27 August 2017

Charleston Tips!

Hey y'all. After one heck of a travel adventure getting home (I may eventually post about travel mishaps on my travel blog), I am back and ready to recap my awesome 5 days at the Volvo Car Open!

I first attended the Charleston WTA event in 2013, and it was a magical year. I was credentialled media so this year was completely different. I went with my tennis-loving mom who uses a cane at events like this and has to be careful walking up/down steps.
Love the photos of prior winners in Charleston

Per usual, I rate tournaments based on the following criteria:

I admit I was so spoiled at the 2013 Family Circle Cup - the media center food was outstanding! Shrimp and grits, freshly made pralines. It was amazing. This time around, I had to feed myself and mom at least once a day onsite. We are told not to bring food into the site, and one woman who got her bag searched after me was questioned about a granola bar. I actually had a few snacks in my purse which I didn't have issues with, but we did not bring in anything that constituted a meal.

So - the onsite food includes one main food court area that had three different options, and then there were about 6 food trucks, and a few other stalls around the stadium. I can't say anything I ate wowed me, but it was all decent and pretty well priced.

We really never had an issue finding a table whenever we wanted to sit. Now this was great and all but I think attendance was way down compared to the previous time I was in Charleston.

I purchased tickets back in November and purchased individual session tickets. Because mom and I are both USTA members, we got $10 off each of our tickets. I booked on the phone because I wanted to get accessible seats for my mom. I held off buying grounds passes for the opening weekend because I wasn't sure of our schedule, but when we got onsite Saturday and Sunday the grounds passes cost us just $5 with our USTA discount.

The main draw starts on Monday, and the first night session was Tuesday night. Our handicap seats were located on the main stadium level, which was wonderful. We sat behind all the box seats. The 200 level were just above us, and then the top level is grounds pass admission, FYI.

Billie Jean King Stadium is a nice sized stadium and it feels pretty intimate. By far my favorite court at the Family Circle Tennis Center is the Althea Gibson stadium, essentially the 'grandstand' court. It's wonderful and is located right near the player area and the back practice courts.
Althea Gibson Club Court is a wonderful place

Located along the stadiums are the main bathrooms and water fountains (still the old school ones, not the new bottle fillers). There are some food options inside the stadium concourse but I did not buy anything from them. The Hanby donuts did smell delicious, and I did notice a few bars and a Chick-fil-A (gosh it pains me to spell that name).

As I mentioned above, this year's crowds felt a bit light, but I was there the first few days of the main draw. The opening weekend is always family-centre and the grounds were hopping so naturally the weekdays felt thin. But, this is not always a bad thing. It wasn't crowded for us to get around the grounds, there were always handicap seats available for us and as previously mentioned, getting a table was never an issue.

In terms of the stadium atmosphere, I gotta say the Charleston crowd is on the quiet side. I rarely heard anyone on any court actually cheer for a player. Only when I watched Venus did anyone every cheer her on by name, tho I am sure when Shelby Rogers played that was also the case.

Every tournament is SO different when it comes to security and bag searches. As I have so regularly been media, I am sometimes not prepared for the old bag hunt. I did read the policy before we left so I knew the Volvo Car Open said no food could be brought inside and no glass bottles. It also said you were only allowed to bring in an unopened bottle of water. Well. I left behind my Swell bottle, but brought in a plastic bottle I could fill in onsite. My mom was the same. Neither was an unopened bottle but we never had issues. I had a few snacks in my bag, and security never nudged me about them.

I did not see a specific handicap line, and my mom's body cannot handle just standing on hard concrete so on our first day I asked if we could hop in the far right line which seemed for credentials? I wasn't sure, but they accommodated us which was great especially when we arrived as gates opened and the lines were long. Naturally, after 4 days the far right line changed and it was for box holders only, so the ticket scanners at the end were not the ones we needed. It all worked out, but signs might be helpful to indicate if there is a special line for any specific ticketholders?

Handicap chairs were literally just folding chairs and to put it mildly, they sucked! Totally uncomfortable. Even the ballkids had better seats - those plastic chairs which must have been a little softer than our hard chairs. I was regretting not bringing seat cushions but it can be a pain to lug them around all day. I was disappointed in the chairs and think the Volvo Car Open can do better!
Draw ceremony

One issue we had getting around the grounds was that often we had to walk on gravel, or on uneven ground to get to practice courts or food seating areas. My mom had her cane with her, but I was uneasy in some areas. Also, the bathrooms were not handicap accessible. There was one bathroom near Althea Gibson, and the toilet was way low. Then were a few trailers but those steps up and down scared me. The main stadium did have what must be considered handicap toilets but again they were quite low.

