August 30, 2019
Grandstand (Capacity: 8,125)
Alex de Minaur vs Kei Nishikori
Final Score: 6-2, 6-4, 2-6, 6-3
* The stadium was re-visited for a game on September 2, 2022
A year after visiting the National Tennis Center for a U.S. Open Semifinal in Arthur Ashe Stadium, I returned to Queens to check out the tennis in the rest of the facility (and have come back a few more times since). 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. The original Grandstand court literally sat in the shadows of the old Louis Armstrong Stadium (the Center’s show court until 1997) and it often had the best atmosphere of all courts, not to mention dedicated fans who loved it. In 2017, this new Grandstand opened in the southeast corner of the Tennis Center and while it is bigger and, in a few ways, better, there are several poor features while the court also lacks the character of the old.
Prestige Ranking: 4 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
There is very little to the Grandstand’s exterior thanks to a court that is below ground level. Only a third of the stadium is visible to those walking around the Grounds and what fans see is a silver shell that protects the partially open concourse. Beige panels along the exterior can be seen above the plaza of tables on the north end. Underhanging the ceiling just above the concourse opening is a sign that says “Grandstand”.
Exterior Ranking: 4 out of 10
Let me start with the food that you can easily grab from the nearby Food Village and bring into the stadium. There are stands running 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 the Grandstand, there is 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 Sweet & Spicy Chicken Sandwich or a Lobster Roll from Fish Shack.
Food Ranking: 8 out of 8
The aforementioned food stands are in the lower concourse, which is a fairly typical closed walkway that is protected overhead by the seating. This is a roomy area with several bathrooms and monitors to keep up on other play. If you want a break, there’s several spots to sit and eat. The problem is that this concourse provides access to the ticketed section. For the General Admission seats (which make up the majority of the stadium), you have to leave this area and climb one of two stairwells near the front entrance. There is one elevator, but it wasn’t clear by the sign if that is for handicap only. After making that climb, a walkway surrounds the top of the bowl and there is a slight incline/decline throughout that walk (more on that in the next section). Aesthetics along this white walkway are nice with the translucent panels providing soft lighting from the outside. Towards the inside, you can view the court, though it is awkward as some have to navigate a railing before getting to a wall that is low enough to peer over. The railing is at a level where you don’t know whether to duck under or climb over it. No amenities along this walkway make it a terrible design as it is incredibly frustrating to leave your covered general admission seat (which will be snatched) and hike down the stairs to reach the bathroom or a concession. Also, this dumb design means that after the fans start to head out after a match, the lack of exits jam up the walkway and it takes a good five minutes to duck walk to an exiting stairwell.
Concourse Ranking: 2 out of 5
Grandstand’s interior is made up of 16 sides, creating a circular stadium. The most unique element is the raised southwest side as the elevation increases with much more seating than the opposite corner. It creates an interesting wavy visual from the outside (only seen if you are looking in from the top of another stadium). The bowl is a single deck with two separated sections of seating. Most of the seats can be found in the upper section, which is for General Admission, meaning first come, first served. These bleachers are very uncomfortable as the blue backs force you to sit straight up and for a tall person like myself, it is a squished feeling between the person next to you and the back support in front. Every changeover, I had to stand up to stretch. Fans occasionally leave and return at various points in the match and the lack of flexible seats makes squeezing through the rows a challenge. Sightlines are fine as there is some verticality to bowl, but it’s not as much as other courts in the complex. Whether a head got in the way of the court varied on person and seat location. A lot of metal railings are around, but most avoid obstructing the court as they were few and far between when I was testing seats.
Blue, individual chair-backs in the lower sections are more disjointed. There are two side ones that extend back with the max number of seats towards the middle. The end has very few seats and then in the corners occasional three-row sections interrupt what looks like should be a walkway. A press box is behind the south end and there are no luxury seats. For shade, the upper parts of the southeast to west bleachers will provide that, but the small canopy leads to changing patterns through the day. Why they didn’t make this canopy much larger is a frustrating mystery. Visit roadto45tennis.com for a great blog post that will help you plan where to sit and try to avoid the sun. My preferred seat is in the higher southwest corner, which is shaded, has a fine view of the court and an impressive background with Arthur Ashe Stadium.
