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Thousands flock to Flushing Meadows to kick off U.S. Open

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For many, Monday marked a first trip to the National Tennis Center in Flushing for Opening Day of the 2002 U.S. Open. But not for Howie Arons.

Between coaching the Cardozo boys’ tennis team to a bevy of PSAL and Mayor’s Cup crowns and going to Opening Day ever since the tournament moved from Forest Hills 25 years ago, Arons knows his way around the grounds.

“It’s always an exciting day, especially now that some of the kids I’ve known since they were 9 and 10 are here,” Arons said as he waited on line for a hot dog. “To me that’s the most fun.”

Instead of hobnobbing with celebrities inside Arthur Ashe Stadium, Arons likes to walk around the outside courts, watching some of the lesser known tennis players. But this year’s Opening Day crowd of 26,632 made that much more difficult.

“I used to love to get there and there would be no one there,” Arons said of the outer courts. “Now there’s a 20, 25 minute wait to get into one of these mini-stadiums.”

One major difference at the Open, the first since Sept. 11, is the reminders of the t errorist attacks, which happened just two days after the conclusion of last year’s U.S. Open.

Near the Arthur Ashe monument just outside of the stadium, which bears his name, stood a 2,700-pound bronze statue of a firefighter kneeling, head bowed with helmet in hand which was originally commissioned for the Firefighters Association of Missouri but has since been donated to the city of New York.

The statue, which has been seen throughout Manhattan since last September, is on loan to the National Tennis Center.

One obvious change has been the tightened security, not just on the grounds, but around Flushing Meadows Corona Park. A noticeable New York Police Department presence, which basically locked down any park roads close to the tennis center, joined a security force which searched every spectator’s bag at the several entrances to the grounds.

Patrons were not allowed to bring any bag bigger than 12 inches, by 12 inches by 16 inches. But those who heeded the USTA’s warnings about not bringing bags were able to walk through the gates quickly.

“I got in the express line, I didn’t have any bags and they just let me right in,” said Hilary Winn, 23, from Manhattan.

“All I brought was my wallet and I got in even faster than I ever did before,” Arons quipped.

It’s a good thing he brought his wallet, because without it Arons would not have been able to afford the $5 hot dog or any of the other food many complained were priced exorbitantly .

“Almost $16 for this is ridiculous,” said 23-year-old Jennifer Jones from Brooklyn, as she knoshed on a hamburger and fries. “This is my first time here and overall it’s a great experience.”

The choices around the food court were plentiful, as everything from Penne alla Vodka ($7.75) to Chicken Burritos ($8.75) and French crepes ($8.50) were available. The highest priced item at the food court for a second straight year was the cold Maine lobster roll at the Fulton Seafood Exchange, which could be had for a mere $15.75.

If you think the food is pricey, just get in line for official U.S. Open merchandise, which sets you back $103 for a jacket, $69 for a sweatshirt, $50 for a polo shirt and $22 for a hat.

The lack of big-time players during the day session made for more crowded grounds as people window shopped at the various courts in search of a hot match, said 15-year-old Matt Brand.

“You didn’t see a lot of stars,” said the Westchester native, who attended his second Open and was disappointed not to see top-seeded Lleyton Hewitt, the defending men’s champion. “There were no big stars, except for Anna Kournikova and you know she’s going to lose.”

Brand was right, as Kournikova, the only player to sell out Louis Armstrong Stadium Monday, was a major disappointment, losing to little known Angelique Widjaja, 6-3, 6-0.

In other Opening Day action, on the men’s side, fourth-seeded Yevgeny Kafelnikov defeated Davide Sanguinetti, 6-2, 7-5, 3-6, 6-4, No. 8 Albert Costa topped Magnus Norman, 6-2, 6-4, 3-6, 6-3, No. 13 Roger Federer knocked off Jiri Vanek, 6-1, 6-3, 4-6, 7-5, and fan favorite James Blake from Yonkers defeated Brian Vahaly, 6-7, 6-3, 6-3, 7-6.

On the women’s side, No. 4 Lindsay Davenport defeated Eva Dyrberg, 6-2, 6-1, eighth-seeded Justine Henin topped Samantha Reeves, 6-1, 6-2, and No. 11 Daniela Hantuchova beat Nicole Pratt, 6-2, 6-1.

Under the lights at Arthur Ashe Stadium, top-seeded Serena Williams defeated Corina Morariu, 6-2, 6-3 after an emotional ceremony that remembered the terrorist attacks, and No. 6 Andre Agassi topped Robby Ginepri, 6-3, 6-3, 6-3.

Reach Associate Sports Editor Dylan Butler by e-mail at TimesLedger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 143.

Posted 7:20 pm, October 10, 2011
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