A major issue we had was that the main stadium bathrooms had wet floors! No matter what time of day, anytime we used them the floors and stalls had water all over. I have no idea what the issue was, but the tourney should do better about mopping or sometime because it is dangerous.

I am happy that getting to and from our seats was pretty easy and all the steps leading to the stadium had a handrail. I did not notice if there was a slope to walk up instead of steps but my mom did fine with the stairs.

Venus sliding to net
I admit that when I attend tennis tournament, I don't prioritize being a tourist much. So only one morning did we head to Downtown Charleston for a look around. I parked by The Battery and took a brief walk along the park and the waterfront area. Charleston is very much a walking city (at least the downtown) and the roads are narrow and there were so many buses and groups of people all over.

I tried to drive mom near the French Quarter and to the City Market area but on a Monday mid-morning it was busy. Other than that, on this trip we did not eat anywhere remotely local. Our long days at the tennis, and the bad weather, sent us to grab quick meals at Whole Foods and Trader Joes. But, I am not that much of a foodie so I didn't feel like I missed out.

All in all, Charleston is a lovely option for tennis fans. The intimacy of the grounds and courts is special and the tournament is so well-supported by locals. I know I'll be back!

More photos...

Missed you here Serena!

Petko's glamorous ballgirl - her sister I was told?

Keys and Davenport hitting on Stadium court

Venus practice

Crowds entering the gate

The beautiful green clay

Cincy - take III

Cincy Stadium

The other day I referred to myself as a lapsed blogger. I had been asked to participate in a podcast called The Night Session:Box Seats by Val from Tennis Inside Out. It was fun to discuss a range of issues going on with the WTA this year, particularly the streaming mess. Take a listen here:

I met Val a few years ago in Cincy and she was one of many awesome Tennis Twitter people I recently hung out with during my return to the Western & Southern Open (more on that later)

Find the beauty of  a rain delay
I always say Cincy is my fave joint event held in the US (other than the US Open - if push came to shove I'd attend that each year if I could only choose one). Each time I've gone to ole Mason, Ohio I have stayed the entire tourney and this year was no exception but a big difference for me this year was that I wasn't credentialed media for the first time - was just a choice I made not to try and cover it for anyone so I was able to be a full-on fan the entire time.

I attended Cincy with my favorite tennis fan - my mom! I told her she has a fan club and I loved introducing her to so many wonderful members of the Tennis Twitter family. It really makes a tourney so fun to catch up with tennis-loving friends, whether onsite during Isner matches, or later at night at Applebees or Brixx! Or on the tennis court....

Art in progress
So why do I love Cincy so much? Well, accommodation is pretty cheap, tickets are easy to buy (and to me quite affordable), I'm a midwesterner and happen to think we make great hosts and I think the Cincy vibe onsite is pretty chill. I always say to anyone who hasn't attended Cincy that it's like a US Open experience without the craziness of NYC and crowds. For the most part, all the top players are there (this year was super funky on the ATP side but I didn't miss anyone) and accessibility is wonderful.

So here are my thoughts on what to expect when attending the Western & Southern Open:

Cincy gives good sunsets
We purchased a full package which was around $700 each - this gave us the same seat for every session of this year's tourney. We purchased these back in February and I had tried to get handicap seating for mom (who has a hobby of getting surgeries and recently had food surgery) but I wasn't really successful. Our seats were under the media center (hey y'all) and initially I was annoyed with how high up we were, but then around 1pm each day we were in the shade and I was okay! I have never purchased single session tix to Cincy, but we did sell our finals tix through Twitter, and there is also a few ticket scalpers outside the grounds. I personally have never stopped by to find out about selling tix to them, but if you don't manage to find tix when you're already there, these could be good options.

