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This week is a guest post from a reader who happens to be my dad. Steve is a native New Yorker who has been going to the US Open for the past 35 years. He attends for three days every year. The most that he has ever spent on one day was $3 for a pretzel (other than tickets). Some days have been totally free. He is proud of this accomplishment.
This is an update for the 2019 US Open with corrections and other important developments from last year’s blog. It still contains insider tips to the US Open with advice on how to visit Billie Jean King National Tennis Center on a budget, what to bring to the US Open, what to wear to the US Open, and other travel tips for the US Open 2019. Remember to enjoy the Day.
What is covered in this ultimate guide to the US Open (updated for 2019)
- How to buy US Open Tickets
- Best days to go to the US Open
- Which tickets to buy for the US Open?
- Should you buy the US Open day or night pass?
- Which US Open ticket to buy: Grounds Ticket, Arthur Ashe or Louis Armstrong (Large Stadia)
- What happens if it rains during the US Open?
- How to save money on US Open Tickets: Go for FREE!
- Practice Matches before US Open
- Qualifying Tournaments before US Open
- Save Money during the US Open: Print the Draw Sheet
- How early to get to the US Open? How long will security at US Open take?
- Where to sit at the US Open: Where are the best seats?
- What to eat at the US Open & What to drink at the US Open
- Dinner at the US Open
- Other things to do at the US Open. There’s much more than just tennis matches!
- A long day’s journey in the night. How many hours is the US Open per day?
- What to bring for the US Open
- What to wear to the US Open
- How to get to the US Open & public transit options & Where to Stay for the US Open
- Should you drive to the US open?
- How to get to the US Open by subway or LIRR
- How to behave at the US Open
- Should you go to the US Open with kids?
How to buy US Open Tickets & which are the best days to go to the US Open
If you need to buy tickets for the US Open, visit the US Open website, call the Ticketmaster phone number, or go in person to buy the tickets. There might be people selling tickets outside of the stadium, but they may be fake. (Note: Wanderlustingk does not make any money off ticket sales for the US Open. We simply recommend buying direct for the best prices.)
Similarly, you can avoid overpriced tickets if buying them through legitimate channels If you bought a cheap seat and later decide that you want to pay more for a better seat, you can upgrade your seat to a better seat at an inside booth.
Note: US Open tickets do not go on sale until June generally. If you go through the official website, you can get an official notification from Ticketmaster before they go on sale.
If you have an American Express card, you get access to the American Express Presale tickets. So, if you see tickets on sale much earlier than summer, it’s probably a scam.
The US Open runs 2 weeks and unless you belong to the 1% (and willing to buy expensive tickets), it’s best not to get tickets for the entire US Open as you will only want to attend on a few days.
If you’re not sure which days to attend, I recommend going on days 4-7 to watch second or third round matches. (This means that the players have already won previous matches.)
Go earlier and you might be watching 6-0, 6-0 blowouts are typical in the first round. After day 9-14, nonprofessional juniors will be playing in the outer courts. Some people do enjoy watching the world’s top juniors, but I go to watch the pros. This is my opinion and you might think differently.
Which US Open tickets to buy? US Open Day or Night Ticket
I recommend buying the day ticket (if you’re forced to make a decision). The US Open sells separate tickets for day matches and night matches.
The day ticket allows you to watch over 18 different matches at the same time, but the evening matches only allows 4. If the night matches are one-sided victory (6-0, 6-0), it will be a disappointing evening.
The Grounds Pass allows you to enter all the 18 matches except for Arthur Ashe. You don’t know what the weather will be like for the day that you buy your tickets on. On a nice day, the grounds pass is great and cheaper, however you might get rained out.
My advice: buy the Louis Armstrong entrance ticket.
Many of the best matches are in the outer courts. I have seen better matches in the outer courts while sitting in the first row. In the outer courts, there are no RESERVED seats so arrive early and get a front row seat. Who wants to watch ants from the stadium or sit 5 feet from top players on court 3 or 5? However, tickets to Arthur Ashe or Louis Armstrong have reserved seats so on a rainy day, you are “covered” (by a roof.)
Which ticket is best: Grounds Ticket, Louis Armstrong or Arthur Ashe (Large Stadium). What happens if it rains during the US Open?
In 2018, the US Open re-opened Louis Armstrong Stadium as the second roofed stadium with a capacity of 14,000. This provides rain insurance since Arthur Ashe (the main stadium) already had a roof with a capacity of 24,000. Last year, the US Open scheduled Arthur Ashe to host two matches per day instead of 3. This means that you catch more great matches in Amstrong.
