The 2015 US Open Experience, with the SPG Amex Card

Exhibition doubles match after Federer won, with John McEnroe

Exhibition doubles match after Federer-Gasquet, with John McEnroe


I am not Lee Abbamonte. Let that be clear. Like Lee, I am a New Yorker by way of Connecticut, a traveler keen on places less-traveled—but I am not Lee, youngest American to visit every country on Earth. And yet on at least a few occasions, travel has afforded me the same returns and privileges it has afforded one of the world’s most traveled people. That’s how travel works—especially if you have a good credit card.

Last Wednesday, I stood in for Lee at the US Open in Queens, NY, as a guest of American Express. The directive, as it was for Lee in 2014 and 2013, was to experience a few of the lesser-known benefits of the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express, a good card already known for big benefits like free nights at Starwood properties (like St. Regis, Westin, W Hotels, Sheraton, Aloft, etc.; here’s the full list of Starwood properties)—and now free Boingo Wi-Fi at over a million locations and no foreign transaction fees. It turns out there’s a lot more to it, from this US Open experience to Broadway shows and more.

So, my buddy Chris and I (I had a plus-one) headed to Mets-Willets Point (also the stop for Citi Field, where the Mets play) in Queens on the 7 train for some incredible tennis, replenishing drinks, Korean chicken and lobster hors d’oeuvres, and quality time with tennis legend Andre Agassi—all as is made standard for SPG Amex Card Members.

To the US Open, from Mets-Willets Point subway station

To the US Open, from Mets-Willets Point subway station


Getting to the USTA Billy Jean King Center in Flushing Meadows, Queens, is pretty simple, but still a hike by subway from the other boroughs. So, we broke up the trip with a stop for legendary Donovan’s Pub burgers and then hopped back on the 7 for another 15-minute ride. By arrival at Willets-Point, the world around us was already filled with tennis: people in tennis whites, with Federer signs, and talking about the match in play, and then “Tennis” signs (as above) and assigned personnel in place to direct people.

The signs were not fully necessary, as the subway station opened up naturally to an unexpectedly beautiful boardwalk stretching all the way to the tennis. People strode in both directions, some finishing their days after attending earlier matches and others heading fast for buzzing Arthur Ashe Stadium, where #2 Roger Federer was set to battle #12 Richard Gasquet in the night’s quarterfinal. SPG Amex was actually offering free purple bike shuttles down the boardwalk, but we declined. The walk was under ten minutes and refreshing, almost beach-like. There were also clumps of 7 trains and buses in sight, apparently at MTA-allocated terminals. That’s where they go when out of service, I guess. Pretty interesting.

Welcome to the US Open

Welcome to the US Open


The lines to enter the tennis complex weren’t short, but we jumped most of them on our way to East Gate Will Call to pick up tickets and headed inside the USTA Billy Jean King Center’s Hospitality Pavilion. And the night picked up.

Just part of the food spread at the SPG Amex event with Agassi

Just part of the food spread at the SPG Amex event with Agassi


Inside, bathed in soft, purple light (matching the refreshed look of the SPG Amex card), was the SPG Amex room. The space was partitioned to be vast, with an open bar in a wing on the right as you come in. On the left, in the back, was a hefty and delicious spread of food options, and white lounge seating and tables spread around generously. There was no end to the plates of complimentary small bites coming around—lobster, shrimp, steak—and the conversation was open and upbeat, as happens when people get cool things for simply holding a certain credit card.

Andre Agassi and Murphy Jensen

Andre Agassi and Murphy Jensen


Soon enough, the night’s surprise (for some) guest turned up, and the attention of the 60 or so in the room turned to its center. Andre Agassi, the legend himself, proceeded to talk before our small group in Q&A format, led by Murphy Jensen, a former French Open Men’s Doubles Champion and a great dude. Dressed in smart black and looking ageless, Agassi was warm and well-spoken. He addressed questions honestly and patiently, from Jensen and later from guests who wanted to ask them, and talked about his career, his childhood, his family, and the night’s match. He then greeted and took photos with all interested SPG Amex guests at a prepared photo station (configured so that you could email the photo to yourself).

Me with Andre Agassi (phone)

Me with Andre Agassi (phone)


A shake of Andre’s hand, a thank you, a flash of the camera, an incredible SPG Amex cupcake—and we were off, just in time, to catch the start of the US Open men’s quarterfinals.

Quarterfinals: Federer vs Gasquet

Quarterfinals: Federer vs Gasquet, with SPG Amex


Arthur Ashe Stadium is an amazing place to see tennis. Up in Section 110, our tickets seated us up high, but the views were still great, near center court. In fact, the perspective we were allowed reminded me of live soccer, at which higher seats are usually better seats. Many thanks to SPG Amex for the thoughtful sightlines.

Down below, the quality of tennis was comically good. Unfortunately for Frenchman Richard Gasquet, the competition was not, as the match was over in three relatively swift sets. But Federer, who has since lost in the final to Novak Djokovic, was dominant, world-class, unreal. It was so cool to see one of our generation’s best athletes in person, and so on his game. His serve, his dropshots, his winners—everything was working. I’d last seen Roger playing Lindsay Vonn on top of a glacier in Switzerland, playing with nothing on the line. This was different. This was an experience I won’t soon forget.

Federer after beating Gasquet

Federer after beating Gasquet


After the match finished, and the spectator volume was allowed to swell a bit (live tennis asks for quiet, which is a little bizarre if you’re new to it), Roger did a quick interview and then blasted autographed balls into the crowd as part of the traditional Emirates Ball Flight promotion. I loved this. And for sticking around in our seats a bit later still, we were treated to a sort of comedy tennis after the main event: an exhibition doubles match, with mic’d-up commentary from the players, featuring John McEnroe (a Queens native), Michael Chang, Jim Courier (captain of the US Davis Cup team), and Mardy Fish. McEnroe hammed it up, and everybody who stuck around loved it.

7 trains in front of Arthur Ashe Stadium

7 trains in front of Arthur Ashe Stadium


I headed home that night on the 7 with the memory of seeing Federer destroy at the US Open. That alone was enough for the night, but I also took home a personal moment with Andre Agassi, plus photo; a stomach full of lobster, cupcakes and gin and tonics; a few new friends; and a bag of SPG Amex goodies that included a $50 Ralph Lauren gift card, a $10 Amex gift card and a copy of Agassi’s memoir (which my dad says he loved). The new purple SPG Amex adds a nice color to travel. In my own quest to visit every country, on Lee’s heels, it will likely end up in my wallet soon enough.

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