Get Into the U.S. Open!

Caitlin Thompson, the publisher of Racquet—the new quarterly on tennis culture—tells us what makes the tournament so fun, and shares a bunch of insider tips on how to watch it.

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Why You Should Care About the U.S. Open

Serena Williams has her Grand Slam championship leap down pat—which makes sense, considering she's won 22 of 'em. Here she is after winning the 2014 U.S. Open. Photograph courtesy of Streeter Lecka/Getty Images
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"The U.S. Open, to me, is one of the few opportunities that Americans have to see tennis at its very, very, very highest level," says Racquet magazine's publisher Caitlin Thompson. "There are not very many major tournaments in the United States anymore. It's the highest concentration of really, really great players." She also says the Open makes it very easy to become a fan of the sport. "The courts, the center, the matches, and the schedule, all actually make it really approachable."

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Here, Thompson shares her tips on how to watch the U.S. Open.

Tip No. 1: Go Watch It Live

Tennis on TV is nothing, nothing, nothing like tennis in person! The speed, the spin, the strength, the agility—it's all totally muted when you watch it on TV. You can't tell how fast they're moving, and how incredibly intense the spins on the ball are. It's a completely different experience.

Tip No. 2: Make the Most of the Day

Thompson says that one of the best ways to experience the U.S. Open is by going during the day, and exploring the action on the smaller courts. Photograph courtesy of Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

People who go to the U.S. Open tend to only buy tickets to the big stadium at night. Instead of buying nighttime tickets, buy a day pass and go sit on the outer courts. Sure, you can line up and try to get into one of the stadiums and see some bigger name players, but because the tournament is so big, a lot of the really good players play on the outer courts. The facility is so huge that you can always get a seat at a court where somebody is playing—usually somebody that, if you do a tiny bit of Googling, you'll be like, "Oh my God, this is the best German player in the world right now."

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Tip No. 3: Double Down

Doubles matches are some of the most exciting to watch live. Thompson notes that you should keep your eye out for any and all secret messages being passed between partners. Photograph courtesy of Matthew Stockman/Getty

A lot of the players who might only play in the big stadium at night, because they're such a big draw, also play doubles. Doubles is amazing because they're playing at such [a high] speed, and at such a high level. When you see people serving 110, 120 miles an hour, poaching at the net, firing bullets back and forth in front of each other, and doing chest bumps, it's incredibly cool, because you're ten feet away. And you can see the strategy, up close. They're giving each other hand signals behind their back. They're telling each other where to serve and where to move.

Tip No. 4: Practice Makes for Perfect Viewing

The practice courts are where you're going to be able to see some of the biggest names in the sport preparing for their upcoming matches, in front of pleasantly small crowds. Photograph courtesy of Timothy A. Clary/AFP/Getty Images

The U.S. Open is really good about making the practice courts really accessible. Watching Serena Williams practice is actually way more interesting than watching her demolish some player you've never heard of. [You can see her] getting worked out by her sister, or their hitting partner, and serving a hundred and twenty mile an hour aces as she goes through the paces of how she prepares for a match.

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Tip No. 5: Watch the Youngsters

If you want to see the stars of tomorrow, be sure to check out the Junior tournament. Photograph courtesy of Chris Trotman/Getty Images for USTA

The other thing that's really cool is you can see the best juniors. The coolest thing is looking at who has won the U.S. Open Junior Tournaments [in the past]. It's Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray, Serena Williams, Lindsay Davenport, Justine Henin. Almost every pro who's successful now played Junior U.S. Open. You can watch the very best juniors—who are not that different, in terms of playing style, from the full-fledged pros—competing for the highest trophy that they can possibly attain to at the age of eighteen or nineteen. That, to me, is a really neat way of getting into the game, because that guy or that girl might be playing in center court in another couple years.

Players to Look Out for:

The Ymer Brothers, Elias and Mikael

Mikael Ymer (on the left) and his brother Elias (on the right) are two players Thompson says you won't want to miss. Also, what's cooler than siblings who are exceedingly good at the same sport? Not a whole lot. Photograph courtesy of Getty Images

They're both in the top ten in Juniors. You watch them play, and you're like, "This is the next Nadal and the next Federer." They're incredible...and they still kind of make dumb mistakes, sometimes. Their strokes, their games are all there, but they still have mental dips. You [might] think, "Oh, that kid just went to sleep for a couple games, and now he's losing"—but don't worry, he's going to come back.

The Wild Cards

Mackenzie McDonald, who won the 2016 Collegiate singles championship (also doubles!) for UCLA.

Every year the U.S. Open gives a wild card to the best collegiate player, so keep an eye out for whomever won the collegiate championships and the Junior National championships.

Christina McHale

Christina McHale is a local primed to make a stellar showing at this year's U.S. Open. Photograph courtesy of Ian Walton/Getty Images

A local favorite. She trains in Teaneck, New Jersey. She won the eighteen-and-under singles title a couple years ago, so she got a wild card into the U.S. Open. Now she's playing on the pro tour, and she just took a set off Serena, and is a really excellent top twenty player.

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Martina Hingis

After some time away, Martina Hingis is back in competition, and she probably knows as well as the next player that revenge is most certainly a dish best served cold. Photograph courtesy of Chris Hyde/Getty Images

She was a fantastic junior, won a bunch of Grand Slams, and then kind of quit under disgrace. (She was injured, but also tested positive for cocaine.) Now she's back, and she's the second-best doubles player in the world. Even though she's ranked number two in the world right now, Hingis is probably the best doubles player that we have, male or female. She is fierce, competitive, and very dramatic—not super-nice, but incredibly good. If anybody has a chance to watch her play doubles, she's a force to be reckoned with.

Serena Williams

Is Serena Williams the greatest tennis player of all time? She's aiming to add to her already legendary record of championships. Photograph courtesy of Paul Kane/Getty Images

Serena Williams is tied with Steffi Graf for the most open era Grand Slam championships (they both have twenty-two). That's way more than any man. It's awesome. She has been injured this summer. She's going into the tournament with a shoulder injury, but if she can win the U.S. Open, she'll pull ahead as the holder of the greatest number of open-era Grand Slam championships. In many people's minds, she's the greatest tennis player, man or woman, who's ever played the game. She's certainly the most dominant, but this will further cement her status—and since she's injured, there's a little extra tension. The Serena Williams drama can peak here. It's also nice because she won her first Grand Slam title at the U.S. Open in 1999, so there's a bit of history that's going on with regards to Serena.

To learn more about Racquet, see racquetmag.com.

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