Black stars, icons promise to make US Open memorable

african kings

The U.S. Open, the last major tournament of the tennis season, is an annual tradition for New Yorkers. It’s a cultural event par excellence, with many African-Americans contributing to the experience both on and off the courts.

Thousands, from the sport’s most casual observers to its die-hard fans, make the trek out to Flushing Meadows to experience the traditionally prim and proper sport put through the New York wringer; tennis played in front of a rowdy crowd, under the lights, and to the soundtrack of airplanes flying in and out of nearby La Guardia Airport.

Those who cannot attend, watch on television with rapt attention.

U.S. Open as cultural experience

For many, the U.S. Open is not just about the tennis. For those who need a breather from the action, there is plenty to do on the expansive grounds of the U.S. Tennis Association’s Billie Jean King National Tennis Center.

Visitors can explore the food options, which, aside from standard concessions fare, include a farm-fresh menu, Indian cuisine, and fine dining at the Aces restaurant.

The Arthur Ashe Foundation’s booth, tucked near the stadium bearing the tennis legend’s name, provides more information about Mr. Ashe’s accomplishments and his legacy if you want an impromptu lesson in black sports history and this tennis great.

And if all else fails, a refreshing drink goes well with the open plaza seating; enjoy it with the hundreds of other spectators taking in the last days of the mild August weather.

African-American players to watch out for

On the court, Serena Williams – the world’s No. 1 tennis player — comes into the tournament with two big titles earned earlier this summer in Toronto and Cincinnati. Her sister Venus is also ready to compete. “My volleys are looking good!,” Venus shared earlier this week at a press event. The sisters have also teamed up to vie for the women’s doubles title.

Along with the Williams Sisters, there are other players to note in the women’s field: Sloane Stephens, who achieved her breakthrough with a semifinal appearance at the 2013 Australian Open this past January, is prepared to make a good run. “I’m excited to get to New York,” said the teen. “I think it will be a really great slam. I’m looking forward to it.”

These African-Americans are not the only ones who will be entering the arena. 18-year-old Sachia Vickery is entered into the tournament after winning a national junior-level competition. Fellow teenager Victoria Duval also earned a place in the main draw after winning three rounds in a qualifying event.

On the men’s side, American men’s player James Blake, competes in his 14th U.S. Open. Donald Young, from Atlanta, is also entered into the draw.

Stargazing and hero worshipping at the Open

For the 2013 edition of the tournament, four-time Grammy Award-winning musician Lenny Kravitz has been tapped to perform at the Opening Night Ceremony on Monday, August 26.

Ahead of this year’s event, the U.S. Postal Service issued a stamp to commemorate tennis pioneer Althea Gibson. Gibson was the first African-American to win a Grand Slam title in tennis – the French Open in 1956 – that she followed with trophies from Wimbledon and the U.S. Tennis Championships (now the U.S. Open) in 1957. The stamp debuted 63 years to the day of Gibson’s first match at the U.S. Open.

There are plenty of opportunities to stargaze off-court, too: eye the big screen for celebrities in the stands. Past tournament attendees include Aretha Franklin, Gladys Night, Ciara, Sean Combs, Tyra Banks, Vivica A. Fox, John Legend, and Vanessa Williams. Perhaps we’ll see you at the courts.

Follow Erwin Ong on Twitter at @ErwinCOng.