By Jane Voigt
In the world of Grand Slams roofs are a big deal. And after the U. S. T. A., the producers of The U.S. Open, denied its ability to build one for well over a decade over the world’s largest stage for our game — Arthur Ashe Stadium — one was unveiled this week at the National Tennis Center.
Last night Rafael Nadal (No. 4) and Andreas Seppi became the first to play with the roof closed in a night session. Today, Simona Halep and Lucie Safarova became the first to play with the roof closed during a day session.
“Is great to be the first player to play with the roof closed and hit in the center court first,” Nadal told the press after his victory over Seppi. “Just happy.”
It was amazing,” Simona Halep said of the experience and the pristine playing conditions provided by the two-million pound retractable panels with attached PTEF [a teflon-like chemical compound] membrane roof that kept out the rain that delayed the start of play on the outside courts on the fourth day of the fortnight.” Richard Finn, usopen.org.
With only three days of play and the start of a fourth under its belt, the U.S.T.A. is beginning to hear players’ reactions to the mammoth renovation of the stadium that cost $150 million. Most have agreed that the swirling winds, which were a constant bother pre-roof, have stopped or at least subsided.
“With the roof open there is no wind at all,” Nadal added. “Is great. Is an unbelievable, unbelievable court. So nice.” It’s also ‘so nice’ that he’s won the tournament on this court in 2010 and 2013. Whether he can three-peat has yet to be corroborated by most pundits.
Perhaps the more annoying issue about the new configuration is noise. New York crowds are known for their fervor. That’s not going to change nor should it. The flavor of the event would sour. But the ambient noise, something akin to that thousands of people dining in an extremely large restaurant would make, has been noted.
“Yeah that surprised me,” Nadal said. “Was a little bit more noise than usual. Was little bit strange. For moments was little bit too much during the points.”
Nadal didn’t fault the fans. “I always love the energy and the noise of the New York crowd. Is just fantastic. I feel very close to them because I play with a lot of passion, and they give me that electricity, that passion … no?”
Andy Murray, after his straight set win over Marcel Granollers today, talked about a subtle part of a player’s game … the sound of a ball as it contacts a player’s string bed. “We use our ears when we play,” the number-two seed said. He struggled to pick up that sound from Granoller’s racquet and his own with the constant ambient noise.
From a photographers point of view, though, the roof has presented its own set of problems.
“The acoustics and the lighting are horrible,” Leslie Billman, owner and photographer for tennisclix.com, said in an email. “In photography, our cameras have something called ISO. It’s a setting that controls the sensitivity of the sensor to light. In the bright sunlight we set that at 250. Inside, with the roof open, I’m shooting with the ISO set at 6000.”
Prior models of cameras were not as sensitive. They couldn’t capture enough light to produce a picture, according to Billman.
“In the past we went home after the sun started setting because the camera sensors weren’t sensitive enough to capture enough light to produce a picture,” she added. “The highest they would go was 3200. The picture quality was hideous at anything over, let’s say, 1000.”
Billman has had to train herself to accept the high ISO setting of 6000.
“It’s all a mind game, but one necessitated by the strange light produced as a result of the roof … open or closed,” she said.
Players and photographers were not the only people mentioning the din inside Ashe. ESPN commentator John McEnroe could hardly put a sentence together last night during the Nadal match without interjecting his opinion about the noise and, of course, comparing it to when he played … back in the 1980s.
Gordon A Smith, the executive director of the U. S. T. A. took a casual, if not cavalier, approach to noise complaints.
“This is New York,” he said, The New York Times reported. “Yes, there’s crowd noise. We want fans to be excited and cheer. We think the fans will adjust and the players will adjust.”
With a seating capacity of 23,200 — open roof or no open roof — the chair umpire on Ashe Stadium has had to tell, well yell, at fans to rope in the chatter more frequently. And, since night crowds go crazy when matches heat up, the call for calm from chair umpires could go completely unnoticed. So, whether fans ‘will adjust,’ as Smith said, is a matter of opinion and certainly not a measure of reality … at least at this slam.