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!

Ticketing:
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.

Food/Drink:
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.

    Ticketing
    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: