By the time Venus Williams offered the lime green ball to the overcast sky above Arthur Ashe Stadium Monday evening and blasted it over the net, past an overmatched Roberta Vinci for an ace, the 2010 U.S. Open Tennis Championships at Flushing Meadows had long established itself as more of an experience to be absorbed than simply a spectator’s tournament.
From the myriad concessions, to dazzling street performers, to celebrity sightings, the Open attracts an international element, both between the baselines and out on the United States Tennis Association Billie Jean King National Tennis Center grounds. According to USTA Chairwoman Lucy Garvin, more than 700,000 fans are expected to cross the gates at the two-week Grand Slam celebration, making it the highest-attended annual sporting event in the world.
Mayor Mike Bloomberg, speaking at Monday’s opening ceremonies, echoed Garvin’s excitement and welcomed fans to Queens.
“Some have crossed continents to be here, while others just hopped on the 7 train,” Bloomberg quipped on the royal blue court before a packed Ashe Stadium.
The mayor’s remarks were followed by the “Dream, Succeed and Inspire” tribute to tennis stars “who have overcome obstacles and adversity to achieve great things,” and Gloria Estefan’s rousing rendition of “Reach,” supported by a choir and snare drummers decked in pristine white outfits.
Michael Woodard, a 12-year-old from Philadelphia, triggered an outbreak of goosebumps as he belted out the National Anthem while Marines methodically unfurled the massive stars and stripes from sideline to sideline. Red, white and blue pyrotechnic flares punctuated the ceremony, and minutes later the 23,000-seat main venue was primed for serves and volleys.
Outside the stadium, fans milled about the south plaza, many taking a respite near the two banks of synchronized water fountains as the sounds of Josh Kekoa Cho and the Hawaiian Dreams hung in the humid summer air.
“It’s awesome,” Manhattan’s Verun Varky said of his first Open experience. “I caught an Andy Roddick autographed ball my first day here.”
Others opted to imbibe courtesy of the Baseline Cocktails bar, where mixed drinks and domestic beers are $8, Champagne is $10 a glass and bottled Heineken is $7.75. Amble over to one of the Grey Goose vodka kiosks to try a “Honey Duece,” the official cocktail of the Open, boasting lemonade, vodka, blackberry Chambord and fresh honeydew melon balls.
If you’re looking simply to purchase a bottle of water, a small Evian will run you $3.75, while a large is $5. Various soft drinks are around $5.
Food seems to be just as much of an attraction as the world-class tennis on display at the Open. The Mojito Bar and Restaurant offers a sit-down dining experience under the stars or indoors. The NY Deli Bar serves up diverse wraps, quesadillas and baguette sandwiches, varying in price from $8 to $9.50. If a cheeseburger deluxe is more your speed, $7 will fill your plate. And Ben and Jerry’s provides dessert at a rate of $5 for a small cone and $7 for a large.
Souvenirs aren’t cheap. A U.S. Open Collection T-shirt starts at $25, and a coffee mug is $10. Fans can also shop at the Nike, Polo by Ralph Lauren, Lacoste, Olympus and Wilson stores that dot the grounds.
Many fans weren’t thrilled at the prices of both tickets and concessions, but most expected the steep cost.
“[Ticket prices] are getting really out of hand, and the increases are not incrementally small,” said Carlos Arango, a resident of the upper West Side who has been going to the tournament since the ’70s.
Burdy Salazar and Paul Miskimin, a married couple from Albuquerque, NM, said between sets that they were enjoying their first U.S. Open, but were still adjusting to stadium security and the sweltering New York heat.
“This seems to be more crowded with more rules,” Salazar said.
“Wimbledon is very easy, relaxed,” Miskimin added. “Here, you’ve got someone telling you what to do at every staircase. But we’ll definitely be back.”
And with that promise they crossed the loge concourse and returned to their seats. Night had arrived at the Open, and Venus was winning.