Interior Ranking: 6 out of 14
Each video screen is off center in a good way, between a side and a corner at the top of the bowl. The positioning makes it easily viewable, no matter where you are seated. Clarity is very good, while the size is adequate. If you want to be picky, it could be a little larger. A bottom portion features the score with just the right information (name, flag, games and challenges). I really loved the usage of the board as the live feed gave way to replays when warranted and breaks in play featured not just crowd shots, but interesting stats as well.
Scoreboard Ranking: 3.5 out of 4
The Grandstand has no 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, they’ve added a beautiful statue for Althea Gibson.
Displays Ranking: 4 out of 6
While tickets are sold directly through the USTA, they are very difficult to find and obtain, so the secondary market needs to be used. Courtside individual seats at Grandstand often are over $100. The more popular Grounds Admission Pass, which lets you sit in the higher bleacher seats, can be had for $60 – $85 during Days 1 – 4. From Friday – Day 5 thru Monday – Day 9, it’s hard to keep that price under three figures. My venture started by watching the secondary market for a Friday Third Round ticket, which remained consistently around $85. When it became evident that there wouldn’t be rain a few days in advance, that ticket jumped to $110, then $135 and eventually $160. There’s a lot of value in that ticket during the middle rounds as you can watch plenty of matches from late morning through late evening, but it is quite expensive, especially when not purchased in advance. In 2022, that same jump in price occurred, but at almost a 50% higher point (starting at $130 when I purchased it a Grounds Pass and then getting to $240 the day before Friday’s matches). Getting here will cost you $30 to park (more if you have to cross a bridge) and while Mass Transit can be cheaper, it still may go into double digits if you need a regional train like myself. Daily programs cost $5 and tournament books are $20. 2022 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: 3 out of 8
The U.S. Open is very well-supported, as it should be since it is a major. When the Grandstand matches meet their pinnacle in the third and fourth rounds, Grounds Tickets get near sold out. Walking the campus gets more crowded as the day goes on and there are giant logjams when the day and night sessions coincide. The event is popular in the city and of course with fans worldwide. As for the crowd in Grandstand, various factors dictate attendance. People do wander in and out during the match, but for the most part, many stay put to watch the entirety. For this match, it was a good crowd that I’d estimate topping out around 5,000. In three years of existence, the max crowd features an entire upper GA filled and lower seats about 80% taken.
Fan Support Ranking: 6.5 out of 8
With two stadiums that have a roof, this version of the Grandstand does not see as many late-round matches because there is not a need to catch up on rain-altered schedules. That doesn’t mean the court lacks quality matches as it sees a nice share of good ones each year. There is a lot that dictate the atmosphere: time of day, whether a player is American, big names and upset potential. I attended an 11 AM start involving a Top 10 player and a rising talent. There were many elevated ooohs and ahhhs during the match, with several points bringing a few to their feet for cheering. Small chants would break out to a preferred player at critical points. A couple of decent roars occurred in the latter portions of the match. The atmosphere at Grandstand is intimate compared to the other big courts and the potential for a raucous match/crowd is exhilarating. New Yorkers make for a passionate and loud base, probably more than any other major and even more fun is that the diversity of NYC leads to many foreign born on hand to root on a player from their home country. One downside of the local crowd is there are a select few that are too brash or drunk and they say dumb things in between points or yell out during a point. There is also a certain din on the southside with the traffic and occasional horn honk coming from the nearby street and highway. Grandstand does not meet the atmosphere of its predecessor, but it is often the court with the best environment on average through the tournament.
Atmosphere Ranking: 10.5 out of 14
The U.S. Open features a 128-player field for both the Men and the Women. It was the first Major to feature a fifth set tiebreaker.….In addition to Singles, 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…..In between matches, there is an MC who tries to keep the crowd engaged with activities and questions.
The 7th seeded Nishikori was off his game in this one and the rising star from Australia was ready to take advantage. Nishikori had 60 unforced errors and only could get in 56% of his first serves, which helped de Minaur get out to a 6-2, 6-4 lead. Kei played better thereafter and the two had some decent rallies, which led to a 2:50 match time. In the end, it was de Minaur that took the match with a four-set win.