Open Secrets

Six insider tips to help you get the most out of tennis’s most exciting Grand Slam

There’s no major tennis tournament more exhilarating than the US Open. It’s the loudest, the wildest, the most spirited of the four Grand Slams, with an energy you won’t feel anywhere else. But, for all the fun you’ll have out at Flushing, you don’t want to go unprepared. Here, a few tips to allow you to make the most of the experience.

Get up close with the players

Television doesn’t quite convey the speed, explosiveness, and finesse of elite tennis players, who might just be the greatest of all athletes. You have to see it live—and you should get as close as possible to the players. The best way of doing that, and of seeing as many of the leading names as possible, is to watch them practice. Most fans don’t seem to be aware that the public has free access to the grounds on the day before the US Open starts (August 25), so go on that Sunday and you might see Naomi Osaka, Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, and others priming themselves for their opening matches.

Learn the power of 38

History keeps eluding Serena Williams, who lost in the finals at last season’s Wimbledon and US Open, and was the runner-up at this summer’s Wimbledon. Losing three Grand Slam finals in a row is most unlike her. But perhaps it will be different in New York this time, and Williams will score her 24th Grand Slam singles title to equal the all-time record. Williams, who is almost 38, will also be attempting to become the oldest woman in the modern era to win a Grand Slam. Roger Federer, meanwhile, is already 38, and will be trying to become the oldest men’s major champion of all time.

Serena Williams, who turns 38 on September 26, is gunning for her 24th Major at this year’s Open; Roger Federer, who turned 38 on August 8, will be vying for his 21st
Serena Williams, who turns 38 on September 26, is gunning for her 24th Major at this year’s Open; Roger Federer, who turned 38 on August 8, will be vying for his 21st

Seek out the best seats

For much of the first week, the best matches tend to be on the smaller, outside courts, where the competition is fiercest (unlike at Arthur Ashe Stadium, where you’re more likely to see top seeds make quick work of unseeded challengers).

Whether on an outside court or at Arthur Ashe, think carefully about where you sit. As much as you want to be close to the action, it’s wise to avoid seats that are low down on the sides of the court, as you’ll spend all day swiveling your head as you watch the ball ping back and forth over the net. If you arrive early, you’ll have the pick of the seats on the outside courts, where you should find a spot behind one of the baselines. Although you probably won’t have much or any shade, that will give you the greatest sense of what the players are capable of.

Eat well, skip the line

Eating at the US Open is very much part of the experience, but the last thing you want to do is stand in line all day when you could be watching tennis. Seek out Curry Kitchen at the end of the Food Village, which offers a range of traditional Indian dishes, plus (usually) short lines. The food is delicious; tastiest of all is the chicken tikka masala, which goes well with a naan bread and a mango lassi.

See great tennis for free

This might be the best-kept secret in tennis: You can watch the US Open qualifying tournament for free at Flushing Meadows, with the future stars, the hustlers, and the dreamers all competing to win places in the main draw. As we saw at Wimbledon—where Coco Gauff, a 15-year-old American, came through the preliminary rounds and then beat Venus Williams in her first match in the main draw—the level of tennis at a Grand Slam qualifying tournament is extraordinarily high. This summer, the qualifying event has been extended from four days to five, and it will start on the Monday before the main draw.

Go player-spotting in Manhattan

Looking for an off-court autograph or selfie from a top player (and a decent pizza margherita)? Grab a bite at player-favorite Serafina Broadway, recommended by top coach Sascha Bajin, who has worked with Williams, Osaka, Victoria Azarenka, Caroline Wozniacki, Sloane Stephens, and Kristina Mladenovic. You’re also likely, Bajin says, to run into a few recognizable faces at the French Mediterranean spot Bagatelle, in the Meatpacking District. You’ll struggle to find a tennis player who doesn’t like sushi, and during the US Open they’ve been known to book a table at Nobu Downtown.

A regular contributor to RL Mag, Mark Hodgkinson collaborated with Sascha Bajin on the book Strengthen Your Mind, which was published in Japanese in July. Bajin coached Naomi Osaka to last year’s US Open title.