This year, the US Open is selling day and evening tickets to Armstrong for the first 9 days to Armstrong. This development expands the number of tickets and guarantees a match since the Grounds Pass also allows you to also see the 18 matches (except for Arthur Ashe.)
Previously, I recommended Arthur Ashe in lieu of the Ground Pass but I switched to Armstrong. Just as a footnote, on a nice day, the grounds pass is great and cheaper, however you might get rained out. Many of the best matches are in the outer courts. I have seen better matches in the outer courts while sitting in the first row. In the outer courts, there are no RESERVED seats so arrive early and get a front row seat. Who wants to watch ants from the stadium or sit 5 feet from top players on court 3 or 5?
In 2018, I saw outstanding matches in Louis Armstrong at 11 am and got very close to the court. Later in the afternoon when it got crowded, I moved back to my actual seat.To compare the two stadia, the highest seat at Armstrong is much lower than a more expensive seat than at Ashe.
How to save money on US Open Tickets: Go for FREE!
On the Sunday before the tournament begins, the top players get access to all stadia to practice in. Many of the top players play simulated matches with other top professionals, so you see the top players in the world and you can sit anywhere you want.
I have seen the ranked players numbers 1-5 on Sunday. The US Open App lists the schedule and it is a fantastic experience. It is becoming more popular among knowledgeable fans, but still an insider secret!
The week before the US Open starts, there is a Qualifying Tournament. Admission is free. There are always former top or injured players in this tournament, so be sure to catch it as you can sit where you want. It runs generally for 4 days and the last day decides who gets to play in the U.S. Open.
In the past, the second Thursday is free. You typically catch Doubles Semi-finals Wheelchair and Juniors. If you don’t have the money or want to return, this is a great option. Check the US Open website for details.
Save Money during the US Open: Print the Draw Sheet
On a given day, there are hundreds of matches taking place on all 18 courts. Typically, there are 4 to 5 matches per court per day.
The Draw sheet lists which matches are scheduled and you will need it to know the best matches and where to go. Instead of buying it for $5 at the gate, print it or save it on your phone before coming. It is the same program.
How early to get to the US Open? How long will security take?
The first match starts at 11 am but it can take 30 minutes to pass through security. Arrive no later than 10:15am, so that you can get a great seat at the court.
Later in the day, the lines can really build-up, so the wait can be over an hour. It is quite aggravating to know that you’re missing matches while waiting to get inside the event.
Entering the US Open from the subway ramp can be time-consuming can be upwards of 20 minutes. Previously, I generally tried to enter from a side entrance that may have a little line but by accident, I discovered a new tip recently: The Will Call Line has no wait. I happened to use the Will Call for picking up my ticket on the first day but used it a second day (even though I had the ticket without waiting on any line). Going forward, I will be using this strategy when entering.
Where to sit at the US Open: Where are the best seats?
It’s best not to sit on the long side of the court or you’ll be like one of those cartoons watching tennis: moving your head back and forth to keep seeing what happens. To prevent rain-outs (especially if you are visiting NYC with non-movable dates), I would purchase Armstrong tickets since it has a retractable roof and offers closer seating to the court.
How to Select the best US Open matches to watch
This is an important topic is how do you select which matches to attend. This is an art and not a science. I met three different groups of fans who traveled from Europe and California and attend for one week all day and evening matches. Impressive? Yes. When I asked them: How do you select which match to attend? There is no single answer but here are some suggestions on how to pick the best US Open matches to watch.
Some fans love attending matches of players from their home country. Over the years, I have met French, British, Israeli, German fans supporting their country’s players. I love their enthusiasm because no matter what the score, they are loyal to their countrymen.
Double matches offer the opportunity to see top players in a smaller court. In many cases, especially by Round 3, top players have been eliminated. Doubles is being popular again. So it is possible to see Nick Kyrigos, Coco Gauff, Serena Williams playing doubles when single matches are not available.
Websites offer picks of the day. Unless you are prepared to invest hours learning about every player on the tour (as the three groups of loyalists.) I went to the Internet with the search Day 5 US Open, Picks. They had recommended matches.
This is speculation and not an art, but I look at the player and see who they beat the match before. If an unknown player beat a top 20 player, I may check one set to see if the match is competitive. If it is, I will stay. If not, leave.
In a way, selecting a tennis match early is similar to picking a stock or real estate. All scores are reported continuously on the American Express radio. So if you are counting on being updated to watch an upset in the making, you are not alone. Thousands of fans will also monitor matches to watch them in progress. I already know that it is too late when you hear it.
