By Andy J. Gordon
They don’t call it The Big Apple for nothing. New York City is known for being big, loud, crowded and brash. While there are many professional tennis events held throughout the year, the last of the four majors, the US Open, held in Flushing Meadows, Queens, New York reflects the spirit of the City. It is the biggest, loudest, most crowded, most expensive and perhaps, most anticipated event among the worldwide tennis faithful.
The 2014 US Open had it all – the top male and female players in the world competed for enormous prize money as well as widespread notoriety. Attendees enjoyed world class tennis and an entertainment experience that was unlike anything else. The United States Tennis Association has built the National Tennis Center into such a Mecca for the sport that virtually nothing was missing. The people in charge of the event seem to have thought of everything that is needed to make the experience great for the fans. Arthur Ashe Stadium is the biggest venue in the world dedicated to tennis. Two additional stadiums, Armstrong and the attached Grandstand would be considered big at most other tennis events. At the US Open, they are dwarfed by Ashe. All three stadiums were fully equipped for TV coverage and with a computerized system used for reviewing calls on the court as well as measuring the speed of each serve. Attendees had a great view of the action regardless of where they were seated in each stadium. There were several food stations within the stadiums and flat screen TVs distributed throughout the corridors showed the live action on court so that very little action was missed when fans stepped out for a bite or bathroom break.
There were also 14 tournament courts in addition to the three stadiums and even more practice courts where fans were able to watch the pros get ready for their matches. Two of the 14 outside courts (numbers 5 and 17) were set up for TV broadcast with bleacher seating, electronic review technology and serve speed display monitors. A viewing gallery with bleachers overlooking courts 4, 5 and 6 as well as several of the practice courts was a new addition to this year’s Open. Fans were able to watch multiple matches and several practice courts at once. All of these features made it a great venue to catch the world class tennis action.
In Men’s singles, Croatia’s Marin Cilic won the title and $3 Million prize. His 6-3, 6-3, 6-3 victory in the finals over Japan’s Kei Nishikori was somewhat unexpected but well deserved. Cilic played spectacularly throughout the event and knocked out 5 time US Open champion Roger Federer handily in the semi-finals. Nishikori had the rougher road to the finals – his epic 5 setter in the fourth round against Canada’s Milos Raonic didn’t end until past 2AM. He had another 5 set battle in the quarterfinals against Switzerland’s Stan Wawrinka. In his semi-final, Nishikori got past Serbia’s World #1 ranked Novak Djokavic in four sets. All of the long matches and draining heat appeared to finally catch up to Nishikori as he was unable to do much in the final against the powerful game from Cilic.
At 32, USA’s Serena Williams kept defying age and her doubters by beating Denmark’s Caroline Wozniacki for the Women’s singles title. She earned $4 Million for the title – $1 Million of the prize money was a bonus for having won the Emirates Airline US Open Series leading up to the US Open. Williams steamrolled through the event with powerful serving, accurate ground strokes and movement far superior to all of her younger opponents. The final against Wozniacki started out awkwardly as both players seemed nervous and struggled to hold serve. Once Williams got comfortable she served big and hit powerful shots to the corners that seemed to have Wozniacki on a string. The result was inevitable as Williams closed it out for a convincing 6-3, 6-3 victory.
In the Men’s doubles competition, the Bryan Brothers kept piling up the trophies. By winning this year’s US Open, they reached 100 career titles and won their sixteenth major. They also split the $520,000 prize money. It solidified their place as the greatest doubles team of all time. They beat Spain’s Mark Lopez and Mark Granollers in straight sets, 6-3, 6-4 in the final. The Women’s doubles final had both drama and nostalgia. The sentimental favorites were the unseeded team of Switzerland’s Martina Hingis and Italy’s Flavia Pannetta. They faced Russians Elena Vesnina and Ekatarina Makarova. The fourth seeded Russian pair came through the difficult draw with tough wins, especially their close quarterfinal victory over the Williams sisters.
Hingis had retired from professional tennis a few years ago and was a former champion who had been ranked #1 on the singles tour. After years away from the pro circuit, she entered a few doubles events and had some success. The crowd was clearly cheering for a Hingis victory over the Russian pair. Hingis and Pannetta came out strong and took the first set 6-2. Their steady strokes and good hands at the net led the way. However, the power hitting duo from Russia found their range and overpowered the crowd favorites in the final two sets 6-3, 6-2. The victory was their second major title as a team and they split the $520,000 prize money.
