Kip Smith had a choice: Watch from the stands as world-class tennis players like Gael Monfils and Jarkko Nieminen compete at the U.S. Open, or charge his cellphone.
Smith, a Connecticut IT professional, so needed to stay plugged in Wednesday that he abandoned his courtside seat and was among the hordes crowding one of the few cellphone battery charging stations at the Flushing, Queens, venue.
"It's pretty annoying," said Smith, 36, of Fairfield, Conn., who said he relied on a U.S. Open phone app to guide him to matches and other events. "I'm missing three matches, but I had to charge my phone."
About 35,000 fans -- many armed with smartphones for tweeting, texting and photographing their experiences -- have descended on the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center this week. Some didn't have fully charged phones and others drained their batteries during the matches. But without a vast system of charging stations -- a lack of technology that officials with the United States Tennis Association acknowledge needs a remedy -- many fans at the largely outdoor center have been left scrambling.
Three sites with limited capacity provided some relief: lounges for American Express and Chase Bank cardholders, and a Time Warner Cable spot with 32 chargers.
Chris Widmaier, a spokesman for the USTA, said adding charging units to the grounds is "certainly on our radar," and predicted a system would be installed by the 2014 U.S. Open.
"We need to increase the amount of access," said Widmaier, who explained that the USTA has invested about $500 million on the center in the past 15 years and has plans for another $500 million in the next few years, including a new retractable roof on Arthur Ashe Stadium. "That should be in the works. Our goal is to create the most fan-friendly, tech-savvy sporting center." The lack of technology is a bit of a head-scratcher, some say, especially given the American public's addiction to their smartphones.
Richard Kohn, a Merrick native who has attended the Open for the past 17 years, said he's seen the need for attendees to have almost constant access to their smartphones grow exponentially in recent years.
Last year, he recalled, a beer company's suite had outlets wrapping the room, making it a very popular hanging-out spot.
"Everybody just charged their phones and drank beer," said Kohn, 56, who now lives in Kansas City, Kan.
Adam Sheflin, a security guard working the event, was one of four people who plugged their cellphones into a publicly accessible electrical outlet near Court 11 -- about 10 steps away from a pay phone with no dial tone.
"They should have a charging station with a bunch of outlets," said Sheflin, 46, of Queens. "I guess they don't think of everything."Debbie McCormack pumped her fists in a sort of victory stance after plugging her iPhone into a charger inside one of the credit card lounges. She and her husband, Tom McCormack, of Glen Head, were spending the day taking in tennis as a gift from their children.
"It's fantastic," McCormack said of being able to charge her phone. "I was about 40 percent charged. My kids keep emailing me and I want to share the day."
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story gave an incorrect name for the Time Warner Cable charging station.