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Structure that will support roof at Arthur Ashe Stadium is complete

A view of the Arthur Ashe Stadium retractable

A view of the Arthur Ashe Stadium retractable roof superstructure at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Queens on Wednesday, June 10, 2015. Credit: Patrick E. McCarthy

Everybody talks about the weather at the U.S. Open, and now, the U.S. Tennis Association has done something about it after recently enduring a stretch of five straight years of seeing the men's final pushed back to a Monday because of rain. Since the end of last year's tournament, the USTA has overseen construction of a completely separate retractable roof superstructure that now arches over Arthur Ashe Stadium.

The actual roof won't be installed until after this year's tournament and will be operational for the 2016 U.S. Open, but the USTA celebrated completion of the massive 5,000-ton superstructure with a "topping off" ceremony on Wednesday when the final structural steel piece was put in place.

"[The roof] is the major and most obvious thing we're doing, but it's just one piece of the reimagination,'' USTA executive director Gordon Smith said. "We want nothing less than a vision of this facility being the finest tennis venue in the world and the pre-eminent sports facility in New York City. Our motto for this is: 'Redefining spectacular.' ''

As part of the privately funded $500-million project, adjacent Louis Armstrong Stadium and the connected Grandstand also will be replaced. Construction for a new 8,000-seat Grandstand and food court on the expanded South Campus toward the Unisphere from the 1964 World's Fair will be completed by 2016. After that year's tournament Louis Armstrong Stadium will be torn down and replaced by a 14,000-seat facility in the same location that will be ready in 2018.

At the moment, the National Tennis Center is a full-fledged construction zone, but NTC executive director Dan Zausner said the facility will be restored and "open for business" Aug. 20.

The roof superstructure is the most obvious difference this year. A temporary shade structure will be installed to prevent shadows from the superstructure impacting play. In the next few weeks, Zausner said shoring structures supporting the superstructure will be removed, "freeing 600,000 tons of steel to float in the air with only the support of 24 exterior columns."

The roof will have the largest opening in the world, Zausner said, measuring 250 feet by 250 feet, which equals 62,500 square feet of open space. It will take five to seven minutes to close the roof, and humidify the arena via the ventilation system.

"Except for when it rains, we'll be open and people will still feel like it's outdoors," Zausner said. "You can go to the upper promenade and still see sweeping views of Manhattan."

In the future, only rains of historic proportions would prevent the U.S. Open from finishing on schedule. "By the time we get to Tuesday in the second week of singles matches [quarterfinals], we move them all into Arthur Ashe Stadium, and we'll be able to guarantee those matches can play," Zausner said. "We won't have to worry about players' rest because we can guarantee them a day off before their matches."

Even before the roof goes on, it's clear New York's skyline has gained a prominent new silhouette by the Grand Central Parkway. "I think 'iconic' is the perfect word for it," Smith said. "This image will be something that tennis fans and sports fans worldwide will know exactly what it is when they see it."

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