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Tennis tourists bearing Euros find US Open Grand Slam bargain  Sep 04, 2008

Barbara Steur of Amsterdam says she knows a bargain when she sees one. The U.S. Open in New York still qualifies, even after the dollar rose last week to the highest level against the euro in almost seven months.

``For us, it's still rather attractive to come here,'' said Steur, a marketing adviser to the Baker & McKenzie law firm in Amsterdam.

European fans such as Steur, who normally flock to the French Open and Wimbledon, are traveling to the year's final Grand Slam in New York. They're getting ``more bang for their buck,'' said Andrew Chmura, owner of Grand Slam Tours in Stowe, Vermont. The seller of tennis packages is headed for the best Open in its 17-year history after selling out. This year's bookings from Europe rose 50 percent from last year, Chmura said.

Europeans at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center weren't complaining after the euro touched $1.4385 yesterday, the lowest level since Jan. 22. The euro was still up 6.5 percent against the dollar since last year's U.S. Open.

``Forget London or Paris; the U.S. Open is the Grand Slam of the year,'' said Stefan van Buuren, 25, an equity salesman at SNS Securities NV in Amsterdam. ``It's top tennis in a top city.''

The strengthening of the dollar didn't stop Van Buuren from spending $4,000 on a four-day trip to the Open with two friends in hopes of seeing his favorite player, defending champion Roger Federer of Switzerland.

Attendance Record

Chmura's Grand Slam Tours was selling four-day packages to the U.S. Open, which includes dinner with former championsRoy Emerson and Fred Stolle and courtside seats to as many as five tennis sessions, for about 1,200 pounds ($2,140), excluding flights.

The first week of the Open set an attendance record of 423,420 tennis fans, the U.S. Tennis Association said Sept. 1. Total attendance for the two-week event may jump to a record of more than 720,000 from last year's 715,587, the USTA said.

The exchange rate isn't the only thing bringing Europeans to New York. The rivalry between Federer and Spain's Rafael Nadal also is driving interest, said Lars Kappen, owner and director of Sports and the City, an Amsterdam-based agency that sells travel packages to businesses.

Nadal, who beat Federer in three consecutive finals at the French Open, overcame the Swiss at Wimbledon in a five-set match that lasted a record 4 hours, 48 minutes. It drew 13.1 million viewers to the British Broadcasting Corp.'s coverage, or 47.6 percent of the television audience, according to the BBC. That's the most since the 1992 Wimbledon final between Andre Agassi and Goran Ivanisevic.

`Something New'

That rivalry, as well as the emergence of Australian Open champion Novak Djokovic of Serbia have boosted interest, Kappen said.

``A lot of European companies already entertain clients at soccer tournaments,'' Kappen said. ``Tennis is something new.''

Michael Gerrart of Scotland said he isn't seeing any bargains: The British pound was down 11.9 percent against the dollar since last year. He works at the United Nations and is paid in his home currency.

``The prices are so high for this tournament,'' says Gerrart, standing near a booth where a glass of Heineken beer costs $7.50.

The USTA estimated that 48 percent of the crowd came from outside New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, up from 25 percent eight years ago.

The face value of U.S. Open tickets ranges from $22 in the promenade to as much as $800 for a front-row seat at the men's final. A ground pass at Wimbledon costs 20 pounds, while tickets for the men's final for next year are going for 100 pounds.

``It's so cheap for us here because of the euro,'' said 31- year-old Berta Jorro, who works at the human resources department at Banco de Espana in Madrid, while walking past the food court outside Louis Armstrong Stadium. ``We love New York. We've seen it in films. It's cheaper because of the euro. We're saving a lot of money when we go shopping.''

Tennis tourists bearing Euros find US Open Grand Slam bargain

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