Open needs roof, but don't hold your breath
Arthur Ashe Stadium opened just 14 years ago, but many tennis people consider it a white elephant. (AP)
Oh, the water. Oh, the water. Oh, the water. Hope it don't rain all day …
For the third straight year the U.S. Open final will be played on a Monday afternoon. Which is good news if you’re Novak Djokovic and welcome an extra day to regroup and recoup after a thrilling five-set Saturday semifinal. Unfortunately for virtually everyone else connected to tennis, it’s bad news. Fans who happen to have jobs will have difficulty watching a final that begins "not before 4 p.m. ET" on Monday afternoon. The networks that paid big bucks for the Sunday afternoon final will not be happy. Nor will the sponsors who pay millions to reach the monied sports demographic -- and not the folks who would otherwise have been watching soaps or Oprah at that hour.
Beyond that, tennis loses. The U.S. Open is tennis’ showcase event, at least in this country. The men’s final is the tournament’s showcase match, the culmination to two weeks of plotlines. When the grand finale airs a day later than usual, it’s the detriment of a sport -- a sport that doesn’t need detriments these days.
The U.S. Open men's singles final, the tournament's marquee event, was postponed due to rain from Sunday to Monday for a third straight year. (AP)
The obvious solution: obviate rainouts -- and, as it turned out this year, windouts -- by erecting a roof over the main stadium, as they’ve done for Australia and Wimbledon. The obvious response: it fails a basic R.O.I. analysis. I was talking to Lucy Garvin, the USTA’s outgoing president, last week and she lamented that, much as we’d like a roof over Arthur Ashe Stadium, the structure is so large that a covering would be prohibitively expensive. How expensive? North of $250 million. (Sounds like a project for Christo and the late Jeanne-Claude.)
What if they covered Armstrong Stadium? Well, it would be cheaper, no doubt about that. And it would appease the lords of television, who call so many of the shots during the tournament. But what do you tell the 23,000 ticket-holders -- many of them in luxury suites -- when you move the Big Match to a smaller venue?
A more radical suggestion: Admit that with the bloated size, the wind issue, the lack of a roof and the general charmlessness, the main stadium is a white elephant, unworthy of bearing Ashe’s name, and needs to be blown up after 14 years. Not likely. As much money as the U.S. Open mints, that rich it ain’t.
But that’s part of the problem: the USTA’s cries of poverty ring somewhat hollow given the scandalously bloated salaries it’s paid some executives and the overall aura of money and success and privilege that pervades the tournament. And the foreign press sees the stadium as a monument to American excess. To many, it’s karma, that this super-sized event has run into such trouble from the fates. Realistically, it’s hard to envision the U.S. Open serving anything other than al fresco tennis. To quote every athlete: it is, what it is. With any luck, Mother Nature will cooperate next year. In the meantime, bookmark the live streaming on usopen.org.