The Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express Card Members are awarded a whole host of privileges, including access to exclusive, memorable events—and last Wednesday, I was able, with a guest, to be part of a special AmEx 2015 US Open experience. The experience featured an overnight stay at the Westin New York at Times Square, an invitation to a Card Member-only party and cocktail reception with tennis legend Andre Agassi, and tickets to the evening’s quarterfinal match between Roger Federer and Richard Gasquet at Arthur Ashe Stadium.
The Westin Times Square is a Starwood property and official hotel partner of the US Open. As member guests, my childhood friend Carol (Johnny Jet’s sister) and I were graciously greeted and immediately checked in and sent to our recently remodeled room on the 43rd floor, which looked out on the theater district below. After commuting via NJ Transit in 95-degree, high-humidity heat, we were grateful to find a quiet and comfortably cool room. Couple pet peeves of mine: no free internet and no coffee in the lobby. But the crisp silk and white linen queen beds made up for those shortcomings.
The quickest, most sensible way to get to the USTA Bille Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows, Queens (where our night was to begin), is to hop on the 7 train out of Times Square, 42nd St (one block from the hotel) to the Mets-Willets Point station. We were running a bit late, so after riding the local train we crossed the platform at a later stop and switched to the express. On a full train almost completely filled with tennis enthusiasts, we arrived at the complex (a 35-minute trip). A roughly 8-minute walk from the station brought us to the will call window, where we picked up our access pass to the Hospitality Pavilion.
After a quick security bag check, we entered the main building and were directed to the Card Member-only party. Bathed in purple light, the spacious room had plenty of lounge seating and tables for setting down plates of hors d’oeuvres and cocktails, of which there was an abundance (all complimentary).
Card Members waited for the arrival of the scheduled mystery tennis great (we were quietly given a heads-up that it was going to be Agassi) and with camera lights flashing and applause, he walked into the room and moved to the small stage up front to engage in an interview with former French Open Men’s Doubles Champion Murphy Jensen.
Agassi’s interview was refreshingly honest. He was very comfortable answering questions in this intimate setting. One of the questions from an audience member asked whether he and his wife Steffi Graff (winner of 22 Grand Slam singles titles) encourage their children to play the sport.
As he did in his recent memoir “Open,” Agassi referred to his lonely experience growing up as a child tennis prodigy, driven hard to succeed. Mutually, with great joy, he and Steffi support their son’s interest in playing baseball and their daughter’s talent for dance, particularly in hip hop. He then pointed out that you rarely see a second-generation professional tennis player.
After answering questions from around the room he graciously posed for photos and chatted with Card Members before heading to the main court to watch to the men’s quarterfinals. We continued to nosh on curried cauliflower tips, Korean chicken, goat cheese tart, shrimp, and plenty of vegetarian options, then grabbed our gift bag of goodies and hurried to the match ourselves.
Though our seats were a bit on the high-level side, they gave us an interesting take-it-all-in perspective of the match and the crowd. What was almost as fun as watching the players, were the camera grabs of celebrities (Jimmy Fallon and Justin Timberlake, Alec Baldwin, Bradley Cooper) and fans getting caught off-guard and seeing themselves on the Jumbotron.
The play was exhilarating, and the action impossibly fast. Federer’s serve was insane and his drop shot, according to John McEnroe, was “superb” (his commentary was feeding through the radio earphones given to us at the party). But unfortunately, the match itself was quick, as it ended with Federer winning in three straight sets. As we headed back to the 7 train to Times Square, Carol regretted not taking her daughter’s advice to wear flats to the Open. The toll of racing in heels and walking up and down stadium stairs resulted in some limps and occasional cursing. But once we settled under those satiny cool, comfy sheets back at the Westin, all was good.