I think it's pretty hard to get amped about tennis tourney onsite food, especially when you've just eaten two meals a day for 8 straight days! I think the tourney needs to provide healthier options and more variety, but that's me. I recently completed the tourney survey and my three bits of food advice were:
  • More than one coffee place - the existing coffee option was good but it was the furthest food stall from the main entrance and it was the only place selling coffee!
  • Healthier options - one of my fave food stalls in tennis is the awesome salad bar in Miami. So much of the Cincy food court is carbs, carbs, carbs! Pizza, stews, chili, wraps, sandwiches, burgers, etc. I get that Ohio loves its chili, but that's the last thing I want to eat when it's hot! #pass
  • More Asian foods - there was one sushi place which I love but I felt like another Asian option could have been great - even a noodle place or something. 
Eating Graeters is a must do in the hot Mason sun
However, there were some great meal options - the falafel was a fave, and the coffee place had a yummy quiche that came with fruit. The stadium food was average but handy if you are like me and just want to race down and grab something then race back up for a match. The stadium food is hamburgers, hot dogs, brats, popcorn, nachos. It's fairly cheap and did the trick.

In terms of what you can bring in, the official Cincy rules say you can't bring in any food but every day I had nuts and dried fruit in my purse and I had no issues. The rules also say you can only bring in sealed water bottles or empty ones you fill onsite. Well, honestly I obeyed the first few days, then the rest of the time I had no issues bringing in a camelbak bottle filled with ice which was great given how hot it is!

Practice Courts
In general watching players practice in Cincy is pretty great. There's plenty of room to watch and only a few courts have accessibility issues. The Cincy app features a Practice Schedule which is fab. For the most part, it's pretty easy to see on each court, the exception when one of the big stars practice but that's no different than other tourneys. Warning - if your faves practice on court 15 it's very hard to see, but otherwise there's plenty of opportunities to catch your faves practicing. Also, I detest the setup of Courts 16 and 17 when big names practice there but c'est la vie.

One of my fave tennis duos - Davenport and Keys
Player Spotting
If you like seeing players off the court, you're in luck because Mason and Cincy are no NYC so you can try your luck at a few places. Applebees is right near the player hotel (the Marriott) so it's pretty common to see players there, and I have each year I've gone there. Also, Whole Foods is a good spotting place as well and I have heard Kings Island is too.

Where to stay
I have stayed somewhere different every year, and this year picked a hotel about 10 minutes away from the site. I have spent anywhere from $40 a night to $120 a night so there are plenty of options to fit any budget. If you don't have a car, then uber is a great option if that fits your budget. There are shuttles from four partner hotels, but I can't speak to how this works in terms of frequency. If you go this route, you'll need to book your hotel through the tournament (I've done this in Miami). More info here.

Rafa practice session
I have only ever had a car when attending Cincy so I have always driven to the site. Two years I attended with my mom and she has handicap access so we parked there. In 2015 I was able to park in media parking. If you buy a package, it usually includes parking.

Getting in and out of the grounds of course depends on your arrival and departure times but expect a gridlock situation if you stay until the end of the night sessions. Also, if it rains, the parking lots can be a MESS. In 2016 apparently 200 cars got stuck so there was more paved parking for some. However, we always parked on grass this year and thankfully it only rained one day/night so we didn't have to endure a muddy situation.

A quick rant - the tourney does great when you arrive onsite and need the handicap parking area. But upon leaving? No system, no clear waiting area for a golf cart and you can only find carts from the north gate which also runs fans without handicap needs to their cars. Just messy - do better Cincy Tennis. Because parking for the public is primarily on grass, my mom struggled to walk to our car when we couldn't find a cart to take us (and with gridlocked traffic some nights I couldn't just get the car and pick her up). As always, the volunteers do their best and you couldn't pay me to try and direct traffic leaving the site at night. So, Cincy Tennis I'll be in touch....

