The biggest stage in tennis just got bigger, just got brighter, just got bolder.
When the U.S. Open begins its two-week run on Monday, fans will find the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center substantially renovated and reinvigorated as part of the ongoing half-billion dollar transformation undertaken by the United States Tennis Association.
The new roof over Arthur Ashe Stadium is in place and operable for the first time. The new 8,125 seat Grandstand Court makes its debut in the southwest corner of the campus. Field courts 7-16 have been rebuilt, some enlarged, and the whole kit and caboodle was shifted south to open up a wide spectator boulevard from the Grandstand to Court 17.
The new Grandstand serves as a hub for that part of campus, with quick access to the triplex courts of 4-6 just north and courts 8-10 to the east. There was an attempt to make the new Grandstand an intimate setting like its predecessor, and while there won’t quite be that up close and personal feeling, everyone is close enough to feel the action.
For those seasoned fans who sought the shade of the old Grandstand’s south seating area that was under the overhanging of Louis Armstrong Stadium, the southwest arc of seating at the higher levels of the new Grandstand will provide a wide swath of shade. A spectator walkway at the rim of the Grandstand provides easy access around the whole of the seating area and is also a good place to watch.
On the southeast corner of the Grandstand is a seating terrace that overlooks courts 8-10 and likely will become a popular hangout for drinks and revelry. The Grandstand has eight food outlets and is near the Red Star Cafe.
The effect of shifting the southern campus a few feet to the south creates more space in the fountain plaza outside Ashe Stadium, and on those frustrating nights when the last day match on Ashe runs into the night session, things should be a little less cramped. Everything will be brighter at night this year with a complete transition to LED lighting.
And of course, there’s the new roof.
Decades in the making, it officially was closed On Aug. 1. The two 800-ton fabric panels will take about seven minutes to meet securely in the center of an opening that the USTA says is 62,500 square feet and the roof itself is 236,600 square feet. From various vistas outside the stadium, the roof is an “ET Moment,” appearing to hover over the largest stadium in tennis.
To commemorate the $150-million project, the USTA will close and open the roof as part of the opening ceremonies of the night session on Monday.
This is the final year for Louis Armstrong Stadium. It and the old Grandstand will be torn down at the end of this tournament, and a new Armstrong with a roof will be in play for the 2018 Open, completing the USTA’s vision to make the Open the finest spectator experience.
On Tuesday, Danny Zausner, the CEO of the tennis center and the man who has overseen the remaking of the Flushing Meadows property, was strolling outside of Ashe Stadium while the last of the cosmetic touches were being applied. The qualification tournament was in progress and the thousands of fans who get in for free got their first glimpse of the new digs.
Zausner was pretty pleased. Was it on time and on budget?
“Absolutely,” he said with a wide grin. “We’re ready to go now and still have new things coming in the future. It’s looking really good.”
Arthur Ashe roof by the numbers
Opening/closing time: 7 minutes
Size of opening: 62,500 sq. feet
Size of entire roof: 236,600 sq. feet
Size of fabric paneling: 191,400 sq. feet
Fabric: Teflon-coated polytetrafluoroethylene
Weight of gliding panels: 800 tons
Weight of steel superstructure: 6,500 tons
Catenary trusses supporting roof: 4
Length of catenary trusses: 460 feet
Roof motors: 600 hp
Height to top of roof: 205 feet