Tag Archives: tennis

The Racquet Club Experience at the WTA Finals Singapore

Regular readers will know I’m a big tennis fan (and player- if anyone out there is ~NTRP 4.0 and wants to play do reach out). And I just wrote a report about the US Open, including a visit to the SPG Luxury Suite.

The WTA Finals are in Singapore this week, and although I think it’s fair to say that women’s tennis doesn’t attract nearly the same amount of interest as the men’s tour, it’s still a chance to see the best 8 in women’s tennis in one place.

Image result for wta finals 2016

Through a series of unexpected events (the details of which I will not bore you with) I received an invitation to the BNP Paribas hospitality suite for the Thursday evening session. I was keen to see how this corporate hospitality experience would stack up to the one at the US Open, and would like to share some highlights and photos with you all.

We were bussed into the grounds at the Singapore Indoor Stadium from our meeting point for the evening session which started at 7.30pm. We reached at 6.15pm, which gave lots of time for wining and dining.


All corporate hospitality suites at the WTA Finals are part of The Racquet Club (The Racquet Club is the official hospitality program of the WTA Finals).  The Racquet Club is an annex built alongside the Indoor Stadium (but isn’t physically part of the stadium, a minor inconvenience I’ll touch on later)



The buses dropped us off here and we headed inside for registration.


The registration counter was chaotic but everyone was processed quickly enough.



I received 2 passes- one of which would get me into the BNP hospitality suite, the other into the Aces Lounge. The Aces Lounge is (and here’s where it gets a bit confusing) within the Indoor Stadium but it’s a much parred down selection of F&B. The hospitality suites are where you really want to be.


The first floor of the Racquet Club contains the reception area as well as a handful of suites for companies like Rolex.




There is also a spanking new Porsche Panamera parked in the middle of the room as a sort of conversation piece (Porsche being one of the headline sponsors of the WTA Finals)


There is a big sign on it saying “not for sale”. Which is disappointing. Because I was totally going to take out my PRVI Miles card and earn 1.4 miles per $1 on it.


Up the stairs and you’ll find more suites, as this very poorly taken photo shows. I really need to hire a professional photographer for this site.



The BNP Paribas suite is a sizable suite, as you would expect from the title sponsor of the WTA Finals. I reckon it could take up to a 100 people with some standing.



The Suite is a place to hobnob before the game (or during, if you don’t really care for tennis and just want to network, as it appeared many did) and it’s well set up for that. There are a few sit down private tables, but the majority of them were communal high chairs that make it uncomfortable to sit for too long. There was also a fully stocked bar where the champagne (Moet, sadly. Come on guys, even prosecco would be preferable to Moet) flowed freely.


The menu today was created by Emmanuel Stroobant of the ES Group. The ES Group is behind some really nice restaurants in Singapore including Picotin, Brussel Sprouts, Saint Pierre and Rocks Urban Bar and Grill. I knew the food was going to be excellent when I heard the chef barking in French at his crew.

The actual spread was different from the printed menu. The romantic in me would like to believe that the truck delivering fresh produce from the farm had been waylaid because the young man driving it had suddenly found the words he for so long had lacked in describing his affection for the quietly aloof sous chef who was at home with her bedridden grandfather and the bewildered head chef had no choice but to modify the menu on the fly all while fighting with his dastardly landlord who wanted to repossess the premises and lease them out to a fast food chain. Although in reality someone probably messed up the printout.


There was a very generous appetizer spread of mini bagels with smoked salmon, tomato confit,  tomato gazpacho and assorted charcuterie.


There was also a station with steak tartare. I don’t think it’s possible to actually make steak tartare look good in a photo, but here’s my best attempt. I’ve often wondered how steak tartare doesn’t give more people food poisoning but apparently so long as you take the beef that’s below the skin you’ll be ok.


The main courses were on a separate station.


There were some roasted root vegetables. No description here because it wasn’t on the printed menu.


Goose-fat duck leg confit, ratte potato, balsamic and honey jus.


