I am a huge tennis fan. HUGE. I wrote a poem in the 9th grade about my dream of seeing Andre Agassi play at Wimbledon. And I’m happy to report that I did manage to see Agassi play before he retired. And I did make it to Wimbledon. Just not at the same time.
My trip to Wimbledon last summer completed what I like to refer to as my own personal career Grand Slam as a spectator. I started at the French Open in 2004, followed by the Australian and US Opens in 2005 (and the US Open several times after that) and, finally, I made it to Wimbledon in 2010. As the first Grand Slam of 2011 gets underway, I thought I’d take a look back at my best Grand Slam memories and provide some tips for those who may want to complete their own personal Grand Slam.
Buying Tickets: Aussie Open tickets are available online beginning in October through Ticketek (similar to Ticketmaster in the United States). They offer an e-ticket option so you can print them off in the comfort of your own home, wherever you may be! Prices range from $65 for the early round sessions in Rod Laver Arena, up to $340 for the men’s finals. Tickets for Hi-Sense Arena, the second show court, are $50 and a grounds pass, which will give you access to all courts during the early rounds, except Rod Laver and Hi-Sense, is only $29.
Best Memory: I was on the edge of my seat throughout an entertaining semi-final between Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova in 2005, but the real highlight for me was the quarterfinal match between Aussie Lleyton Hewitt and Argentina’s David Nalbandian. The Aussie crowd was raucous, chanting and singing songs on every changeover. Hewitt took the first two sets, but Nalbandian fought his way back to force a fifth. When Hewitt eventually prevailed, 10-8 in the fifth, I’m not sure I’ve ever heard a crowd roar louder!
Top Tips: Stay in central Melbourne and walk to Melbourne Park – there’s no need to spend money on transportation and it’s a nice walk through the city and along the river. Buy tickets to at least one day session and one evening session – on different days. Since there’s no way to know who will be playing when ahead of time, this maximizes your chances of seeing your favorite players in action. On the day you have tickets for the night session, spend it exploring Melbourne – St. Kilda Beach and the Melbourne Zoo are worth checking out, or try a winery tour to the nearby Yarra Valley!
Buying Tickets: It is amazing to think about how difficult it was to get tickets for the French Open back in 2004. I had to mail in a request form listing my preferred dates and court choices, together with a check (in Euros). Several weeks later, I received a response entirely in French telling me that I had been allocated 2 tickets for a specific day and I could pick them up at Roland Garros. I didn’t know where we were actually sitting until we picked up that tickets from will call that day.
Luckily, the French Open has entered the modern era and you can buy tickets online at www.rolandgarros.com beginning in late February. Prices range from $70-110 for early round tickets on Philippe-Chatrier Court to $95-147 for the finals. Grounds passes can be purchased for $23-30. While they recommend that those buying overseas go through one of their “official ticket agencies,” I would try to simply order online. Most such agencies sell their allotted tickets at grossly inflated prices – for example, Steve Furgal’s International Tennis Tours offers first round tickets for a whopping $325 per ticket!
Best Memory: I started off watching an early round match between a 17-year-old then-unknown Maria Sharapova and fellow Russian Vera Zvonareva. Little did I know that just a few weeks later Sharapova would beat Serena Williams in the Wimbledon final for her first Grand Slam! After Sharapova’s match, I headed over to a side court to see the legendary Martina Navratilova in mixed doubles. I even worked my way down to the front row – perfect!
After a lengthy delay, with the stands nearly completely full, they made an announcement (in French, of course) and everyone started heading for the doors. I managed to find out that they were moving the match to Philippe-Chatrier! Of course, being in the front row, I was among the last to make it out of the court to head back over to Chatrier. Quite a disappointment, but I still managed to see this incredible legend play – just not from the front row.
Top Tips: Know a little French before you go. I think this is good advice for visiting France in general, but it’s especially true at Roland Garros. Scores and other announcements were entirely in French and overall, I encountered very little English being spoken. Also, it’s easy to take public transportation to Roland Garros – their website has a list of bus and metro lines to use no matter where in Paris you are staying.
Buying Tickets: You really have three options to get tickets to Wimbledon:
- Book with an agency: Go the easy (and pricey!) route by booking through an international tennis tour company. They will arrange everything for you, including hotel reservations and even some sightseeing options if you like, but you will pay the price. Tickets through these companies can be inflated up to four times face value – or more!
- Play the lottery. There are two ballots for Wimbledon tickets – a public ballot and a British Tennis (LTA) members’ ballot. After trying a couple times unsuccessfully in the public ballot, I joined the LTA for $40, at which point I was automatically entered into the members’ ballot. Perhaps it was just a coincidence, but I was selected on my first try as a member! Note: The deadline to apply for the public ballot was December 31, 2010 (too late for this year). The deadline to sign up for LTA membership and be included in the members’ ballot is January 31, 2011.
