the possibility, I finally bit the bullet to invest in courtside seats in 2011 for the first time. It was bliss. Now it’s an annual tradition for me and a few close friends to experience courtside together at least once. What most people don’t understand about the mammoth Ashe stadium until they’ve been in person is that even Loge seating is fairly high up because (a) the stadium is very vertically oriented (seating is on a sharp incline) and (b) there are two levels of suites above Courtside before the first row of Loge even begins. So when you’re down in Courtside, you feel like you’re in another world. The feeling of being that close to greatness in Ashe’s electric atmosphere is pretty amazing. If going for a courtside seat, keep in mind that Row E is first row in sections 1-6, 31-40, 65-67; and Row F is first row in sections 7,9,11, 26, 29, 30, 60 63, 64, 41, 42. If courtside is out of your budget, aim for lower Loge rows A-C (or D in sections where D is first row, including 111, 122, 143, 154, 175, 186, 207, and 218), which are very good seats.
Here’s a video I shot of Federer from the front row in 2011, the very first time I sat courtside at Ashe. I found a great deal on a resale ticket (baseline section 58) for Labor Day during the Round of 16 and got to witness Federer perfection from a few feet away. Best money I’ve ever spent.
The night before you go, check the app or click this link for the detailed daily Schedule of Play for the following day’s schedule and make your game plan so you can beeline directly to the court where the match you care about will happen (including, potentially, the practice courts– see Tip #8 below). You should also download the official US Open Everywhere App (search on app stores for “2018 US Open Tennis” closer to the event) to track the latest schedule, scores and live updates. If someone you really want to see will play on Grandstand or Armstrong, get to the grounds as early as you can so you can be among the first in line when the gates open at 9:30am then speed-walk to those stadiums and grab the best seat you can. Here’s a great NYT article on 2018 “Players to Watch.” And see this SI.com terrific preview of some exciting 2018 first-round match-ups.
Check out the practice courts for close sightings of the superstars including Roger Federer, Rafael Nada, Novak Djokovic, and Serena Williams. Check the practice schedule the night before (and morning of) to see when/where players are practicing (you can also see it on the official US Open App).
Note: the best time to see top players practice without fighting crowds is during the free Qualifier Tournament and week before the main tournament (see my Tip #10 below).
Do not drive unless you really have to. Instead, take the #7 train (see 7 train schedule here, runs 24 hours, PM times in bold)– or, better yet, take the Long Island Railroad (LIRR) from Penn Station to the “Mets-Willets Point” station (direction “Port Washington”) for the fastest trip (about 15 min from Penn Station!). For the LIRR, best to use Penn Station’s 7th Avenue entrance at West 32nd or 34th street; look for the “Port Washington” train on the board to find the right track.
- To purchase LIRR tickets, I recommend downloading the very easy-to-use MTA eTix app. Within the app, just create an account (takes literally seconds), click “Buy Tickets” select Penn Station first then “Mets-Willets Point”, purchase either one-way or R/T or several (peak or off-peak), and ticket(s) will then be in your “wallet” in the app for you to use whenever you like; you just have to press “activate” right before you board your train of coice.
- You can also buy a ticket at Penn Station using an ATM-like ticket machine (or at the window).
- For return trips from the Open, there are ticket takers at the US Open’s LIRR entrance (top of the ramp near the East Gate) who can sell you a one-way return ticket if you need. Here are the 2018 LIRR special schedules:
- 2018 LIRR Special Schedule for Tues Aug 21- Mon Sep 3
- 2018 LIRR Special Schedule for Tues Sep 4- Sun Sep 9
- If you must drive: see the US Open’s driving directions and details on parking lots. (Public parking costs around $25).
- GPS address to the general area is “122-02 Roosevelt Ave, Flushing, NY 11368.” GPS to Citi Field is 123-01 Roosevelt Ave, Queens, NY 11368.
- US Open recommends using “Grand Central Parkway exit 9E or Whitestone Expressway (678) Exit 13D.”
- The entrance to parking (about $25 for public parking) is located at 126th Street and Shea Road, Corona, NY. GPS address to that intersection is “126 Roosevelt Ave, Flushing, NY 11368
- You’ll see signs and be directed to available public parking. Citi Field will be the primary lot in 2018 (“Yellow Zone” parking) because the Mets aren’t playing any home games during the US Open except Fri-Sun of finals weekend (Mets home schedule).
- Consider buying a parking pass on a resale site to lots A, B, C, F or H (they have shuttles). Here’s the detailed transportation map showing parking lots.
- Fellow fan Harry pointed out: “If you are willing to walk a bit, street parking underneath or south of Highway 495 is a viable option.”
- Uber/Lyft/Taxi TO the Open:
- I’d recommend putting in “Mets-Willets Point” as the destination (not Billie Jean King National Tennis Center) – this will take you directly to the spot on Roosevelt Avenue where the 7 train lets people off, then you can just walk up the stars and across the foot bridge to the East Gate.