Other tips:
A valuable cup if you like ice!
  • If you don't want to wait in long lines at the North Gate, go around to the west gate. We were dropped off there every day (we parked in handicap parking and the tourney has golf carts to then take you to your gate) and there was never anyone in line! It was super easy and you then enter right by the back practice courts. Easy!
  • The Cincy Ice Game. Every year I've attended Cincy (2012, 2015, 2017) the tourney has a really cool, useful treat for fans. For 25cents, you get a plastic Cincy cup and with it you can get free ice the whole tourney at any of the stadium food stalls. Wonderful! But this year things went a bit awry midweek when all of a sudden the poor stadium workers said ice wasn't free. And then it was again. Anyway, great initiative Cincy but pick it and stick with it!
  • USTA members used to be able to attend a member appreciation day which was held one day of the tourney. This was really fun - it was inside an air-conditioned marquee and they provided snacks and drinks plus you could get a USTA themed gift and get an up close look at the trophies. Sadly, this year the USTA decided not to hold this and instead just had a little tent near others and gave away a free gift. This was really disappointing because I always felt special at Cincy because of this event, and this time as we walked into the stall the two USTA guys barely acknowledged us and did not do much to make me feel like my membership was appreciated! Lame. 
  • There's a little tourney museum just inside the West Entrance and by practice courts 12-15. It's worth a pit stop (and it has A/C)!
  • A Doubles Showdown is organized each year by Wayne Bryan (dad to Mike and Bob) - I can't speak to this as I'd never watched it but it's held early in the tourney and features a range of doubles players. This year I was in the adjacent court to it and there was definitely some loud atmosphere - sounded like fans were having a blast.
So what did I miss? Let me know in the comments! A few more pics:

Grandstand court is >>>

North Gate

Crowded Rafa practice 

View from food court toward Stadium

Player arrival area - very popular with fans

Beautiful sunset over Grandstand

Tennis Channel studio

Can you resist some tennis swag?

View from the nosebleeds (but SHADE)

If you must buy tennis souvenirs.....

See you next time!

25 March 2017

Charleston, take II

Hello tennis fans!

Serena Williams, 2013

Tis the season for tennis returning to the US. Each year since I moved back to the US, I have taken in springtime tennis. With so many options you really can't go wrong, so I have mixed up my tennis travels for the past five years:

2013: Charleston
2014: Miami
2015: Indian Wells
2016: Miami (oops didn't blog!)

The beautiful green clay in Charleston
So....this year I decided to return to Charleston, home to the Volvo Car Open (previously known as the Family Circle Cup). I LOVED my time in this lovely city and wonderful tourney when I came here the first time in 2013.

Growing up, my mom always subscribed to Family Circle magazine so I remember regularly seeing ads for this tourney way back when. One of my earliest tennis memories was Jennifer Capriati reaching the final here at just 14 years old back in 1990 (vs the 'lege' Martina Navratilova).  For years the tourney was on Hilton Head but it's been held at Daniel Island since 2001.

I will be onsite the opening weekend for qualifying rounds, and then the first three days. Last time I was at this event I was credentialled media, but this time I am going as a fan with my mom so my experience will be totally different. I will post my thoughts and tips after I return.

One of the reasons I'm so keen to return to Charleston is because I am a huge supporter of women's tennis and I love how wonderfully this event has been supported for more than 40 years. Charleston is a great tennis playing city and there's great energy at the tournament.

So, follow my exploits in Charleston via twitter (@StephintheUS) and I'll post some thoughts once I return! I may do a periscope or two as well (I am also @StephintheUS there).

Bring on some fabulous women's tennis!

30 July 2016

US Open - tips, tips, tips!

There is nothing like the US Open. Hot, loud, crowded, amazing.

2014 US Open women's final: Serena vs Wozniacki
My first visit was back in 2002. On opening night, I saw my first live Serena Williams (in a catsuit no less), then Andre Agassi. Not a bad way to start my US Open experience!

Since my debut, I've been back 4 other times (2011-2014) and have had various types of access: tournament credentials (meaning I got to hang out in the player lounge and restaurant) plus media credentials a few years - I've been spoiled. My last visit was 2014, and I logged for ESPN after attending all four days of the qualifying tournament (see my match logging post here). I've also done a US Open grounds tour (view my recap here) so long story not short, I know my way around the US Open.

Back in 2011, after I attended all four slams that year, I wrote up a slam rankings post (read it here). The US Open didn't fare as well as the Australian Open (my all-time fave) and Wimbledon (though the ticketing situation makes me rethink that a bit). I've had a few New Yorkers argue that the food at the US Open isn't that awful, or that it has improved, but I have my views.

Anyway, onto some helpful tips if you are new to the US Open, are thinking about going or are returning after a long break. I skipped 2015 (had such a wonderful time in Cincy I felt like I didn't need to go to the US Open) and am returning for 4 days this year.

So....on to it!