Speak to knowledgeable fans and ask them which matches they are going to watch. The British fans told me of an upcoming match for a player ranked number 70 in the world. They told me that he had been suspended for one year for a major violation and had been ranked in the top 20 before his suspension. They were right because it was a terrific match. Thank you, Virgil.
What to eat at the US Open & What to drink at the US Open
Buying food and drink can be very expensive. You can bring your own food and drinks into the US open, with some restrictions, if you don’t bring very much.
I always bring my own fruit/tuna in a plastic packet to save money. I also bring large frozen PLASTIC bottles (NO GLASS), so I stay hydrated throughout the day.
There are many water foundations to refill them for free although I typically go to the water fountain near Court 7.
If you do not bring your own food, there is a food vendor booth in Flushing Meadow Park that is affordable and at the time of publication, rated “A” by the NYC Health Department.
A better option to dinner at the US Open
You could eat at the U.S. Open and spend an obscene amount of money on a hamburger, a burrito, or at the newest food stands. However, you’re one stop away from some of the best Asian food in New York City in Flushing along Main Street (Stop: Flushing at Main Street [7 train]).
Google Maps has improved its app to include great local food recommendations. We recently went to Xian Famous Foods along Main Street, which was featured on Anthony Bourdain for their cold skin noodles. Click for our food recommendations in Flushing!
Bathroom Breaks at the US Open
Experienced US Open fans know about the insanity of going to the bathroom. In the larger stadia, this is not an issue. However, when a top player or popular match is taking place on a small court (such as Court 5) entering and leaving can be an issue. I had to wait 15 minutes to enter the first time due to the limited number of seats. I recommend that you go to the bathroom before entering a small court. Otherwise, you will wait numerous times when I prefer watching tennis instead of waiting to enter a match.
Other things to do at the US Open; There’s much more than just tennis matches!
The US Open offers many fun events, including meeting top tennis players at autograph or book signings. With your American Express card, you can visit the American Express Hospitality Suite to charge your phone, and get out of the heat in an air-conditioned facility.
There are also many tennis clinics, raffles, and bands around the grounds. If you’re a fellow tennis fanatic, you can visit the Tennis Hall of Fame and/or time your serve to see how to measure up against the pros! There are booths from different vendors with many giveaways. Last year, at the American Express Booth, there were VR simulations of past matches and other Tennis related topics.. My advise get there at 10:30 am before the crowd arrives otherwise toy might spend a half-hour waiting for a five-minute experience.
Alternate between matches and fun events in the course of the day. This includes taking a photo with the men’s trophy. For instagrammers, the Unisphere outside is a must!
At the American Express, I always get the free radio so I can keep informed of the matches occurring throughout all courts. The narration is okay but knowing developing upsets is essential to choosing the right match.
A long day’s journey in the night. How many hours is the US Open per day?
The first match starts at 11 am and often the day sessions in the Stadium end at 5 PM. You can stay as long after you move to the outer courts until 8 or 9 PM. Ten hours per day enough? For me, yes.
The US is now offering free sunblock for fans. This sunblock is being provided by a hospital in recognition of the danger of sitting in the sun for hours without any protection. I encourage all readers to find the booth and protect yourself from the dangerous rays.
What to bring to the US Open
Try to avoid bringing a bag, if possible, as it will force you to wait in line longer. If you choose to bring a bag, you can only bring one bag and you should ensure that it’s not larger than 12″W x 12″H x 16″L.
Backpacks and hard coolers are not allowed, so be careful in your choice of bags. A lightweight tote bag is a good choice.
Be sure to bring your Amex card for the perks, at least one empty plastic water bottle (no glass or steel), a hat to cover your head/face since the sun will beat down on you, sunscreen (cream; not aerosol), and an extra layer for nighttime (a waterproof light jacket to avoid bringing a rain poncho).
Just in case of rain, a rain poncho is helpful. If you’re into signatures, bring a few spare tennis balls.
Most importantly: Check the rules on the website as they change. New York can be brutally humid in August/early September, and the heat can get to you, so be prepared if you’ll be watching matches all day in the sun.
What to wear to the US Open
There is not a dress code for the US Open beyond wearing clothes and not wearing things with offensive sayings, however it is often good to bring layers if you intend to stay at night.
Some people dress up, but you should prioritize wearing comfortable shoes as you will be walking a lot more than you realize. Some women wear tennis dresses and/or skirts, but there is no need to dress in your fanciest clothing.
It doesn’t hurt to wear something breathable as you might be sweating due to the humidity/heat. (Not surprisingly: Many people will wear tennis-related clothing.)
