Rod Laver Arena, Melbourne Park, Australia

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 tennis memories and provide some tips for those who may want to complete their own personal Grand Slam.
 

Australian Open

 
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!

Brad Gilbert, Australian Open

Meeting Brad Gilbert at the Aussie Open former pro tennis player, coach and now ESPN analyst.

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!
 

French Open

 
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!

Roland Garros, Paris, France

Maria Sharapova and Vera Zvonareva on the red clay at Roland Garros

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! 

Or not.

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.

Centre Court, Wimbledon

Andy Murray enters Centre Court at Wimbledon.


 

Wimbledon

 
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.
Wimbledon

The Queue at Wimbledon.

  • 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!

John Isner, longest match in tennis history

John Isner waves to the crowd after winning the longest match in tennis history.

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.

Arthur Ashe Stadium, US Open

Arthur Ashe Stadium at night


 

U.S. Open

 
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.

Andre Agassi, last match at US Open

Andre Agassi says goodbye.

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.

Andy Roddick, Jimmy Connors at US Open

Andy Roddick practices at the US Open while former coach Jimmy Connors looks on.


 

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?


 

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35 Responses to “A Guide to Completing Your Career Grand Slam (as a spectator)”

  1. For Wimbledon: bring along a small pocket radio and earphones. (Put in just one earphone, so you have the radio track *and* the live one. :) ) Tune said radio to BBC Radio Five (my preference) or Radio Wimbledon, and besides watching the court you’re sitting at you’ll have a direct feed of everything going on around the grounds. (And, in a rain delay, a source of information about when the rain might end!)

    Also, a final option for getting in is to show up mid afternoon – as people leave the grounds new incomers can buy cheap grounds passes for what’s left of the day – even if you don’t get in until 5pm there’ll still likely be four or more hours of play left. Further queues inside the grounds resell vacated Centre and Court One seats (with the money going to charity) at very low cost.

    wg

  2. Thanks for this informative and entertaining post.
    A career grand slam is a nice goal to have. :-)

  3. Thank you so much for this. I got a link from Jon Wertheim’s column. I am trying to plan a trip to Wimbledon this summer

    • You’re welcome! Hope you also checked out my post on my trip to Wimbledon last summer – talks a bit about my experience in “the queue.” Feel free to email me with any other questions! You’ll have such a great time!

  4. A spectator Grand Slam is on my bucket list (two down, two to go), so I found this post really helpful! I hope you’ll update it if you go again to any one and find things have changed.

    Ps. I queued for D1 tickets to Wimbledon in 2010, so sadly missed both the queen and Isner-Mahut by three days.

  5. Beth White says:

    I got the link from Jon Wertheim as well. I’ve only been to the US Open so far and good advice about the practice courts. You can stand in the bleachers at Court 4 (usually empty or used as another practice court) that overlook the practice courts, it’s a great view. As you said, alot of fun roaming the grounds and watching some great matches very “up close and personal” . I usually try to get there one of the first three days of the tournament, when everyone is still there and the tickets are cheap.

  6. Jeff Nelson says:

    Katie: I am yet another person who found this through Wertheim’s column. Thanks so much. Last year, my partner and I get extremely lucky- we got Centre Court tickets for three days- once through the public ballot on our first attempt (THREE ROWS AWAY!!!!!!!), a second time through a friend who has a media friend, and the third time through Ticketmaster UK (as they give you internet options to attempt to get (Centre Court only) tickets at noon and 8 p.m. London time- and if I remember this correctly, the 8 p.m. option is for next day tickets. The other days we queued- which truly was wonderful. It was the vacation of a lifetime- so much so that we’re going back this year. We’ve again applied for the public ballot, but we don’t want to pressure my friend again, and maybe we’ll get lucky with Ticketmaster UK again- maybe not. So, it’s great to know about this British Tennis (LTA) members’ ballot option. With one day to spare mind you- I’ve signed us up. They’re supposed to post February ballot instructions soon. In any case- thanks so much again. Jeff

    • Wow, I can’t believe your luck last year, that’s great! Good luck with the LTA ballot this year. I didn’t get selected until April, I think they do it on a rolling basis and as people skip the opportunity to buy tickets, they go to the next person on the list. Oh, and a word of caution – the subject line in the notification email I received was somewhat obscure and I almost didn’t open it! So be sure to open any and all emails from the LTA! :)

      • Jeff Nelson says:

        Hey, Katie: Quick question. With the LTA ballot- you didn’t have to do anything else but purchase LTA membership to have gotten the April Wimbledon tickets last year- correct? That is, my partner and I just sit around and wait to hear from them? I just want to be sure that there isn’t some step I haven’t taken to be a part of the LTA Wimbledon ballot. Thanks- Jeff

        • Nope, don’t need to do anything else! I had actually forgotten I had even entered when I was notified. Just keep an eye out in your inbox for an email from the LTA!