The US Open uses Ticketmaster, and they have an official reselling site which is so handy. There is even a temporary Ticketmaster office set up as you exit the subway station/LIRR arrival area just at the end of the boardwalk. So this means you can actually logon to the website onsite to try and buy tickets, and/or you can print off tickets there before you enter the gates. So handy.
Fans on their way over the boardwalk

Usually, I buy individual tickets and unless they are sold out, I always buy Arthur Ashe Stadium tickets. My reasoning is this: the tickets are not that much more than grounds passes. For example, this year for the Saturday of Labor Day weekend, a grounds pass is $85. My Arthur Ashe ticket is $115 face value (I bought it as part of a package). $30 more for a guaranteed seat for Ashe stadium and entrance into any other stadium makes sense to me. Even if you just want to see one big match on Ashe it's worth that difference to me. I have sometimes loaned out my Ashe ticket to other fans who want to see a fave on Ashe, and nice fans have done the same for me.

If you are not into Ashe at all (which I get - it's definitely the worst tennis stadium I have ever been in), you can opt for reserved seating tickets to Louis Armstrong or Grandstand in addition to grounds passes. During the first week, a grounds pass will get you plenty of action, but that's usually my last resort at slams because I prefer to have a seat somewhere if only just to escape the crowds if needed.

Ticketing packages:
This year, I opted to get the "Holiday Weekend Mini Plan." I made a deposit back in February for $200 ($100 deposit per ticket) and then in March I was able to 'convert' my deposit into actual seats and tickets. Once I did that, I had to pay the balance for my tickets. FYI, that package (which is good for all sessions from Friday night-Monday night of Labor Day Weekend) cost $674 each.

Usually, I wait until the last minute and Labor Day weekend almost always sells out - it's just a crazy weekend but I love it. If you wait too long, you will have to buy tix on the resale site, or through Stubhub. I've done both and the price can hurt. There are other packages only, and in my experience from doing this at a few events it's worth it. You can always sell any tickets you can't sell online. Check out all the plans here.

Practice Courts:
If you love watching players practice, then you'll love the US Open. Before being gutted after the 2013 US Open, the US Open practice courts were a hard spot to watch player practices. Fans love watching practices - it's often the only time many can get up close to players - and it's great the US Open finally made the area easier to watch. Now there's a viewing gallery over the practice courts as well as a schedule posted nearby which is most welcome. 

In addition to the practice courts, a lot of top-tier players like to practice on Louis Armstrong and Grandstand so keep an eye on those courts if you're sweeping around, especially during the qualifying rounds.

Getting there: 
I usually stay in Flushing so I typically arrive on the subway at Mets-Willets Point station. From there, it's about a 10-minute walk to the East Gate, but I often like to walk around to the South Gate because I love seeing the Unisphere and the lines are usually much shorter. If you choose to stay in Manhattan, the subway is fine but I usually prefer the LIRR which tends to be a few dollars more but I just prefer to travel above ground for the most part.

For full info about arriving onsite, click here. If you are coming to NYC for multiple days and plan to take the subway, do buy a Metrocard to keep your life simpler.

The Grounds:
If you're a first-timer, the best suggestion I can give you is to do a few laps around the grounds before committing to a match. If you get into the gates before play, check out the outer courts as players will be practicing and you can also note where water fountains, bathrooms and food/drink kiosks are located. Here are a few tips as well (and check out some of my pics from 2014 here):

  • American Express always sponsors a little earpiece radio playing US Open radio. Be sure to pick one up as it's fun to be able to listen to what's going on around the grounds or on other courts. Or if you miss match commentary!
  • The onsite bookstore is always worth a look. In years past it used to be located near the East Gate, but in 2014 it had been moved over near behind the big fountain area. Either way, there are great books and calendars for purchase. I always buy something there.
  • Hang out by the fountain under the big screen. It's just fun!
  • I always bring a few USB chargers, but if you haven't there are Chase charging stations on the grounds. 
  • Don't miss checking out the Court of Champions wall located near the South Gate.
  • Before you enter the grounds, be sure to read up on what you can or can't bring in here. Less is always more as to me it's annoying to have a heavy bag all day. A few must haves: phone, sunscreen, a hat, a few empty plastic water bottles, USB charger and a credit card. Honestly, that's about all you'll need! There are cash machines onsite, but the US Open is so friendly in taking plastic.  I have always brought in a bit of food but nothing crazy but in my experience the US Open security isn't too bad compared with Wimbledon and the French Open.

