August 30, 2019
Louis Armstrong Stadium (Capacity: 14,053)
Paulo Lorenzi vs Stan Wawrinka
Final Score: 4-6, 6-7, 6-7
* 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. 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. Armstrong became the second show court and while it didn’t host Finals, it did have plenty of memorable matches. In 2018, a new Louis Armstrong Stadium was built and it became the most modern stadium in the game, not to mention one of the best.
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
Because the stadium is right next to the East Plaza, there isn’t a way to get a look from a distance (unless you see it from the other side while on the train or subway). What is noticeable is the stadium’s defining feature well above each baseline: the Terra-Cotta panels that allow ventilation and block sunlight (though they are in opposite direction of the sun). They look like partially open Faux Wood Blinds and they combine with wall panels closer to the entrance that have different shades of tan above a separated wall with varying shades of silver. All of this makes for a sleek, classy look as fans walk by the stadium. The side seen faces a southerly direction and there is no curve to the shape as it straight, following the walkway. A “Louis Armstrong Stadium” sign in small, white letters is just above the main entrance and there is a video screen nearby showing live action along with scores. Designers used other brick buildings in the complex as an inspiration, however the look is very different comparatively. Even though it may not flow with the rest of the Tennis Center, it is a beautiful building.
Exterior Ranking: 8.5 out of 10
There is an upper and lower concourse, with the latter reserved for those that have an individual ticket in the first level. Each one is nice and features a fair amount of space with food stands on the sides and bathrooms in multiple locations. An escalator gets fans between levels, with stairs as a second option. Exiting after a match wasn’t too bad, it was crowded, but people moved efficiently, unlike at Grandstand or Ashe. Charcoal-colored walls with silver lettering gives a polished look. Stands above provide cover. To get into the court, there are long walkways that overhang the concourse below and this is a good feature because lines that develop between games are on this catwalk and generally not back into the concourse where people are walking. I say generally because there were a few times that the lines did extend back that far. The ends of the concourse act as more of a crosswalk, but there are neat things to see during that walk as both ends feature a look at the court (it is not a standing room area though). The blinds offer a peak at the activity below and there’s also one open window in the northeast corner that gives a wide view of the Mass Transit tracks and Citi Field. An outdoor patio and bar is set up on an overhang in the south end.
Concourse Ranking: 4.5 out of 5
Let me start with food that you can easily grab from the nearby Food Village and bring it in. 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, up class 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 Armstrong, 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 Philly Cheesesteak Melt or a Rice Bowl from Korilla.
Food Ranking: 8 out of 8
The inside of Louis Armstrong Stadium is aesthetically breathtaking when taking in long-range views. There are two decks of seating and about 40% of the seats come in the ticketed lower level, which is shaped in the traditional block “O” format. The upper deck are the general admission sections and the shape is unique with each corner row getting higher and higher until finally reaching the top of the stadium, where they meet with five middle sections. Ends are significantly smaller in the second deck as they go down to just three or four rows. Each seat has its own fold-up chair, which is wide and comfortable as drink holders rest on the seat below. The chairs are dark blue and that contributes to the wonderful look at Armstrong as the deep blue is both consistent with tournament colors and pleasing to the eye. Then you have those aforementioned copper-colored blinds that cover the openings at the end. They enclose and protect the stadium, which the white roof does from above too. Now, matches can be played in two stadiums during rain, a huge plus for fans and players. The roof structure also provides tons of shade as much of the stadium avoids baking in the sun for long periods.
Sightlines from the top deck seem like they should be great as there are three steps between rows, proving how steep the stadium is with attempts to feel closer to the action. However, there were many instances when the head of a fan in front of me got in the way of the court view. This happens in Ashe too, so I think it’s inevitable in large tennis stadiums due to court dimensions, because I don’t know how it could be steeper (and you don’t want to be farther away). Also, the sheer size of the upper deck can feel daunting when on a seat search as it is a hike to the top. More end seats would have balanced that out, but I wouldn’t want to sacrifice that cool design with the Terra Cotta panels. They should’ve allowed more standing and viewing space behind the end seating instead of just making it a passageway. Because the top is GA, fans wait at the concourse opening to enter during changeovers. Sometimes though, that seat search and sit process takes too long and the line doesn’t completely finish, so you annoyingly have to wait another two games. It also means that there is a lot of shuffling during breaks in the match. In addition, you have to avoid seats near the glass partition by the concourse opening as those lead to obstructions. Large ceiling fans and designer tricks help lead to some air flow in the stadium. There are no suites or clubs in the bowl.
Interior Ranking: 11.5 out of 14
Above the seats and behind each baseline is a fairly large and clear video screen. However, this scoreboard does not function as well as counterparts over on the other side courts. During changeovers, fanshots seem to be the preferred option for the operator as other scores around the grounds and in-match statistics are secondary and that’s quite annoying when you are plotting your next move. Secondly, only the game score is displayed on the board as set information is on a nearby display on the façade (it’s a little tricky to spot at first). Replay frequency is excellent.
Scoreboard Ranking: 3 out of 4
Louis Armstrong Stadium 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 Armstrong at times reach over $100. The more popular Grounds Admission Pass, which lets you sit in the upper deck, 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 Armstrong, there are plenty of variables that dictate whether the place feels empty, is in the middle or mostly packed. People do wander in and out during the match, but for the most part, many stay put to watch the entirety. Unfortunately, it’s rare to get a full house thanks to the reserved seating below, plus the night sessions here play second fiddle to Ashe. Times when the second deck gets close to capacity, often are in the 2nd or 3rd matches of the Day Session.
Fan Support Ranking: 6.5 out of 8
There is a lot that dictates the atmosphere: time of day, whether a player is American or a big name and upset potential. I attended a match that started at Friday 3 PM and it involved a semi-popular former champion and an unknown veteran. 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 towards the known player, Stan Wawrinka, but towards the end, the crowd appreciated the plucky underdog and started to get behind him in hopes of seeing more tennis. A couple of decent roars occurred in the latter portions of the match. When returning in 2022, the place was more lively for the 5-setter between Tommy Paul and Casper Ruud. Armstrong fits well as the #2 stadium because between the three courts, it is in the middle for atmosphere and intimacy. Like Ashe, if you get the right circumstance, the place can get rocking and roars are phenomenal. New Yorkers make for a passionate and loud base, probably more than any other major and there is always the chance that something special will happen and the crowd will make it unlike any other tennis event. Adding to the ambiance 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 that is in the background at Armstrong, a lot of it having to do with constant chatter in the upper deck. Fans here were more casual compared to the more passionate ones at the outer courts as you’ll see more constant cell phone usage at Armstrong.
Atmosphere Ranking: 10 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…..The most impressive thing during this match was Stan breaking the portion of his racket between the head and shaft over his knee.
Three-time Major Champion, Stan Wawrinka, has been fighting injuries the last few years. The 34-year-old has worked his way back this summer to get seeded at #23 and he really looked to be rounding into form during this match. He pounded 64 winners and did well to stay focused against the pesky lucky-loser from Italy. Lorenzi had plenty of break opportunities, but Stan always seemed to find a big serve to fight it off. It was a close match with some very hard hitting and the Stanimal survived two tiebreakers to win the hard-fought match in nearly three hours.