This dish was heavenly. The goose fat that lined the duck leg melted in your mouth and made you come to the realization that people who went on diets simply had no joy in their life. I attribute my wheezing during the tennis game the morning after solely to this one dish.

Roasted white Miso cod, grilled Kinome rice, poached jade eggplant


Cod tends to be a more forgiving fish because of its high fat content, but credit where it’s due, the caterers got this spot on. The skin was flakey and the meat did not have a hint of overcooking. When I returned to the suite about 3 hours later however the cod had become mushy, probably as a result of being left on the heat for too long.

There was a ravioli dish that had some meat that I couldn’t quite place.


And mushrooms with other greens.


There was also a carving station with beef wellington.

I assembled myself an unphotogenic plate or two or three. I rationalized that we were at a tennis event and surely the cuisine served would be in line with the healthy ethos of the overall setting.


The desert tray featured a fruit salad, apple pie and various fruit tarts. It was a bit muted compared to the main courses, or maybe I expected a bit more given the French reputation for killer deserts.


That said, one standout item was the Louis XV Guatemala chocolate cake, which came topped with milk chocolate popped rice. It’s the two cakes in the top left hand of this photo.


There was a bar area to round things out serving red and white wines and champagne.



The waitstaff were very generous with the bubbly and proactively went around giving people top ups. Why couldn’t we have this at the US Open, I thought.


The crowd that evening was a mixture of industry movers and shakers, as well as what I presume must have been HNWIs, based on the number of pretty private bankers swarming around the tables.

I contemplated picking up my phone and shouting “If you clowns at UBS don’t wake up your ideas and do this simple $50M trade I’m going to take all my business to BNP” to see whether I could get some of them to accost me but decided against it in favor of remaking loudly to no one in particular how damned expensive private school fees were in Zurich. It didn’t work. But that could also be because I had a very messy table. That was probably it.


Midway through dinner, an emcee came on stage to introduce the first of two tennis personalities who would visit the suite that evening.


I forget the name of the first guest. But I gather she was a former woman’s champion.



The second was Caroline Garcia. I felt really bad for her, because no one really cares about doubles. I mean, I certainly don’t. I often wonder how the players feel about such publicity events. They have to disrupt their match prep to visit each and every suite for a 5 min cameo where they have to smile and answer inane questions like “do you think you have what it takes to win this year?” and try not to say “actually no I don’t, I just came to Singapore for the chili crab and pleasant climate”. I mean, I don’t think I could resist that sort of temptation to snark.



But to Caroline’s credit she took the questions with grace and aplomb. And signed commemorative tennis balls after the Q&A.


I asked her if she could make mine out to “The Milelion” but after several seconds of stunned silence I thought it better to use my birth name.

Adequately fed and watered, it was time to go for the tennis. If there’s one problem with the layout at the Indoor Stadium it’s that the hospitality suites are physically disconnected from the action in the stadium. To get to the stadium you need to walk about 100m under a sheltered walkway into the stadium grounds. It wasn’t like the experience at the SPG Luxury Suite where you could go out onto the balcony to watch (but of course, the F&B here was way superior to that at the SPG Suite)


The Indoor Stadium is a cozy an intimate venue and if you’re not in the upper balcony there really aren’t any bad seats in the house per se. I had tickets just behind the baseline which was awesome, but the view 10 rows back was perhaps half the price and just as good.




Here’s the view from the top of the second tier.


I think it’s great that Singapore finally has a world class tennis event here. (I do not consider the ridiculous International Premier Tennis League to be a real tournament. I mean, just read these ridiculous rules and tell me if this sounds like tennis to you-

Each team can call a power point once in each set when receiving serve, and the next point played will count double. Effectively, a player trailing 15–0 can directly get to 15–30 by winning the power point. Games are played to four points using no-ad scoring. Each game won by a player or doubles team adds one point to the team’s score in the match. The team with the most points at the end of the five sets wins the match. Each set is won when a team is the first to reach six games won. If the score is five-games-all, a timed five-minute shoot-out will be played. The player or doubles team leading at the end of five minutes wins the set.