As I mentioned earlier, some locals disagree with me but I don't rate the food that much at the US Open. Of course I've been spoiled by being able to eat in the player restaurant and media cafe in years past, so I miss the sushi when I'm not credentialed.

But I have a few faves, especially drinks. The Honey Deuce (see left) is a must drink when at the US Open, if only for the great cups they are served in which list former champs on the back. For non-alcoholic drinks, I love the crushed lemonades. So good and refreshing.

Personally, I find the stadium food inside Ashe to be pretty dire, but some sandwich options are okay. Around the grounds, there's more than just the Food Village including the Heineken Red Star Cafe near the fountains and a few other hidden shops that offer enough options to keep you going. I never leave the site to eat, but certainly if you are into that, heading to nearby Flushing for great Asian food is an option!

Where to stay:
As I mentioned earlier, I usually stay in Flushing but in years past I have also stayed in the East Village or Long Island City. When I've travelled alone to the US Open, I've stayed at the Flushing YMCA and used Airbnb. Both have been great and super convenient (check out my Airbnb tips here). My mom and I have stayed at the Howard Johnson in Flushing and that's been fine. I'm not a big spender on hotels when I go to tennis tourneys, it's just not worth it to me when I'm onsite all day and night.

If you have time to explore New York City, here's my travel blog on my favorite places to visit!

What have I missed? What else would you like to know about the US Open? Hit me up in the comments.

    10 July 2016

    Views on all things Wimbledon

    Hello readers!

    View from atop the hill
    I realized before heading to the UK a few weeks back that I had somehow never written any tips for attending Wimbledon. A clear oversight on my part, but one that I will now remedy!

    I should name this blog post "Tips from a tennis addict who hates the Wimbledon queue/ticketing process" because that is an accurate way for me to describe my feelings when I try to finagle ways to attend the grass court slam.

    Although 2016 marked my third visit to the Wimbledon Championships, we go way back to 1996 when I first visited the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club. Back then the gift shop was much smaller and you could check out Centre Court through a little piece of plexiglass. She and I have come a long way.

    Each year I've attended Wimbledon I've done things a bit differently, but here's my take on the tournament, which is my second favorite Slam to attend (#1 forever and always the Australian Open - see my grand slam rankings I did after attending all four in 2011).

    My last day at Wimbledon was "Wacky Wednesday" in 2013 (recap here) so I had high expectations of my 2016 attendance. And boy, did I have a magical four days.

    A few highlights:
    Serena warms up for her first round match
    Centre Court - I had been in CC three previous times, but I was shocked to learn that this year I would make my 2016 Centre Court debut in the second row. I had tickets for Serena's first match as defending champion, got to see Andy Murray for the first time at Wimbledon, then saw Caroline Wozniacki versus Svetlana Kuznetsova followed by a bonus match of Vandeweghe/Bondarenko.

    It is simply unreal to sit so close. I could see all the emotions, hear every sound the players made and almost feel the exertion when the players hit the ball. I was awestruck for awhile watching Serena right in front of me and hearing the force of her shot and effort in striking the ball. Incredible.

    One thing about Centre Court that is so different from other slam stadiums is that you able to get SO low in terms of viewing. I have sat in lower sections at the US Open and Aussie Open, but you are still sitting above the players. Here, you can literally walk onto the court and there is something crazy cool about being that close to the action.
    Venus Williams - seeing the five-time champ at Wimbledon was high on my tennis fan bucket list and I was thrilled I got to see Venus on the intimacy of Court 18. I sat right next to Venus and Serena's sister Isha and two spots down from Mama Oracene so talk about feeling like I was part of the Williams family! My sole goal this year was to see Venus at Wimbledon and I was thrilled that this dream to come true. The crowd was so into the match, which was a tough three-setter against the talented Maria Sakkari, and because I got a great seat as soon as I got into the grounds that day, I really got to enjoy this one. What a magical atmosphere!

    Watching Venus on Court 18 was amazing
    Williams Sisters doubles - as a huge Venus and Serena fan, there is something so special about seeing them on the same side of the court playing doubles. When they played their first round match on No. 3 Court, the welcome the crowd gave the sisters was incredible, and the support throughout the match was an absolute joy to witness. I had never seen them play doubles at Wimbledon, so again this was a first I really enjoyed.
    As always, Tennis Twitter provides so many opportunities to meet up with fellow tennis fans and media friends. I met a few new people, saw many longtime friends and sat next to such friendly fans again and again. I rarely attend tournaments with friends or family and much prefer it on my own to keep things flexible and ensure I get to see what I want onsite. Also, if you are ever thinking it's not ideal to attend a tournament like Wimbledon on your own, I say scrap that thinking because engaging with those around you can be so much fun. A special shoutout to @FootfaultTennis who got me a Court 3 ticket on my final day and we shared the Venus experience together on Court 18. 

