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USTA's Fan Week celebrates U.S. Open and its followers

Elijah Gill, 8, and Tafari Gill, 11, of

Elijah Gill, 8, and Tafari Gill, 11, of the Bronx show off their giant autographed tennis balls at Arthur Ashe Kids Day at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Queens on Saturday, Aug. 25, 2018 Credit: Joseph D. Sullivan

The U.S. Open is going to great lengths to make its qualifying week an unqualified success.

Beginning Monday, Aug. 26, U.S. Open Fan Week is not only the last chance for players to qualify for the main draw that begins on the 26th, but also a chance for fans of all ages to connect with the game at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center.

The qualifying matches are open to the public, and there will opportunities to watch top players like Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, Serena Williams and Simona Halep practice. There will be legends matches featuring John McEnroe, Jim Currier, Andy Roddick, James Blake, Martina Navratilova and Tracy Austin .

There is also an opportunity for families to get involved in the game through the USTA’s Net Generation program. And if you just want to hang out and listen to music, there will be a series of concerts.

Best thing? It’s all free.

“When you think about the USTA’s primary purpose, it is to promote and grow the sport. We want use the seven days of content during U.S. Open Fan Week to really inspire kids and adults to experience the sport and showcase our sport as being accessible for all,” says Stacey Allaster, the USTA’s chief executive of professional tennis. “We have a chance to invite the residents of Long Island and Queens and Manhattan and the Bronx to come out to the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center for free. We can’t think of another professional sports event in the United States where you can come for free and watch Roger and Serena practice, an amazing qualifying competition, our legends of the past.”

The target audiences are families with young children and millennials. Kids can get an introduction to the game by hitting balls at the Net Generation area between the food court and Court 17. There  will be several other recreational activities offered.

“Absolutely, that’s the magic,” said Allaster about getting rackets in kids’ hands. “They come and say ‘Wow, this is cool.’ They know they want to play. Will have a Net Generation zone which is brand new where kids can experience tennis and other activities. We think kids should play multiple sports, that they shouldn’t specialize early, that it’s good for their physical and mental development to play other sports. We think of it as U.S. Open summer camp.”

As for drawing millennials, it’s nightly entertainment with a chance for a tennis experience.

“We want millennials to choose their happy hour time to come to the tennis center,” Allaster said. “On Wednesday, Thursday and Friday we will have the concerts. We hope to draw them out to the concerts, then they might have a tennis experience.”

The Heineken Happy Hour will feature music played by local DJs from Tuesday through Friday. On Wednesday, the indie band LANY will perform, on Thursday country music star Brett Eldredge, and Friday singer songwriter Leon Bridges.

The annual highlight of Open qualifying week is Arthur Ashe Kids Day on Saturday, Aug. 24.

“At the end of the day it’s about getting more young families, more millennials interested in our sport,” Allaster said.

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