What’s Wrong With The US Open?
It used to be my favourite Slam. The glitz and glamour had me spell-bound, it sent tennis into an extraordinary world where the crowd danced in the aisles and the matches went late. It was the New York atmosphere, that far-away world where everything is bigger, the players dress up and the tennis stops for no one.
I had the finals day off work, (a Monday in my part of the world), and was settling down to watch my two favourite players face off in my favourite Slam. The only hurdle seemed to be the weather, the rain was constant and it was looking unstoppable. No problem of course, I figured they’d close the roof, momentarily forgetting that the US Open didn’t have rooves on its courts. I cringed when I realised what this meant; the final would be delayed and I would miss it. It was a serious inconvience yes, but it didn’t deter me completely from my favourite Slam.
In 2010 I leapt across the Tasman sea to Australia, my heart set on Melbourne, (you can guess why). I had heard the Australian Open had heart, that it’s crowd were knowledge, and it is referred to as the ‘happy Slam’ for a good reason. During my two weeks watching the tennis at Melbourne Park, I fell in love. I had no idea it would last so long. Come the US Open I felt a strange emptiness. The matches themselves, particularly on the WTA side, were interesting and full of high quality tennis, but there seemed to be something missing with the US Open I’d never felt before and the problems all seemed to come back to one thing: Arthur Ashe.
Arthur Ashe stadium is the biggest tennis stadium in the world by a long shot with 22,547 individual seats, 90 luxury suites, five restaurants and a two-level players’ lounge. When the USTA built the stadium in the late 90s it seemed they had only one thing on their mind; to go big. Indeed it is big, it’s massive, but it’s becoming more and more evident every year that Arthur Ashe is too big. It seems the American myth of bigger is better isn’t holding true when it comes to tennis stadiums. Ashe feels empty when half full, which it often is for half the tournament. Spectators in the top tier seats are isolated from the action, and before blue courts were used it was said that it was too hard to see the ball. It seems tennis just isn’t supposed to be in a huge stadium; it kills any potential atmosphere and the match is simply too hard to see.
The problems don’t stop there, not even close. Arthur Ashe is so big that it would cost a huge amount of money to add a roof. Ashe cost $254 million to construct but it seems the USTA were too obsessed with its scale when John McEnroe suggested that the US Open would benefit more from a roof than a bigger stadium. The USTA ignored him and the advice of many others and as a result the US Open is left without a roof and will likely remain so for a long time. The French Open has plans to add a roof in the coming years, which will leave the US Open the only Slam without protection against the rain. The rain isn’t the only weather problem that affects Ashe; a windy day turns Ashe into a hurricane, in fact, hurricane was the exact word Caroline Wozniacki used to describe the weather inside Ashe after her quarter-final win this year. She also stated that the weather wasn’t as bad outside the stadium. This results in unpleasant conditions for spectators, players, and the chance that the tournament will be postponed by rain as has happened the past three years on men’s finals day.
It was these delays, as I sat on yet another scheduled day off waiting for the final to be officially postponed a day, that had me rethinking my favourite Slam, thinking that perhaps it wasn’t my favourite after all. I was even relieved it was raining I was so worried the schedule would result in a boring final. The current agenda has the finals played the day after the semis, clearly favouring the player with the easier draw and semi-final even more than usual. Vera Zvonareva complained of fatigue after losing the final to Kim Clijsters, although if Clijsters has lost you could have perhaps expected similar complaints from her considering she played a tougher semi-final than Zvonareva. Novak Djokovic was clearly relieved he would have a day to recover from his five setter against Roger Federer as Rafael Nadal was fresh from his significantly easier semi-final against Mikhail Youzhny. It seems ridiculous that players are given no time to rest between semis and finals and it can only decrease the quality of the tennis.
Besides the horrid scheduling and a stadium that is just too big, the US Open often appears tacky with its focus on money. As for the announcers constantly proclaiming it is the greatest tennis tournament in the world, well that’s just something I can’t agree with anymore. There have been too many bad decisions made based on money or a desire to be the biggest for me to call this tournament my favourite anymore. The Australian Open may be humble but it caters for fans and players before world records or corporate sponsors. The US Open has more money and glamour but you can’t buy heart. Melbourne, its poorer cousin, has that in bundles.