From the aluminum bleachers of the temporary stadium raised on what used to be a parking lot, spectators could consider the dramatic, ongoing makeover as the U.S. Open began its two-week run Monday.
The transitory structure, like the Open’s recently demolished No. 2 show court, as well as the under-construction building planned to debut next year, is being called Louis Armstrong Stadium. Fitting, given that the late Satchmo excelled at jazz, a synonym for improvisation.
“It feels like the U.S. Open,” two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova said after christening Interim Armstrong with a 7-5, 7-5 decision over former No. 1 and 2008 Open runner-up Jelena Jankovic. “But on the other hand, it was a bit weird, I have to say.”
Kvitova was speaking specifically about the short-term venue, and not the absence of so many of the sport’s headliners — 23-time major-tournament champion Serena Williams (maternity leave), two-time Australian title-winner Victoria Azarenka (child custody battle) and 2011 U.S. champ Sam Stosur (hand injury) among the women. And former U.S. winners Andy Murray (hip), Novak Djokovic (elbow) and Stan Wawrinka (knee) on the men’s side, along with former Slam event runners-up Kei Nishikori and Milos Raonic, both sidelined by wrist injuries.
The for-the-time-being Armstrong had the view from some seats hampered by the sun’s reflection off silver bleachers, and there was a throwback sense to when the original Armstrong opened in 1978 and the tennis grounds were far more primitive and noisy — constant roars from jets lifting off from LaGuardia and rows of what advertised themselves as “luxury restroom trailers.”
Kvitova is herself in the midst of reconstructing her career after a December knife attack which necessitated the surgical repair of ligaments and tendons in her left (playing) hand. Now ranked 14th, she held off Jankovic, now 32 years old and battling back problems.
Following those two on the here-now, gone-next-month Armstrong was John Isner, the top-seeded American male at No. 10, who defeated 65th-ranked Pierre-Hugues Herbert of France, 6-1, 6-3, 4-6, 6-3. And American Sloane Stephens, ranked 83rd, who dismissed Italian Roberta Vinci, the 2015 Open runner-up, 7-5, 6-1.
“It was a very different feel, of course,” Isner said. “But it’s a one-year thing. Ever seen the old movie ‘Hoosiers’? Every basket is 10 feet. A tennis court is a tennis court. It’s the same.”
Although, Jankovic said, “maybe a little more uncomfortable for the people because of those bleachers.”