          Since it’s on a rolling basis, it’s very possible that it could be later in April or even into May when you’re notified. When I got my email, I think I had until April 15 to purchase the tix. Presumably if April 15 had passed without me purchasing them, they would’ve gone to the next person on the list and offered them the same tix.

          No idea if they ultimately notify you that you weren’t selected, so I supposed if you don’t hear anything, at some point you just have to assume you didn’t get it.

  7. Nice post Katie! My best advice for Wimbledon: queue up on a day when Murray is playing and go for Court 1 or 2. I went back in the Henman days, joined the queue at about 8pm. I was nowhere near the front of the line by that time, but Tim was playing on Center of course, so I got front row seats in #1 for Agassi, Seles, Arantxa, Hingis, and Huber. I’ll make the Aussie and the USO before too long, no idea when I’ll get to RG. But it will happen.

  8. Roy DeRousse says:

    Wow, what an experience! Thanks for posting your article. I enjoyed reading about the logistics of each event as well as your favorite experiences from each one. I almost felt like I was there with you.

    You have already accomplished one of my life goals. I am half the way there. I have been to the US Open (3 times) and the Australian Open once. Loved all of them! It is a nice way to combine two of my favorite things – traveling and tennis.

    My first slam was the US Open 1994. I was able to see some of the early rounds through the round of 16 and some quarters. Had to skip the semis and the women’s final but saw Agassi beat Stich in a fantastic men’s final. During the first week, I was watching a so-so men’s match when someone sitting next to me said, “You’ve got to see this girl playing on the outer courts. She will be a future champion.” That was the first time I’d ever heard of Martina Hingis, and she made a great impression!

    Next, I made the BIG trip to Australia – the trip of a lifetime. 2 weeks in Australia and 1 week in New Zealand. Saw a fair amount of tennis during the trip, including the classic Men’s final where Agassi beat Sampras in a great 4 set match.

    I returned to the US Open in 2001 and 2009, with many great memories from them as well. My wife has only been to one day at the 2001 US Open, and she is interested in completing the rest of My Grand Slam with me. I look forward to it!

  9. Great post! I have included this page of yours on my new blog: http://grandslamgurl.com.

  10. i actually have a question for you regarding wimbledon – how many tickets did you win in the ballot? i am so excited for next tuesday! hope i get a shot at a ticket!

    • I just won 2 tickets for one day (i.e., they told me I had the opportunity to buy 2 tickets to Centre Court on the first Thursday).

      Don’t worry if you don’t hear right away – you may not be in the first ballot picked, but as people miss their deadline to buy their tickets (you only get a limited amount of time to buy), they move down their list. I didn’t get notified until April.

  11. Darren Sacks says:

    Great post Katie. I am trying to organise my trip to the UsOpen. Proving quite tricky to plan on which match Im going to buy tickets for ( I want to experience one match inside Ashe at Night – The rest I plan on using ground passes.

  12. Roy DeRousse says:

    Darren, I am planning a trip to the US Open myself this year. I already have tickets for 2nd week Monday (evening) and Tuesday through Thursday (days and nights). To me, the sweet spot for number and quality of matches is the round of 16 and the quarter finals. I did this in 2009 and really loved it.

    Sept. 5 has the last grounds pass during the day, so that might be a good day to do that plus the night session. It is round of 16 play for both men and women all day. You usually see some great matches in that round.

  13. Roy DeRousse says:

    I have a question of my own. Does anyone know where I can find inexpensive, clean, and safe housing for Sept. 5-8 close to the US Open? An easy way to get there via train or other public transportation is also needed. All I really need is a bed somewhere. Nothing fancy. Thanks!

    • Roy, the first year I went, I stayed in Flushing, at a hotel that ran a shuttle back and forth to the Open. Wish I could recall the name, but that was several years ago. More recently, I tend to stay in Manhattan in midtown and take the 7 train from Times Square or Grand Central Station. I can sometimes find good hotel deals on Priceline or Booking.com. Another option might be a private room in a hostel if you’re really looking for something inexpensive.

  14. Does anyone know if there is wifi at Wimbledon?
    I may have bought the wrong smart phone for this trip.
    I got tickets for court 1 late in the tournament by joining the LTA as suggested here–Thanks!!

  15. Roy DeRousse says:

    Thanks, Katie. I will look into the midtown option. I have stayed at the Roosevelt hotel a number of times, and it is really easy to take the train out to the tennis center, but staying there isn’t cheap. I just figured that all of the hotels around there would be too expensive.

