Behind-The-Scenes at the U.S. Open Media Center

On the Baseline Tennis News
August 29, 2008

FLUSHING MEADOWS, New York—Nothing makes you feel more like a US Open “insider” than having a press pass dangling around your neck.

I’m thrilled to be one of 1,655 journalists from around the globe who has such an all-access pass, covering the largest international tennis event of the year.

To be honest, I’ve always wondered what the US Open Media Center would look like…not to mention who would be there, and which players I would meet.

Let me tell you, the action in the Media Center is almost as exciting as the action on the courts, except tennis racquets are replaced by laptops and cameras. It’s sort of like rush hour, 14 hours a day, or sometimes even longer, if a night match goes on into the wee hours of the morning (Thank you, James Blake).

The heart of the Media Center is located on the ground floor of Arthur Ashe Stadium, and is divided into two sections: West Media (for print journalists) and East Media (mostly photographers and radio). The USTA Public Relations Office and Media Information Services are also located here. Basically, anything related to print, TV, radio or online media can be found underneath Arthur Ashe stadium.

At first glance, the US Open’s Media Center is what you’d expect to see: an enormous nerve center filled with journalists scrambling to meet deadlines.

The thing that catches your eye upon entering the Media Work Room is row after row of work stations (much like small cubicles), with each station equipped with a TV monitor, an outlet to plug in a laptop, and free wi-fi.

The TV monitors have about 20 stations that display tennis action on EVERY court, including all outside courts. So, when the press want to know who’s playing who, or where, or what the score is, they just change the channel on their TV. One channel includes a list of ALL current matches with up to the minute scores (like a mini-scoreboard).

Flip to the next channel and you’ll see stats for the match in progress on Arthur Ashe Stadium. Another channel offers a static page that tells you the schedule of press conferences for players and what room they’ll be in. There’s also a dedicated channel for the USA Network, so you can tune in to watch nightly commentary for matches in Ashe stadium.

Also televised exclusively for the media: press conferences in Interview Room 1 (the BIG press conference room), usually reserved for top-seeded players like Anna Ivanovic or Dinara Safina. Basically, journalists never have to leave their work stations, although it’s always nicer to be sitting courtside in Arthur Ashe Stadium to see the action live.

Journalists at the US Open have a grueling schedule, working side-by-side, 7-days/week with very little time for things like bathroom breaks, food, or sleep.

Since this is only the first week of the US Open, most journalists are showered, well fed and well-rested. But I can only imagine what week two will bring, once the clean laundry is gone, the days of the week start running together, and things like lunch become optional.

An important thing to note about journalists at the US Open—there is a massive international press corp in attendance, representing over 45 countries.

I’ve actually tried to strike up a conversation with a few different people, not knowing where they were from–once in the media dining area, and another occasion standing by the lockers helping a Russian journalist try to unsuccessfully open his locker. Both of them just looked at me like I had three heads when I tried to talk to them in English.

A good reminder that even though this tournament takes place in the United States, it really isn’t all that American.

Speaking of food, the media dining area is located just inside the main entrance to the Media Center, directly across the hall from the entrance to the main Media Work Room. The food is actually pretty good, and credentialed media get a daily allotment of $20 for meals. The dining room is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Unfortunately, my lunches tend to be in the $18 range, so sometimes dinner is just a cookie.

The hallway in between the dining area and the Media Work Room is where the players filter in and out as they head back to the locker rooms after practice, or after a match. So far, I’ve had a few encounters with the BIG players, including Roger Federer, who held the door for me (nice guy).

Other players that I’ve seen walking in and out are Alize Cornet from France, Lindsay Davenport and recent Pilot Pen winner, Caroline Wozniacki from Denmark.

Player press conferences are an essential part of the media mix. After their match players are escorted at designated times to one of the three interview rooms located down the hall from the Media Work Rooms.

I learned the hard way that you have to submit player interview requests at the Player Information Desk before the start of play each day, or at least before the player’s match has ended. Otherwise, the player has most likely left the grounds, or is unavailable. Not a fun situation when you have a deadline.

On the plus side, there are occasions when you can catch a player on a practice court, and ask for an informal interview on the spot. Getting a copy of the player practice schedule each day is key to increase your odds of getting what you need to write an article.

With so much tennis action going on, you’d assume that you can’t be everywhere, all the time, right? Well, the Media Center makes sure that you can be everywhere (at least virtually) and still get the information you need.

Within minutes after a press conference ends, you can get a printed transcript of the interview. Not bad, eh? So far, I’ve been able to sit in on press conferences for Marat Safin, Anna Ivanovic, and Amelie Mauresmo, and collect printed transcripts from all other press conferences.

Who have I met, you ask? Well, not as many players as I would like to (yet), but I’ve met Bud Collins, the man who invented tennis journalism. I’ve even spotted a few celebs in Arthur Ashe stadium, such as Alec Baldwin, and Aretha Franklin.

An unexpected, yet fabulous sighting came just before Thursday’s evening’s session while sitting courtside (media seating). Aaron Piersol, Olympic Gold Medalist, and a bonified “Athlebrity” came onto the court, proudly displaying his gold medal, and was greeted by a standing ovation.

It just doesn’t get any better than this.

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