    The crowd on No. 3 court was delighted with Venus and Serena doubles

    I also had a chance to contribute a few quotes to a piece on Venus Williams after the match she played on Day 4. My friend Nick McCarvel interviewed me afterward for his great article, which you can read here. I also had a chance to take part in a podcast talking about Venus, Serena and all things Wimbledon with my friends from The Body Serve podcast. Listen here!

    Now, onto some thoughts and tips on what I consider to be the most important aspects of attending Wimbledon.

    Boo!! Didn't hear me? BOOOOOOO! I detest the Wimbledon ticketing system, or lack thereof. First of all, flying across the world to attend a tournament or sporting event of any kind without having actual tickets in hand is ridiculous. Secondly, not everyone in the world likes to stand in line or sit in damp grass in a field for 6+ hours just to get into the grounds well after the gates open.

    Here are options for ticketing, based on the ones I have tried:

    1) The ballot: In December each year, the Wimbledon Public Ballot opens and you simply register with your name and address and that's it. For me, this resulted in zero tickets, so I can't attest to its process. But from what I understand you get offered tickets to sessions and can accept or not accept. I will try this again in the future but all I know is that I struck out on this option for 2016.

    My second row Centre Court ticket!
    2)  Ticketmaster: MY FAVE. Yes, you can buy Wimbledon tickets like its a normal sporting event 1-2 days before the day's play. I heard about this in 2011 but thought it was a myth because as soon as I logged in all tickets were gone. But in 2013 I sat shaking with anticipation at noon on the Sunday before play began as I attempted to get a Tuesday Centre Court ticket. And I did! There are two sets of tickets sold on Ticketmaster UK:
                a). At 9am the day before play, several hundred Centre Court and No. 3 Court tickets are sold online.
                b). At 12pm two days before play, Centre Court and No. 3 Court tickets are sold online.

    My tips: get logged in and start hitting refresh a full minute before 9am or 12pm. Be prepared for super annoying captcha "I'm not a robot" steps before you will know if you got a ticket. This year, I got the first Tuesday tickets this way but struck out other times, mostly because I was onsite and only could search on my phone which was hard.  If you are successful, you go to the designated gate to pick up on the day (usually from 9.30am) which is great because the queues are really short and then you are inside until the gates open fully at 10.30am. You just need to show the ticket confirmation email on your phone (or printed), your ID and the credit card you purchased the tickets with and there you go.

    So thankful I did not have to go this way
    3) Queuing: Please don't try to convince me that The Queue is fun in anyway, because I do not fly across the pond to spend many, many hours waiting in a long line outside to get tickets to a sporting event. I don't need to get up in the middle of the night to head to the queue, and then be tired all day long due to lack of sleep. And don't even get me started on having to camp. No. I have queued on three different occasions so I have had enough of that experience for this lifetime.

