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Once, It Was Just a Tennis Match ...

August 28, 1996

NEW YORK (AP) _ Once, it was simply a tennis championship. Now, the U.S. Open is many things to many people _ a political football, an exercise in price gouging, a noisy neighborhood nuisance.

Mayor Rudolph Giuliani became the latest and loudest critic this week, complaining that a sweetheart lease with the United States Tennis Association was leaving fans with empty pockets and causing a rerouting of planes over residential areas.

``I think the lease is dangerous to public safety,″ Giuliani said Tuesday. ``The USTA should be ashamed of itself.″

Giuliani was lobbing a shot at his predecessor, tennis aficionado David Dinkins, who negotiated a lease that tries to keep noise levels down at the tennis matches by diverting jet traffic. The Flushing stadium and the two major airports in the city are all in the borough of Queens.

Federal Aviation Administration officials said the route changes did not jeopardize safety. But there have been noise complaints from residents.

Giuliani said his comments about people paying too much for tickets was prompted by a letter from sports marketing executive Rey Olsen, who said some box seats for the 1997 Open were rising from $14,000 for the two-week session to $35,000 _ an increase of 250 percent.

The USTA sent out letters last week informing all holders of the courtside boxes that prices were going up from 50 to 100 percent. Among the better known box seat holders are comedian Alan King, Hearst Magazines head John Mack Carter and real estate developer Lewis Rudin.

The increased ticket prices will help pay off the USTA’s new $234 million stadium in Flushing Meadows, along with its renovation of the rest of the Queens tennis center. The new stadium will be ready for next year’s Open.

There are already complaints from spectators about high prices at the Open.

Try, if you’ve taken a loan, the $8 chicken sandwich, the $8.50 quiche, the $4 foot-long hot dog (that’s roughly 33 cents an inch). Dig into the $6 french fries, or nibble on a $4.50 ear of corn.

Knock it all back with a $3 glass of iced tea, or a $4 liter of bottled water, or a $4.75 glass of wine.

``One word: Expensive,″ said Kelvin Fleming, 42, one of the deep-pocketed patrons.

There were problems with this year’s Open before the first ball was served. Heightened security in the wake of the Olympic park bombing and the TWA Flight 800 explosion created long lines to get inside the Open, with waits of up to 20 minutes.

All backpacks, handbags and other parcels were opened and searched by security. Even stars like Steffi Graf were subjected to searches on their way inside.

One 15-year-old boy fainted from the heat Monday while waiting in line for admittance.

Update hourly