Monday August 27th, 2012

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There are changes coming to the U.S. Open and none of them involve a roof. Yet.

The USTA has announced that beginning in 2013, there will be a day of rest scheduled between the U.S. Open men's semifinals and the final. What day that is we don't yet know. The current schedule revolves around "Super Saturday", wherein both the men's semifinal and the women's final is played all on the same day, with the men's final scheduled for Sunday. It's a good schedule for television, bad for the players. The U.S. Open is the only tournament on the calendar that requires the men play back-to-back best of five set matches without a day of rest.

Players have been vocal in complaint of this (more on that below), and the USTA has finally relented. While the specifics haven't been announced, the two options being considered are to play the men's semis on Friday, rest on Saturday, and final on Sunday, or play the semifinals on Saturday, rest Sunday, and permanently schedule a Monday final.

Of course the implicit admission here is that the much needed roof over Arthur Ashe Stadium isn't coming anytime soon. In fact as I wrote this, it was pouring in Flushing Meadows and play was suspended some two hours. Welcome back to New York, everybody!

"Nothing would please me more than for us to have a roof," USTA president Jon Vergoesen told reporters over the weekend. "This is not a question of will or desire. We want one. This is a question of feasibility both economical and technical feasibility.

"We want a roof. We're going to have one one day. I just can't tell you when."

Instead, the USTA has gone forward with a series of proposed changes to the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center that look to improve fan circulation around the grounds and replace old stadiums that have come to the end of their shelf-life. It involves replacing Louis Armstrong Stadium with a new 15,000-seat stadium built on the existing site and moving Grandstand to the southwest corner of the grounds. The new stadium will seat 8,000, which the USTA says will improve fan circulation by moving fans to that corner of the grounds. Along those lines, four courts will be moved south to balance the congestion. Check out the renderings of the plan in the slideshow above.

"Although the roof is important, all of these things need to be dealt with," said Gordon Smith, chief operating officer for USTA. "We're not going to wait to do a roof to start the improvements we need to do." Smith also emphasized that should a feasible roofing solution be found the USTA would not wait to complete these improvements before going forward with the roof.

So why is it so hard to build a roof? The primary issue is weight. Arthur Ashe Stadium is built on landfill that can't bear any additional weight. A roof over Ashe would span an area that is five times the size of the roof over Wimbledon. In addition, engineers also have to find a solution for the heat issues that would arise if the roof comes on. Smith said given the extreme weather in New York, the temperature under a closed roof on Ashe could spike 15 degrees in 15 minutes. Engineers would need to incorporate proper air circulation and cooling systems. Smith said the USTA has commissioned four roof studies over the last 10 years.

While no roof, at least the USTA is addressing the problems the top men have complained about: not only Super Saturday but also the tournament's insistence on playing the first round of the men's tournament over the first three days rather than two.

"If they want to put an extra day in, then they better increase the prize money substantially because it's an extra day's work for us," Andy Murray said last year. "It's happened before at tournaments where they think, Oh, we'll put an extra day in, and then, you know, the tournament is getting a big increase in their -- because obviously it's a weekend so they'll get more people through the door, but that money doesn't go back into the prize money at all."

"I just like the way it is with the Monday/Tuesday starts and no semifinal and final at the weekend," Murray continued. "The game I think now has just become so physical and so demanding that, you look at a way a lot of the guys move that if you -- obviously this time it's different because of the rain and stuff -- but if you play a match on Saturday and a long five-set match, be four-and-a-half, five hours, and to recover and play good tennis the next day is very difficult." Roger Federer agreed, and when Roger speaks, people listen. "I think the three early first rounds is not working, and then the Super-Saturday I just think is not feasible. In all the Grand Slams you do not really have that competitive advantage over another player, which I don't think should be the case here. I'm sure that there has been many finals played here where one player had a huge advantage, and I don't think that should be happening before such a huge match here in the final. [W]ithout the roof, I just don't think Saturday/Sunday is feasible any longer at this point."

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