Great behind the scenes look at just how the daily Order of Play is put together in the New York Times
The biggest tennis matches at the United States Open happen on the blue hard court of Arthur Ashe Stadium. But the true epicenter of the tournament is an obscure, windowless room in the stadium’s bowels, behind a door marked “private.”
That is where the plot-twisting logistical calisthenics of producing the daily “Official Order of Play” — the schedule for all matches — takes place.
The walls are filled with 16 large flat-screen televisions lit to display everything from up-to-the-minute brackets, live tennis matches, and, mostly important, a working spreadsheet of the next day’s schedule. In the center of the room is a raised drafting table with a keyboard and a mouse, off-limits to all but a few high-ranking tournament officials
Through the door come and go television and tennis tour executives. They march in to request that certain matches be played at certain times on certain courts. They walk out knowing that the ultimate decision rests with the tournament director, Jim Curley.
“It’s the biggest issue I deal with over the two weeks,” Curley said. And it occurs every day, almost all day.
The task is to balance the often conflicting desires of players (who submit match-time preferences before the tournament), coaches (who often have more than one pupil and prefer they play at different times), broadcasters (including three in the United States and a litany of others around the world, each hoping to boost ratings with well-timed slots for particular players) and ticket holders (some holding passes for daytime matches, others with tickets to the prime-time show, all wanting compelling tennis spread evenly throughout their stay).
While matchups are cemented according to the bracket, Curley is the ultimate arbiter of where the tournament’s nearly 1,000 matches are played (there are 18 courts), what time they begin (as early as 11 a.m. or long after dark), and which stars to pit under the lights at Ashe Stadium, a slot that the United States Tennis Association touts as the biggest stage in the sport.
By 4 p.m., if all goes well, Curley and his schedule-making crew, including the referee Brian Earley and the assistant referee Keith Crossland, release the order of play for the next day. It arrives rather silently with great expectations.
Curley can handle second-guessing — he acknowledged that the Williams sisters should have played their doubles match on Thursday at one of the two big stadiums, not the overflowing Grandstand — but desperately wants to avoid complaints about fairness.
The process is usually simpler when the brackets hold to form and as the field pares to a more manageable size. Put the top players — Roger Federer, Nadal, the Williams sisters — into the prime spots and fill in the gaps between. Follow the rules. Ponder the pleas. Print the schedule. Repeat the next day.
But what to do with bracket busters, someone likethe unseeded 17-year-old American Melanie Oudin, who upset No. 4 Elena Dementieva on Thursday (at Ashe Stadium) and is fast becoming a crowd favorite?
Oudin elicited a spirited conversation in the room on Thursday afternoon. There was concern raised about the possibility of her playing three doubles matches (one mixed) before her next singles match on Saturday. Could one match move from Friday to Saturday, after her singles match, an official asked? It became moot when Oudin and her partner lost in doubles early on Thursday evening.