I’ve been going to the US Open since 1999. The first time I went, I was alone, a novice feeling her way around a major tournament. I was picked up in turn by an elderly Jewish couple with season tickets, a father and son from Columbia, and a Junior player who had lost in his opening round and needed someone to latch on to until his parents could pick him up. Ever since then, it’s been never a dull moment at the Open.
In all the years that I have been attending the Open, I have never purchased tickets in advance. Sure I obsess about doing so, but the draw often changes so dramatically that it almost does not make sense to buy tickets ahead of time. And until this year, that was never a problem.
I got to New York on Friday but decided to start tennis on Saturday because Federer was scheduled to play. Not to mention the opportunity to support Melanie Oudin in her match against Maria Sharapova, and John Isner against Andy Roddick. So on Saturday morning we left New Jersey early to make the trek to Flushing Meadows. By the time we got there, the line for tickets stretched almost to the train station. I was shocked. I have never seen so many people waiting for tickets in all of the years I have been going to the Open. I mentioned this to the man in front of me. He said “Hold your ground. Don’t give up. They have tickets. Just stay in line and you will eventually get a ticket”.
The line inched forward slowly. By the time we were half-way to the Box Office, an announcement over the intercom advised us that tickets were completely sold out. Scores of people fell out. We moved forward. By this point we were near an awning and could get some shelter from the sun.
“You think it’s an attempt at crowd control?” I asked the man in front of me. He thought it might be but wasn’t sure. We continued to stay put. Three hours later, more people had fallen out. We inched closer to the front of the line. An elegant woman carrying a fog horn walked by. She announced that there were no tickets for today and that tickets were in fact completely sold out for through Labor Day. The man who had advised me to stay put decided to give up. I was shocked. Wasn’t he going to take his own advice?
Finally, around 11:15am, the Box Office grudgingly re-opened. I purchased two tickets in the shaded section under one of the electronic score boards. I tried to get tickets for the next two days. The man behind the window said that tickets were completely sold out. I asked for two Grounds Passes. He said that they were sold out too. I asked since when were Grounds Passes ever sold out in advance? He insisted that they were. He asked if I had considered looking online. Yes I had, I replied, but the cost of tickets at ticketsnow.com was astronomical. He shrugged his shoulders non-commitally.
Because the Isner match went until 9:30pm (and the crowd was so sparse that we were actually offered free courtside passes), and because my throat was sore from screaming (for Federer, then Oudin and finally Isner), I decided not to go to Flushing Meadows the next day (Sunday). On Labor Day (Monday), we arrived even earlier than we had on Saturday. The line was so short that we ended up in front of the US Open shop. It was so early that the air was chilly and we needed hot coffee to warm up.
Within half-hour of our arrival the announcements started up. No tickets were available. Everything was sold out for that day but we could get prime tickets for later in the week. I sucked my teeth and wondered if this was a scam. Was the intent to push online ticket purchases? It certainly could not be crowd control. The Saturday efforts had been extremely successful. By 9:00am, there were less than 100 of us in line.
A young Latina woman came by. She did not have a fog horn. She told us that we were wasting our time, that really, honestly, truly, there were no tickets available. She explained that the problem was that the players had all held on to their tickets instead of releasing them back to the Box Office. I told her that I was going to remain hopeful that Federer might release two of his tickets since his babies were too young to watch tennis.
Several people fell out. We moved forward. A security guard allowed us to approach the ticket window. We were told that there were no tickets. I circled back around and went back in queue. The same security guard asked me why I was still standing in line. I replied that I understood that there were no tickets now but that maybe things would change half-hour from now. He beckoned me closer and asked in a whisper if I had tried checking online.
A man in the queue checked ticketsnow.com on his Blackberry. Available tickets started at $268. Several people started grumbling. One woman said that she had been coming to the Open for 14 years and had never before experienced anything like this. Another man said he had been coming for 20 years and always bought tickets on the same day. We fretted and quarreled. Some swore never to return. I swore to stay put.
A few minutes before 11:00am, a security guard once again allowed us to approach the ticket windows. Tickets had miraculously become available. I purchased two in the same shaded section. But I did not fully enjoy the day. I don’t think it was just the weather that left me feeling so chilly.