While tennis was the main attraction at the US Open, attendees had a myriad of additional options to keep them stimulated. The National Tennis Center is massive, so walking the grounds could be quite exhausting. Fortunately there were many places to take a break from the tennis action. There were a multitude of food selections – everything from casual walk up eateries to ultra elegant sit down dining venues. Throughout the grounds fans could stop by booths hosted by Evian, Grey Goose, Moet & Chandon, Ben & Jerry’s and other vendors to stock up on drinks and treats. The grounds at the US Open offered an array of shady areas so that fans could escape the scorching sun. There were also several giant flat screens on the facades of Ashe and Armstrong stadiums showing live action from the courts as well as providing scores of all the day’s matches. Additional screens were placed strategically around the facility that provided scores, court assignments and even practice court schedules. Fans were able to grab a bite, sit, relax and watch the tennis action displayed on the big screens. Once rejuvenated, they could go to one of the stadiums or outer courts and catch the action live.
Several of the tournament sponsors had lounges and displays set up throughout the grounds. American Express had the most extensive one. Their pavilion was a large, interactive, multi-stationed playground for kids and adults. Attendees could have their tennis stroke analyzed by a computer, get a three dimensional photo taken and hit ground strokes on the full size court while being critiqued by a teaching pro. There was also an interactive display created in cooperation with the International Tennis Hall of Fame. Users could see the history of tennis rackets, footwear and fashion. On the second floor, Amex cardholders were treated to a comfortable lounge with a bar and snacks, all overlooking the court and various activity stations. Out on the grounds, American Express representatives were giving headsets to cardholders – the unique sets played the audio feed from the daily live TV broadcast of the tennis action. It was a nice perk to be able to hear analysis and play by play while watching the action on the courts.
Emirates Airlines had a lounge that was set up to simulate the luxury experience that travelers get when flying on the carrier. Visitors got a sneak peek inside the airline’s double-decker A380 planes. The lounge had samples of the entertainment systems located on the backs of Emirates plane seats. In first class, Emirates provides travelers with supersized 27-inch screens, while economy passengers get 12.1-inch screens. These screens had interactive games, while the lounge had comfortable chairs, video walls and a bar set up with cocktails and snacks. Emirates also had two Plexiglas enclosed stations outside of Ashe Stadium – one with a stroke analysis system and the other with a miniature tennis court sized “whack a mole” like game played with tennis rackets and lights in the floor. This one in particular got the younger fans really excited.
Time Warner Cable’s lounge area had a huge multi-screen video wall showing the tennis action. They also had charging stations for cell phones, a photo booth set up with an umpire’s chair, a swing analysis station and a comfortable seating area. TWC customers received a small package that contained a car charger pack for cell phones and a retractable headset.
Mercedes-Benz had several displays around the grounds showing off some of their new car models. A nice perk for Mercedes owners living in the area was free on-site parking. Each parked car got a dashboard tag embedded with radio frequency identification (RFID) technology. The tear away part of the parking pass included a bar code that attendees scanned inside the Mercedes-Benz display center with the chance to win tennis gear and merchandise. LG Electronics had a display room inside of Armstrong Stadium that demonstrated some of their newest 3D 4K flat panel TVs. They also had a smaller display station on the grounds featuring their latest cell phone, the G3, with a tie-in to the US Open app that allowed users to predict the winners of daily matches and be eligible for prizes.
Esurance had a booth with a video trivia game that allowed fans to compete against virtual versions of the Bryan Brothers and Victoria Azarenka in tennis trivia. Winners received small prizes. Starwood Hotel & Resorts had a Starwood Preferred Guest booth where fans could sign up for the program on video screens and learn about the deluxe hotel properties that are part of the Starwood family. Existing members received small gifts. Prior to the tournament, members were able to use some of their points to bid on tickets, access to the SPG luxury suite in Ashe and other US Open related perks.
Heineken had two big locations set up on the grounds. Heineken House was a lounge with cabanas, a big bar area, games and shaded seating. Fans were able to relax, have a beer and participate in games with winners getting Heineken merchandise. The Heineken Red Star Café was on the second floor above one of the US Open Collection Stores. It featured a full service dining area with loads of flat screen TVs, comfortable shaded seating and a great view of the grounds.
The 2014 US Open was big in so many ways – nearly every top player in the world participated in the event. There was huge attendance, big prize money and as is typical for New York City, high prices for tickets, food and souvenirs. The exceptional tennis and assortment of activities designed for fan enjoyment made the high prices worth it for the people that were able to attend. The weather was nearly flawless for the two weeks of the tournament and the fans got to see some fabulous tennis at a venue that uniquely showcases the world’s greatest players.
The USTA has big plans for the future – there is a five year plan with several improvements to make the US Open even bigger. Ashe will be getting a retractable roof in 2016 so that rain delays will not have an impact on center court action. Also the Grandstand and Armstrong stadiums are being torn down and replaced in 2016 and 2018 with bigger, more modern facilities. Additional improvements will include wider walkways to improve traffic flow throughout the grounds. The added viewing gallery for courts 4, 5 and 6 along with the adjacent practice courts were part of the first phase introduced this year with the bigger improvements still to come. The US Open will always be closely associated with New York City – it is getting bigger, louder, more crowded, but ultimately better.
All photos courtesy and ©copyright Andy J. Gordon 2014 unless otherwise indicated.