Between dress codes and bathroom breaks, here's a guide to the rules of the US Open
Even if you're a US Open spectator, you're going to want to read this!
Just like every tennis match, there's a lengthy list of rules and regulations players must follow during competition, so you can only imagine what the fourth and final Grand Slam tournament of the year expects of its qualifying athletes — and fans in attendance, too!
While we're not going to spell out the entire 2023 Grand Slam Rulebook, PEOPLE spoke with Eric Butorac — Director of Player Relations for the United States Tennis Association and former doubles pro — about the unique rules players must abide by, which are uncommonly known to the public.
While Butorac tells PEOPLE that "the rules of the sport are the same" across all four Grand Slam tournaments — Australian Open, French Open, Wimbledon and US Open — the Code of Conduct for players and guests varies.
"When it comes to Code of Conduct for players or spectators, definitely Wimbledon would be the most strict," Butorac says. "They still play an all-white attire. You can't have any color on your clothing."
"We're definitely a Slam that's more similar to America," he says in comparison. "We're the biggest stadium. We pay the most prize money. We're the loudest," Butorac explains. "Whereas Wimbledon, it's a lot of sitting and clapping. And you come into Arthur Ashe Stadium and it's people standing and screaming, but that's sort of iconic to America."
Between the bathroom break limit and the dress code, read on for the rules you didn't know about the US Open.
Players must be a certain age to qualify for the US Open
In order to qualify for the US Open, athletes must be at least 14 years old and meet eligibility requirements. However, there is no maximum age limit.
In recent years, young tennis stars have proven that age is just a number! Coco Gauff, for example, burst onto the scene at age 13 after becoming the youngest player to appear in a US Open junior final in 2017 — and most recently, became the first-ever teenager in over 50 years to win the 2023 Western & Southern Open at age 19.
"We definitely see the crazy breakthroughs a little bit more at the really young age on the women's side a little more than on the men's side," Butorac tells PEOPLE. Though he's sure to point out 20-year-old Carlos Alcaraz who's currently challenging 36-year-old Novak Djokovic.
"It's cool on the men's side right now," he says. "They're clearly the best two players in the world and they're 16 years apart, so it's pretty neat."
Players don’t have to be world ranked to play in the US Open
Good news, tennis hopefuls! Athletes who dream of playing in the US Open do not have to statistically be the best in the world to compete. In fact, there are several routes athletes can take for a chance at entering the championship tournament.
The US Open's singles main draw tournaments are made up of 128 players. While 104 of those players get in directly with their world ranking, 16 are reserved for "Qualifiers" who play their way through the 128-player "Qualifying Tournament" and eight are reserved for "Wild Cards."
The Qualifying Tournament is the centerpiece of US Open Fan Week (which is free for fans to attend) and Wild Cards are entries the tournament hands out.
Players must abide by a specific Code of Conduct
In addition to rules and regulations, athletes competing in the US Open must follow a Player Code of Conduct. A high quality of sportsmanship and expected behavior — including words and actions — is largely attributed to the centuries-old traditions of the game.
"Players shall conduct themselves in a manner consistent with the etiquette, spirit, sportsmanship, and exemplary standards of behavior expected of the sport," according to the USCTA Board of Directors.
Among the Player Code expectations include the following: refrain from engaging in the use of profanity, refrain from mistreating or damaging any aspect of the court or equipment, do not use banned or inappropriate performance enhancement substances and arrive on time and be prepared for every match.
Butorac puts it simply: "You can't scream swear words, you can't break your racket, you can't hit a ball in anger out of the stadium." Though he notes that it's "all up to the judgment of the chair empire."
There could be occasional disagreements, says Butorac, but explains that most athletes "have been playing since they were little kids and have an idea of what's okay to yell and when they've crossed the line."
"If a player breaks a racket in half on the ground, they're pretty aware that a warning is now coming," Butorac says.
Spectators must abide by a Code of Conduct, too
Players aren't the only people who must follow a Code of Conduct at the US Open. In fact, spectators must comply with the Guest Code of Conduct while at the tournament.
Among the Guest Code expectations include the following: do not enter any tennis court, shirts and footwear must be worn at all times, alcoholic beverages must be consumed in a responsible and lawful manner and umbrellas may not be open during play.
If spectators fail to adhere to the US Open Guest Code of Conduct, they will be "subject to ejection without refund and/or possible arrest, and may be prohibited from attending future US Opens," according to the official US Open website.
Players must follow a specific dress code
“Every player must be dressed in a professional manner for all matches. Clean and customary tennis attire must be worn," according to the official 2023 US Open Handbook. If the attire is deemed "not acceptable" in the referee's "opinion," they "will have the authority to order the player to change" immediately.
In comparison to Wimbledon, which requires its players to wear almost entirely white, Butorac says the US Open dress code has "nothing to do with colors." While they "can wear everything as bright as they want," they "do have to wear clothing from an approved manufacturer."
He adds that there are "restrictions on your logo size," as well. "So you could have a Nike logo or an Adidas logo, but it has to be reasonable" in dimensions. "Something like three inches by two inches," he approximates.
"It can't be Nike all the way across the front of your chest. It has to just be a standard logo," explains Butorac. "It's been that way for many years,"
Spectators must follow a specific dress code, too
In a similar fashion, spectators must abide by a specific dress code. Guests are "forbidden to wear any clothing or accessories with indecent, inappropriate, or offensive messaging or imagery" while attending the US Open.
Members of the ball crew must go through a tryout process
Out of the thousands of applicants who apply to be an official member of the US Open Ball Crew, roughly 300 are selected — and about 200 of them are returning veterans from years prior.
New ball crew members are selected through a vigorous tryout process that takes place in late June. This year, 1,200 people applied to try out and only 100 were selected to work the event.