Omg power points!!one11!!)

The WTA contract is currently under renegotiation to see if Singapore can become the permanent venue after the current iteration expires in 2018. I certainly hope it continues to stay here because it can only be a good thing for the tennis community. And who knows, maybe before long we’ll get a men’s tour event too!

A US Open Virgin Experience

Singapore Airlines SilverKris Lounge, Singapore
Singapore Airlines Business Class SIN-BKK
Thai Airways First Class Lounge & Spa, BKK
Thai Airways First Class BKK-HND
Getting from HND to NRT
ANA First Class Lounge, NRT
ANA First Class NRT-ORD
United Club ORD
United Economy ORD-EWR
Visiting the US Open
Sheraton New York Times Square
Hilton New York Midtown
Wingtips Lounge JFK & Delta to DC
Exploring Washington DC
Element New York Times Square West
Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse, JFK
Singapore Airlines Suites JFK-FRA
Lufthansa Senator Lounge FRA
Singapore Airlines Suites FRA-SIN

Attending the US Open was always a dream of mine ever since I started playing tennis religiously about 10 years ago. I had only seen a smattering of live events- an ATP 250 in Sao Paulo and the WTA Women’s Tour Finals in Singapore. And with greatest respect to both those events, they’re nowhere in the same league as a Grand Slam.

If the US Open is on your horizon at some point in the future, here’s a little guide I hope you find useful. Even if you’re not that into tennis, do read on for the full review of the SPG Luxury Suite (which I did a little teaser on earlier)

The Tickets and Logistics


DO. NOT. BUY. TICKETS. IN. ADVANCE. Let me say that again. Do not buy tickets in advance.

Unless you’re going for the super prime courtside seats (which will cost you upwards of $400-500 USD easily) on Arthur Ashe, there is no need to rush onto the website and book the minute sales launch. If all you’re interested in is a grounds pass, or a non-courtside seat in Armstrong or Ashe, there is no need to buy beforehand.

I learned this the hard way. Having shelled out $85 for a grounds pass, I found them selling for $10-15 on the morning of the event itself on Stubhub. I did manage to take advantage of it in the end, snagging a ticket for the semi finals at $16 when the cheapest seats offered on the official site were upwards of $90. Looking back though, I could have saved so much more money by not being kan cheong.

Take public transport. There’s no reason to drive in New York anyway, and an Uber to Flushing from Manhattan would cost about $30+.

The 7 train will get you to Mets-Willets Point Station, after which it’s about a 6-7 minute walk to the entrance gates. A single ride costs $2.75, although you can buy an unlimited use 7 day metrocard for $31.

Don’t bring a bag. Trust me, it’s not worth the hassle. There are two queues to go in- one is the express queue for those without bags, the other is the regular queue. The regular queue sometimes trailed back halfway to the station.


Wear cargo pants and put all your sunscreen (no aerosols) water and other barang barang inside.

The Tennis

There are really two stadiums of note- Armstrong and Ashe. Ashe is the much larger of the two and is where you’ll find the big names playing. Not that you don’t get big names on Armstrong (or Grandstand for the first week), but you can bet players like Djokovic, Nadal et al will almost always be on Ashe.

Here are a few takeaways-

Your view will vary: As awesome as the atmosphere on Ashe is, it’s still one heck of a big stadium.


This means that if you’re going for the cheapest tickets (upper promenade), you can forget about any other views than this-


Fortunately, on Ashe at least it’s pretty much free seating within your own section, so it doesn’t really matter which seat per se you choose. You can move to the front of your section if you see empty seats (of course you move when the rightful owners of those seats come around) and improve your view somewhat.

I much prefer Armstrong because even seated at the back of the stadium yields very good views.  This shot was taken from the rear of Armstrong.



You don’t really need courtside seats in Armstrong. Even sitting in the front part of the second tier yields great views. Like this matchup between Isner and Nishikori. Look at that height difference! (didn’t help him though)





So there really isn’t a “bad” seat in Armstrong that would stop you from getting a great view of the proceedings.

