NEW YORK, NY, USA - If you've ever attended the final Grand Slam of the year, you know there's just something about the US Open. It's a chance for players to put an exclamation point on a season or resurrect a disappointing year. The sense of urgency is palpable; the oft-mentioned "buzz" is real. But what exactly is so special about tennis in New York? Here is a quick breakdown:
Rowdy Crowds - Victoria Azarenka summed up the New York fans in a press conference before US Open play began: "If they love you, they'll cheer you. If they don't like something, they'll boo." The mercurial nature of the courtside crowds can invigorate as well as frustrate players, but the added energy is always a plus for the game of tennis. Fans here impressed Genie Bouchard in just her second US Open main draw appearance. "They're more intense than me almost," Bouchard said after her first round win. "I'm like, 'Okay, calm down.' But it's great. That's what you want from fans, so I love it."
Day/Night Fashion - The grounds of the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center are just a limo ride away from one of the world's fashion capitals, so it's not surprising that apparel sponsors step up their style games during the US Open. Best of all, many of the top players have two separate kits for day and night matches. Athletes tend to wear more functional fashion while the sun is shining, but night play has given us some unforgettable style moments, including Serena Williams' infamous catsuit and Venus Williams' fireworks-inspired spandex dress.
Celebrities - Professional tennis always draws its fair share of famous fans, but only at the US Open do you have a red carpet for celebrity arrivals. Actor Alec Baldwin sat front and center during this year's first night session, making headlines when he snagged a ball Maria Kirilenko shanked into the stands. "I don't play tennis well, but I can catch a slow moving tennis ball," he told ESPN's Pam Shriver.
Final Set Tie-Break - If there is one thing the other three Grand Slams should learn from the US Open, it's that a tiebreak in the final set creates unparalleled drama. Andrea Petkovic's 3-6, 6-3, 7-6(5) second round win over Monica Puig has been one of the most memorable moments of the 2014 US Open thus far, the small group of lucky fans packed on tiny court Court 11 privy to an adrenaline-inducing display of heart and athleticism.
American Hype - The United States has produced relatively few successful tennis exports in recent years, but a new crop of up-and-coming Americans has given US Open fans plenty to cheer about. From 15-year-old CiCi Bellis' win over Australian Open finalist Dominika Cibulkova to the first round showdown between Serena Williams and Taylor Townsend, the women's game has several potential American stars in the making. As 27th-ranked Illinois native Madison Keys put it: "When people say that American tennis is dead and things like that, you know, you definitely take it a little personal."
Arthur Ashe Stadium - With a capacity of 23,157, Arthur Ashe Stadium is the largest tennis venue in the world. The view from the upper deck is admittedly distant (vertigo sufferers beware!), but watching a match from those lofty heights is an experience in itself. Maria Sharapova has played many matches in the stadium during her career, yet she admitted it still feels "huge" every time she steps on the court.
It's no surprise the US Open has the highest attendance of any annual sporting in the world with more than 700,000 people walking through the gates each year. Patrons want a chance to witness history, and players want to be part of it. The result is a drama-packed, energy-filled two weeks in the Big Apple. What could be better?
Blair Henley is a tennis journalist and teaching professional based in Houston, Texas. You can see more of her work on TennisNow.com.