It did not start out well. We arrived by car (a first for us) and as we began the walk up the ramp we saw two huge lines of people. It turned out one line was for those of us with bags and the other was for those of us without bags and not needing to be checked before entering. Reasonable you say? Sure. Except the line started at the exit from the #7 train.
We, along with many others, were confused. Why were people being stopped from the usual slow walk in the broiling sun to the gates so early in what often feels like a forced march? It soon became clear why and it made absolutely no sense at first.
Fans were being stopped at the big awning before heading down the hill. Why? There were a large number of people I suppose but instead of creating order the crowd control effort was creating chaos. Once you were able to get down the hill and make the turn towards the security gate there was a really big man in a red shirt firmly ensconced to stop you from moving forward. He had two much more normal sized people on either side of him but there was a phalanx of other bruisers just behind him waiting to grab anyone foolish enough to try and make a run for it. Once you were let past the Big Bruiser the crowd separated into the familiar lines and instead of the usually brisk procedure the lines moved very, very slowly. The reason for that was soon obvious.
In years past there were two people at the end of the line checking bags. This year there was one person. Of course the line was moving slowly and of course there was a need for such invasive crowd control. They’re lucky most tennis fans arrive sober. I shudder to think what would’ve happened with another more aggressive fan base that tends to arrive with cans or bottles in hand. It was well after noon before we were finally allowed inside. One man behind us said he’d arrived at 10:45a. Our torture started at 11:15a.
Day 2 was a bit better. The first roadblock was The Big Bruiser who told fans which of the lines behind him was moving the fastest. Of course that didn’t account for the back up due to one guy trying to argue that his back pack wasn’t a back pack. Or the woman who argued that she didn’t need her bag checked because it was empty. One of The Big Bruiser’s side kicks said “it’s a bag” and told her to get back in the bag check line.
Things looked the same once you got inside. Of course there is the new roof on Ashe which now looks like some alien space ship smack in the center of the road. But once you make that turn to the left towards the first Food Court everything changes.
I said first Food Court because the new Grandstand Court complex is a world unto itself. There are food courts that include an Oyster Bar. The court itself has elevators (it’s a healthy walk up to the third level) and there are a lounge areas where fans immediately rearranged the sofa’s so that they could eat and sip in comfort watching outer courts. More on them later.
The new Grandstand is a marvel and in my opinion a wonderful alternative to the Ashe complex. The seating is comfortable. If there is a bad angle there is a big screen within easy view. This came in handy during the Harrison vs Raonic match where I climbed over a low fence to take a seat that gave me a wonderful view of one side of the court and a partially blocked view of the other side.
There is an over hang that provides shade and on the day I was there (Wednesday) there was a good breeze so it wasn’t too uncomfortable in the sun if you didn’t get a seat under it.
The tree lined pathways as well as the nooks and crannies that were a long standing feature of the outer courts are no more. There is now a sleek, appealing row of entrances, including accessible ones, and an overpass stretching between courts. There are also clean lines of sight between them once you take your seat. We parked on Court 13 for a bit during Osaka vs Vandeweghe on Monday and could keep track of what was going on on Courts 14-16. We could only see the side of Court 17 looking forward.
There were no longer long lines at women’s rest rooms either. There are many more of them and the facilities were clean if not totally well lit. The facilities are clearly labeled so there’s no question about what type of facility you’d be using. And yes there were gender inclusive bathrooms.
There are also many more fountains so you can refill your Evian bottle as often as needed.
For young families there are loads of attractions for the younger set, something I’m sure parents were happy to see.
For adults there were many more Grey Goose booths.
And that brings up another thing. The food last year was at best “meh”. We noticed that there has been an almost complete overhaul of food vendors. Momofuku is now there (that spicy chicken sandwich is spicy not salty). There is a Korean bbq place. Carnegie Deli is there. The Kosher food truck is there again this year. Bar 17 is located in the shadow of Court 17. I saw several Ben & Jerry’s booths. Pat LaFrieda has a couple of booths. There is a Wine Bar that serves bar food. There are also booths for several different wine companies. One place that seemed popular was “Toro”. It’s a restaurant and there was always a line there. God willing I’ll try it next year.
The money spent on upgrading the National Tennis Center was money well spent. I guess that’s why they cut back on bag checkers. Still my experience was A+.
Good job on the grounds USTA!