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The ultimate guide to the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center

Who to watch, how to get around, and the best places to eat

2017 US Open Tennis Championships - Day 2 Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

This year marks the 51st anniversary of the US Open—and the 41st anniversary of the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, the longtime home of the fourth and final Grand Slam tournament. Located in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, this massive complex includes 22 tennis courts, as well as nine courts in the adjoining park.

In 2018, the tennis center unveiled the new and improved Louis Armstrong Stadium, the second-largest venue within the overall complex. It was the second to get a retractable roof—tennis tournaments are often foiled because of rain—and seats 14,000 people, up from the previous capacity of 10,200.

Tennis fanatics, sports enthusiasts, celebrities, and regular New Yorkers alike descend on Flushing Meadows during the two-week tourney, which this year goes from August 26 to September 8. More than 800,000 people attended the US Open in 2018; with the opening of the new stadium and the 50th anniversary celebration (and Serena’s return, of course) that number will likely see a major uptick.

Planning to head to Queens to check it out for yourself? Here’s what you need to know.

Names to know

  • Naomi Osaka is the defending champion in the women’s singles, after beating tennis superstar Serena Williams to snag her first US Open title. On the men’s singles side, Novak Djokovic is the defending champion, having beaten Juan Martín del Potro in 2018.
A man holds a golden trophy on a tennis court in England. A crowd of people is cheering behind him.
Novak Djokovic poses with a trophy after winning the men’s singles final at Wimbledon in 2019.
Photo by Tim Clayton/Corbis via Getty Images
  • Serena Williams is still a major contender: Last year was the first time she’d played at Flushing Meadows since 2016, and if she can advance to the final rounds, she could be looking at her first Grand Slam title since 2017.
  • On the men’s side, Novak Djokovic is the player to watch: He’s already won two Grand Slam titles this year (the Australian Open and Wimbledon), giving him a distinct leg up over the competition.

Getting there

The easiest and cheapest way to get to the US Open is to take the 7 to the Mets-Willets Point station, and walk from there to the USTA complex. The Long Island Rail Road also provides access to Mets-Willets Point. The station is ADA-accessible, and it’s a straight shot from there to the stadium with clear and plentiful signage all around. (You can also just follow the crowd when you get off at the station.) The MTA has a handy guide for both modes of transit.

Driving is another option, but even USTA officials recommend using the subway. For those driving, however, parking is available on a first-come-first-serve basis and costs $23. Shuttle buses take you from the parking lots to the East Gate entrance to the complex.

The grounds of a stadium with people walking around. There are two fountains, several trees, and a landmark shaped like a globe surrounded by a fountain. Shutterstock

Where to sit

The U.S. Open has three main stadiums where you can purchase assigned seating: Arthur Ashe Stadium, the Louis Armstrong Stadium, and Grandstand. (The rest of the courts can be accessed on a first-come, first-served basis.) A $60 grounds admission ticket is available for the first eight days of the tournament, giving you access to all the outside courts, and to some seats at the Louis Armstrong Stadium and Grandstand stadium, also on a first-come, first-served basis.

The Louis Armstrong Stadium is more intimate than Arthur Ashe, and “enabl[es] you to get thisclose to these huge stars for a fraction of the cost of a similar seat in Arthur Ashe Stadium,” according to the Open’s website. Ticket prices start around $100.

The most expensive tickets are usually for the men’s and women’s singles semi-finals and finals, with prices currently running into the thousands of dollars at the higher end. That being said, it’s good to know that even the “nosebleed” seats at the US Open stadiums are pretty great and worth it if you’re a tennis enthusiast.

Inside a tennis stadium, with thousands of people watching a match on a green and blue tennis court.
Inside the new Louis Armstrong stadium, which opened in 2018.
Photo by Cynthia Lum/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Where to eat

Aside from your usual stadium eats, there are some decent places to grab a bite within the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. The Food Village, a more casual venue between stadiums, is home to NYC favorites like Fuku, Melt Shop, Korilla BBQ, and Hill Country, as well as Butterfly, a new taco stand from José Andrés.

Many of those same food stands can be found in the stadiums themselves; Lure Fish Bar is also behind an oyster bar, located near the Grandstand.

In recent years, complex has also added some fancier options into the mix, including Cafe Spiaggia in the South Plaza, David Burke’s Champions Bar and Grill, and the Mojito Restaurant and Bar, which has a menu inspired by Marcus Samuelsson.

And if you’re imbibing, try the US Open signature cocktail, known as the Honey Deuce—it’s a potent combination of vodka, lemonade, and raspberry liqueur (garnished with frozen melon), and a real thirst quencher in the waning days of the summer.

The USTA National Tennis Center in 1978.

The history

While it’s the 41st anniversary of the US Open being held at Flushing Meadows, this tennis tournament—known previously as the U.S. National Championships—has been in existence since 1881.

It was first held on a grass surface at the Newport Casino in Rhode Island. It was restricted to men for the first five years, and only had entrants from tennis clubs that were a part of the United States National Lawn Tennis Association, making it a tournament that was only open to wealthy Americans.

Women began competing in 1887, but for the first several years, they played out of the Philadelphia Cricket Club. After much campaigning from tennis players and spectators, the tournament was moved to Forest Hills, Queens in 1915, and it remained there for more than 50 years.

The championships achieved many firsts at Forest Hills; it became the first of the four Grand Slam tournaments to introduce the final set tiebreak (when a set reaches 6-6 in the other Grand Slams, play continues until a player wins by a difference of two games); and in 1973, it became the first to award equal prize money to both men and women.

The tournament moved to its current home, located just three miles from the Forest Hills stadium, in 1978. Louis Armstrong and the Grandstand opened first; those two stadiums sit on what was once the Singer Bowl, a venue that debuted during the 1964 World’s Fair and subsequently hosted The Doors, The Who, and other musical acts. Arthur Ashe opened in 1997, and was named for the late tennis legend, who won the first US Open in 1968.

Over the years, the complex had gone from grass to clay courts and finally settled on hard courts at Flushing Meadows. In 2006, it was renamed for trailblazing champion Billie Jean King.

Other information

  • The men’s and women’s singles champions will each earn $3.85 million this year, the largest purse ever for the tournament.
  • Though it’s a longer walk, consider entering the tennis center from the south gate to avoid the crowds that come pouring out of the Mets-Willets Point station and crowd the wooden boardwalk that leads to the entrance.
  • Bring a light jacket. You never know when it might get chilly during one of the evening sessions—they can sometimes stretch well into the night.
  • Carry an umbrella. While all three main stadiums at the U.S. Open now have retractable roofs that will protect you from the elements, you don’t want to get rained on while strolling through the grounds.
  • Don’t bring a bag if you can help it; you have to stand in a separate line and pay to check in backpacks—the tournament allows one bag per person with the size dimensions of 12”W x 12”H x 16”L. Additional bags need to be checked at $5 per item, and it’s $10 if you’re bringing luggage. Backpacks are also prohibited.
  • Bring sunglasses; glaring at a tennis court with bright sunlight can become strenuous on your eyes after a while.
  • While you’re there, check out some of the other wonders of Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, like the Unisphere, which is just a short walk away from the tennis center.

USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center

5201 111th St Ste 1, Flushing, NY 11368 (718) 760-6200 Visit Website

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