The U.S. Open occupies a unique place in the New York City sporting landscape in that it’s one of the few sporting events that are not entirely populated by sports fans. If you dare to venture out to a Jets game, it’s pretty clear what you’ll be in for: grown men wearing hard hats, congratulating themselves on their ability to spell the team name, taking your child from you when you are not looking and raising him in a dungeon. This is how sports works. You prepare yourself for the arena ahead of time. There are rules and regulations to be followed, lest you find yourself duct-taped to the men’s-room ceiling.
But the U.S. Open is different. Unlike, say, the Olympics (ahem), the U.S. Open is an event that appeals to both die-hard sports fans and people who wouldn’t know a linebacker from a balk. Because of this, the stands out in Flushing work as a particularly befuddling (and amusing) petri dish for diametrically opposite types of people. As someone who attended two days’ worth of matches last week, and watched worlds collide, I couldn’t help but notice how many people had no idea how to interact with their fellow fans at a sporting event. There’s an etiquette, people.
So, because there are still a couple of days left until Sunday’s men’s final, here’s a guide to casual-fan conduct in a stadium with 20,000 other people.
There’s a seat number on your ticket. Please stay there. Usually at a baseball game there are some empty seats, and fans will sneak down for a better viewpoint. Not so at the U.S. Open. Every seat is filled. But I was stunned by how many people thought the whole show was general admission. If a seat is open, you cannot just sit there without asking the person next to it if it is taken. Sounds fundamental, right? No one just takes whatever seat he wants, whenever he wants it, right? You’d think so! This literally happened to me five times.
Some people are sitting down, and when you stand, they cannot see. One advantage of tennis is that there are tons of breaks. After every point, they have a minimum of fifteen to twenty seconds before the next serve, and after games, you’ve got about five minutes, at least. Therefore, it is polite to wait until a break in the action before you force everybody to stand up and let you through to your seat in the middle of the row. It’s very easy. You can’t be in that much of a hurry.
Put the cell phone away. The Arthur Ashe Tennis Center is blessed with massive amounts of open space, away from the seating area, where you can buy hot dogs, smoke a cigarette, or attempt to court one of the many Long Islanders present. You can even see the matches on television there. If you must talk to someone on the phone, please use these spots.
Match point is kind of important. Tennis matches last longer than you think. Sometimes those men’s matches last as long as five hours, which is even longer than Che or Kenneth Branagh’s Hamlet. That’s a lot of built-up tension. So if a match is facing match point, for God’s sake, sit down and shush yourself. If there is something you’re doing at that moment that’s more important than watching match point, you really shouldn’t have come.
You would think these little tidbits would be so obvious and self-evident that the mere energy taken by me typing them would be unnecessary. But then again, you weren’t sitting in those stands last week. As my mom might say, “Were you people raised in a barn?”