The 2023 U.S. Open is going to be one to watch. On the men’s side, last year’s champion Carlos Alcaraz looking to defend his title, whereas Novak Djokovic is looking for elusive Grand Slam no. 24. On the women’s side, there are so many title contenders—including world no. 1 Iga Świątek, and American Coco Gauff, fresh off wins in Cincinnati and D.C.
But what if we told you that you could watch all of these players, for free, before the Open even begins? Because you can—and if you live in New York City, it’s just a quick ride on the 7 train (at the Mets-Willets Point stop) or the LIRR from Penn Station (take the Port Washington Branch).
The U.S. Open’s fan week, which launched in 2017, made a glorious return last year, allowing anyone to come to the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center for free to watch the qualifying tournament and the biggest names in the sport practice before the Open officially begins. And it’s back in 2023: All you have to do is show up—no tickets are necessary.
“It’s a ton of fun,” James Blake, a former American tennis player who had a career-high ranking of no. 4, tells Town & Country of fan week. “I was a fan first of the U.S. Open before I was a player; I love being here. And now fans can come out for free to see some of the greats practicing and some great matches.”
He continues, “You’re going to see unbelievable tennis. It’s a fun and special thing.”
Blake was at the Open on the first night of fan week in 2022 to participate in a legends match, alongside Kim Clijsters, Bethanie Mattek-Sands, and Andy Roddick. “It’s not the same kind of pressure when we played for real out here,” he jokes. Louis Armstrong Stadium was packed to watch the four play.
As Blake references, the qualifying tournament takes place during fan week. In 2021, women’s singles winner Emma Raducanu came through the qualifying tournament—becoming the first qualifier to ever win a Grand Slam. This year’s qualifying tournament, which is played Tuesday, August 22 through Friday, August 25, allows 16 men and 16 women to secure spots in the main draw. Perhaps one of those qualifiers will repeat Raducanu’s magic.
It’s not just qualifying tournament to come watch, though; courts are dotted with stars practicing. In 2019, fans who showed up at fan week were treated to a practice match between Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic. (Here’s a schedule of all the players, so you can plan ahead. To get into the practices on Ashe, you just need to register for a “Fan Access Pass,” which you can do online—and yes, it’s also free.)
In addition to the qualifying tournament and practices—where you will, as Blake says, see some unbelievable tennis—fan week has plenty more to offer to make the trip to Queens worthwhile.
On Wednesday, top tennis stars including Carlos Alcaraz, Frances Tiafoe, Elina Svitolina, Chris Eubanks, Jessica Pegula, Matteo Berrettini, and more will play an exhibition match for Ukraine, with proceeds benefitting Global Giving’s Ukraine Crisis Relief Fund (tickets are just $25), and Thursday, you can sample food from top chefs around the world, with dishes from the likes of Alex Guarnaschelli, Kwame Onwuachi, and Masahuru Morimoto (a bit pricier, at $183 a ticket, to benefit the USTA Foundation—which helps bring the sport to kids in under-resourced communities). Plus, the merch stores and food stations are open—so you can even snag a t-shirt or drink a Honey Deuce before the tournament gets going.
Being at the U.S. Open fan week, it feels like tennis is really back in New York. Due to COVID restrictions, the event wasn’t around in 2020 and 2021 though the tournament was still held. On the first day, nearly 11,000 fans attended—the biggest number for the first day of a U.S. Open week ever.
“It’s nice to see the energy around the tennis build up,” three-time U.S. Open champion Kim Clijsters tells Town & Country of the mood on the grounds during fan week last year. Clijsters also praises the efforts of the USTA Foundation to get “tennis outside of the people who are big tennis fans, to try to get younger kids to get in touch with tennis—so it becomes as popular as the NBA or soccer!” Clijsters, a mom of three, brought her kids to fan week. The last day of fan week, Saturday August 26, is Arthur Ashe Kids’ Day, full of tennis activities and entertainment for families.
Fan week, too, speaks to the U.S. Open and the USTA’s goal of making tennis a sport that is more inclusive, and welcoming, to all. The fact that it’s completely free to enter to watch the qualifiers, and the practices, makes true to that mission.
So even if you can’t make it to the U.S. Open this year, try to swing by for fan week. For the price of just a ride on the subway, you could see Novak Djokovic practice, or maybe watch a match of the tournament’s next winner.
See you in Flushing?
For a full schedule of Fan Week events and a map of the grounds, head to USOpen.org.
Emily Burack (she/her) is the news writer for Town & Country, where she covers entertainment, culture, the royals, and a range of other subjects. Before joining T&C, she was the deputy managing editor at Hey Alma, a Jewish culture site. Follow her @emburack on Twitter and Instagram.