Rainy days soon won't be an issue

NEW YORK -- You can't say it was shortsighted for the USTA to build Arthur Ashe Stadium in the mid-1990s. Despite the fact that the US Open is in the path of hurricanes as they blow out their fury up the Eastern Seaboard, the organization was looking on the bright side.

"There really isn't a way to compare the cost when they built Ashe," USTA executive director Gordon Smith said as clouds moved into position over the grounds Monday. "It really wasn't considered at the time."

There is a time for optimism, and there is also a time to grab your rain jacket when you leave the house on a sunny day. The USTA will spend $550 million to upgrade the stadium and transform the grounds in the upcoming years. It is good news for players who bank on scheduled days off in late rounds of a major tournament, and for fans who inadvertently buy tickets for a rainy day.

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It may rain at the US Open in a few years, but not to worry for those in Arthur Ashe Stadium.

It is bad news for television viewers who wait for the yearly replay of the classic match between Jimmy Connors and Aaron Krickstein, a rain-delay staple. You have three years to DVR that match before the new roof is expected to be operational.

The rain-delayed Monday final became such a fixture of the US Open that, this year for the first time, the men's final is already scheduled for Monday. That makes the tournament more than a fortnight even before the inevitable raindrops hit.

To be fair, the Billie Jean King USTA National Tennis Center is built on a former dump, with unstable soil and a high water table. It is close to a flood plain, as well, meaning the weight of any roof killed most plans before they could be started.

The current plan will place a translucent fabric over the top of Ashe that lets in light and can withstand a 99 mph wind. The roof will be up before 2017 and be able to close in five minutes. Arthur Ashe Stadium will have to be reinforced so it can bear the additional structure, but architect Matt Rossetti explained that the coated fabric roof is the stadium standard in Europe.

The tournament has lost sessions to rainouts and dealt with higher humidity throughout the 2000s. Although it seems the US Open has been beset by rain in a way that defies the statistics, USTA executives assembled at a morning press conference to discuss the proposed plans said they have been assured that weather patterns actually haven't changed.

"That became irrelevant for us," tennis center COO Danny Zausner said. "Bottom line is we wanted to get a roof."

How many players have groused over the years about the lack of a roof? Ana Ivanovic was able to read "Into This Air" thanks to the lack of a roof.

Rain delays have led to some classic remedies. From flocks of ball kids armed with towels to dry courts, the tournament evolved the "Slamboni," basically a Zamboni that functioned as a hairdryer. Then the Slambonis multiplied.

There was the moment in 2011 when Andy Roddick justifiably threw a fit on Armstrong as the water bubbled up from under a dried court given the humid conditions. "Why are we out here right now?" Roddick asked a tournament official. Roddick refused to play through the meteorological anomaly.

"A few years ago, the players were made to go out on the court while it was still wet," defending champion Andy Murray told the UK's Telegraph. "It's dangerous. You can't play tennis on hard courts when it's raining."

Well, those players are going to have to finally stop their complaining -- in three to four years when the roof is completed. In the meantime, enjoy Connors-Krickstein.

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