By Karen Rubin, goingplacesfarandnear.com
The world stage for sports has moved from Rio to New York as the Big Apple lays down the red carpet for the US Open Tennis Championship at the Billie Jean King Tennis Center in Flushing Meadow Park, which more than 50 years ago hosted another international spectacular, the World’s Fair.
The US Tennis Open has become like much of New York, a glitzy affair for the elite, but for the week before this annual Grand Event, the gates are flung open for everyone to enjoy.
This is something that locals know about, and eagerly await each year.
This is the Qualifying Matches, when more than 100 players from around the world fight for a coveted spot in the Open. If they make it through three rounds of the Qualifying tournament, they will get a spot; 16 out of 128 will advance. The matches are fabulous, and what is more, you can see the players really up close, you can wander around from match to match.
In fact, the quality of the competition rivals for your time and attention from the opportunity to watch Tennis Royalty warming up in the Louis Armstrong stadium and the new Grandstand, as well as the practice courts.
Here, too, you can see the greats from a perch you would never have during the actual tournament.
The four days of matches are free and the festival atmosphere is enhanced with special events including Children’s Day activities, musical presentations, and the excitement of seeing the world’s best players practicing. You never know who you will encounter.
The quality of play at the qualifying matches is superb, and Everyday Joes have front-row seats to the intense action. It’s particular fun to wander from match to match.
On the first day of play, I got to see two American women advance who wound up playing each other in the fourth round, and one player, Tyler Townsend, triumphed over Jennifer Brady (seeded 18 in the Qualifying tournament) to win her spot in the US Open tournament.
You also get to see the top players in the world practicing at such a close vantage point you would never get otherwise – you see the intense expressions on their faces, their muscles flex, their contortions as they leap, stretch, slide to reach a ball.
And you get to see tennis legends – like John McEnroe who took his turns practicing strokes and serves, and in showing Mac is Back, leapt onto the narrow railing in the seats to reach a ball – evoking flourishes of gold-medal gymnast Simone Biles on the beam.
I also got a first-hand look at the brand new Grandstand court – fantastic – where Simona Halep was practicing against Kiki Bertens.
The new Grandstand is at the center of a completely revamped South Plaza. The sunken court, surrounded by 8,125 seats, retains the intimate viewing experience of the old Grandstand but likely avoids the horrible shadows that plagued the original grandstand – has a more open-air feel to it. It also is its own tennis destination, with expanded retail and food concessions, including a new Food Village.
There are many other improvements, as well:
Most notably, the retractable roof on Arthur Ashe Stadium – probably the most prestigious tennis venue in the US – has been completed.
“More than 6,500 tons of steel now surround Arthur Ashe Stadium in a technological first – constructing a stand-alone support system for a retractable roof over an existing stadium,” E.J. Crawford reports. “The 2 million-pound retractable panels close in under seven minutes and will allow scheduling consistency for fans, players and US Open television partners. The retractable roof is the largest of any tennis stadium in the world, with a 62,500-square-foot opening.”
Also, the Grandstand in the southwest of the complex is connected to Court 17 in the southeast via a picturesque 500-foot long, 40-foot wide boulevard.
There are also 2,099 new seating in the southern area, to accommodate the viewers as well as those walking the grounds. And, like the seating design at the West Stadium Courts (Courts 4, 5 and 6), fans will be able to walk over a connected seating structure between Courts 8, 9 and 10, and Courts 13, 14, 15 and 16.
Other notable events and fan favorites at the 2016 US Open include:
Community Day on Thursday, Sept. 8
After its debut at last year’s US Open, the USTA is once again offering complimentary grounds admission on the tournament’s second Thursday, Sept. 8 (noon to 6 pm). Fans will be able to watch doubles play, including the men’s and women’s doubles semifinals, as well as semifinal action in the Champions Invitational, a showcase of former Grand Slam champions and finalists, and the world’s top boys and girls competing in the US Open Junior Championships. In addition, this will be the third year of the American Collegiate Invitational.
Final Farewell to Louis Armstrong Stadium
Also, on Thursday, Sept. 8, the USTA will give a final salute to Louis Armstrong Stadium by allowing fans access to the stadium for one last time. An exhibition and trick shot competition for fans are just two of the scheduled activities for that day. Fans also will be invited onto the court to play in Louis Armstrong Stadium before it is shuttered for the final time. Louis Armstrong Stadium will be replaced by a new state-of-the-art stadium for the 2018 US Open.
Bradley Theodore Art Installation
To commemorate the last year of Louis Armstrong Stadium and the old Grandstand structure, the US Open is partnering with acclaimed New York artist Bradley Theodore. Theodore will develop a series of four murals within the Great Hall in Louis Armstrong paying homage to iconic individuals associated with both stadiums, including Serena and Venus Williams, John McEnroe, Billie Jean King and Armstrong himself. After the US Open, one of the murals will be donated to the USTA Foundation to further support the mission of growing the game of tennis.
Chase Charge and Watch Program
Fans this year can pick up a mobile charging device from the Chase booth located next to the Food Village to fully charge their smartphones and stay connected to the tournament. When connected to the US Open mobile app, the charging unit also will deliver live video to the fan’s phone. The devices, which work through the on-site radio frequencies, will only work on the grounds of the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center.
