September 7, 2018
Arthur Ashe Stadium (Capacity: 23,771)
Novak Djokovic vs Kei Nishikori
Final Score: 6-3, 6-4, 6-2
* The stadium was re-visited for a game on September 2, 2022
Finally, after years of contemplating a trip to the relatively nearby U.S. Open, I made the journey into Queens for the Men’s Semifinals on a cloudy and comfortable Friday. This New York City borough is the second most populated out of the five with nearly 2.5 million calling it home. The U.S. championships weren’t always held here as Newport, RI hosted the tournament in its early days. In 1915, it moved to the West Side Tennis Club in Queens, where it remained for 63 years. The shift to the USTA National Tennis Center three miles north coincided in a surface change to hard courts. Louis Armstrong Stadium was the Center’s show court until 1997, when the towering Arthur Ashe Stadium was constructed and named after the revered American tennis player. As one of the sport’s four Major tournaments, plenty of historic moments and legendary players have been inside the stadium and it stands as an integral building in Tennis. However, it is also a heavily-criticized stadium that is way too large, leading to many fans stuck with distant views.
Prestige Ranking: 5 out of 5
The Tennis Center is located in the Flushing section of Queens, more specifically, within Flushing Meadows – Corona Park. Just outside the South Gate is a plethora of attractions and the most striking visually is the Unisphere, built for the 1964 World’s Fair. If attending just a night session, the day means that one can either walk the park or head to the New York Hall of Science, the Queens Museum or the Queens Zoo. I would recommend spending the whole day though at the Tournament. Inside the Grounds, is a mini-village as there is shopping, swag booths and three restaurants open to all ticket holders. Fans can also try an interactive game or two in the climate-controlled Fan Experience building. The East Plaza and the South Plaza are the main walking areas and it is the latter that features the famed fountains and large video screen on the outside of the stadium. Seats and grassy shaded areas aren’t that plentiful, but they become more abundant in the food village that sits between both Plazas. There are lots of tables here and a full range of food choices.
Location Ranking: 9 out of 10
Accessibility / Parking
The Tennis Center is right off the Grand Central Parkway, however if you want to drive, parking will likely be in the lots around Citi Field (the New York Mets’ ballpark), a good distance from the main entrance. This general parking area occurs near the junction of the Grand Central Parkway and Whitestone Expressway, which can lead to some confusing interchanges for those not familiar. Parking is at the discretion of officials and you’ll be directed to an available lot, which is especially troublesome if the Mets are home. Add in that you likely will have to deal with City congestion either nearby or in the vicinity of a bridge crossing and the much better choice is to take mass transit. Right next to the Grounds entrance is a stop for both the subway (7 train) and the Long Island Rail Road (Port Washington) and these trains run more frequently during the tournament. The vast expanse of NYC’s system makes it fairly easy to plan this out.
Accessibility / Parking: 4.5 out of 8
Arthur Ashe Stadium’s greatest flaw is exposed on first glance from the outside. The building is absolutely monstrous and that unnecessary tall size is what makes it a poor tennis stadium. Because all of what is going on structurally in the Tennis Center, it’s hard to get an unobstructed look at the stadium and thus, most of the view is the mid/upper portion, which consists of blue support beams that hold up the concrete steps in the upper seating. There is positives near the bottom as where visible, the base consists of red, square panels that resemble bricks. Each side has the name of the stadium written in some form.
Exterior Ranking: 4.5 out of 10
The concourse inside the stadium is a disaster. If you don’t have access to the ultra-exclusive lower or club suites, then you also aren’t allowed into those concourses. After a teasing glance on the way up, both 100 and 300 sections in the upper level share one clustered concourse, that is smaller than an arena or stadium since tennis court dimensions are smaller. These four sides are narrow and jam up easily between sets. Keep in mind that these tight corridors are supposed to support the at least 10,000 people that could be in the upper seating. Signage seems good, but on more than one occasion, I saw bathrooms with huge clusters of people, while others were left without lines. TVs are also few and far between and that is vital since long lines can make you miss half a set. The look consists of dull brick covering the walls and many blue beams above. They do cover concrete columns with images of grass, which is nice. Seat structure above adds cover, but the sides are exposed. Being pretty high up, it can get quite windy, though the views of the surrounding area are worth putting up with that side effect.
