Mr. Gorbachev, Tear down this stadium!
Tennis Maryland wants to preface everything we say with the acknowledgment that we love the US Open, and we want to assist, in some small way, in its constant evolution and development.
The Open experience for the average fan at Arthur Ashe Stadium has become somewhat unpleasant. It didn’t feel quite like this ten years ago. But, with the growing popularity of the event, the US Open is starting to smell. If you attend the later rounds of the tournament, it can even constitute a total disappointment. We know of only one way for a fan to beat them at their own game, and it doesn’t involve a major-league boycott.
You pay well over a hundred bucks to sit in seats which might be best suited for an NFL game, which has a much larger playing field. You deal with the machinations of Wall Street-style arbitrageurs who determine that if they stop and start play over many hours and squeeze in a single match on Arthur Ashe before nightfall hits, that you don’t get your money back. Never mind that you paid to see a full day’s worth of matches.
Then, there’s the $20 glasses of sparkling wine, $14 mixed drinks, the long lines for over-priced cafeteria food, the $40 T-shirts and the booths which give away useless junk while requiring your most personal information, and you’ve got yourself one heck of a festival of fan abuse. (Disclosure: Tennis Maryland does buy a $10 beer, but that’s about it)
The Open is even located in one of the most traffic-congested, culture-voided wastelands of an otherwise Great City of the World. It is in an area in which the New York Mets play. Further, it is in an area in which, we are sad to report, there is nothing but a giant cluster of auto-repair shops and landfills and yet still manages to charge $20 and up for daily parking. (We’ll tell you where to park for FREE in the neighborhood in a later post)
There’s been lots of spirited discussion about the lack of a roof at Arthur Ashe Stadium for years. It is the only major tennis tournament in the world without such a contingency plan in effect. For the fourth straight year, the Men’s final was not held as originally scheduled for yesterday. If you’re from out-of-town, you spend money and time to get to New York, to get out the Grand Central Parkway to Timbuktu, on a Manhattan hotel room (or take your chances on a dicey motel in a nearby Queens neighborhood), feeding your family, and then getting to watch a little tennis before they cancel the entertainment portion of your vacation.
The only fans who benefit from the lack of a roof on Arthur Ashe are local New Yorkers who can swoop in and pick up cheap tickets from prior canceled sessions. The rest of us, who New Yorkers derisively refer to as hailing from “the provinces”, foot the bill and get very little in return for our financial support.
If you've never heard of Karin Knapp, I've probably lost you by now
We can’t promise perfection, but the only way a real tennis fan with a net worth of less than 3 million dollars can have a satisfactory experience at the Open is to buy a grounds pass for the first few days of the tournament. Do not buy a ticket to Arthur Ashe Stadium, which temptingly costs only a few dollars more. The cheaper grounds pass entitles you to see, for example, 47 of the 49 singles day matches held during the day sessions on the first two days of the tournament. By not buying a ticket to Arthur Ashe, you will miss the terribly disappointing views, and more importantly, the wasted time of two or three terribly lopsided matches, if you’re lucky.
Imagine that your kids think they’ll actually get to see Roger Federer or Serena Williams play. Well, they won’t. They’ll see an ant playing tennis, and you’ll assure them that the ant is, in fact, Roger Federer or Serena Williams. You’ll confirm the ant is indeed the player by pointing the little ones to the Jumbotron. The Jumbotron at which you’re all gazing that happens to carry the same feed delivered to your home and on the Jumbotron affixed to the front of Arthur Ashe Stadium itself. Which you can see with a grounds pass.
Whatever you do, do not make the mistake of attending a night session. For the aforementioned sub-standard, nose-bleed experience, you’ll only get two scheduled matches on Ashe (at best) and nothing else. The real excitement, the excitement that happens everywhere but Ashe, will have quit for the day. Once the day session wraps up around 7:30, the only tennis to see at the National Tennis Center is the tennis you can’t see. At least if you were naive enough to buy day session tickets at Ashe, you could still wander off and see a perfectly good match in the front row on the outer courts, if only by accident.
In summary, our advice is this: Don’t buy a ticket to Arthur Ashe, well, ever, until they fix Ashe. Buy an early rounds grounds pass and see competitive world-class tennis up close and personal. You’ll still deal with the over-priced food, souvenirs, beverages and depressing surroundings of Flushing Meadows. But, this way, you will definitely send them a message. Fix Ashe. Tear it down if necessary. Make it smaller if needed. But, please, let the fans SEE the players. And let’s guarantee tennis is played there every day and evening during the US Open.
If you’ve been to smaller tournaments, then you know it doesn’t have to be this way. We only expect the Slams to operate with a roof. We don’t expect it from everyone else. At ATP and WTA tournaments all over the country, you get a far more intimate, fan-friendly experience for a fraction of the price. At these smaller events, the winner doesn’t get a $1 million check. But if you can’t even read the words on that giant check from where you’re sitting at the Open, you might as well just watch it on television. What’s worse is that you can’t even read that giant check from your seats and you helped pay for the prize money. And if there’s a monsoon and there’s no roof, then it is a waste of everyone’s time. And money.
On this one issue alone, it’s hard to get an informed opinion from credentialed media, who, although they are highly respectable and independent professionals, don’t feel the full pain of the average fan during the tournament because they are not in the exact same boat.
In closing, we urge readers to get out and see the rest of the Billie Jean King USTA National Tennis Center. See Armstrong. See Grandstand. A grounds pass will get you an amazing view without a reserved seat. They’re likely going to tear those stadia down soon. See the new Court 17, the classic Court 13 and the much smaller courts. You’ll be very glad that you did. There have been audible grumblings during this very Open by players and officials as to the US Open management’s bottom-line, my-way-or-the-highway mentality. Sadly for them, only the collective power of the fans and their wallets can improve this priceless American tennis experience.