Fans watch outside the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center...

Fans watch outside the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Queens on Sunday. Credit: Michael Owens

Thousands of tennis fans milled about the grounds of the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center on Sunday, catching top players practicing under the hot sun and experiencing the U.S. Open atmosphere a day ahead of the tournament’s start.

The tournament, celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, will show off the newly rebuilt Louis Armstrong Stadium, which seats 14,000.

Sunday’s final practice day culminated a series of weeklong free events for fans and gave them an opportunity to see their favorite players hit some balls before they compete to win it all over the next two weeks.

Fans said the practice day was a low-key way to feel the excitement of the tournament, at no cost and without the crowds.

John Bocker, 80, drove two hours from New Jersey with his daughter to attend the final practice day. He said he thought the day was a “well-kept secret” for the tennis community.

“It’s much less crowded and a lot easier,” he said. “I saw all the big names!”

He was one of many who lined up in droves to see Roger Federer, Serena Williams and Andy Murray take to the courts. They came prepared for a daylong marathon of tennis watching, armed with sunscreen, wide-brimmed hats, and the ubiquitous jumbo tennis balls to be decorated with players’ signatures.

Ann Marie Mohammed of Mineola said she has attended the last practice day for the past four years, and it is an ideal way to catch a glimpse of all the top players in one day.

“If you come to see a match, you only get to see a couple players,” Mohammed said. “The practice days always get a great turnout.”

Fans also said that Sunday gave them a chance to practice their viewing strategy for the U.S. Open.

Katie Kuhn, 32, of Washington, D.C., said she was getting a feel of the layout and logistics of the tournament prior to coming back for matches on Monday.

Visitors stroll outside the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center...

Visitors stroll outside the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Queens. Credit: Michael Owens

“It’s so huge, and you want to have an idea of what you’re getting into . . . Now I’m prepared,” she said, of the tennis center, adding that it was “pretty cool” to be so close to Grand Slam champions like Angelique Kerber.

Andrea Toll, 37, said though she was overwhelmed by everything on Sunday, she’d be ready to return during the tournament with an “action plan” of where to go.

Others said the tournament’s steep ticket prices warded them off, but Sunday was a thrill.

“The whole thing is exciting!” said Marcos Franco, 82, of Corona, who added that he’s rooting for Rafael Nadal to capture another U.S. Open win. “I hope I can do this every year . . . Tennis is a beautiful sport, but I’m too old to play.”

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