Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
By STEVE KLURFELD
For me, the best part of the U.S. Open is the four-day long qualifying tournament that precedes it.
This year, the 128 men and 128 women started play on Tuesday and by Friday (weather permitting) the final 16 in each draw will be granted spots in the main draw, which begins Monday.
It’s free to attend, and that attendance has grown over the last 30 years I’ve been visiting.
Here are my top 5 reasons the quallies are where it’s at.
1. You are amongst true fans: This crowd is the meat and potatoes, the Bleacher creatures, the Joe & Jane hardcore, “just a few hours more,” lunch box fan. When you visit the Open during the main tournament, you’re getting the luxury box set, the semi-fan that got tickets through a client’s dentist that couldn’t make it. The “Gosh, we’ve been here for two hours already, let’s make the 7 train back to the city”. Qualifying fans stay on average 5.8 hours (totally fabricated number). Why? Because they can!
2. Passionate play: If you want to see a recent NCAA champ do battle on Court 6 because he attends your college, sure, why not. If you want to go see some up and comer from Slovakia because your boyfriend is from Slovakia, go for it. You’ll see them fight like cats and dogs, with a passion sometimes not displayed by the upper level players. There is nothing like watching the third set between two players dramatically fighting for their tennis lives. Or this week’s tennis life anyway.
3. Best of both worlds: While the qualifiers duke it out on the outer courts, take a look-see on two of the show courts (Louis Armstrong & the Grandstand), and you’ll witness some of your favorite higher ranked players practicing, or playing sets with other pro’s.
For example, on Tuesday me and about 200 others at the Grandstand watched Gael Monfils (world #7) lose a practice set to Phillipp Kolschreiber (#47). And even better was the 100 push-ups Monfils and his team did after losing. The crowd counted along. Meanwhile next door, I had the pleasure of being serenaded by the enchanting shrieks of Victoria Azarenka (pictured), while her coach put her through some arduous drills. Watching them drill reminds you of the hard work it takes to get to where they want to be.
4. Up close and personal: You’ll never have an opportunity to be as close to world class tennis players. The outer courts are as personal as the park courts down your street. If you want to be sweat on, get in there. You can voice your interest with a cheer that just feels better than when you shout at the TV set, even if it is 57 inches.
5. Access to Ambiance: You will be experiencing about 70 percent of what the Open has to offer. Sure some of the merch booths are setting up, but you still are able to get access to all the $12 Crepes and $30 U.S. Open T-shirts you can stomach. You may not be able to shop at the LaCoste Boutique, but that’s not your bag anyway. Your bag is a backpack (which, I should warn you, is not being allowed past security, so take a plastic bag.)
**Steven Klurfeld has played tennis all his life, coached tennis at the College and High School level for over 10 years and has been following pro tennis for over 35. He knows that the GOAT is Rod Laver. Period. Follow him on Twitter @100blows.
Adam Zagoria is a Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. A contributor to The New York Times and SportsNet New York (SNY), he is also the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist and filmmaker. His articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide. He also won an Emmy award for his work on the SNY mini-documentary on Syracuse guard Tyus Battle.
A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013.
He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.