US Open – The Roof

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The final Grand Slam of the year, the US Open, is anticipated like no other major. Since it is staged at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadow – Corona Park, it offers the “feel of” New York’s iconic Wall Street with the fluctuations that move up and down the Big Board much like the soaring tennis balls as they zoom back and forth over the net. All this hoopla makes sense because the players are set to receive a record amount of prize money. Living up to its “Big Apple” status, tickets prices surpass the tariff found at the Grand Slam tournaments held earlier in the year.

The US Open’s annual financial success has been well documented in recent years. In 2016, anyone questioning how the profits have been used need only look up. Glancing at the sky, “The Roof” makes it immediately clear. The engineering innovation that now covers Arthur Ashe Stadium, which had its own dedication 19 years ago, is extraordinary not only in terms of its design elements, but for its cost. The figure that has been most mentioned is $150 million. That’s quite a chunk of change, but in the long run, it should be a bargain.

New Arthur Ashe Stadium Photo Art Seitz

New Arthur Ashe Stadium Photo Art Seitz

New York weather, during the last week of August and the first week of September, can be a nightmare. There seems always to be record high temperatures and because of its proximity to the Atlantic – humidity. Together they often combine, and as any meteorologist might explain, to make rain.  The resulting interruptions to play, followed by the blower and towel drying of the courts, has become a rehearsed and regular part of the Flushing Meadow fortnight. (To be more specific, between 2008 and 2012, the weather forced the tournament to be extended a day in order to play the men’s singles final.)

The logical solution to the problem was obvious, but expensive – A closeable roof. The construction took 18 months to complete, and it should provide the safeguard that eliminates the necessity of having to “Play On” into the tournament’s supposedly non-existent third week.

2.Julia Görges of Germany on the practice courts with Arthur Ashe Stadium in the background. Photo Art Seitz

Julia Görges of Germany on the practice courts with Arthur Ashe Stadium in the background. Photo Art Seitz

With the addition, New York joins the Australian Open, which has three – Hisense, Margaret Court and Rod Laver Arenas – and Wimbledon. Melbourne did it in 1988 and Wimbledon in 2009. Roland Garros is hoping to resolve its own long-standing issues with the City of Paris so that the Stade Roland Garros facility can expand and a roof can be added to Court Philippe Chatrier.

Since professional tennis is growing in popularity on a worldwide basis, it is not surprising that there are more closable roof tennis stadiums than ever before. A list of the locations and the tournaments played at the venues include:

  • Ariake Coliseum at Ariake Tennis Forest Park, Koto, Tokyo – Japan Open Tennis Championships
  • Gerry Weber Stadion in Halle, Germany – Gerry Weber Open
  • La Caja Mágica (“The Magic Box'”), also known as the Manzanares Park Tennis Center (has three courts) – Mutua Madrid Open
  • National Tennis Center in Beijing – China Open
  • Perth Arena in Perth – Hopman Cup
  • Tennisstadion am Rothenbaum in Hamburg – German Tennis Championships
  • Qizhong Tennis Center in Shanghai – Shanghai Rolex Masters

Every covered tennis court has its own personality – actually – flavor, if you will. With a closed roof, there can be difficulties picking up the ball resulting from the color chosen for the inside cover as well as the positioning of the overhead lights. Humidity increases with the seats filled in an enclosed environment. Then, there is the sound of the crowd response in that confined area than can be much louder than expected.

With Arthur Ashe Stadium some of the playing indoor concerns are different. Closing the roof does increase the temperature, but the humidity is not as big an issue as it is, say at Wimbledon, because there is space between the cover and the top of the actual structure. Generally, by three in the afternoon the entire court playing area is shaded. But, even more important, the new layout greatly reduces the effect of the wind, which often created a vortex-like mini-tornado that regularly challenged countless elite players in past years.

Prior to the tournament, the USTA launched the “You In?” campaign to create more US Open awareness. The closable roof on Arthur Ashe Stadium has certainly increased interest in what is taking place at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. And, it is more than an architectural marvel. It is a labor of love presented by the USTA.

Mark Winters

Look for a fresh examination of tennis topics at “Mark’s Thoughts”

 

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