- If considering a taxi or Uber/Lyft home after a night session, be prepared for a long wait, hassles, and a very (very) expensive ride with surge pricing. Getting an Uber/Lyft after an evening session when literally thousands of others are trying to do the same can be a nightmare. I tried it in 2016 as an experiment and here’s what happened: (1) Had to go to designated “zone 3” pickup area for cabs and users– a long walk from the South Gate near the globe (trying to meet them by the 7 train at Roosevelt is really tough given heavy traffic); (2) three Uber drivers cancelled on me after accepting before I finally get one; (3) Surge pricing was in effect, with a ride that should have cost $45 being quoted over $120. If you need to hire a car back home after a night session, consider the following instead:
- (1) Take the LIRR or 7 Train into NYC (see above)
- (2) Arrange a car service pickup in advance. I’ve used Riverside and they’re always reliable (and they have an app as well) – but you can find many other car services in NY if you Google.
- (2) Trying to hail a cab on the street just under the 7 train (Roosevelt Ave); or download the “Curb” app for NYC taxis and hail one that way from that location.
- (3) Taking the 7 train to another local stop THEN calling Uber or a cab.
- If you fly into Laguardia (LGA) you can take the NYC “Q48” public bus from Laguardia to the US Open – only about 5 minutes away (the stop is listed on the MTA website as “ROOSEVELT AV/WILLETS PT BL STATION.”
- AUG 21-24 FREE “Fan Week“: If you’re a real die-hard fan, consider going to the FREE qualifying tournament Tues August 21- Friday August 24, the week before the main tournament begins. 128 male and female players will compete for the final 32 spots (16 each for men and women) in the singles draws. This is also a great time to see seeded players on practice courts. Read why Fan Week/Qualies are so special in this great piece by Steven Kutz.
- Gates open at/around 9:30am, matches start at 9:30am. Last year many more people showed up than in any previous year, and there’s usually quite a line formed already by 9am. However you can arrive anytime during the day and still get in, no problem. Matches are held on outer courts only (not Ashe). Many matches stretch into evenings. During this tournament, you will see several top players practicing on Armstrong and on the practice bank courts.
- To understand how players qualify to play in the US Open and why qualifiers matter, see this explanation by Laurence Shanet
- Watch top seeds practicing all week, including Federer who they’ve announced will practice on Grandstand Wed August 22 at 10:00am. See the practice schedule here (also available on the app).
- Check out other special fan activities in Manhattan (not at the US Open grounds) on Wed/Thurs Sep 22-23 as part of the “US Open Experience“ at Brookfield Place – Waterfront Plaza, 230 Vesey St, New York, NY 10281
- SAT AUG 25: Bring your kids (or treat someone else’s!) to the free Arthur Ashe Kid’s Day. There’s a stadium show at 1pm and premium seats are available on Ticketmaster.
- SUN AUG 26: Go see top players practicing up close by taking advantage of free access to the US Open grounds the day before the main tournament begins to watch practice sessions – it’s one of the best-kept secrets that the grounds are open to the public all day.
A FEW MORE RECS
- Scan this outstanding list of “59 Insider Tips for Attending the U.S. Open“ by the brilliant Sports Illustrated writer Jon Wertheim. Note: if you haven’t yet seen Wertheim’s 2018 Strokes of Genius documentary on the Federer/Nadal rivalry, RENT IT! It’s one of the best documentaries on anything I’ve ever seen, beautifully capturing so many of the unique aspects of tennis that make us so passionate about our sport.
- Bring a backup phone charger if you have one. There are some re-charging stations, but after all the photos and video you take with your phone and use of Wi-Fi your phone will run out of juice quickly.
- Foodies: Check out this awesome Grub Street post, “17 Outstanding Things to Eat and Drink When You Go to This Year’s US Open.” Soft-Shell Crab Bocadillos? Yes please.
- Need an affordable hotel room? Fellow tennis fanatic Melissa maintains a great list of hotels appealing to all budgets, starting at $25 per night. These accommodations are open to public, but some aren’t listed on generic hotel travel websites or they may be listed as ‘specialty lodging.’ While you may have to compromise to stay in one of these hotels, like a shared bathroom, or no television, you cannot beat the prices for these locations.
- Got an Amex card? Bring it. As reader Jason wrote last year in Q&As: “Cool experiences and a large chill area/tent. Along with an earpiece radio to follow other matches.” If you spend more than $100 on merchandise they will credit you back $20. See Amex Benefits at US Open here.
- Chase customer? Make a reservation in advance for the Chase Lounge. This year they’re offering what look to be very cool video+mobile chargers (see “Chase Charge and Watch here).
- Sign up for the “Fan Pass” on the app to be entered into a sweepstakes and track your activity on site. Scan your personal barcode at various stations around the event to collect “badges,” which can redeem for prizes. 15 badges gets a $100 US Open Gift Card; 20 badges gets 2 tickets to 2018 Men’s Semis.
- Do your shopping for US Open gear early in the tournament – stores run out of the popular sizes fast.
- $25 General Admission tickets will be available for purchase on Friday for Friday-Sunday of finals weekend on Ticketmaster so fans can walk the grounds, see juniors and wheelchair finals, and watch Ashe matches on the big screens.