Inside the Secret Hair Salon at the U.S. Open

love farel salon
Inside the Secret Hair Salon at the U.S. OpenUSTA

The real action at the U.S. Open this year isn’t happening on the court—it’s happening inside a small room on the third floor of the stadium, past multiple security checkpoints, accessible only by credentialed players and their entourages.

That’s where celebrity hairstylist Julien Farel has set up shop for the last 15 years, running a beauty salon for famous clients like Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic, while maintaining perhaps the tightest door policy in the world. To get into one of his U.S. Open chairs, you not only have to have the right security credential—you also have to be a winner. Farel says players’ access to the salon is revoked 24 hours after losing their final match, when the Open deactivates credentials.

The cost for entry may be high, but once inside, it’s free for players to snag one of Farel’s thousand dollar haircuts. That means the salon is usually packed the first week of the tournament, with up to 50 athletes a day popping by for cuts, treatments, and manicures, though that pool eventually dwindles down to just the Open winners, whom Farel styles one last time around 5 a.m. the morning after the tournament ends, when the talk show circuit begins. There are also some exceptions to the cutoff—former players working as commentators, like Martina Navratilova, Billie Jean King, and Mary Joe Fernandez, maintain their access throughout the Open, and often stop by every day for treatments.

celebrities attend the 2023 us open tennis championships day 1
Billie Jean King attends the opening ceremony celebrating 50 years of equal prize money on day one of this year’s U.S. Open.Jean Catuffe - Getty Images

And of course some players don’t even have to leave their hotel rooms: Farel carries a pair of scissors on his person throughout the day for emergency calls from celebs like Carlos Alcaraz, currently ranked the number one men's player in the world.

“Today I’m supposed to cut Alcaraz’s hair but I’m waiting for his team to see where and when that’s going to happen,” Farel said on Thursday, hours before the women’s semi-final matches, patting his bag. “That’s why I brought my shears, just in case.”

carlos alcaraz us open
Carlos Alcaraz of Spain unfortunately lost against Daniil Medvedev of Russia during their Men’s Singles Semifinal match on Friday.Matthew Stockman - Getty Images

That afternoon in the pop-up salon, doubles finalist Erin Routliffe sat with her hands still, watching a live match on the salon’s TV, while a technician applied a red polish to her nails. Nearby, nine-time Grand Slam winner and Olympic gold medalist Bethanie Mattek-Sands, carrying an eye-catching Bottega Venneta Intrecchio crossbody bag in a limited edition tennis ball material, consulted with her husband over a buzz cut.

“I’ve know Julien forever. We were just laughing because I’ve gone from long hair, pink hair, shaved sides, shaved underneath, short hair, and he knows when I walk in it’s like, what are we creating today,” Mattek-Sands said. “It’s super nice in here for players. A lot of times this consumes so much of our day that by the time we get back into the city it’s late at night and we don’t get to do things like this. So to have everything that’s offered here, including Julien’s skill, is really amazing.”

Champion Coco Gauff getting her hair done.Courtesy of Julien Farel

By far the most requested treatment is a haircut, Farel said. He became Nadal’s lucky charm after cutting the champion’s hair short before his 2010 win, leading to a decade-long friendship that continues today, even though Nadal is sitting this season out. Working with athletes comes with an additional challenge, Farel explains. Their styles not only have to look good—after all, multi-million dollar endorsements hang on their physical appearance—but they also have to be functional.

“With an athlete, if you cut bangs you need to make sure that she’s going to be able to put it up, or that it’s short enough that it doesn’t come into her eyes,” Farel said. “But most of the time the athletes want to be free. They sweat a lot, it’s humid and it’s hot, and they need to make sure they can lock the hair somehow for their game.”

rafael nadal of spain holds the champion
Rafael Nadal took home the trophy at the 2010 U.S. Open.STAN HONDA - Getty Images

The secret to the perfect braid that won’t fall out on the court? Wetting the hair first, then applying a sun protector before braiding it tightly. (Farel says that’s also the secret to keeping blonde hair safe from chlorine in a pool: “Wet the hair first with regular water before jumping in. Your hair won’t turn green. The first thing your hair is going to absorb is the normal water and you’ll be okay.”)

Beyond that, Farel says he gives all his players the same advice to keep their hair safe under the hot summer sun: protect the hair and scalp with a special sulfite-free shampoo, like the ones he formulates for his personal line, avoid silicon products, and, when all else fails, improvise from the fridge.

hairstylist julien farel poses for a portrait around the grounds at the 2023 us open, wednesday, aug 30, 2023 in flushing, ny garrett ellwoodusta
Julien Farel poses for a portrait at the 2023 U.S. Open.Garrett Ellwood/USTA

“People are like oh my god you’re so specific with the non foaming shampoo, but any shampoo that has bubbles, even if it says sulfite free, if you have foam, if you have lather that means its sulfites,” Farel said. But besides that if you use an oil make sure it’s a real oil, not something that’s cut with a silicon. It doesn’t penetrate. You want something 100 percent natural. And if you have an itch or dryness from the sun, use milk, a little bit of avocado, make a mixture and apply.”

You Might Also Like