Friday, October 11, 2013

US Open at the Flushing Meadows Corona Park

Every year since 1978, thousands flock to the Flushing Meadows Corona Park in Queens, New York for the United States Open Tennis Championships, the fourth and final tennis major comprising the Grand Slam each year; the other three are the Australian Open, French Open and Wimbledon. The tournament is held annually in late August and early September over a two-week period at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center.

To get to the park, I took the 7 train to Flushing. It's a little bit of a walk from the train station to the tennis center but you won't realize it once you see the US flags fluttering over the walkway.

From the walkway the Arthur Ashe Stadium can clearly be seen. It seats 22,547 and is the largest outdoor tennis-only venue in the world. I also saw part of the Louis Armstrong Stadium, also called the Singer Bowl. In 1977, the then-incoming president of the USTA saw the underused stadium on a flight into New York and asked the city to let him use Louis Armstrong Stadium and the adjoining land for a tennis facility to host the U.S. Open. The center opened in August 1978. In 1997, Arthur Ashe Stadium became the main stadium for the US Open. Adjacent to the stadiums is the train depot for MTA.

Near the base of the ramp walkway is a map of the 897-acre park. Aside from the USTA Tennis Center, the Flushing-Meadows Corona Park also contains Citi Field, the home of the New York Mets baseball team; the New York Hall of Science, the Queens Museum of Art, the Queens Theatre in the Park, the Queens Wildlife Center, and the New York State Pavilion. It formerly contained Shea Stadium, demolished in 2009.

The Flushing-Meadows Corona Park is the fourth largest public park in the city of New York and was created as the site of the 1939/1940 New York World's Fair. It also hosted the 1964/1965 New York World's Fair.

At the base of the walkway near the entrance to the USTA Tennis Center are several tile mosaic discs encircling a space called Dinkins Circle. The designs on these mosaic discs commemorate the park’s two World’s Fairs. One of the mosaic discs listed the items buried on a time capsule during the 1939 fair. For the 1963 fair, the time capsule contained these items.

You can view the other mosaic discs on my Flickr album. As you can see from my pics, some of the mosaics have sustained damages but apparently won't be repaired anytime soon. Glad I took pics of them, I hope there will be maintenance work on these to prevent further damage. 

After going around the tile mosaics, I made my way to the entrance of the tennis center. I've been coming here to watch the US Open for several years now but I usually just buy the Grounds Admission ticket. It gives access to matches held in the field courts, Grandstand, and portions of the Louis Armstrong Stadium but does not grant admission to Arthur Ashe Stadium where the finals games are held.

This map from the US Open website gives a clear aerial view of the courts and the grounds of the USTA Tennis Center.

Inside the USTA are several booths with lots of activities for the fans. I dropped by one exhibit detailing the life and legacy of Arthur Ashe, who won the inaugural US Open in which professionals could compete in 1968. He is the only black man ever to win the singles title at Wimbledon, the US Open, and the Australian Open. The main stadium at the USTA Tennis Center is named in his honor. Here's a snapshot from one of the moments in his career.

Near the Arthur Ashe stadium is a memorial to him, a sculpture by Eric Fischl called Soul in Flight.
This sculpture  commemorates tennis star and humanitarian Arthur Ashe. Set on a landscaped mound, the heroic classical nude stretches his left arm upwards in a gesture that while taken from the tennis serve, is purely symbolic. The piece thus is not a literal representation of Ashe, but instead an allegory of grace, power and aspiration. This sculpture is framed by curved walls inscribed with biographical details, as well as an inspiration motto favored by Ashe: "From what we get, we make a living; What we give, however, makes a life."

The statue is surrounded by a commemorative garden and is located on a direct axis with the World's Fair Unisphere. At the time of its unveiling in 2000 there were plans to expand the garden into a "Walk of Champions" honoring all of the tennis greats who have played at the US Open through the years.

Every year a tennis player is added to the Court of Champions, and for this year it was Monica Seles. For the rest of the past inductees, click here for the list.
The US Open Court of Champions celebrates the legacy of the greatest singles champions in the history of the US Open and U.S. Championships. Each champion defines the essence of talent and character required to win at tennis’ ultimate proving grounds. Inductees, selected by media from around the world, represent the tournament’s all-time greatest—the best of the best—whose electrifying performances have contributed to making the US Open one of the world’s top sporting events.

The day that I went to the US Open was also the day of the women's singles finals. Since the game didn't start until late afternoon, I decided to see a bit of the Flushing Meadows Corona Park. The park has several sculptures and structures from the two world fairs it previously hosted. 

Near the gates of the USTA is the sculpture Freedom of the Human Spirit. It is a massive bronze statue depicting a male and a female nude with wild swans soaring skyward and was sculpted by Marshall Fredericks for the New York World’s Fair of 1964-65.

