The 2016 US Open tennis tournament (August 29- September 11) is fast approaching! As a serious tennis player and fan, there’s nothing more educational and inspiring than seeing world-class live tennis and I feel so lucky that the US Open is in my backyard. This year’s Open will mark my eight 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.
Below are my top 10 recommendations for serious tennis fans.
Tip #1. Do whatever you can to see world-class players and great matches up really close– which for anyone 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 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 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 10 players on those courts, you WILL see other awe-inspiring players in very competitive matches. And if you play it right, you may just see one of the biggest stars up close: In 2011 I saw David Ferrer from the first row at Grandstand and Novak Djokovic from the second row at Armstrong (yes, I took the photo above of Djokovic and wasn’t using a zoom lens!).
Tip #2. If you’re on a budget, try to attend during the tournament’s first week (Monday August 29- Friday September 2) and purchase relatively inexpensive Ashe day session tickets. An Ashe day session ticket will get you access to all the courts including 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. For Labor Day weekend (September 3-5), consider buying a reserved seat in Armstrong (see #4 below) and the new Grandstand: lines for Armstrong and Grandstand will be outrageous that holiday weekend, and even if you get in you risk not being able to leave for food/bathroom and re-enter.
Tip #3. 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 or Grandstand are also available for around the same price! Grounds pass seats (cheaper tickets sold on the tourney’s first 8 days that give access to all the courts except Ashe) are a great deal, but sometimes prices for a reserved Armstrong or Grandstand or Ashe day session ticket can be almost identical– making them far better deals. Ashe, Armstrong and Grandstand day session tickets come with the same privileges of a regular “Grounds” pass, but offer the added bonus of having your own seat to retreat to. And even if it means getting a cheap seat in Ashe up in the nosebleed section, you may be able to sneak up to a better empty seat during the first week when many seats are empty.
Tip #4. If you can splurge, I strongly recommend getting a reserved box seat in Louis Armstrong between September 3-6 (Sep 6 is the final day matches are played on Armstrong). Armstrong used to be “center court” at the Open. During this window, you’re guaranteed to see thrilling matches up close that you’ll never forget. 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. I LOVE this stadium. Sadly, this is the last year it will exist in its current form as they are rebuilding it to be much bigger. It will be deeply missed.
Tip #5. If you can splurge a lot, buy a courtside Ashe seat for a day session — preferably during the second week (go for one of the cheapest ones you can find in a higher row because in all likelihood you’ll be able to sneak up to an empty seat left by someone given a free ticket by a corporate sponsor who doesn’t care about tennis!). If that’s out of the budget, you can still have an excellent experience in Ashe in the lower Loge rows A-C (or D in sections where D is first row, including 111, 122, 143, 154, 175, 186, 207, and 218).
Tip #6. If you’ve never done it, consider splurging once on a courtside Ashe seat for a night session — if possible after the 3d round of play, once matches start getting very competitive. In 2011 I paid $400 a ticket to sit in the front row on the baseline courtside at Ashe on Labor Day and saw Roger Federer from a few feet away. Below is a video of 45 seconds of Federer perfection I shot from that seat. Best money I’ve ever spent.
Tip #7. The night before you go, go to the US Open website and print a copy of the following day’s schedule (click here for 2015 Schedule as example) and make your game plan so you can beeline directly to the court where the match you care about will happen. You should also download the official US Open Everywhere App when it becomes available (search in app store for “2016 US Open Tennis”) so you can see the latest version of the 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 when the gates open at 10:00am then speed-walk to those stadiums and grab the best seat you can.
Tip #8. Check out the newly revamped practice courts (that now have bleachers seating over 1,000 people) for close sightings of the superstars including Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer, Andy Murray, and Serena Williams. The best way to find out when/where players are practicing is to download the official US Open Everywhere App or on this page.
Tip #9. Do not drive unless you really have to (unless a group like Grand Slam Tennis Tours is organizing your travel and don’t have to worry about parking or you can pay for a cab or service like Uber). Instead, take the #7 train– or, better yet, the Long Island Railroad (LIRR) to Mets-Willets station for the fastest trip (about 15 min from Penn Station!)– but be sure to download the special US Open LIRR schedules (links below from 2015, I’ll update when new ones come out):
Tip #10. A few final thoughts:
If you 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 are not always 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.
Great advice from reader Jason below in the Q&As: “If you have an Amex card, bring it. Cool experiences and a large chill area/tent. Along with an earpiece radio to follow other matches.”
Consider going to the FREE practice day on Sunday August 28, where you can see the world’s biggest tennis stars up-close-and-personal. Gates open at 11am (go early to grab a seat!).
If you’re a real die-hard fan, consider going to the FREE qualifying tournament the week prior (week of August 22, gates open at 10am).
Watch to see if they again offer the FREE “Doubles On Us” day at the US Open (Probably will be Thursday, September 8 if they stick with same as 2015). Complimentary grounds admission will be offered to anyone during the day of this session, which will feature a lot of great doubles on Armstrong and outer courts. See details from last year.
Do your shopping for US Open gear early in the tournament – stores run out of the popular sizes fast.
I’d love to hear any reactions and additional thoughts and advice from fellow tennis fans in the comments section below!