New Food Offerings
The US Open has also become quite a dining experience. New dining options include the new Grandstand Food Village (located at the Grandstand south of Courts 4, 5 and 6); Oyster Bar serving a variety of oysters, lobster rolls and shrimp cocktail for seafood lovers (located adjacent to Court 7); and fan favorite Chef Tony Mantuano’s Wine Bar Food returns with a new location and new menu (located adjacent to Court 11). Additionally, Grey Goose will debut a new bar in the Grandstand Food Village along with a new cocktail, Grey Goose Le Grand Fizz. The main Food Village will also feature a new Jacob’s Creek bar showcasing the winemaker’s Two Lands wines. And the Moet & Chandon Terrace returns to the patio area near the US Open Club as well.
Music Legend Phil Collins to Perform Opening Night, Aug. 29
Music Legend Phil Collins will perform during the Opening Night Ceremonies for the 2016 US Open on the evening of Monday, Aug. 29, in Arthur Ashe Stadium. The performance, Collins’ first major public appearance in six years, will be televised live by ESPN2 in the U.S. and by a host of international broadcasters. Collins will be joined for a special duet by Leslie Odom Jr., a Queens, N.Y., native who recently won a Tony Award for his performance as Aaron Burr in the hit play “Hamilton.” Odom Jr. is also slated to sing the national anthem that evening. The ceremony will feature expanded technology, incorporating more than 100 LED moving lights hung from trusses along the east and west catwalks, spanning more than 300 feet, designed to spotlight the new roof.
Nightly Light Show with Lasers
Returning for a second year, the USTA is presenting nightly light show during the evening sessions of the tournament. This year, the light show will be choreographed with the rest of the lighting system to showcase the new roof and enhance player introductions.
US Open “Selfie” Fancam
New this year, fans in Arthur Ashe stadium will be able to use their phones to remotely control cameras to zoom into their location, and take and share the selfies on their social media accounts. Fans will go to usopenfancam.com, enter their seat location and then will have control of one of eight in-stadium cameras.
US Open App Enhancements
New for 2016, the US Open app debuts Guest Information Presented by American Express. Guest Info delivers comprehensive listed information that assists fans in navigating the US Open in real time. Guest Info is an intelligent engagement platform that leverages location services to put Guest Services directly in the hands of US Open attendees. The feature will provide all the closest, most relevant points of interest tailored to the fan’s specific location on the grounds.
Open Access returns for 2016, providing the single fan registration platform that enables attendees to be entered to win tickets, hospitality upgrades and other prizes from US Open sponsors and vendors. Fans can register once either in the US Open app or on USOpen.org. They then receive a unique seven-digit QR code to scan at every activation. At the end of the day, fans will receive personalized photos and videos of their US Open experience.
US Open Social Media Enhancements
The US Open is expanding its social media impact with a number of new enhancements this year, Campbell reports. “Among them, the first US Open-branded emoji keyboard in partnership with YourMoji, a series of custom Snapchat filters for US Open fans playing on the signature elements of the US Open, and a special photo and video experience for players at their check-in, where they can showcase their personality and pose with props including custom designed racquet art by former player Andres Ballas. Also, an on-site social booth will allow fans to take photos and create their own GIFs to be shared on social platforms. In addition, the US Open has expanded its social influencer program, leveraging partners such as creative duo Street Etiquette, Fashion Bomb Daily and the entertainment marketing collective Everyday People helmed by Roble Ali and Saada Ahmed. The program will culminate with an on-site activation, The Suite Spot, which will serve as a social media content hub to highlight key aspects of the US Open experience through the lens of participating influencers.”
ESPN to Produce Record Number of Hours for 2016 US Open
ESPN will again serve as the exclusive live domestic media partner in 2016. During this year’s US Open, ESPN and ESPN2 will combine to air nearly 130 hours of live match play with a record 1,300 hours of first-to-last ball coverage, available on WatchESPN. ESPN continues to expand its production and coverage of the US Open, featuring play from up to 12 courts each day and incorporating cutting-edge camera technologies.
Comprehensive 24/7 TV Schedule
ESPN kicks off its US Open coverage on Sunday, Aug. 28, with a live “SportsCenter on the Road” from the US Open at 1 p.m. ET on ESPN2, followed by Arthur Ashe Kids’ Day presented by Hess at 2 p.m. on ABC. Daily coverage commences on Monday, Aug. 29 at 11 a.m. on WatchESPN, at 1 p.m. on ESPN and 6 p.m. on ESPN2 (all times Eastern). ESPN2 will deliver wall-to-wall coverage of Labor Day weekend from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. each day. Finals Weekend will culminate with the women’s singles final on Saturday, Sept. 10, and the men’s singles final on Sunday, Sept. 11. Both finals will air at 4 p.m. on ESPN. In addition, Tennis Channel will air daily preview and highlights shows as well as overnight encore programming – offering fans a 24/7 US Open experience
Again this year, USOpen.org will offer live streaming in partnership with ESPN, with more than 1,300 hours of coverage across all broadcast courts available on WatchESPN and through the US Open app – providing a “digital grounds pass” for fans. In addition, WatchESPN also offers the US Open Chase Review Channel, multi-court/camera offering and Spanish language coverage. New this year, the press conference feed from interview room 1 will also be available on WatchESPN.
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