Open organizers address roof, schedule issues

After two consecutive years of rain-delayed singles finals, the U.S. Open is not committed to adding a roof.

And despite grousing by players about the men’s semifinals and final on back-to-back days — unlike the other Grand Slam tournaments — organizers are not seriously looking at tweaking their schedule.

While rain wreaked havoc with the U.S. Open again Saturday, tournament officials faced questions on everything from improvements for the tennis center to the Grand Slam’s three-day first round.

“It will be some time before there’s any decision made on whether or not to go forward with the roof,” U.S. Tennis Association executive director Gordon Smith said. “We would be looking at issues some years down the road, and the present economy has not slowed the process at all.

“We want to move that process along, looking long term and not at the current economy.”

Last year, when Tropical Storm Hanna rolled into New York and forced the first Monday men’s final since 1987, then-USTA executive Arlen Kantarian said a retractable roof over Arthur Ashe Stadium was “a matter of ‘when,’ not ‘if.”‘

The USTA appointed a group to study the infrastructure at the tennis center and received preliminary roof plans from a Kansas City architecture firm, but it doesn’t appear to be much closer to a concrete solution a year later.

“We will take the time to make the right decision, and will not hold ourselves to a specific timetable,” said Lucy Garvin, president and CEO of the USTA board.

U.S. Open officials also didn’t seem too eager to examine the tournament schedule, even after facing some barbs from Rafael Nadal, who closed out his rain-delayed quarterfinal victory over Fernando Gonzalez. His semifinal opponent, Juan Martin del Potro, completed his quarterfinal win before Thursday’s showers.

Tennis’ last major of the year is the only Grand Slam that doesn’t provide a day of rest between the semifinals and finals. It makes for a full TV schedule for Saturday — both men’s semifinals and the women’s final — but forces the finalists to play grueling back-to-back matches to decide the tournament.

“In the end, the television is decisive in these cases,” Nadal said.

Tournament director Jim Curley said he’s open to any changes that would improve the tournament.

“But in this particular situation, we feel that weighing all of the factors in our efforts to promote the sport, this is the best schedule that we have,” he said.

Curley, Smith and other tournament organizers had to rewrite the schedule again Saturday after passing showers delayed the women’s semifinals and postponed two doubles matches, including the men’s final.

Three-time U.S. Open champion Ivan Lendl and 1999 finalist Todd Martin entertained the die-hard fans in Ashe by hitting a few balls into the stands, while much of the crowd milled around the T-shirt vendors and bars on the grounds.

The dicey weather sparked more conversation about a roof, especially now that each of the other Grand Slams have a covered facility or will soon. There is a new $60 million indoor facility on the grounds, but it’s only used for practice during the U.S. Open.

Wimbledon put a retractable roof over Centre Court for this year’s tournament. The Australian Open, which often deals with extreme heat instead of rain, has retractable roofs for its two main courts and plans to cover a third. The French Open intends to have a roof over its center court within the next several years.

“Well, look, would I love to have a roof? Absolutely,” Curley said. “But it is certainly one of those situations where you have to really look at the practical aspects.”

The debate within the U.S. Tennis Association centers on the best use of the money from its marquee event. The mission of the nonprofit organization is to promote and grow tennis, and the sport has grown exponentially in recent years.

“So the question is, are you going to spend $100 million or more, we don’t know exactly, on a roof that you might use once a year, which would be the average,” Smith said. “Or is the money better spent promoting the game that we have been promoting so successfully?”