The Djokovic Effect: Long line snakes around grounds
NEW YORK—Classes begin tomorrow for many grade-school students, but if they want to get a head start in economics, they can see the law of supply and demand in action today at the U.S. Open.
The Labor Day schedule is loaded, so much so that world No. 1 Novak Djokovic's match with Alexandr Dolgopolov was put on Louis Armstrong Stadium, the Open's second-largest court with a capacity of 10,103. It seems an unlikely venue for tennis' hottest star, but consider what happened yesterday: The tournament was forced to move the final match on Arthur Ashe Stadium (Sam Stosur vs. Maria Kirilenko) to the Grandstand when two preceding men's matches ran long—even though both were decided in three sets. Mardy Fish and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga are contesting one men's match on Ashe later today, and that may explain why Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova and Francesca Schiavone were scheduled on Flushing Meadows' biggest arena instead of Djokovic and Dolgopolov. (Serena Williams vs. Ana Ivanovic is the other Monday Ashe match.) Considering the night session features Caroline Wozniacki and Roger Federer, the USTA does not want the day session running long.
The scheduling decision is debatable, but it's a boon for grounds-pass holders, who are granted access to certain sections of Armstrong. But you know the old saw about something that seems too good to be true. By 11:45 A.M., one hour and 45 minutes after the public was allowed to enter the National Tennis Center, the line for Armstrong stretched back to the fountains outside Ashe on the opposite side of the facility. It's easily the longest line I can remember seeing here, by at least 10 times over. Apparently, everyone knew about Djokovic's not-before-1:00-P.M. descent on Armstrong, and everyone wants to see him.
Well, almost everyone. Besides the daunting wait these determined queuers face, another unfortunate byproduct is that first-time visitors to the Open may confuse this anomaly with standard operating procedure. When I asked a man near the end of the line how long he was willing to wait, he didn't seem aware that he was waiting for Djokovic's match. (He said he wasn't sure how long he'd stick it out.) Thankfully, USTA employees are positioned around the line—one of them told patrons by the fountain at 11:45 than they "will get in, 100 percent"—and police officers are nearby to ensure no cheating, like a car on the Long Island Expressway driving all the way up to an exit and wedging its way in.
But most fans are here for one reason—the 60-2 Serb. By 1:15, the line had grown longer, nearly extending to the South Gate entrance. For those that entered it much earlier, the payoff appears to be worth it. "One hour and 20 minutes," a man near the front of the line told me how long he'd been waiting. And I did recognize the shirts of some fans who I first saw outside Ashe hours ago. The opening week of the Open gives grounds-pass holders the best value, with an array of matches to choose from, but to see Djokovic during his historic season for $58, the cost of a grounds ticket, perhaps rivals that—if they can actually get into Armstrong and see him.
"It's all Djokovic's fault," said one man in the line.
It probably is.