Rain or shine at Ashe: Ashe has a roof, so the matches go on rain or shine. The roof closes in just over 5 minutes. Armstrong is being demolished this year to build a new facility with a roof which will be ready by 2018.


AMEX cardholders get a free radio: AMEX is one of the title sponsors of the US Open, and they’re making the most of it. Flash your AMEX card and get a free radio which lets you tune into the TV commentary, which can help add to the overall experience.




Image result for amex radio us open

Protip: although there’s a booth near the entrance where everyone crowds, there’s no need to do so.  There are numerous AMEX booths around the grounds with these available. They will swipe your magnetic strip to verify your card, so be sure to activate it before you leave for the States.

The smaller courts have good stuff too: Yes, all the big names are on Ashe, Armstrong and Grandstand, but if you’re willing to go to one of the smaller outer courts you’ll be rewarded with much better views. You might see some of the up and coming juniors here- Monfils and Djokovic once battled on one of these courts about 10 years ago…


I mean where else can you get courtside views like this?



Don’t discount the side attractions: It’s kind of like Disneyland where everyone high tails it to Space Mountain and ignores the Country Bear Jamboree.

Yes you’re there to see the tennis but there are other things worth exploring too inbetween matches- like the AMEX Hospitality Pavilion. You can assess the top floor lounge if you’ve got an AMEX card (despite the lounge moniker it’s just a place to sit, you’re paying for all F&B)



Or you can hang out downstairs and watch some matches on the big screen.


And if you come at the right time you can hit some balls on the only fan-accessible court on the grounds.


The Dining

You might be pleasantly surprised to know the US Open isn’t just hot dog stands and bland, forgettable fast food. In fact, there are many gourmet options available, some of them from the biggest names in the NY food scene. At the 2016 US Open you’d be able to pick from names such as David Chang (of Momofuku fame), Pat LaFrieda and Iron Chef Morimoto.

Some highlights include-

Fuku Spicy Fried Chicken Bacon Ranch Sandwich (Fuku) – exclusive to the US Open: Habanero-brined, spicy fried chicken thigh on a Martin’s potato roll, topped with applewood smoked bacon, Fuku ranch, and pickles.

Soom Sandwich (Soomsoom): Mesclun greens topped with a refreshing mix of diced cucumbers and tomatoes, red & white cabbage salads and four fresh falafel balls, served with a side of creamy tahini.

Korean Tacos (Korilla BBQ): Three locally-sourced corn tortillas with choice of bulgogi (marinated ribeye), caramelized kimchi and queso fresco; braised ginger sesame chicken topped with kimchi slaw and nori; or slow roasted pork with pineapple kimchi salsa and cilantro.

Mexican Style Street Corn (Angry Taco): Flavorful corn on the cob dressed with mayonnaise, chipotle puree, and lime juice.

Lobster Roll (BLT Fish Shack): Mouthwatering lobster with coleslaw, garnished with lemon and served on a New England roll.

Prosciutto Panini (Wine Bar Food): Prosciutto sandwich with vine ripened tomato, mozzarella di bufala, and fresh basil.

Nutella Dessert Pizza (Neopolitan Express): Italian imported Nutella and sliced almonds, lightly dusted with powdered sugar.

I’m a sucker for Momofuku (although an outing to their ramen place turned out to be very disappointing), so I made a beeline for the pop up fuku store.


The queues can sometimes be crazy, but if you go in the middle of a big match or outside the 12-2pm lunch window there’s virtually no queue.


I had the spicy fried chicken sandwich.




Now, Americans in general are probably the biggest whimps when it comes to spice. When launching this item David Chang was quoted as saying

I want people who don’t eat spicy food to say, ‘That’s f-ing spicy but I’ll eat it and pay the price later,'”

The flavour of the chicken was great, but it was less spicy than Mcdonald’s garlic chilly. The fries had a seaweed spice dusting on them and were great too. Total damage= $15-16. Yes, it’s expensive to pay for a burger, but I comforted myself knowing it at least counts as a celebrity chef meal. Even if it was mass produced. And under a heat lamp. And wasn’t spicy.