    I would love to take my mom to Wimbledon, as she's such a great tennis fan and she'd love to go. But my mom can't sit on the ground, nor would her fake hip and fake knee deal with bringing some camping chair of some kind to sit in for hours on end, plus the last few hours you have no choice but to stand, and even with a cane my mom would not be able to do ALL this just to get into the grounds, where you have to do a fair bit of walking to get around. Queuing is not a great option for anyone elderly or with physical limitations like my mom hence why the system pisses me off even more.
    My view of the Queue in 2013
    But, if this is your speed or you can't get tickets any other way, here are some tips:
    • When to arrive: This totally depends on the Order of Play. There is just no consistency to timings as there are many factors. My experiences: in 2011 on Day 1, we arrived in The Queue around 4 or 5am and we got Court 1 tickets. By 2pm I felt ill due to waking up at 2.30am. On Day 3 that year, my friend and I arrived onsite around 10am and got a grounds pass. I can't remember what time it was that we got through the gates. In 2013, I queued on Day 1 and I think I arrived around 6am. I got No. 2 Court. Again, I can't recall what time I got in the gates but I think it was around 11am. 
    • What to bring: something to sit on that can keep you dry and dispose of, reading materials to pass the time and plenty of USB phone chargers to keep you amused. 
    • Bring CASH: you will need cash for your tickets, and for anything else you need to buy while queuing. There are coffee and food stands to help keep you going along the way and they are cash only.
    • Follow the Wimbledon Queue Twitter account as this is a great way to find out how the queue is progressing. I've tweeted them to check how many people are in the queue to gauge how long the wait might be.
    The Grounds
    • Practice courts: To be honest, I don't bother trying to see practice courts at Wimbledon. It's definitely the worst slam in terms of that access, which is a shame but I'm not the biggest fan anymore of seeing practice sessions. The court are located at the very northern part of the grounds, and you have to stand in a raised walkway area which is always very crowded. I think there is another area where you can see courts but it's always too busy for me to bother. Sometimes I have seen players practice on the smaller courts but usually at least for the first week they are all usually on the practice courts.
    Monica Puig was one of the rare players I saw practicing on a match court
    • Resale tickets: one thing Wimbledon does that I love is the resale ticket queue. Ticketholders who don't stay the entire day can donate their tickets as they leave the grounds and if you're in the grounds you can queue up and spend 5-10 pounds for a show court ticket. I did this in 2011 and saw two sets of Andy Roddick in a seat just behind the Royal Box.
    • Food and drink: you can bring in a bit of food and drink which is a nice way to keep costs down (and not spend heaps of time standing in lines for food). I usually brought in a sandwich/quiche and fruit and had no issues but I saw many people bring in large bags of food. Be prepared for significant bag searches - the most diligent of the slams from my experience. A word of warning - don't bring in any metal water bottles as I have heard they will not allow them. If you're not keen to bring in food, then the onsite restaurants are fine. I usually go to the Food Village below the No. 1 Court (close to the practice courts) to the smallish store that sells sandwiches, sushi, wraps and a few snacks and drinks. The lines here are never very long and there are benches and tables nearby to eat at. 
    • Views: Walk to the top of Henman Hill/Murray Mound. It's beautiful. Also, near the resale queue is a wonderful area to look at Court 18 and beyond. Wimbledon is by far the most beautiful slam and when you feel like navigating all the crowds one of my favorite things to do between matches is to just wander along the grounds.
    Wimbledon Village:
    The Wimbledon Village shop windows are incredible
    Wimbledon Village is such a special place. Many people walk to Wimbledon via the village, and it's such a wonderful atmosphere during the Championships. The Village shops all decorate their windows and fully embrace the tournament. Many players stay in and around the village so it's great place to player spot.
    There are great cafes and eateries which are hopping morning noon and night, and I love spending time here. The Dog and Fox pub is by far the hub of the village and it's a great place to grab a drink and watch matches if you're not at the tourney. My fave place to grab a sandwich to take with me to the tennis and grab a coffee was Paul's and I loved Le Pain Quotidien. I saw many players and tennis coaches, media, etc there as the food is great and there's plenty of tables. I also love Carluccios.

    This year, I was lucky to be in the village on the Sunday before play started. I hung out with my friend @frameyourself and a few of her mates as we played spotted and enjoyed the vibe. Also, because I stayed near the village I walked through it twice a day on my way to and from the tourney. There is something so special about walking down Church Road from the village to Wimbledon.

    Where to stay:
    I have written on my travel blog about how much I love using Airbnb. This is especially true on my tennis travels because I'm gone all day/night so I hate spending tons of money on hotels. I also often stay with friends when I travel, so I have only paid to stay near Wimbledon twice and both were through Airbnb.

    In 2013 I stayed a few nights in South Wimbledon and that was fine. I could take a bus a few stops to Wimbledon Village and then walk. This year, I stayed in Edge Hill, which is just down the road from the village. I could walk to Wimbledon in 30 minutes so I did that instead of using any form of public transport. The closest tube stations to Wimbledon are Southfields and Wimbledon, but I detest the tube so I like to be able to walk if possible.

    In 2011 I spent one night in a hotel near Hyde Park and that was just a bit too far from the Wimbledon Queue for me as we cabbed it there in the wee hours of the morning.

    Got questions? Hit me up in the comments!

    A few more photos from my 2016 Wimbledon experience: