A Day To Talk Roof

By Jane Voigt

September 2, 2013 -- Imagine you buy four tickets for Labor Day admission to the U. S. Open. But the year is 2017. You would feel pretty darn lucky because the USTA should have installed a retractable roof over Arthur Ashe Stadium by then. 

It's about time it got the party started.

For five years the men's singles final has been played on Monday, due to rain and rain delays. Months ago the USTA announced that for the next two years, the final will again be played on Monday: 2014 and 2015. 

Broadcast contracts with CBS plus advanced ticket sales are tangled up with the decision. Players were not happy. The extra day interfered with their schedules, and the Davis Cup semifinals were the following weekend giving few little time to travel and prepare, after having been through the ringer of the last slam of the year.

On the plus side, the Open has done away with its glaringly inhumane Super Saturday. The pretext of Super Saturday was nothing less than a reflection of the tournament's desire to grow into a gargantuan entertainment venue. It is, after all, New York. Gaudy. Loud. Vast. The mighty USTA would match values with nothing less than a Herculean effort. An all-day picnic of players for fans' delight and robust revenue streams. 

It wasn't so bad for the women. Their semifinals were Friday. The final Saturday night. But the men were exploited in the eyes of many. The four semifinalists, the ones who had extended themselves through five rounds faced one day, and perhaps two, of even tougher trials. This was their reward for doing well, and it came with its own set of problems of recovery. 

The financial reward is huge, though. This year the men's and women's singles champions will take home $1.6 million. If they did well in the U. S. Open Series, a six-week threading of matches across America where players earned points, then their take will be larger. Since Serena Williams won the women's U. S. Open Series, if she wins the title -- her fifth Open title -- she would earn an extra $1 million, or a total purse of $2.6 million. 

The USTA has been in a roof quandary for 10 years. It has been chastised from all angles for dragging its feet. 

Last year USTA Executive Director Gordon Smith told an audience that a roof over Ashe was not feasible, basically that nothing would work. Within a day or two The New York Times asked six post-graduate students in architecture to come up with six roof designs. They were ingenious. Practical measures about the soft ground, which Gordon described as 'mush,' under the 24,000-seat behemoth notwithstanding, the drawings and imagination assailed the USTA and left Smith in an uncomfortable position. 

Apparently bickering with Rossetti, the firm that developed Arthur Ashe Stadium, held up plans, too, when the USTA announced 'feasibility studies' and did not invite them to take part. 

Lighter materials and breakthroughs in computer imaging opened up avenues, as recently as six months ago. Rossetti, back in the fold, "surmised that the roof could be supported by only eight columns," the AP reported. Earlier designs had involved 32 columns.

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This is an artist's illustration of the planned renovations at The Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, copyrighted by Rossetti. Photo credit, The ATP 

The USTA's budget for the project is $550 millions. Louis Armstrong will be covered, at some point, as will The Grandstand, the National Tennis Center's third-largest court. It, too, will increase its seating capacity from 6,000 to 8,000, and Armstrong will jump from 10,000 seats to 15,000. 

The facility's renovations will allow 40,000 to 50,000 more fans to cross through the gates. 

Funding for the project will come from 'bonds and increased revenue,' the AP reported, adding, 'officials said ticket prices would not be raised to pay for it.'

Not raising ticket prices seems to follow the folly President George Bush indulged the nation in when he decided to invade Iraq. He would not consider raising taxes. We'll wait to see if the USTA stands by its official statements. At least thousands of people won't die, as a consequence.

Andy Murray, the U. S. Open defending champion, told reporters at the Western & Southern Open last week, "'I don't particularly like going from indoors to outdoors to indoors. It's also tough. But it's good for TV. It's good for fans that are watching. For the players that are scheduled on that court, it's great.'"

Here's is the schedule for the last weekend at the Open, September 6, 7, 8, 9, for men's and women's singles only.

Friday, September 6, Day Session, Women's semifinals, 11 a.m.
Saturday, September 7, Day Session, Men's semifinals, 11 a.m.
Sunday, September 8, Day Session, Women's final, Noon
Monday, September 9, Day Session, Men's final, 5 p.m.

© Jane Voigt Tennis 2013