On day two I tried Korilla BBQ’s korean beef bowl.


This one is probably even less photogenic but the flavours were great. It comes with thinly sliced marinated rib-eye steak, caramelized kimchi, bean sprouts, fire-roasted corn and garlic spinach, topped with the brand’s signature sauces, like an aioli made with chipotle and gochujang. Damage= $15

There are of course more formal sit down joints if you’re willing to pay. But paying more doesn’t mean better quality- here’s a very mediocre club sandwich.


Avoid the Food Village during 12-2pm. It’s just insane. Outside these hours, waits can be as short as 2-3 minutes. Or splurge a bit and go to one of the sit down places with table service, although price is not necessarily an indicator of quality at the US Open.

The US Open Luxury Suite

As I mentioned before, I shelled out 50,000 Starpoints to redeem 2 tickets to the SPG Luxury Suite via SPG Moments. Last year these babies were going for 25,000 Starpoints so I was a bit peeved I’d have to pay double, but the whole point of SPG Moments is to get access to experiences you normally couldn’t buy with money (tickets to luxury suites would usually start at upwards of a thousand dollars).


Starwood occupies Suite 137/138 in Arthur Ashe. This suite can take 40 people in total, although I think in actuality we had closer to 30.





We had two hosts and they were both awesome. They kept ensuring everyone had a full glass and made everyone on the balcony seating area rotate every 30 mins or so, meaning that even if you didn’t grab a good seat early on you could rotate to one.


Goodie bags were distributed.  Above you’ll see an SPG cap, SPG bottle, sunglasses, a few postcards, an iPhone cover, a gift card for some juice sponsor, lip balm and a doggy tennis ball toy (apparently the USTA forbids all sponsors from distributing actual tennis collaterals like real tennis balls, how odd).


You could supplement your bag with whatever additional collaterals you wanted thanks to a few strategically placed bowls.

At the welcome counter you could pick up an AMEX radio plus a program guide


There were also other thoughtful touches like a charging area for phones.


There’s also a wet bar with an assortment of alcoholic drinks.



The bar selection is a major let down though. They only have reds, whites, beer and one cocktail- the official US Open Honey Deuce. It’s not a bad drink as such (1 12 ounces grey goose vodka, 2 ounces lemonade, 12 ounce premium raspberry-flavored liqueur, frozen honeydew melon ball), but come on, bring out the bubbles!

Food was in abundance throughout the suite. There was a central display of popcorn and nuts



Chips and dip


As well as a more substantial buffet. Unfortunately, by the time the crowd cleared enough to snap photos there was some significant damage done to the offerings. I could hear David Attenborough’s voice in my head

Too late to the kill, the weakest males in the pack must settle for scraps and the salad bar.





Fortunately there were other offerings too. Here’s the salad and frut



Plus an entire salmon (replaced twice) and a whole tray of butter poached lobster rolls


And they had these addictive as crack cookies. I gained 2 kg on the trip.


I took my carefully assembled plate out to the balcony when I suddenly remembered there was a tennis game going on.


The view from the balcony is pretty good. The players face away from the suite when resting during the changeover though. The men’s match that evening was Djokovic vs Edmund, which was never really going any other way than a Djokovic win. So obvious was the result that by the start of the third set a group of rowdy locals had moved inside the suite to watch the NFL instead.





So that’s my US Open experience! I’m bummed Nadal didn’t go all the way, although the realist in me knows it’s probably all downhill for him from here.

The US Open has this hotline fans can text to express any concerns about security, F&B, scheduling or transportation. I texted in my most pressing one.


He then went on to lose in the 5th set.

Can’t have it all, I guess.

Preview of the SPG US Open Luxury Suite and a giveaway!

