As she approached the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center Monday morning, Sandra Walden of the Bronx, a longtime attendee of the U.S. Open, made an astute observation.
"The line looked like it went from here out to JFK," she said. "We've been going to the Open for over 15 years and we've never seen it that bad." (Also see in pics: Possibly, the safest place in the Unites States!)
Walden and her daughter Connie Dipreta were among the fans who waited over 45 minutes in an unforgiving snake of a security line on the first day of the U.S. Open. Some waited over an hour, others lost count. There were wands, bag checks, confusion about being in the right place, cellphones left in pockets and irritated fans. The wait made for an odd scene Monday morning as some of the world's best players hit courts with no or few fans, many of them caught on the other side of fences.
The U.S. Tennis Association announced new security measures this year that required guests to proceed through magnetometers and wanding before entering the grounds. Fans were instructed to "anticipate slight delays upon entering the grounds," according to a statement from the group Saturday. Fans were instructed to arrive early and that there would be a limit of one bag per person admitted onto the grounds.
"We reassess our security procedures each year and work very closely with all law enforcement agencies on the local, state and federal level when building our security plan for the tournament," Mike Rodriguez, the event's director of security, said in a statement. "We ask for the fans' patience and understanding as it relates to these new procedures."
Many organizers of large sporting events have revisited their security protocols in the wake of the Boston Marathon bombings in April. The New York City Triathlon had bomb-sniffing dogs and used clear plastic bags in the event's transition zone and the NFL recently tightened its bag policy.
At the Open, fans said they had grown accustomed to swift and seamless crowd control, which was not their experience Monday. The confusion over the lines and waits split some groups apart, including Lisa Friedberg and her friend Suebeth Baumgartner, both of New Jersey. In tow were Friedberg's nieces, Nicole, 15, and Halle, 12.
The group arrived by car about 10:50 Monday morning but did not reassemble on the grounds until noon, delaying their viewing and staggering their lunch, Baumgartner eating a slice of pizza alone in the facility's dining concourse.
"It took less time to drive here than it did to wait in line," Friedberg said. "As soon as we got out of the car, the line was already out of control."
Hoping to skirt the lines, Gavin and Jousoot McLeod of Manhattan came without bags and went to the "speed lines" for bagless fans, yet still found themselves waiting to enter for over 30 minutes.
"This is the worst I've ever seen it," Gavin McLeod said. "It makes me not want to come back."
The couple said they missed some of their favorite players on the practice court Monday morning, a favorite site for eager fans hoping to get a good view during the earlier stages of the tournament, but hoped to catch Rafa Nadal and Novak Djokovic later in the tournament.
"I guess this is the world we live in," he said.
The airport-style security was something the tennis association was reviewing before Boston, Chris Widmaier, a spokesman for the U.S. Tennis Association, said. While they acknowledged the delays Monday morning were long, they said they aimed to swiftly reduce the fan wait time.
"We need to have a better system in place," he said Monday afternoon, as the lines decreased. "And I think even by the night entry we'll have the delays solved."
The delays were not just the result of more detection devices being used, Widmaier said, but by fans not knowing which lines were for those with bags and which ones were not. Organizers plan to add signs and volunteers to better direct traffic.
The gates Tuesday will open at 9:30 a.m., a half-hour earlier than normal, he said. "The fan experience is very important to us at USTA," he said.
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