When walking around the Flushing Meadows grounds during the U.S. Open, oversized yellow tennis balls are almost as ubiquitous as great forehands and flashy backhands. Nearly every kid in attendance (and even some adults) carries these large tennis balls, hoping to have the players adorn their signatures to its felt. As I learned at a young age, an autograph provides a tangible connection between the fan and the player, freezing a moment in time forever.
As a full-time autograph dealer, I am fortunate to handle items signed by names as varied as George Washington to Marilyn Monroe to Roger Federer. Whether a Civil War commission for a Union soldier signed by Abraham Lincoln or a baseball signed by Derek Jeter passes my desk, each autograph tells a story and allows me a personal connection to the signer. I keep a cherished 3 X 5 index card signed by my tennis idol Mikael Pernfors on my desk, a signature I obtained at the 1986 U.S. Open and carried in my tennis bag throughout my junior and collegiate playing days.
While I stopped running around the U.S. Open grounds seeking autographs many years ago as I now purchase sports autographs from reputable sources who hold private autograph sessions, it’s still a joy to see all the fans lined up on the sides of the show courts as each match concludes. Nearly all the (winning) players are kind enough to take a few moments to scribble their signatures for as many fans as possible—even a few losing players will take a moment or two to do the same. Creative fans who are willing to get a little wet, might grab a match-used wrist band or towel after a match as well.
Here are a few tips for those seeking the signatures of our game’s greats:
++The qualifying rounds are a great opportunity to get signatures of future stars or former top-ranked players who are on the decline. It also serves as practice time for those already in the main draw so it might be your best chance at a Rafa, Roger or Serena autograph.
++Unless you have a ticket in the expensive seats near the court, it’s difficult to get autographs at Arthur Ashe Stadium. However, nearly every other court is accessible, especially the smaller side courts like Court 7 and Court 11, where seeded players are regularly scheduled.
++Be prepared. There is nothing worse than seeing a tennis great walk past you and you have nothing to have them sign, or sign with. As a kid, I carried 3 X 5 index cards with me and got legends, such as Ivan Lendl, Martina Navratilova and even Wilt Chamberlain, simply walking around the grounds.
++Don’t be pushy or overbearing. Remember, these players have a job to do—play tennis and prepare for their matches—and understand if they decline to sign or only sign for a few people.
Getting to watch the world’s best tennis players in our backyard every summer is a treat on its own, but walking away with signatures of some of the game’s best can also provide a lifetime of memories and inspiration.