Forget the strawberries and cream of Wimbeldon, or the beignets and cappuccino served at the French Open. Here in Flushing at the opening rounds of the U.S. Open, tennis fans get something they can actually take home with them: a commemorative plastic beer cup.
Nearly as ubiquitous as the Nike swoosh and the U.S. Open’s flaming tennis ball trademark at the Billie Jean King Tennis Center, was the red star label of Dutch beer-maker Heineken, operating one of the many drinking pavilions within stumbling distance of Arthur Ashe Stadium. And with a first-round match between Venus Williams and Samantha Stosur in full swing underneath the lights on Tuesday night, tennis fans jumped at the chance to imbibe in an open-air drinking atmosphere unmatched in the city.
“It’s like a beer garden with great tennis,” said Paul Kiernan of New Haven, Conn., tossing back a not-so-sudsy $13 U.S. Open specialty Grey Goose vodka cocktail.
Other fans drank $7.50 domestic and foreign beer, or $9.50 with a souvenir plastic cup, as they speculated about whether this year’s Wimbeldon winner, Rafael Nadal of Spain, or four-time consecutive U.S. Open champ, Roger Federer of Switzerland, would take home the men’s trophy.
“It’ll be really hard for Federer to win this thing five times,” Kiernan said. “But if anybody can do it, he can.”
Still others preferred to quietly take in the ambience while watching Williams’ match on a jumbo TV screen outside Arthur Ashe Stadium, with the grunts of the players and the lulling effects of the whomp of tennis balls making for a relaxing end-of-summer night underneath the stars.
“I have to get back to work next week,” said John Sullivan at a match on Court 6 between hard-serving Kaia Kanepi and Monica Niculescu. “And this is the perfect place to cling to the summer that I have left.”
With a stodgier reputation than other rough-and-tumble sports like football and hockey, the drinking scene at the U.S. Open disproved the notion that tennis fans don’t know how to have fun. However, the plaza outside Arthur Ashe Stadium is still a far cry from a football tailgating party with beer kegs, barbecue grills and 4x4 trucks. Here the vibe felt more like a prep school reunion, an extended cocktail hour underneath the stars.
Cementing the U.S. Open’s preppie credentials, retailers Lacoste and Polo Ralph Lauren have stores just outside the stadium. And for tennis fans imbibing one specialty cocktail or souvenir beer too many, several Evian stands offer bottles for $3.75 and an Evian facial bottle spray for $6, catering to a crowd that perhaps couldn’t be found washing down a jumbo hot dog with beer at Shea Stadium, just across the park.
Visiting from school in Boston and dragging some friends to see a doubles match, Adam Grant enjoyed a drink at Baseline Cocktails. “We weren’t very organized,” he said. “But we’ve had fun just hanging out here and watching the people.”
And maybe no one had a better excuse for kicking back on the second night of the Open than Rafael Sacedo, on leave from his active-duty post at a Navy base in upstate New York. “I’m here because I’m a big tennis fan,” Sacedo said. “Moreover, I’m on vacation so I’m trying to relax and enjoy myself.”
With his newly purchased U.S. Open 2008 souvenir beer cup, Sacedo talked tennis with bar patrons and looked through the long draw of the tournament just getting started on the courts surrounding him.
“Just don’t ask me if I’m for Obama or McCain,” he said when asked to pick between Nadal and Federer while drinking in the Heineken Red Star Cafe. He’s betting on the Swiss.