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U.S. Open's gala dinner fetes Final 8

Spectators watch the the second round of play

Spectators watch the the second round of play at Arthur Ashe Stadium at the 2012 US Open tennis tournament. (Aug. 29, 2012) Credit: AP

Even as the United States Open's very lucrative fortnight draws to a close -- those $20 Champagne flutes, $5 ice cream bars and $75,000 luxury suites generate, on average, $200 million -- a ticket to the Final 8 Club dinner Wednesday night is free, and not for sale.

This doesn't mean that you, weekend hacker or even club A singles champ, should bother showing up at the Chase Center Hospitality Pavilion Wednesday night.

With very few exceptions, invites go out only to those who have played in the Open's quarterfinals in singles or semifinals in doubles, the last eight players in each draw each year. If you don't recognize their faces, try to to be unobtrusive when you examine their tournament credentials, which read "FINAL 8" in black block print.

Each invitee is permitted to bring a guest. Dress code is business casual. Other perks for Final 8s include complimentary tickets for friends and shuttle service from Manhattan hotels.

Those who have RSVP'd this year include Lindsay Davenport, Jennifer Capriati and Virginia Wade, Gustavo Kuerten, Mats Wilander and Aaron Krickstein.

At least 543 current and former players are eligible to attend, including 92-year-old Australian William (Bill) Sidwell, half of the champion doubles team from 1949, when the tournament was still played at the West Side Tennis Club, and Melanie Oudin, 20, who made her fairy tale run to the women's singles quarterfinals here in 2009.

All the Agassis and Lendls you might expect are there, as well as many more whose play won them a place in history but not, perhaps, public memory. Kosei Kamo? And how could we forget the amazingly named Linky Mortlock Boshoff?

Roger Federer and Serena Williams got invites but will most probably not attend. It seems they may have to work.

Six cases of Moet will be cracked, along with wine, beer and, according to the menu, "assorted Pepsi products."

After drinks, it's buffet. A few of the selections: asparagus polonaise, red snapper fillets, flatbread pizzas with truffles and garlic Béchamel, summer fruit crumble served with Marsala cream for dessert.

Oudin and Jack Sock, two of the youngest members, said they'd consider stopping by, though Sock claimed not to have heard about it. "I guess I didn't get that invite," he said. "But if you think about it, there'll be a bunch of legends, past champions. I'll highly consider it."

For Long Islander Gene Mayer, two-fister and one-time world number four who dropped a five-setter to John McEnroe in 1982, the dinner has the feel of a class reunion. "There's family catching-up," he said in a recent phone interview. "Who's graduating from college, where are they working.

"It's funny to have spent 10 years of your life on the road 35, 40 weeks a year -- you get close over that time," Mayer said.

Now the caliber of player likely to make it into the Final 8 probably travels with an entourage. "They live separate lives," he said. "It doesn't breed the same long-lasting relationships the tour did 20 years ago."

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