    I stayed at a Ramada Inn way out west in Queens the last time for about $175 per night. On top of that, I think it actually took LONGER to get there than it would have to Manhattan. The train went almost all of the way to Manhattan, then I had to transfer and go back west on another train. It took a long time. Not doing that again!

    There is a YMCA with rooms that is relatively close on Long Island, but I don’t know how clean or safe it would be. I don’t know how safe it would be to walk to the tennis center either. I will look into your suggestion first!

  16. Roy DeRousse says:

    Oops! I really stayed at the “Hotel Pennsylvania” in NYC instead of “Roosevelt Hotel” as I wrote above. (I must have been thinking about the “Hotel Roosevelt” in Hollywood for some weird reason.)

  17. Roy DeRousse says:

    I just booked my stay in New York for this year’s US Open! http://www.airbnb.com/rooms/81564

    It looks very nice, is only $49 per night, and is within walking distance to the Tennis Center!

    A friend of mine used Airbnb (http://www.airbnb.com/) recently for a stay in Chicago and was very satisfied. Looks like an interesting concept. I will let you know how it goes…

  18. Wow, this is a FANTASTIC post!! I’ve always watched tennis on and of. I love watching the majors and really like the Aussie Open the best. It’s probably the best atmosphere and I am a late night person so it’s fun to watch tennis at midnight. Not to mention the warm summer sun in Australia warms me up a little in January!

    I can’t believe you’ve been to all four. What a great experience. That is so awesome that you got to see the Isner-Mahut match live. I think that was the same day as the USA World Cup game against Algeria. Again, awesome post!
    Jeremy Branham recently posted…Budget travel deals of the week July 19 – Fall airfares, Hawaii giveawaysMy Profile

    • Thanks Jeremy! Glad you enjoyed it! Have you been to the Aussie Open or just watched on TV?

      You’re right – the Isner-Mahut match was the same day as the USA-Algeria game. At one point the usher in my section announced that both the USA and England had won and advanced and everyone was so engrossed in the match, there wasn’t even a reaction!

      • Nope never been to the Aussie Open. Never been to any tennis match actually. Although we do have one of the professional teams in Sacramento.

        As for the USA-Algeria game, that was awesome! As a big fan of soccer, it was fun to watch. I just remember watching SportsCenter after the match and the first highlight after soccer was Mahut and Isner.

  19. Thanks for this superinformative post. I recently joined the LTA myself. Just to clarify, I don’t have to do anything after I join, correct? They will automatically enter me into the lottery and I’ll receive notification if I win? Are you able to purchase the tickets online if you win? Thanks!

    • ….Just in case this still can get to Jen- it is correct that when you sign up with LTA, there is nothing else that you need to do to be a part of their Wimbledon tickets lottery. If you get tickets this way (as with the regular ballot, the lottery picks what day and court)- you pay online, and, as with the regular lottery, they give instructions on which Wimbledon gate you go to, to retrieve the tickets. You’ll need your ID with you and a copy of the verification you’ll get online for your purchase of the tickets. It’s then very easy once you’re at Wimbledon- albeit if I remember correctly, you may end up still waiting on a bit of a line, and it can take a little while- but nothing like the regular queue. I signed up myself and my partner- and last year, we got great Centre Court tickets for a day we were there. The other tickets we couldn’t use- they were for ladies’ finals day- and I think it was for Court 1, which I think would have meant us seeing some juniors and seniors finals? I don’t recall now, because of the weather delays. WHICH all would have been fine with us- but, we had flights back to Chicago for the last Thursday- and didn’t feel it was worth the expense in this case to try to stay in England longer. IN any case- best of luck to everyone. Going to Wimbledon is SO much worth the efforts.

  20. Aaron Jones says:

    Hi I just wanted to say that this blog post is amazing and you do now know how much I genuinely appreciate it. I’ve in Australia, have been to the Australian Open twice and am hoping to go to the French Open and Wimbledon this year (2012) and this ease in buying French Open tickets makes me feel much better. Thanks again!

  21. Wow! I’m searching through the Internet to find anything about visiting Tennis Grand Slam and I found your blog with joy. My mission completed once last year with Wimbledon. It was a superb experience. This year, the time for RG,luckily I have the tickets from online which was really convenient way comparing to the queue I went through at Wimbledon.
    Just wondering about the practice court in RG, how can I meet up with the tennis player closely to see them practicing and signing autograph, just like Wimbledon that has Aorangi area to watch the players.
    Thank you in advance!!!

  22. I have never live seen Wimbledon match, So I am trying to plan a trip to next Wimbledon. Thanks for sharing this post here!

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