Buying tickets for the US Open felt like something we had to do while here, given that we live just a 20 minute direct train ride from Flushing Meadows. I was also intrigued to see how an American tennis championship compared to a British one. I've been to Wimbledon a few times, mainly through work, and also Queens (which was always fun, as it's much smaller and you feel as if you are really close to the action).
So last week we set off to watch Nadal in the mens' quarter finals - the Littleboys were happily esconsed with our neighbours, where they were having their first ever sleepover. (The tennis here tends to go on until about midnight, and my neighbour had told us 'if you come back before 11, you've wasted your ticket'. )
The weather was distinctly windy, and probably the coolest day we've had here since the end of May; I therefore took a fleece. However, as we ascended to the top of Arthur Ashe stadium - we were right up in the gods, or whatever the equivalent sports-stadium term might be - I realised that a simple fleece would be no protection against the howling gale that was blowing up there. A few people had come with hats and blankets - however, most people were blatantly underdressed, and the stalls selling US Open sweatshirts must have made a fortune that night.
The atmopshere at the US Open - at least in the cheap seats - could not be more different from Wimbledon - where, if I remember rightly, no-one is allowed to come and go during the games itself (you can only leave or arrive at the change of ends). Instead, everyone is milling around, coming in with huge plates of fast food, hot dogs and beers during almost every game. After the first set, about half the people around us seemed to disappear, never to return. Either they thought the match was boring (and, to be fair, it wasn't a classic) or they were simply too cold - the outside area, with food and drink stalls, was packed. We had the impression that for many people it was a night out rather than a chance to watch tennis; the women behind us chatted about eBay for most of the first set. At Wimbledon, this was sometimes my experience when going on a corporate freebie - indeed, many people sat in the hopsitality tents boozing and never even went to watch the tennis - but when going as a normal fan, in the 90s, I remember everyone was concentrated on watching the match.
In between the games, loud music played and it felt more like an ad break than anything else - in fact, it reminded me of the MTV Europe Awards, which I once went to in Barcelona. There were promotional stunts - a couple of people were 'upgraded' to courtside seats courtesy of Continental Airlines -and ads did indeed play on the big screen at the top of the stadium. The whole thing was much bigger, brasher and certainly less formal than Wimbledon.
So which one wins? While I enjoyed our evening (especially once I had warmed up with a cup of coffee), I reckon Wimbledon offers more atmosphere, perhaps down to its formality and traditions, which, while stuffy in some ways, do engender a sense of occasion. (For instance, while I know that forcing the players to wear white might be old-fashioned, in a way I would rather that than Nadal's day-glo trainers, which were frankly distracting.) The US Open felt more like a huge, open-air gig, with the players as entertainment far below us if you could be bothered to watch. I'd love to go again, but maybe we'll spend more on our seats next time and try to get closer to the action. Unless, that is, anyone feels like giving me a VIP ticket......