Just a few yards away is one of Queens' most iconic and enduring symbols, the Unisphere, designed by parks architect Gilmore D. Clarke.
Commissioned to celebrate the beginning of the space age, the Unisphere was conceived and constructed as the theme symbol of the 1964–1965 New York World's Fair. The theme of the World's Fair was "Peace Through Understanding" and the Unisphere represented the theme of global interdependence. It was dedicated to "Man's Achievements on a Shrinking Globe in an Expanding Universe"

Looming beyond the Unisphere in the pic above are the Astro View Towers, also relics of the 1964–1965 New York World's Fair. The towers have been prominently featured in the movie Men in Black where the iconic saucer-like platforms were depicted as alien spaceships.
By far, the most recognized elements of the New York State Pavilion were its three Astro-View observation towers, purportedly inspired by the buildings of Krypton in the Superman comics. The tallest observation tower stood at 226 feet, contained two observation platforms, and was the highest point of the Fair. These observation decks offered fair-goers an exciting panorama of the fairgrounds and surrounding area including the skyline of New York City. A visitor would travel to the top by taking a 20-second ride in the glass “Sky Streak” capsule. A second, lower platform also acted as an observation deck for viewers. The lowest tower was reserved for use as a snack bar.

Adjacent to the towers is another relic of the 1964–1965 New York World's Fair, the Tent of Tomorrow designed by architect Phillip Johnson.
Originally, the New York State Pavilion had a brilliantly colored fiberglass roof and a supersized Texaco road map done in polished terrazzo. Under the massive tent hosted concerts mezzanine a treasure trove of exhibits showing the wonders of New York State.
The 1964–1965 New York world's fair ended in controversy over allegations of financial mismanagement and collapsed into bankruptcy leaving the many plans for re-use of the pavilion structures unrealized. Today the structures are rusty and are off-limits, I guess something that would prove irresistible to vandals and adventure-seekers. There was police presence around the site when I took this picture.

The small building at the left of the pavilion and the towers is the Theaterama, also designed by Philip Johnson for the world's fair. Today, it is known as the Queens Theatre in the Park and is used for cabaret, concerts, Broadway revivals, new productions, and film festivals.

There is also a landscaped portion in the park showing tennis racquets.

Around 2 pm I made may way to the practice courts as the practice hours of the two contenders for the women's singles finals, Serena Williams and Victoria Azarenka, were posted on the big board and I wanted a chance to see them close. Rafael Nadal was also at the practice courts but he was too far away for my picture to look decent. The champions usually use the farthest practice courts while the people watching them are limited to an area five or six courts away. I did had the chance to snap a quick picture of Serena Williams while she was on her way to the practice courts.

But my all-time favorite tennis champion is Steffi Graf, the first and only tennis player (male or female) to achieve the Calendar Year Golden Slam by winning all four Grand Slam singles titles and the Olympic gold medal in the same calendar year (1988). She retired in 1999 and is now married to former World No.1 men's tennis player Andre Agassi. Here's Steffi Graf's tile in the USTA's Avenue of Aces which honors donors who builds lives through tennis and education.
The "Avenue of Aces" is an eye-catching stretch of engraved pavers designed to connect individuals’ passion for tennis to the US Open at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. Several legendary champions have a personalized paver that anchors their own "Neighborhood" on the Avenue, supporting the important work of USTA Serves.

By the time the women's singles finals was about to start, I had made my way to the plaza and snagged a table in front of the big screen so I can watch the game and cheer for the players. As the game started, a guy came by and sat on one of the chairs near me and watched the game on the screen, too. Some minutes later, he took some sheets of paper from his bag and distributed them to the people around him. He gave me one, too, and it was a ticket for the Arthur Ashe stadium! A free ticket, that really made my day! Thank you stranger! 

So I made my way inside the stadium. My seat was way up but who cares when I can watch a grand slam finals for free? An added bonus was that my seat faced west. It was so great to see the sun set on the Arthur Ashe stadium.

The game was so thrilling especially when it stretched to a deciding set. During that third set, the beautiful summer day has turned into a stunning twilight. My phone camera does not do justice to the colors of the sky. This was already during the awarding ceremonies, with the brilliant sky and a crescent moon above.

I went up the top most tier of the stadium after the game. Before me was the night lights of Queens and the horde of tennis fans on their way out of the USTA Tennis Center.

Both players did their best but that day Serena Williams was better as she won over Victoria Azarenka. Her name has now appeared on the big scoreboard, the 2013 champion of the US Open Women's Singles.

On my way home, I saw this sign on the subway. Nice job, MTA! Sports really is a universal language. If the sign had arrows for Citi-Field and USTA Billie Jean King Tennis Center, most fans would have found it hard to know which way to go. And besides, the names would have taken up a lot of space.

That was a great visit to the Flushing Meadows Corona Park, and the free ticket was an awesome bonus. Definitely, I'll be back next season.

For the rest of my Flushing Meadows Corona Park/US Open photos, here's the album on Flickr - Flushing Meadows Corona Park / US Open

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