Memories of Louis Armstrong Stadium and Grandstand courts
For years, it has been accepted fact that the best tennis venues at the U.S. Open -- for both players and fans -- are the No. 2 and 3 show courts, Louis Armstrong Stadium and the Grandstand.
Until the championship finals, at least, the seats in massive Arthur Ashe Stadium rarely are filled for day matches, lacking the kind of interactive atmosphere the players prefer.
And, for spectators, the fact the Armstrong (capacity 10,103) and the Grandstand (6,106) have open seating means that a grounds pass is good enough for first-come, first-served attendance. Without risking bloody noses from the altitude of Ashe's upper precincts.
Again Saturday, both of those arenas were SRO most of the day, generating lively scenes in which tennis critics, whether of high or low brow, and on-court performances fed off each other.
"I love it," Serena Williams said. "It's such a great atmosphere in the Grandstand. Also on Louis Armstrong, such a wonderful atmosphere. The fans are amazing."
Williams' top-seed status assures her Ashe Stadium billing for her singles matches, but she regularly plays doubles with her sister in Armstrong and the Grandstand.
"The atmosphere," said Canada's fifth-seeded Milos Raonic, who won his third-round match on the Grandstand Saturday, "is nice when you have that energy coming from outside the court. Doesn't matter which way [the fans root], really. It just makes it more exciting. It's fun."
Unseeded Sam Querrey, who won two matches in Armstrong last week before his Ashe Stadium loss to No. 1-ranked Novak Djokovic Saturday, called Armstrong "my favorite court in the whole world. People are down close. It's a fun court. I think Isner would say the same thing."
In fact, Isner expressed his "love for playing on Louis Armstrong. Always a great atmosphere" -- even last year, when Armstrong fans, clamoring loudly for a longer match, temporarily abandoned Isner to pull for stylish French player Gael Monfils.
"I hope," Querrey said, "they don't have plans to knock it down or change it at all."
As part of the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center's $500-million reinvention, with a retractable roof to be constructed over Ashe Stadium for the 2016 Open, both Armstrong and the Grandstand will be razed. The Grandstand's last stand will be next year; for Armstrong, 2016. (A new Grandstand will be available in two years on the opposite side of the grounds and a new Armstrong, designed to include a retractable roof eventually, will rise up on the present site in 2017.)
"Oh," Querrey said. "Well, what are you going to do?"
Original construction of the tennis center, opened in 1978, revolved around the small stadium built by the Singer Sewing Machine Company for the 1964 World's Fair. The eastern section of that Singer building became the Grandstand; Armstrong was built up over the other end of it.
In its first iteration, Armstrong -- which had seating for 21,000 before it was downsized with the debut of Ashe Stadium in 1997 -- hardly was considered particularly charming by players or fans. Veteran American pro Kevin Curren once suggested that Open officials "should drop an A-Bomb on it."
The place is far more hospitable now, and a new favorite Open court is No. 17 -- where many more than the 2,800 that could fit inside attempted to watch 15-year-old instant sensation CiCi Bellis' second-round match on Thursday. The design for the new Grandstand mimics Court 17's theater-in-the-round look.
The idea, promotional material claims, is to "put fans on top of the action so they're not just watching it -- they're part of it." Like the present Armstrong and Grandstand.