Hello everyone from New York City and apologies for the lack of updates! This trip should be a rich source of material for an excellent trip report- here’s what’s coming you way shortly/eventually

Singapore Airlines SilverKris Lounge, Singapore
Singapore Airlines Business Class SIN-BKK
Thai Airways First Class Lounge & Spa, BKK
Thai Airways First Class BKK-HND
ANA First Class Lounge, NRT
ANA First Class HND-ORD
United Club ORD
United Economy ORD-EWR
Sheraton New York Times Square
SPG Luxury Suite @ The US Open
Element Times Square West
Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse, JFK
Singapore Airlines Suites JFK-FRA
Lufthansa Senator Lounge FRA
Singapore Airlines Suites FRA-SIN

To tide you over, I wanted to give you a sneak preview of the SPG Luxury Suite at the US Open.

I wrote about how SPG Moments provides you with certain redemption opportunities that money can’t buy, and their sponsorship of the US Open allows them to offer 2 X tickets to their luxury suite for redemption.

These tickets used to cost 25,000 a pair at the 2015 US Open, which was just ridiculous value (given that regular seats in the same area as the corporate box cost about US$500 each), but this year that rate was jacked up to 50,000 a pair.

Although it was painful to part with so many SPG points, I reasoned that it was totally worth it to get the chance to have a virgin US Open experience like none other. Besides, my dad was travelling with me and I thought it’d be a nice experience to give the man who started me on tennis.

So  50,000 Starpoints and 4 weeks later, the tickets came in the mail. I was somewhat underwhelmed by the packaging as you’d think for Starpoints worth about US$1,100, you’d get some nice collaterals or something.



Instead, it was just a flimsy paper folder with an instruction sheet and the tickets inside. Come on guys, branding opportunity!


SPG occupies Suite 137 at the Arthur Ashe stadium. When we got there at 7pm (the day session had run over) to see a long queue of SPG devotees lined up.


The Suite is medium sized, with its own bar and loo facilities. I was told by the receptionist they had 20 guests that night, each with a +1. So 40 people, spending a total of 1 million Starpoints to be in that room that evening. 1 million Starpoints incidentally would get you more than 2 weeks at the uberluxe W Retreat and Spa at the Maldives (with their ongoing 35% off redemption promotion)


The Suite had a limited bar selection. Alcohol wise, red and white wines were available, as was a premix of the US Open’s signature drink the Honey Deuce, but nothing sparkling. Again, for 50,000 points they couldn’t have got a cheap California Brut at least? What is tennis without bubbles?



Image result for the honey deuce

In the center of the room is this living room style arrangement with chips, nuts and popcorn in the middle.



There was an excellent full buffet with items like burgers, lobster rolls, an entire poached salmon fillet, grilled chicken, stewed beef. Full report with more photos to follow of course




Special mention for this tray of cookies so amazing I kept coming back for more, if only to console myself that I would never attain the lofty heights of an NRTP 5.0 player.


And there was a little corner with SPG marketing collaterals, like US Open tennis ball dog toys, sunglasses and lipbalm.


The view? Amazing, really. You’re just above the first tier of seats in the 3 ring layout of Arthur Ashe. This arguably gives you a slightly better view than the first tier because you’re slightly higher. You could see the players and hear the action really clearly.




That’s Novak Djokovic in the background (and my receding hairline in the foreground), shortly before he dismantled the hapless Kyle Edmund 6-2 6-1 6-4. The result was never really in doubt, and I think a lot of people got bored by the time of the third set. A bunch of rather sloshed Americans were in the living room by the time of the third set, watching American football on TV and cheering loudly. Really guys? It’s not even a real sport.

That’s all for now. Meanwhile everyone, stay safe and keep sending me tips on any major developments on credit cards in Singapore so I can publish something and pretend to be on top of it.

What’s that, you say? You need proof that I still love you? Ok then how about a giveaway. Leave a comment below with your favourite NY experience (or for those of you who haven’t visited NY yet, something you’d like to do there. Please include your email address. Closing date for entries- Friday 12pm Eastern Time New York. 


Two randomly selected readers will win a set of ANA First Class PJs each! ANA delivered once more in First Class with an amazing inflight experience, and I’m going to tell you all about that soon.

Sigh, Rafa.