How to get to the US Open & public transit options
It is very convenient to fly into either LaGuardia or JFK airport as the tournament is located in the same borough of Queens within New York City.
You can stay nearby for a reasonable price, however those visiting New York for the first time seeking a better location for sightseeing AND commuting by public transit might want to consider staying in Long Island City (Queens) and/or Midtown (Manhattan). Click for our picks for affordable hotels in New York City.
Both offer unparalleled access to the 7 train (check that you’re near the 7 stop or Penn Station) as well as easy access to New York’s biggest attractions
A new option is to use CitiBike to the US Open. For many years, I used to bike, using my own bike, to Flushing Meadows from my home. It was free and great exercise. Now CitiBike is available throughout NYC and offers a new transportation alternative.
Should you bring a car to the US Open?
NO. Parking close to the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center can be quite difficult, so do not to drive to the US open. Parking is always very crowded, far away, and expensive. Some people will take taxis, but expect substantial traffic close to the US Open.
If you choose to drive, one of my secrets is to carpool and park close to the Queens Botanical Garden and walk to the National Tennis Center. It avoids the traffic jam and offers faster access to the courts without the crowds close to the U.S. Open.
How to get the US Open by subway or LIRR.
You’re better off taking the subway (7 train towards Main St.) or taking the Long Island Rail Road from Penn Station (Manhattan) to Mets-Willets Point. It is a very short walk to the US Open from the train/subway stop, so save the environment and your money by taking public transit. Click here for a detailed guide to the New York City subway. If taking the LIRR, buy a round trip ticket before leaving for the US Open.
If there is a Met game on the same night and/or if you go around rush hour, expect a crowded train. That said, try to take the Express 7 train instead of the local 7 train.
What you can’t bring to the US Open (Updated for the US Open 2019)
- Hard coolers
- Sealed packages
- Bottles or cans (glass or metal)
- Aerosol cans (i.e. sunscreen) or noisemaking devices
- Video cameras or recording devices
- Computers or laptops
- Food (except in limited quantities, or for medical, dietary or infant purposes)
- Animals (unless a service animal)
- Flags, banners or signs
- Any materials constituting unauthorized advertising or promotion
- Laser pointing devices
- Tennis racquets
- Drones (UAS-Unmanned Aircraft Systems) or other model aircraft
- “Selfie” sticks or other telescopic devices
How to behave at the US Open
This is very simple, but tennis is a (mostly) civilized sport. Just because the players make noise…it doesn’t mean that you can. Don’t jeer at opponents you don’t like.
Similarly, you can be kicked out if you smoke, record matches on your phone and/or go live on social media, open umbrellas during matches, or try to take someone else’s seat. Be sure to silence your cell phone as they can distract the players as well as your fellow spectators.
If a ball OR racket ends up in the stands, throw it back. However, at the end, some players choose to hit off the balls into the crowd. In that case, you’re in the clear!
The US Open is recognized as one of the primer events in the NYC calendar. Having seen a coach for a top player on free Sunday, I approached him and spoke to him. I had a twenty-minute conversation with him about touring as a coach, upcoming matches, and life on the road. Fernando was particularly friendly and enjoyed our conversation. If you recognize a player and coach, try speaking with them because this opportunity is unforgettable.
Many players expect well-behaved fans, so you will probably spot a high ranked professional tennis player walking around on their own. If you spot them, be polite and courteous.
Don’t be aggressive about signatures (although you can politely ask). Similarly, if you spot a celebrity, like you might for the major matches inside the stadium, be normal. It can be cool, but it’s distracting to other fans if you’re trying to find the perfect angle to sneak a photo of a celebrity in the middle of a match (which you’ll be able to find online a few hours later).
Should you go to the US Open with kids?
If you have older kids, the US Open can be a lot of fun, however Arthur Ashe Day is the best day to bring your kids. This free day prior to the US Open includes practice matches to watch, fun stands/activities for kids, and a concert.
It is appropriate for kids of all ages although the actual US Open might be better suited to older kids who can appreciate the game (especially if you intend to spend the whole day there). There are some fantastic children’s museums to entertain your kids nearby, including the New York Hall of Science. Arthur Ashe is a charity and the day is a lot of fun with kids, however it is not for serious fans.
If you attending with your children, consider buying a giant US Open tennis ball to get signed by the pros for your kids. (Save money by bringing your own). Just remember to bring a sharpie.
Enjoy the greatest event in the USA!
If you need any tips for New York City, click for where to stay in New York City and a first time visitor’s guide to New York City by a New Yorker.