- Join the queue. If you are okay with a little uncertainty and don’t mind waiting in line for over three hours, joining the queue is a great way to go! Be ready to camp overnight if you want to vie for one of about 500 tickets to each of Centre Court, Court 1 and Court 2 that are released each day early in the tournament. But for a grounds pass (which gives you access to more than a dozen outside courts, all packed with activity during the early rounds), arriving by 7:00 or 8:00 a.m. should suffice. Bring a blanket, plenty of sunscreen and some water and snacks. Port-a-potties and food vendors are available all along the queue.
Centre Court ticket prices range from $68-175 throughout the fortnight and grounds passes are $32 during the first week, decreasing as the tournament goes on in the second week.
Best memory: Without a doubt, my experience Witnessing History at Wimbledon last summer is one of the highlights of my life. I was thrilled to finally be going to Wimbledon and the fact that I was there to see the Queen of England was a bonus. And then the fact that I got to witness the longest match in tennis history between John Isner and Nicolas Mahut was just icing on an already enormous cake!
Top Tips: Bring a large amount of patience and be prepared to stand in line – a lot! Entrance to all of the outside courts is first come, first served. If you don’t head to a court and grab a seat as soon as you arrive, you may end up waiting in line as long as two hours to get on to some of the more in-demand side courts. Once you’re there, don’t dare leave – there is no such thing as saving seats. If you leave to use the bathroom or buy some food, you have to get back in line to re-enter the court. Bring a good amount of cash because the ATM lines can be horrendous as well.
Buying Tickets: Like the Australian Open, you can buy tickets for the US Open online through Ticketmaster, with e-tickets that can be printed at home. By joining the USTA or having an American Express card, you can get early access to tickets before they go on sale to the general public. Note, however, that the only tickets in Arthur Ashe you are likely to purchase online are in the upper promenade – also known as the nosebleed seats! If you buy early, though, you should have a good shot at getting courtside or loge seats in Louis Armstrong, the second largest show court.
Best Memory: I will never forget sitting courtside for Andre Agassi’s last match ever – a loss to German Benjamin Becker. The match should’ve been played on a Saturday, in the day session for which I only had a seat in the promenade. But the entire day was wiped out by rain and it was rescheduled for Sunday afternoon. As luck would have it, I had a courtside seat for that session! It was a tight match from the start at Becker took the first set, 7-5, and Agassi fought back to take the second in a tiebreak. But at some point in the third, I thought I saw him wince and the end suddenly seemed inevitable. As he hobbled to the net after the last point, I joined the packed crowd, rising to our feet for a standing ovation that felt like it would never end. And listening to Agassi say goodbye to the fans and to his career, I had tears in my eyes just as I tried to focus my camera to capture the moment forever. To this day, it is the most moving moment in sports I’ve ever witnessed.
Top Tips: While it may be tempting to come for the semis and finals, my favorite time to visit is over Labor Day weekend, when the 3rd and 4th rounds are being played. Tickets are less expensive, the grounds are buzzing with activity, the practice courts are always packed with high profile players and there are a plethora of exciting, highly competitive matches being played all over the grounds.
Instead of buying tickets to Arthur Ashe, try reserved seats in Louis Armstrong, the second show court. The atmosphere is much more intimate and during the early rounds you are still likely to see some big names playing. And, because Louis Armstrong is connected to the Grandstand court, with reserved seats you can go back and forth between the two, watching the Grandstand matches while standing on a walkway up above the court.
Utilize the upgrade booth – to the extent they are available, you can upgrade your Arthur Ashe tickets to loge or court side, simply paying the difference in face value. Availability constantly changes, so if you are not able to upgrade the first time, be willing to get back in line and try again.
Tips for Your First Grand Slam
A few tips apply universally, no matter which Grand Slam you attend. First, realize that watching a tennis match is not like other sporting events. It is generally expected that you be quiet when a player goes up to serve and under no circumstances should you be leaving your seat during a point, or even during a game – save the bathroom breaks and food runs for the changeovers every few games. Turn your cell phone off and keep the conversation to an absolute minimum while play is in progress.
Spend some time watching the practice courts. This may be the closest you will get to some of the top players and, if you are an autograph hound, there are usually good opportunities for autographs as the players walk to and from the courts. Also, be sure to catch a match or two on the outside courts. Some of the most competitive, highly entertaining matches take place outside the spotlight of the show courts and glare of the television cameras. If you’re lucky, you may catch a glimpse of the next big thing or, as I experienced on Court 18 at Wimbledon, witness some history in the making.
Do you have any favorite memories from a Grand Slam or any great tips to share?