Tuesday September 8th, 2015

NEW YORK – Think of tennis venues as personality tests. Some people like the precious and traditional and historic. How often have we heard Wimbledon’s Centre Court described as a “cathedral,” the lawns romanticized as “Elysian Fields”?

Some go for grandeur, of say, Roland Garros or the Monte Carlo Country Club. Others prefer the “Go Big or Go Home” approach, the more people and celebrities and suites, the better. As the USTA has been reminding us for upwards of two decades, Arthur Ashe Stadium is the largest tennis venue in the world.

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It's remarkable, though, how many tennis fans have fallen hard for the intimate, soulful nest that is the U.S. Open Grandstand Court. What was originally seen as a sort of architectural sidecar to Louis Armstrong, the Grandstand grew through the years in prestige—and size— currently accommodating 6,000 fans. But it’s the People’s Court, so to speak. It is like that gritty, alternative, populist concert hall that manages to attract the hardcore fans—and book top performers—without selling its soul.

Corinne Dubreuil/Sipa USA

At the Grandstand, the crowd can sit close to stage, seeing and hearing every riff up close, every reverb of stringed instruments. The festival-style seating means that it attracts the savvy fans, the ones who appreciate the nuances and subtle shifts in matches. The featured acts feed on this proximity and energy. Often the Grandstand acts will graduate to play the big stages. It’s catch-a-rising-star. Come here to see the next Federers and Nadals before they blow up and play the big arena shows.

You might notice that we’re using the present tense here; but we shouldn’t. Sadly, this year marks the end to one of the greatest tennis venues, this paved paradise—a prime view spot on the tennis circuit and for our money, the crown jewel of the National Tennis Center facility. In conjunction with the U.S. Open renovation plan that includes two covered courts, the Grandstand will be shut down, a casualty to expansion.

Jason DeCrow/AP Photo

The Grandstand is going out in style, in keeping with the court’s vibe. The last two singles matches? Donald Young’s come-from-behind five-setter over Viktor Troicki. (The crowd needed no cues about the context of Young’s tortuous journey to get here.) And that match was followed by Sabine Lisicki, trailing 1-5 in the third set and then reeling off six games to beat Barbora Strycova. As Lisicki zoned and electrified the crowd, the two players’ coaches nearly came to blows in the stands. Perfect. 

Don’t misunderstand: the U.S. Open expansion plan is, ultimately, a good thing. Maybe the Grandstand had to go to. Still (cue the Joni Mitchell here) it’s hard to resist nostalgia, hard to avoid thinking that the ol’ neighborhood is about to get a little less cool.

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