On Tennis Circuit, a Globe-Trotting Fan Sticks to the Cheap Seats
By COREY KILGANNON
Earl Wilson/The New York Times
Katrina Williams of Australia on Tuesday at the United States Open, the latest stop in her far-flung mission to see professional tennis up close.
Late on Monday afternoon, the first official day of play in the 2012 United States Open
, Katrina Williams, 21, was sitting in the top row of a side court at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center
The day had a leisurely feel and the grandstand was half empty. A fan was lying down sleeping next to Ms. Williams, who was giggling at the shows of emotion from the two women playing, Andrea Petkovic
, a German, and Romina Oprandi
, a Swiss-Italian.
Ms. Williams browsed her smartphone for news from the other matches, and sent Twitter messages with any drips of drama from the match, like when Ms. Petkovic smashed her racket on the ground. When a group of Swiss fans wearing red wigs a few rows down cheered Ms. Oprandi, Ms. Williams sent posts mocking their cheers.
In other words, Ms. Williams was in her element, in the thick of the buzz of tennis fandom.
Ms. Williams, who is from Melbourne, Australia, came under the grip of a vicious tennis obsession last year, abruptly quit her job as a receptionist and started using her $23,000 in savings to travel the world following the big tennis tournaments cheaply, staying in hostels and avoiding high-price stadium food and premium tickets.
“It’s like seeing your favorite TV characters come to life,” Ms. Williams said of attending the tournaments. She said she had been on the road basically since going to the Brisbane International Tennis Tournament in late December. After that came the Australian Open in January, followed by the other three tournaments that make up tennis’s Grand Slam: the French Open in May, Wimbledon in June and the United States Open now,
with a half-dozen smaller tournaments and side trips along the way.
At the moment, she is staying at a $40-a-night hostel in Long Island City, Queens, sleeping in a bunk bed and sharing a room with nine other people. She takes the No. 7 train to the tournament each day.
Ms. Williams said she had spent about $13,000 so far on her tennis odyssey. The United States Open will cost her about $3,000, she said, even with her denying herself the costlier tickets for matches inside Arthur Ashe Stadium.
She figures her money will last her until the Paris Indoors
tournament in November. Her parents, big tennis fans themselves, are resigned to her mission, she said, and have promised at least to pay for her flight home when her bank account runs dry.
Ms. Williams attributes much of her over-the-top tennis interest to Novak Djokovic
, the second-ranked men’s player in the world, who became her favorite as soon as she saw him play Roger Federer
— now her least-favorite player — in the semifinals of the 2008 Australian Open.
Watching Mr. Djokovic brazenly stare down an umpire after being called for a violation “changed my life,” she said. The love has led to a trip to Serbia, Mr. Djokovic’s homeland, and a new favorite clothing brand, Uniqlo, which sponsors Mr. Djokovic.
When Mr. Djokovic faced Rafael Nadal in the French Open
final this year, Ms. Williams quickly bought an entire Uniqlo outfit for herself, to bring Mr. Djokovic luck. He lost nonetheless.
As important to Ms. Williams as who wins is who is dating whom and who is wearing what. Ms. Williams has hard-to-miss red hair and often sits close to the court in early-round matches. She is sure she is on the radar screens of some players she has crossed paths with.
When she runs into players on the tournament grounds or in airports, she said, “I usually run away because I’m very shy and I don’t want them to think I’m stalking them.”
Ms. Williams says she has never been part of the social scene associated with high-profile tournaments and often goes for days without speaking to anyone, just watching tennis.
Having been to all the big tournaments, Ms. Williams takes note of the differences. The United States Open, she said, has a less boisterous crowd than the Australian Open, is less crowded than the French and is much more casual than Wimbledon.
She walked past the food court — she is a vegan and carries a salad from Whole Foods in her purse into the tennis center each day — and went to watch Fernando Verdasco
of Spain play Rui Machado
After winning the first two sets — he went on to win the third — Mr. Verdasco sat courtside, stripped off his soaking shirt and squeezed the sweat out of it until a puddle formed on the court.
She grabbed her phone and posted to Twitter: “Verdasco just wrung out his shirt. A bucket of sweat on the court.”