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Scenes from U.S. Open Day 1: Fans on what makes the Queens tournament special

Fans enter the USTA National Tennis Center in

Fans enter the USTA National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows-Coronoa Park on the first day of the U.S. Open Tennis Championships on Monday. Credit: JUSTIN LANE/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutters/JUSTIN LANE/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock

Thousands flocked to see the best players in the world compete Monday in the opening day of the U.S. Open Tennis Championships tournament in Flushing.

Despite sweltering temperatures, fans crowded Arthur Ashe Stadium, the newly rebuilt Louis Armstrong Stadium and at courts throughout the expansive Queens venue.

The Smith siblings arrived at the grounds early to catch the day’s first matches. Donna Smith, 60, of Holbrook, and her brothers have attended the first day of the tournament every year since they were kids, first gathering at the West Side Tennis Club in Forest Hills, before the event moved to its current home in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park.

“It’s a family tradition,” Donna Smith said. “We wait for this all year.”

Her brother Tom Smith, 66, of Middletown, Connecticut, posed with an oversized racket, holding it high over his head while his brother and sister took photos of him. They then rushed to Court Five to watch Milos Raonic defeat Carlos Berlocq.

For many, the tournament provides a rare opportunity to get close to the game’s top talent. Leroy and Marcus Parker regularly come to the tournament together and can still vividly remember watching from the front row as Rafael Nadal and Gael Monfils faced off more than a decade ago, before either of them had emerged as top players.

“I think it’s those kinds of moments that make this tournament special,” said Leroy Parker, 64, of Detroit.

Liya Hauben, 13, was one of dozens of people waiting to catch a glimpse of Novak Djokovic during a practice session. She had her phone trained on the Serbian superstar as he walked to the baseline and recorded him from behind a mesh fence, even before he had picked up his racket. They watched him slowly sip from a bottle of water and adjust his wristbands, giddy just be within feet of the player.

“I love that you can see them up close,” said Hauben, who came to the tournament from Philadelphia with her family, and said she was most excited to see Serena Williams on the main court Monday night.

But spectators that showed up during the day got to see a match that quickly made history, as No. 1-seeded Simona Halep lost to Kaia Kanepi, the 44th-ranked player in the world.

Daly Clement, 34, of Brooklyn, said the thrilling upset was the first match he saw at the tournament and that he realized afterward that the others would be disappointing in comparison. 

"I knew no matter what it was, it was going to be downhill from there," he said.

In the courtyard in front of Arthur Ashe, many had their eyes trained on the big screen that streamed three matches at once. Many reclined in the shade on patches of turf, hoping for a breeze and waiting for the next match.

Hungry fans also moved to the food vendors, waiting in line for slices of Margherita pizza, pulled pork sandwiches and lobster rolls. The children had large cups of ice cream, while adults nursed tall cans of beer or cocktails served in souvenir cups.

After watching Americans John Isner and Bradley Klahn face off at the grandstand, Linda and Mike Bruch enjoyed a pair of cocktails, playfully named the Honey Deuce. The couple was visiting from Cut Bank, Montana, a town of about 3,000 people – a fraction of Monday's tournament attendance. Linda Bruch, 57, said the crowd was a little overwhelming, but it was thrilling to be so close to the action.

“Just being a part of this, seeing these people we watch on TV all the time, has been an amazing experience,” she said.

New York Sports