The United States Tennis Association stands exposed. The organization that gets high marks for putting on a major sporting event in New York City that actually turns a profit has a decision to make that will require all of it's financial acumen.
The rains that forced the schedules to be readjusted did not sneak up on anyone. I have a weather widget that is remarkably accurate and it showed rain for most of what was going to be the second week, crunch time, at the US Open. Not showers. Rain from a tropical system that was slow moving and wreaking havoc on the east coast of the United States. If anyone with a computer could see the second week was going to be shot to shit why did the USTA officials appear to be caught off guard and not have plans for when the inevitable happened?
Instead of a well oiled machine we got the Keystone Cops - a scramble to assign courts and make schedules that wouldn't cause accusations of favoritism to enter the collective psyche of tennisheads like the 2003 US Open, and that would allow the players to get some rest during the crunch time that is Week 2 of a Grand Slam.
The player protests about being made to play in unsafe conditions are historic. The Gang of Three - Rafael Nadal, Andy Murray and
Andy Roddick, spoke up for the men's tour.
The United States chooses to play tennis on concrete slabs. It also chooses not to cover said slabs during light drizzles or torrential downpours. I swear someone must get a really kinky cheap thrill watching the Zamboni's accompanied by ball kids on their knees sopping up the moisture on those courts because I have yet to read any credible reason as to why tarp's aren't used to cover at least the show courts. Instead we get to watch the farce as the make shift court drying crew goes into action taking 45 minutes to dry a court. Forty five minutes is a long time and very often the rain starts to fall and we go through it again.
To add insult to injury water began seeping through a heretofore invisible crack in Louis Armstrong Stadium causing the USTA to lose the use of that stadium. Andy Roddick's match was moved to Court 13. Court 17 is the new, and roofless addition to the NTC. It's round and a bit sunken and is called The Bullring after the famous clay court at Roland Garros. Notice I used the word "new". It's just opened this year. Did I mention it's roofless?
And that is the story of the US Open and the shortsightedness of the USTA.
Tennis Australia, recognizing the danger to fans and players alike sitting in the broiling heat of an Australian summer has already covered two of it's show courts and will soon have a third one covered. Wimbledon, where there are more sticks up more arses than anywhere else has covered it's Centre Court. The French had a huge debate about whether to keep the French Open at it's current location or move to another one. The word "roof" was included in all of the conversations about whether or not to move from the historic Roland Garros tennis complex in the Bois du Boulogne.
From the USTA all we get is whining about what can't be done. Arthur Ashe Stadium is too big we're told. The decision to not put a roof on it came because the water table under the National Tennis Center is too high and the weight of a roof would make the Stadium sink into the marsh.
We know, thanks to the water seepage in Armstrong, that the argument about the water table is legit. Still as a fan I have to wonder why, back in the not so distant day, the decision was made to build on the marshland instead of on more solid ground. The answer given is that the weather patterns at that time didn't indicate that it would rain the way it has over the last few years and that Ashe wouldn't sink into the ground.
The USTA can be forgiven if it didn't heed the cries of the wild eyed fanatics who were talking about climate change and global warming back then. What can't be forgiven or explained away is the monstrosity of a center court they built. Anyone who has ever been there knows that Ashe wasn't built for tennis fans. It was built for the suits who will pay top dollar to be seen at a sporting event they know next to nothing about.
Tennis fans tend to be found from the loge area to the nosebleeds. When I first started going my daughter and I would sit in the nosebleeds and watch the jumbotrons. The live tennis was taking place in another zip code far, far away.
I should note that this year I bought a grounds pass and didn't step foot in Ashe once. I had a ball. I spent a lot of time on the Grandstand, the best bang for the buck a tennishead could ask for, and on Armstrong.
I was with first time visitors and they enjoyed themselves and are already talking about next year. Buying the grounds pass and not feeling that since I had spent big bucks for a decent seat in Ashe I had to stay there I got to see tennis with all it's quirks up close and personal. I rarely go during the second week but I am thinking about it for next year.
But this post isn't about my experiences there. It's about the dilemma facing the USTA.
Tennis fans have been complaining about Ashe almost since it opened. It's outdated and needs to be replaced. Do you tear it down, move the Open to the Left Coast where the chance of rain is much less and the temperatures are lower? You can't go south because of the heat and humidity not to mention the random hurricane or tropical storm. Same goes for Texas.
And if the decision is made to replace Ashe how big a stadium are we talking about? How long is the lease on the land or was it purchased outright? Do we go with something the size of Philippe Chatrier? In case you haven't noticed that is one huge stadium. Do we go with something along the lines of the Caja Magica in Madrid, ultra modern, a good size, and roofed? Would the plan be for a complex like Melbourne?
The weight of Ashe is supported by pilings drilled deep into the marsh it sits on. Any new stadium is going to have to be built with that in mind. There was already talk of tearing down Armstrong and I presume the Grandstand since the two courts are linked and building something new. As a fan I would hate to see those stadiums go since they're the most intimate and fan friendly of the show courts but the water problem that arose this go around may have sealed the fate of those courts.
People save up for years to be able to come to the US Open, to walk its grounds, buy the expensive merchandise and enjoy the sport they love in person. There is nothing like seeing the racquet head speed of the top players up close. There is nothing like seeing the beauty of Serena William's serve in person. Canceling days of play is not only a tragedy for the networks and sponsors. It's a tragedy for the regular guys, the folks who make a trip to the US Open their end of summer vacation.
I for one hope that whatever the USTA decides to do will be in the best interests of it's bottom line, and takes into account the fans who pay for the shitty seats and swarm the practice courts because they love tennis. Whatever decision the organization makes has to be soon though. No amount of "We Survived the 2011 US Open" press releases will cover up the need for quick, intelligent and decisive decisions that take into account all of its constituents.