7 Reasons to GO to the @USTA Australian Wild Card Playoffs in 10 Days
December 10, 2013—I don’t know if you noticed, but the airlines certainly did. The USTA moved the Australian Open Wild Card Playoffs at Lifetime Athletic in Norcross, Georgia back a week to December 20-22 this year. The event continues to creep closer and closer to Christmas every year. Barring another schedule change, the final of this event will be played on Christmas morning in 2016.
What that means for the die-hard is that airfare to the Wild Card Playoffs more than doubled this year. But $350 is still a hell of a lot cheaper than a $1600 ticket to Melbourne. Am I right?
If the airfare scares you off, and you can drive down/up/over, you should still do it. Here’s why:
1) The Player Hotel: The official hotel of the tournament is the Norcross Marriott. At most events, you’ll have a separate hotel for players and for media. Not here. The Marriott Norcross is where everyone stays–players, media and officials.
That makes for a nice bar scene.
And here’s the BEST PART: Rooms during the event start at $36 per night.
You read that correctly. The Marriott is the only 3.5 star hotel in Norcross. That’s what I paid for a room last year and this year. It’s the only 3.5 star Norcross hotel on Priceline Express Deals. (As of today, rooms are $51. Still a steal for what is definitely a decent hotel at the center of the tennis action.)
2) No Draw: You don’t have to wait until the day before the event to figure out who will be playing. They will ALL be playing on Friday for the opening round. And since it’s a playoff format, there’s no luck of the draw involved in who gets who. The #1 plays the #8 seed, the #2 seed plays the #7 seed and so on. If you’re a Denis Kudla fan, you know he’ll play Jarmere Jenkins in the opening round even though the tournament is ten days away.
3) Intensity: Players always play hard, right? Yes, but sometimes they play harder than other times. Like when there’s a direct berth in a Slam on the line. If the Grand Slams are what fans long for, imagine what it’s like for the players. The winners of the playoffs don’t receive a dime other than the guaranteed paycheck from Tennis Australia for showing up at the AO. They don’t receive a single rankings point for a victory, other than the guaranteed points to the winners for making the first round in Melbourne. They want this badly. To lose means heading Down Under on an expensive business trip with no guaranteed revenue. For players in the 100-300’s, that is a very, very daunting proposition.
4) Cheap Rental Cars: Norcross is 30 miles from ATL, and the trip feels even longer as the City fades before you and you merge into a newish suburb which was nothing but forests and cornfields 30 years ago. Reliable public transportation terminates about 10 miles south of Norcross and a taxi ride from the airport will set you back $100. Luckily, ATL is one of the cheapest places on the East Coast to saddle up, where $12/day will get you a little car with unlimited mileage. And you get to drive through the only neighborhood in America with street names honoring both Jimmy Carter AND the man who defeated him, Ronald Reagan.
5) Player Interaction: You want more player interaction than staying in the same hotel, eating breakfast in the same restaurant and swimming in the same indoor pool? Alrighty then. Remember, this is still the tail end of the off-season for players and only three days away from Christmas.
Even after organizers unnecessarily added ‘security’ staff last year, it’s still a great place to chat with players at length. And meet newer players. In Norcross, you got to see Madison Keys before she was famous. You got to see Taylor Townsend play before she was a well-known commodity. And now you get to see Vicky Duval before… Well, too late to see Duval before she became famous, but you can see her play.
Even when she wasn’t playing the event in 2011, Irina Falconi was catching matches and hanging out at the venue.
Expect other Atlanta-bred players to do the same, namely…..Melanie Oudin????
6) It’s Cheap AND Crowded: As a tennis fan, it’s often odd and slightly depressing being the only fan in the stands at a qualifier. Even though nobody in Norcross is in the top 50, you get a tennis-savvy crowd that lives it up.
This is not a place where you will ever hear Big John referred to as “Eisner”.
They say Atlanta is America’s tennis town and it lives up to it at the Wild Card Playoffs. $15 gets you a great reserved seat with lots of cheering.
Or you could pay $65 to attend an empty first round session sometime next summer.
Last year, they added barbecue to the food concessions, which is good, because that Australian ‘food’ they serve at the Playoffs is salty and terrible in my opinion. Think bad pub grub or “Hot Pockets” by another name.
7) There’s Nothing Else To Do: December is the dark side of the moon for tennis fans. A full communications blackout. Dead air. It’s the greatest show in December, and it’s happening in your back yard. Your next opportunity to see tennis in the south is Houston in April. Bloggers struggling for relevance in this darkest hour should swarm to Norcross.
So come on down/up/over to Norcross next weekend, do some last-minute holiday shopping (they have lots of it), and catch some tennis. With all the fan and player intensity, it’s a challenger on steroids. Alright, bad pun. But it is the single best thing the USTA does, bar none.
—Stephan Fogleman, Tennis East Coast