Concourse Ranking: 1.5 out of 5
You can easily grab something from the nearby Food Village and bring it in, as opposed to standing in line inside the stadium. The options run the gamut of cuisine: Mexican, Korean, Indian, Texan, New York and the trendy Farm-to-Table. You can even choose to go super fancy with an Oyster Plate (or a Caviar Plate). Alcohol is available in many forms and since this is a ritzy, upclass type of event, you’ll find the variety coming in the wine and liquor department, as opposed to seeing craft beers. The signature drink at the US Open is the Honey Deuce, a vodka-led concoction. Inside Ashe, you’ll find a reduced offering of what you see in the plazas. While, they fill most of the stands with typical sports food, fans don’t have to go far from their seat for a few of the more unique items like a Fuku Spiced Chicken Sandwich or Banh Mi from JoJu.
Food Ranking: 8 out of 8
Arthur Ashe Stadium’s biggest detriment is size and the sheer number of seats distanced in the upper level. Courtside seats make up the lower sections and these feature sides that extend out into the court much further than the end seats do. Subsequently, the angle of each row flattens out. Next up, are two levels of luxury suites that completely surround the court. All this corporate catering and insanely priced seating stacks up to force upper seating to be quite high. That’s a bigger problem when well over 50% of the seats are in this area. Upper sections are split into two by a walkway: Loge (100s) and Promenade (300s). It’s the larger promenade that is worse off as these seats feel miles from the court, plus there are several seats in the lower rows that have railings in the way of a court view (these can be found in the first handful of rows along the aisle or concourse opening). The rows are steeply pitched and while that at least offers a better vertical view, it also means that you may feel to be on the verge of a heart attack when the climb to your seat is finished. Despite the steepness, I did find the head of a person in front of me to be a bit in the way if I were sitting back in my chair. As for the seats, they are comfortable and I found them to be adequately wide. Leg space is fine and there are also cupholders. The addition of a retractable roof in 2016 did enhance the comfort level of the interior significantly. The supporting structure (a less than appealing array of white beams) added a great amount of shade, even when the roof is open. Also, the octagon shape of the stadium works well given where most of the seats are located, as there really isn’t a point when your eyes aren’t centered on the court.
Interior Ranking: 8 out of 14
For a stadium that is supposed to be at the top of the sport and a stadium that is the biggest in the sport, the scoreboard is smaller than one would expect. A board is situated on in the middle of all four sides, at the very top of the seating (it actually cuts into the seat). Seeing challenges are fine and so are replays of points, but the finer clarity lacks, especially trying to make out player expressions. During play, just the game score is in the lower left corner and the rest of the board is for live video. Set information is on a ribbon board façade. There are more stats on the main screens displayed at the end of each set.
Scoreboard Ranking: 2.5 out of 4
Arthur Ashe Stadium has very few displays and while that’s disappointing, I have to review the items around the grounds as there are some good ones. With most arriving via Mass Transit, the first thing to see are the blue fence coverings that have the full bracket and results for each tournament. Next up is the Avenue of Aces, a series of side poles that have the images of each champion. This is small potatoes compared to the exquisite Court of Champions near the South Entrance. Here is where you will find bronze-plated displays of annual champions and a Hall of Fame-like section for the greatest to have won here. I’ve always been impressed at how well they honor Arthur Ashe in the Tennis Center and that is seen with a well-placed statue. In addition, this year they displayed several Vibrachrome panels detailing his 50th anniversary win during the turbulent year of 1968. There also was a VR experience chronicling that event in the Chase Center as that section has a rotating annual exhibit. As for Arthur Ashe Stadium, the number of displays fade significantly as a “Country-Club Style” champions board is the only thing visible and that’s just outside the entrance.
