A Kid In a Candy Store
August 30, 2011 -- The U. S. Open bills itself as the biggest tennis event in the world. In the whole wide world. Fireworks. Twenty-three thousand roaring fans on their feet in Arthur Ashe Stadium. Celebrities galore. Politicians. Plus the little ole public ... the folks that re-string their racquets 3 times a year and buy Ground Passes instead of box seats over the first week of the final Grand Slam of the year.
These folks are kids in a veritable candy store of sweet matches. And today the matches that spread over the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center could have thrown anyone into a tizzy -- which one should we pick? Answer -- any match except ones played on Arthur Ashe.
For $68/person, you can walk (and walk) to 16 different field courts throughout the day, which includes two show courts: Louis Armstrong Stadium and Grandstand. Aside from a couple sections in Louis Armstrong, all seats are first-come first-serve. Not a bad way to go to a Grand Slam in, of course, the biggest city in America -- New York City!
Just how big is the U. S. Open? Attendance records for 2010 show the U. S. Open topped the charts at the gates with nearly 713,000 people. In contrast The Australian Open welcomed 654,000 fans, Roland Garros watched 458,000 come and go, and Wimbledon clocked 490,000 loyal fans in 2010. If big is measured by number of seats filled and emptied over a two week span, then New York wins.
If compared by celebrities in attendance, the Open has to win because Americans, in general, don't have a huge global perspective when it comes to recognizing French celebrities or English politicians or Australian rugby heroes. If we could watch Sky Sports, or some other nationally know broadcaster more readily, and view what locals view during a Grand Slam in Paris or any of the other three global capitals, then the famous faces might match up in number.
But let's face it ... Alec Baldwin, Mayor Dinkins, Donald Trump, Gavin Rossdale and Gwen Stefani, Derek Jetter, Cameron Diaz, Jay-Z and Beyonce -- soon to be parents, are major sightings that grab lots of network attention, make fans sigh, and send them to their favorite social websites to brag.
After the star search, there's food. Eating at the Open can be anything from a humongous hassle to a charming culinary delight. Right across from Louis Armstrong Stadium is a row of eateries that offer everything from breakfast treats sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar to full-scale dinners, plus the usual grilled burgers, fries, wraps, smoothies, gyros, and salads for those that demand healthy choices even at a sporting event. You can buy fresh fruit and trail mix, beer, wine, fizzy everything and mixed drinks at a bar. While you sip your frosty margarita, you can catch action on the Jumbo-tron screens. Here's the place ticket price means nothing. Relax alongside box ticket holders, catch a few minutes of what's happening on Ashe before picking another hot match on an outer court.
Arthur Ashe Stadium houses 90 restaurants, too, and isn't off limits for Ground Passes. Paris might offer quaint cafes for croissants, and Wimbledon the traditional strawberries and cream, but Arthur Ashe stretches the imagination when the question of food is on the table.
Before you ever sit down to watch a world-class tennis match, people meet up with friends and family at The Unisphere, the biggest world on Earth. The Unisphere was built and donated to the 1964 World's Fair by United States Steel. The stainless steel structure rises 12 stories above a circular pool and fountains, providing a dramatic backdrop and symbol of content and context as fans approach their day.
The Unisphere was dedicated to 'man's achievements on a shrinking globe in an expanding universe.' Not a bad compliment for the energy, grit and passion spilled on the blue courts of the National Tennis Center over the two weeks of competition.
No big event like the U. S. Open could go without the extras. The giveaways, fans to cool off in the hot sun, plus posh retail stores selling top-priced clothing and accessories: Rolex, Ralph Lauren, and Lacoste, to name a few. Why buy that Nike outfit at your local big box store when you could buy it at the Open and carry it around with the iconic Nike check printed on a bag, advertising to everyone that you're a fan who can afford the best at the biggest major in the world.
And when it comes to big there's no one's name that brings more raucous behavior than Andy Roddick at the Open, at night, in front of the world's biggest group of tennis fans. At eighteen, Andy broke on the scene and ramped up hopes of thousands. Here could be the next Pete Sampras or Andre Agassi. Andy Roddick turned 29 today. He hasn't had a great summer on the hard courts, due to injury, and he hasn't quite equaled the expectations of many. He's fallen out of the top ten, too, and is seeded 21 not four or five where he must yearn to be. But over the 11 years that he's thrilled us with his bullet serves and first-strike forehand, the U. S. Open has to admit his presence alone has expanded the big in the bigness of the biggest Grand Slam in the world -- The U. S. Open.