How to Ace the U.S. Open

So you want to see the likes of professional tennis superstars Roger Federer, Andre Agassi and Maria Sharapova up close, battling to win America's most prestigious championship? Well, the opportunity is near as the 2006 U.S. Open will be held from Aug. 28-Sept. 10 on the grounds of the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows Corona Park in the Queens borough of New York. Home of the 1939 and 1964 World's Fairs, the grounds host a carnival-like atmosphere, crawling with athletes, celebrities, and the most discerning of tennis fans during the two-week spectacle.

Getting There
First of all, you don't want to be driving. The traffic is bad enough as it is, then throw in the fact that the Mets (whose Shea Stadium home is directly adjacent to the Tennis Center) are not only at home from Sept. 4-10, but actually among the majors' top teams for once, and parking is limited due to construction of a new Mets ballpark... well, just put away your keys and/or reinvest that rental-car money ino the sky-high rates New York hotel rooms.

On the days which conflict with the Mets, there will be shuttle buses running from parking lots in Orchard Beach in the Bronx, but the USTA itself "strongly recommend(s) all U.S. Open attendees utilize public transportation." For information on the Orchard Beach lots, go here (PDF).

The preferred method of transportation to the Tennis Center, as any New Yorker worth his or her salt can tell you, is train. The subway's 7 train runs all the way from Times Square and Grand Central Station in Manhattan, and operates an expanded schedule during the Open, so you shouldn't have to wait long to catch a ride back to Manhattan. Fares are $2 on a per-ride basis and $24 for a MetroCard with unlimited rides for a week.

For a cool $4, you can ride the air-conditioned rails from NYC's Penn Station and be at the Tennis Center in less than 15 minutes. The train literally lets you off about 100 yards from the front gate, making for an easy entry.

Comprehensive info on the full array of transportation options can be found on the U.S. Open web site.

Sessions & Tickets
Each day of the U.S. Open is broken into two sessions -- day (11:00 a.m.-6:00 p.m.) and night (7:00 p.m.-11:00 p.m.). Tickets for each session are separate, so you can choose for yourself as to just how huge of a day of tennis you want.

The main thing you need to know is that there are three basic levels of tickets:

Grounds passes: These allow fans to watch from every court (including Louis Armstrong Stadium) on a first-come, first-serve basis, with the major exception of Arthur Ashe Stadium.
Louis Armstrong Stadium reserved tickets: These provide a reserved seat at the Open's No. 2 court, and allow fans to watch from every court on a first-come, first-serve basis, again except for Arthur Ashe Stadium.
Arthur Ashe Stadium reserved tickets: These are only type of tickets which allow access the main stadium court. They also offer similar access to all of the other courts (with the lone exception of reserved seats at Louis Armstrong Stadium, where there are also general-admission seats available).
Seating charts | Grounds map

Got all that? Well, there are also a dizzying array of ticket packages available through the U.S. Open web site. Bottom line is this: grounds passes and upper-level promenade tickets at Arthur Ashe should be available for the most part. For lower-level seats inside the main stadium, you'll likely be paying a hefty premium on the secondary market for tickets which are already pricey.

First-timers are strongly recommended to consider attending the first week of sessions, as it's the best value for the dollar. Fans can purchase grounds passes for individual day sessions ($44-48, depending upon day) directly from the U.S. Open box office or Ticketmaster.

You really can't beat strolling the grounds and watching matches on the 15 outer courts. Fans with grounds passes can grab seats in portable bleachers which offer a fantastic close-up view of your choice of men's and women's singles matches, and doubles matches. During the first week, that just might be where the best competition is, as many of the matches inside the stadium will feature a big-name player thrashing an unseeded unknown. And again, you'll still have access to Louis Armstrong Stadium, where plenty of top stars will play.

But, if seeing the main-stage event is a priority, again, make sure your purchased ticket permits access into Arthur Ashe Stadium.

Built in 1997, Arthur Ashe Stadium holds about 23,200 people, more than twice the capacity of its predecessor, Louis Armstrong Stadium (10,200), meaning that you might want to think twice before grabbing an upper-level promenade seat. The experience of trying to follow a tiny tennis ball from those heights can be akin to reading the bottom line of the chart at the eye doctor's; best of luck!