Tryouts are intense, requiring extreme concentration, speed, agility and hand-eye coordination. At the very least, applicants must prove that they are capable of moving around the court in a speedy fashion and retrieving tennis balls without interrupting the match.
Members of the ball crew have to be a certain age
Just like US Open players, there's a minimum age limit ball crew members must meet in order to apply for the position. The youngest a ball crew member can be is 14 years old; however, there is no upper age limit.
Once selected, ball crew members are paid $16 an hour. (Fun fact: The US Open is the only Grand Slam that pays its ball people!)
Line judges no longer can decide whether balls are ruled in or out
Gone are the days of questionable calls! Since 2021, line calls for every US Open competition have been made electronically, via Hawk-Eye Live.
Human line judges at the tournament have been replaced by optical technology to determine whether a ball is ruled in or out. The ‘out’ calls that are heard are recordings, however, are made by real umpires.
"Players love it because it's super accurate," Butorac tells PEOPLE. "They don't have to worry about human error or having to challenge a call themselves. They can just reliably know that this is going to happen and it's going to happen [automatically]."
Players must adhere to specific time constraints prior to the official start of the match
There are specific rules regarding pace of play to guarantee matches don't go on forever. Colloquially known as the "1-4-1," players are expected to adhere to specific time constraints prior to the official start of the match.
Matches don't begin the second players step on the court. They have one minute after they arrive on the court to meet the chair umpire at the net for the coin toss. Then, they'll get a standard four-minute warmup followed by one more minute to get on the court to start the match.
Time constraints are present during gameplay, but are based on a variety of different factors during the flow of a match. Players could be penalized with a time violation if they don't abide by the specific times given.
Players are allowed 1 bathroom break per match
Players are permitted to leave the court to take "toilet breaks," according to the 2023 Grand Slam Rulebook. "A player may request permission to leave the court for a toilet break, a change of attire break, or both (authorized break) but for no other reason," the rulebook reads.
The amount of breaks available differs for singles and doubles. For singles, "each player is entitled to a maximum of one authorized break per match."
For doubles, "each team is entitled to a maximum of two authorized breaks per match," according to the book. "If partners leave the court together, it counts as one of the team’s authorized breaks."
The Grand Slam Rulebook also states that a Line Umpire must "go with a player who takes a toilet, heat or change of attire break to ensure the player does not use the break for any other purposes." If the rules are violated, the Line Umpire is to report it to the Chair Umpire.
Players must be offered access to quiet rooms
The USTA announced a Mental Health Initiative in August 2021 for players competing in the US Open. Part of the initiative included increased mental health resources, such as licensed mental health providers and quiet rooms.
"There's a quiet lounge that we put right adjacent to the locker rooms that allows for players to have a nap or rest if they have a really late match that night or have a lot of time," Butorac says. "There's one room with some beds in it, one room with a bunch of lounge chairs, but just a really quiet space for players to go and relax."
"We recognize that ensuring the mental health of the players is an area that needed to be addressed, and we are taking formative steps to give athletes the necessary resources to compete at the highest level," USTA CEO and Executive Director Mike Dowse said at the time.
Men and women players must use the same tennis balls in matches
The 2023 US Open will mark the first time men and women players hit the same tennis balls. The adjustment came after multiple women complained in 2022 about hitting inferior products.
"Every year, the WTA informs us of what Wilson US Open ball they would like their athletes to play with," tournament director Stacey Allaster said at a news conference at Arthur Ashe Stadium in August 2023. "Last year during the tournament, we had some players that wanted to change the ball."
Allaster explained that after meeting with the players, she directed them to WTA chairman and CEO Steve Simon and their player council representatives. The decision was made at the end of the 2022 tournament following feedback from players, giving Wilson enough "lead time" to produce the volume of balls needed for the US Open.
The US Open uses more than 100,000 Wilson tennis balls throughout the tournament. "Tennis balls used in a match are changed after the first seven games, and after each subsequent nine games," according to the official US Open site.
"We had used different balls for the men and women for a lot of years," Butorac tells PEOPLE, with men using Extra-Duty Balls in comparison to Regular-Duty Balls. "But the women's players as an organization came to us and they said that they wanted to use that Wilson Extra-Duty Balls."
"So we said, 'Great, no problem." He adds, "I think it's a positive thing."
Men and women players must be paid equally
In 1973, the US Open became the first of the four Grand Slam tournaments — and the first-ever sporting event — to offer equal prize money to men and women competitors, led by the legendary Billie Jean King.
The 2023 US Open marks the 50th anniversary of that benchmark achievement, of which King is currently nominated to become the first female athlete awarded the United States' Congressional Gold Medal honor.
Players don’t have to stay at the official US Open hotel
Players are taken care of off the court. There's even an official US Open player hotel, providing qualifying athletes with two free rooms a night. If players choose to stay elsewhere, they get a $600-a-night stipend.
Furthermore, the US Open offers free haircuts, stylings, manicures and pedicures to players on-site at the Julian Farel player salon inside Arthur Ashe Stadium. There's also a player childcare nursery on site at the US Open grounds, for players who have children.
You don’t have to be a professional tennis player to use the US Open courts
The USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park has been the home of the US Open since 1978. It was built over the very ground that was memorialized in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby as the “Valley of Ashes.”
Tennis player or simply a fan of the sport? You can play on the US Open courts year-round, as the National Tennis Center is open to the public! The US Open is played on 17 competition courts, and all of them (including Arthur Ashe Stadium) can be rented.
"It's a public facility. You can come and rent a court and play on the same courts that all the players play on in the US Open," says Butorac, who adds, "I use them all the time!"
The only difference? You most likely won't be playing in the presence of 37,000 fans.
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Read the original article on People.