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New-look Armstrong Stadium creates buzz at U.S. Open

The interior of the new Louis Armstrong Stadium

The interior of the new Louis Armstrong Stadium with its open roof begins to fill up during an early match at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center on Saturday, Sept. 1, 2018. Credit: Joseph D. Sullivan

New Louis Armstrong Stadium is singing a bright, new, loud tune at the U.S. Open and the players are keeping up with the beat.

The Open’s second roofed court came on line this year, with 14,000 seats, two food concourses and open ventilation. That roof pretty much assures the Open won’t finish on Monday again. It takes the place of the 9,900-seat Armstrong, which took the place of the 18,000-seat Armstrong when it was the Open’s No. 1 court.

The USTA has showcased the court this year with some top-ranked players, including defending champion Sloane Stephens who played and won there on Monday. What did she think?

“It was loud,” she said. “It was fun to play first day on a brand-new stadium court. But there was a lot happening.”

The noise level has been the chief remark of all players, though it doesn’t come in the form of a complaint.

“Very different atmosphere, very different feeling,” said Kevin Anderson, a finalist at the Open last year who beat Denis Shapovalov on Armstrong Friday. “I must tell you it was incredibly exciting. Felt like in a coliseum almost. Constant noise going on the whole time, which obviously as tennis players it’s nice to have quiet. What’s more distracting is when there is quiet and you can identify bits and pieces, pockets of noise. When it’s constant, it’s actually easier to deal with.”

Alexander Zverev enjoyed his victory there. “It’s a nice stadium. For a No. 2 court at a Grand Slam, it was absolutely perfect,” he said, while adding, “One thing is that it feels like there’s not a lot of air coming through, so it kind of feels like — especially today, where it was kind of hot, it feels like there’s no fresh air. It’s kind of like in a sauna.”

It must have been a still day on Thursday at the time Zverev beat Nicolas Mahut on new Armstrong, which does not have mechanical air conditioning like Ashe Stadium. The lower concourse level is totally open.

“I think it’s a bit easier to play on than the old Armstrong,” Andy Murray said. “It’s a little bit more sheltered from the wind, although, you know, you can get a breeze in there. It’s kind of before it used to swirl a lot in the old Armstrong. Now it’s sort of, it blows but tends to go in one direction. Also, it’s shaded from quite early on in the day, which is nice for the players and also, I think, the people watching, as well, for the fans.”

Danny Zausner, the CEO of the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, has been intimately involved in every detail of the new Armstrong and the five-year, $600-million renovation of the entire campus.

“I wouldn’t say it was textbook, but nothing is ever textbook,” Zausner said on Saturday. “A lot of what we thought about in design and construction has worked exactly as we hoped it would.”

Saying that the USTA takes copious notes about its facilites, Zausner said that there was a “lot of positive feedback from fans. We’ve also heard fans who said it seems a little loud. I commented in the early days that much like Arthur Ashe Stadium that the loudness thing will kind of dissipate over the course of the tournament as the matches get more compelling. More astute tennis fans might show up in the lower bowl and I think we saw that between Day 3 and Day 4 versus 1 and 2. It was clearly less loud then.”

He has also taken measures to keep the lower concourse from being overrun. The lower concourse basically serve the lower bowl’s reserved seat holders while the upper concourses serves the seating open to grounds pass holders.

“The first couple of days we let general admission folks go out on the concourse on the lower bowl,” Zausner said. “We saw more people just hanging out on the back railing than we anticipated so for Friday night’s evening session, we made grounds pass holders go up to the seats that they have on the upper concourse to create more space on the lower concourse. We’ll adjust on the fly in terms of more separation of the crowds.”

Mike Scaturro of Garden City has been attending the Open 27 years and laments the loss of the old Armstrong.

“The upper seating in [new] Armstrong I, felt like I was in Arthur Ashe, the nosebleed seats,” said Scaturro, who plays year-round at the tennis center. “And the lower bowl was pretty much empty. In the old Armstrong everywhere was a decent seat. I don’t think that’s the case now.”

It’s also the case that there are more than 4,000 additional seats in the new stadium which means more rows.

“The original Louis was 18,000 seats and the top rows of those seats were higher up than the new Louis and further away from the court,” Zausner said. “[New Armstrong] does have 14,000 seats and we did cantilever the upper bowl to make sure the upper seats were as close as possible. Some frustration may come from the fact when you walk onto the concourse you have to walk up to those seats.”

All in all, it seems new Louis can take a bow. And it even got a kudo from Simona Halep, the No. 1 seed who played the first match there on Monday and lost to Kaia Kanepi.

“ Actually I’m happy I was first one there, even if I lost,” said Halep with a genuine smile.

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