Instead, the best bet for value and location are the loge seats, which hang right over the luxury suites. The first few rows are considered the silver loge, with the bronze loge right behind them.

Of course, some people yearn for the VIP experience and like to be close to the action and the stargazing. In this case, courtside seats -- which usually must be purchased from an outside agency since they have long since been sold -- are just the ticket. You will pay a price, but, if money is not an issue, it's an unforgettable, electric experience.

Also note that, if you don't feel like trekking to Queens on multiple days, you can watch live on jumbotrons which will be set up at Rockefeller Center in midtown Manhattan and in Madison Square Park from Sept. 2-10.

If the weather becomes inclement during your visit to the U.S. Open, the good news is that if a session is cancelled, the USTA will exchange your seat for a later match in the tournament or one for the following year. The bad news is that the USTA will allow matches to be played in a questionable weather to make sure the session is official. For a listing of the exact rules regarding inclement weather log on to usopen.org. Be forewarned that the rules are so complex you might not be entirely sure how to determine a cancellation even after several readings.

Around New York
Of course, not only is the U.S. Open a one-of-a-kind event, but it's also held in a one-of-a-kind city, New York, where there's plenty of opportunities to mix in entertainment and other sports in addition to tennis.

ESPN SportsTravel recently put together a "Power Weekend" itinerary for Labor Day weekend which included major- and minor-league baseball, NFL preseason football, and plenty of recommendations for food, entertainment and recreation in addition to the Open.

You can also check our SportsTravel City Guide for New York for more options for sports, entertainment, food and drink. The home-team schedule grids allow you to check schedules across New York sports.

The Yankees, Mets, Giants and Jets will all be home at some point during the two weeks of the Open. Also, don't overlook two of the better ballparks in the minor leagues, both with spectacular waterfront settings.

The Brooklyn Cyclones play in KeySpan Park, right along the ocean in Coney Island, while Richmond County Bank Ballpark at St. George, home of the Staten Island Yankees, looks back across New York Bay at the Statue of Liberty and the Lower Manhattan skyline. For more information, check out our Baseball Road Trip for New York.

Of course, a full array of Broadway shows are available. Check Broadway.com for a complete schedule. Currently, R&B superstar Usher is starring as Billy Flynn in Chicago, and don't overlook the off-Broadway production of the play Seven Guitars (at the Signature Theatre) by legendary playwright August Wilson, who passed away last year.

For the most affordable (we're talking relatively here, people) food options, head to the food village right outside the main stadium, which is open to all ticket holders. The food village has everything from sushi to Indian to kosher to Ben & Jerry's and some good ol' franks 'n' fries. Seating is usually not a problem, and large-screen televisions are set up around the food village so that you never have to miss a point while chowing down.

Café-type options include Mojito Restaurant & Bar (Cuban), Heineken Red Star Café (sports bar-ish) and Patio Café (sandwiches, salads, seafood).

Courtside seats are the only individual tickets that allow you entry into Aces, Champions Bar & Grill, and the U.S. Open Club. These restaurants, although seemingly quite overpriced, are typically packed, so make sure you call ahead for reservations.

You can visit usopen.org for the full variety of options for food and drink.

More Tennis!
For those who just cannot get enough tennis, you can always give in and spend the extra dollars to attend the Newport in New York Gala, which takes place at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York City on Friday, Sept. 8 at 6:30 p.m. This black-tie event, conducted by the Tennis Hall of Fame (which is based in Newport, R.I.) welcomes a guest list of 500 including Tennis Hall of Famers and contemporary players, celebrities and dignitaries. Hall of Famer John McEnroe will be honored as the inaugural recipient of the Eugene L. Scott Award, for his significant impact on the world of tennis (never thought you would see this day, huh!). Individual tickets are $650. For additional information, call (212) 843-1740.

Robert Tuchman is the president of TSE Sports & Entertainment, which provides corporate hospitality at major sports and entertainment events.