The U.S. Open is an end-of-summer ritual like no other: The climax of the professional tennis season is a glamorous, raucous welcome back from the beaches and mountains to New York, a city that imparts on the most enormous of all tennis tournaments its signal swarm and swagger.
To be there is special, though not exclusive: More than 700,000 people are expected to file into the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center over the next two weeks. In and around the city, it’s the one time of year when tennis is the sports conversation. The Yankees’ playoff chances and Odell Beckham Jr.’s soundness can wait.
This year’s Open will look nothing like last year’s. Serena Williams, expecting a child this fall, will not be playing. Neither will either of last year’s men’s finalists, Novak Djokovic and Stan Wawrinka: Both are hurt and out for the remainder of the season.
Meanwhile, Roger Federer, who missed last year’s Open because of a knee injury, is back, way back—to No. 3 in the ATP rankings, just behind Andy Murray, who’s been plagued by a sore hip but is expected to play.
Rafael Nadal rose to No. 1 (again) earlier this month and will be the top seed on the men’s side, and fans in New York are hoping for what they’ve never seen these many years in Flushing Meadows: Fed vs. Rafa. A number of players, including a few rising, young stars, could stand in the way of that.
The women’s side, with Serena’s absence, is wide open—as wide open as any Open in memory. Maybe Venus Williams, who at age 37 has played terrific tennis this year, has one more in her. (She won the tournament in 2000 and 2001.) Last year’s champion, Angelique Kerber, has struggled all year, though she remains capable of a deep run.
Garbiñe Muguruza, the young Spaniard brimming with potential, has not let up since her Wimbledon triumph, though Karolina Pliskova of Czechoslovakia, Britain’s Johanna Konta, Elina Svitolina of Ukraine—along with veterans like Simona Halep and Caroline Wozniacki—all have a shot, as do others.
If you’re going out to Flushing Meadows to the matches in person, then sure, catch Federer and Venus if you have the opportunity. Who knows how many chances remain? But don’t pass up a chance to see the up-and-coming players who could wind up as tennis greats: the young American Madison Keys, Muguruza, and French Open winner Jelena Ostapenko of Latvia are emerging on the women’s side; on the men’s, Austria’s Dominic Thiem, Nick Kyrgios of Australia, and Germany’s Alexander “Sascha” Zverev. They’re all remarkable, each in her or his own way, and you’ll be able to say you saw them when.
Beyond that, get to the new Grandstand if you can—it’s a superb tennis venue. If you’re going for a day session during week one, stay out of cavernous Arthur Ashe Stadium and stroll the side courts. It’s a rare chance to see top pros in settings as intimate as you’d find at a small college. Don’t skimp on the doubles matches, wherever on the grounds they have them.