Displays Ranking: 4 out of 6
As you would expect, tickets get much more expensive as the event progresses. The lower, courtside section begins at $500 and eventually goes up to well over a grand. The more likely option will be the Prominade and even these are pricey. While they are sold for $50 – $100 for much of the tournament, they are very difficult to attain directly from the US Open. Getting a seat for under $100 even on a Monday day session is getting harder and harder. My Men’s Semifinal ticket cost $180 in 2018. A Third Round Day Session cheap seat was up near $250 in 2022. Who is playing has a huge say on tickets, leading to wild fluctuations in price. Getting here will cost you $30 to park (more if you have to cross a bridge), while Mass Transit can be cheaper, though it still may go into double digits if you need a regional train like myself. Daily programs cost $5 and tournament books are $20. Concessions were the highest prices I’ve ever seen at a sporting event. A hot dog (sorry, an “All Beef Frankfurter”) cost $10, while Kettle Chips were $9. Nine Dollars!. Beer was around $15 and the famed Honey Deuce went for $25.
Cost Ranking: 1.5 out of 8
It’s a mixed bag as you have in attendance diehards of the sport, casual tennis fans and people who want to be seen on Instagram. As a group, New Yorkers do more annoying things then any other major, which includes yelling at inappropriate times, cheering faults and failing to settle down. Way too many people go back to their seat in the middle of a game (this is not monitored by ushers in the out-of-sight upper seats). That’s incredibly annoying when watching a point. They can be slow to arrive and fast to leave. It was downright embarrassing seeing 40% of the stadium clear out at 9:00 PM in the middle of the third set in a Men’s Semifinal. It was about 90% during it’s peak, during the Semis. Because Ashe is soooo big, it is rare to see it completely full, even late in the tournament. 2022 featured a much better turnout for all sessions, not just the Serena sendoffs. It should be noted that the U.S. Open is very well supported and quite popular in the City and Worldwide, even if that should be expected given that this is a major tournament.
Fan Support Ranking: 6.5 out of 8
The Open is about glitz and glamour, which is evident by the smoke and strobe lights used during player introductions and the celebrity fan-cam shots shown on every changeover. The aforementioned lack of stadium intimacy does not foster an energetic atmosphere and too often the stadium has a drab feel. This is especially true during daytime sessions. However, select matches can send Ashe the other way and the place can be electric at night. It doesn’t happen every tournament, but there are times when intensity is palpable and the crowd explodes after each point, making it the best place in the world to watch tennis. I’ve seen this at its extreme with beloved Americans and I thought that Sampras-Agassi (’01), Agassi-Baghdatis (’06), Blake-Djokovic (’10), Tiafoe-Alcaraz (’22) all in Ashe Stadium produced an exhilarating atmosphere for not just tennis but all of sport. The Semifinal matches that I witnessed in 2018 featured a solid, but not stellar atmosphere. The crowd appreciated the tennis quality and ooh’ed/ahh’ed at impressive shot-making, while trying to rally on their player of choice. Adding to the unusual ambiance is the occasional noise from an airplane or train. Fans are also notoriously slow to stop talking and the amount of chair umpire “Please…” numbers in the dozens. On the positive end of things, the diversity of New York City leads to a festive tournament as many born in other countries show up to root on a player from a home country. As for what it’s like when the roof is closed: loud, echo-y and tin-ny.
Atmosphere Ranking: 9.5 out of 14
The US Open features a 128-player field for both the Men and the Women. It is the only Major to feature a Tiebreaker in the deciding set (hopefully the Australian, French and Wimbledon follow suit soon).….In addition to Singles, additional tournaments include Doubles, Mixed Doubles and Wheelchair….A total of 17 courts are used for tournament play…..The Tennis Center was named in honor of Billie Jean King in 2006 and is open for public use during the months away from the Tournament…..West Side Tennis Club, the former home of the U.S. Open is still an active club in Queens and they have 32 courts. It is also home to the still-standing Forest Hills Stadium (Capacity: 14,000) and it is used as a concert venue…..For an amazing guide to visiting the U.S. Open, make sure to check out the blog post at roadto45tennis.com…..A ticket to Arthur Ashe Stadium allows you first-come, first-served seating at all of the other courts.
The first semifinal involved Rafael Nadal and Juan Martin Del Potro, however that ended early as Nadal had to retire in the second set due to a knee injury. We were treated to a highly entertaining first set that lasted over an hour and it was enjoyable to watch both play. In the second match of the evening, Novak Djokovic continued his comeback to the top of the sport as his stellar tournament marched on with a complete victory over Kei Nishikori (also returning from a lengthy injury). Nole held serve the entire match and showed incredible returning skills as Kei could not find an answer in a straight-sets loss 6-3, 6-4, 6-2.