The future is right now at the National Tennis Center.
When fans start pouring through the gates for the U.S. Open starting Aug. 31, they will encounter a striking vista of the present and future of tennis in Flushing Meadows. The massive superstructure of the new roof on Arthur Ashe Stadium will dominate the view and on the southwest corner of the property, the new 8,000-seat Grandstand is starting to take shape. Both the roof and the Grandstand won't be functional until next year, along with the rebuilt field courts and spectator mall that will connect the Grandstand with Court 17.
But plenty of things will be functional for fans at the 2015 Open, not the least of which is the schedule. After two straight years of the men's final being played on Monday, this year the Open will revert to a more traditional Grand Slam format with the women's semifinals on Thursday (both at night) and their final during the day on Saturday. The men's semifinals will be Friday with the final Sunday.
"We had been talking internally about needing to move to this day of rest between the semis and finals and have been talking about it for several years," tournament director David Brewer said. "It is an acknowledgment of the physicality of the game today, particularly when you are playing five sets like the men, that day of rest is critical."
The Open moved to a Monday finish in 2013 to provide the men a day's rest on Sunday after the semifinals on Saturday. The women's final was moved to Sunday. Going back to 1975, the men played on what became known as Super Saturday with the two semifinals and the women's final. It was an exciting day for tennis, but exhausting for the men who had to come back on Sunday for the final.
"That Saturday-Sunday back to back was incredibly popular with our ticket holders and our [broadcasters]," Brewer said. "At the same time, we felt that so the players could provide their best, we needed to find a way to provide them with that day of rest between the semis and the final."
When the CBS contract was about to lapse, and ESPN was taking over, that opportunity rose.
Another new scheduling innovation is the introduction of "Doubles On Us," where fans will be issued free grounds passes the second Thursday, Sept. 10. A number of doubles matches, including the men's and women's semifinals, will be played on the outside courts. Action also will include the junior boys and girls competition, the wheelchair competition and the intercollegiate invitational.
"What we are looking to do is promote doubles," Brewer said. "And we are promoting it by having people come to the U.S. Open on us . . . We have tons of tennis being played every day, all day on the outside courts. The shift in the schedule gave us the opportunity to promote some things we haven't promoted before."
Though the Ashe Stadium roof won't be complete, there will be significant upgrades in the stadium. There will be four new video boards (replacing two highly mounted ones), a surround-sound audio system and LED lighting that will enhance the spotlight effect on the court.
"It's incredibly dramatic," said Danny Zausner, the chief operating officer of the tennis center. "It puts the lighting all on the court, where it was meant to be."
And ultimately a spotlight on the USTA's $500-million project that will conclude with a new Louis Armstrong Stadium. The project, Zausner reiterated, won't be at the expense of the ticket holders.
"The USTA has no financial support in the form of government subsidies," Zausner said, "and this money is coming from the USTA coffers as well as private financing."