By Laura Amato
It rained on the first Wednsday night of the US Open, but everything continued on schedule.
For years, that would have been impossible in Flushing Meadows, but a massive reconstruction project and brand-new $150 million roof later, things continued without a hitch at Arthur Ashe Stadium.
At least there were no hitches when it came to the schedule.
It rained, the roof closed and it got very, very loud.
“Yeah, that surprised me. Was a little bit more noise than usual,” said Rafael Nadal, who became the first player to hit under Ashe’s closed roof, after his second-round match.
“Was a little bit strange. For moments it was a little bit too much during the points,” Nadal said. “I always love the energy and the noise of the New York crowd. It’s just fantastic. You know, I feel very close to them because I play with a lot of passion, and they give me that electricity, that passion, no? But it is true that was a little bit more noisy than usual.”
The roof closed for the first time during Nadal’s night-session match Aug. 31, but even when it’s open, the new addition partially encloses the facility and causes crowd noise to reverberate inside.
It’s created a completely different atmosphere inside Arthur Ashe and one that players weren’t entirely expecting at a Grand Slam tennis event.
“For sure it’s distracting in the beginning,” Anastasija Sevastova said after defeating Garbine Muguruza in straight sets that Wednesday. “I mean, you don’t expect it. But it’s Arthur Ashe. I mean, how many thousand people are there?”
The new roof is, of course, the centerpiece of the U.S Tennis Association’s $550 million expansion of the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t a few hiccups with the new structure. After all, it’s only the first year.
If there is one thing players hope changes—sooner rather than later—it’s the fans. Or at least their in-match murmurrings and movements.
Nadal said he did get used to the dull buzz of the crowd once the roof was closed, but added it would be easier if fans could keep the stirring to a minimum.
“The only thing they have to control a little bit better is when the gates are open and when the gates are closed,” the Spanish star suggested. For the people who are inside, there “should be a little bit of rules that, you know, they cannot leave their seat during the game. They have to leave the seat when there is a changeover, no? That’s all.”
The roof closed again on Sept. 1 when mid-afternoon downpours forced play to be suspended everywhere except Arthur Ashe Stadium. The crowd, once again, murmurred its approval for the new feature—and the continued play—and players, once again, had to refind their focus just a bit.
It’s a new era in US Open tennis, one that’s going to take everyone just a little while to get used to.
“We use our ears when we play. It’s not just the eyes,” Andy Murray said. “You know, it helps us pick up the speed of the ball, the spin that’s on the ball, how hard someone’s hitting it. You know, it’s tricky. You know, you can still do it, but it’s harder, for sure.”