Billie Jean King stood at the modest speaker's stand Tuesday afternoon, patiently jabbing at the controller used to open and close the new $150 million roof over Arthur Ashe Stadium.
Flustered, King hit the button a few more times while concerned USTA officials huddled and communicated with the control center. After a delay of about 10 minutes, the steel and polyester fabric roof slid open even quicker than it had closed (5 minutes, 12 seconds), concluding the initial test drive.
Later, USTA executive director Gordon Smith and National Tennis Center chief operating executive Danny Zausner explained the glitch.
"There are 16 clamps that engage and trigger sensors when the roof is properly engaged," Smith said. "One of the sensors signaled that it was out of alignment and asked for a system reboot. It was basically saying, 'Hold everything, check me out.'"
With that, here are five things to know about the roof and how it might affect play — and spectating — at the upcoming US Open:
1. It blocks the rain … and the sun
One reason the roof opens and closes so quickly is because a large portion of the roof is permanently in place. Much of the air space above the north and south portions of the stadium is covered with a steel framework and the same durable PTFE (polytetrafluoroethylene) fabric as the two panels that slide together from the east and west to form the completed roof.
This will have some practical benefits for players and spectators alike: large portions of the least expensive seats in the upper section of the 24,000-seat stadium will have significant shade, depending on the time of day. The great benefit for the players will be that the roof promises to cut down significantly on the infamous swirling winds that sometimes plague the tournament.
2. Forget tickets, scalp earplugs
One thing the USTA could not test at all were the acoustics of the stadium with the roof closed. The demonstration Tuesday had perhaps 300 guests in attendance. It's the most the roofed stadium has held yet.
The noise level in center court increases significantly when the roof is closed. Even the famously polite British crowd at Wimbledon can sound somewhat intimidating in full roar. Now double the number of spectators, make them New Yorkers fueled by various happy tonics, throw in an egregiously bad overrule — or even a spirited comeback by an underdog and, well, it will be resounding. Perhaps NCAA Final Four loud. Could this become a problem?
3. It has a hole bigger than a football field
It might seem like the functioning part of the "retractable" roof is small. That's really a comment on the size of Ashe. The "hole" filled with blue sky when the roof is open is actually larger than a football field. You can fit 22 tennis courts into it. The roof can be operated in a maximum wind speed of 50 miles per hour, which is 19 mph faster than the average speed of a severe thunderstorm starting from a dead calm.
4. The year of the roof isn't just about the roof
The new retractable roof over Arthur Ashe Stadium at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center will be ready when the US Open begins Aug. 29.
The roof is the great novelty — and the much-needed upgrade — this year. But this will be a vastly improved US Open in many other ways as well. A new 8,000-plus seat Grandstand stadium now dominates the southwest corner of the grounds. Visually, it's a gem, even if old hands who loved the "soul" of the old grandstand deride it as antiseptic. We'll see how it functions as a venue for players and fans.
There will be a lot more room to move around at the tennis center this year, and nobody is going to be upset about that. The courts outside Ashe have all been demolished and moved 40 feet to the south in order to create more space for walkways and less cramped spectator seating and facilities. If you plan to be a return visitor, you might think someone took the place and stretched it out, making it bigger and roomier.
5. Expect serious scheduling challenges
Unlike Wimbledon, the US Open has day and night sessions. So what happens if rain interrupts a day program? Do you finish the order of play and cancel the night session? Officials will have to decide whether to move outside matches into Ashe after they were started on other courts. (Usually play continues on the same court when there is any kind of interruption or postponement.)
Fairness issues will undoubtedly kick in as officials try to stay on schedule, satisfy broadcasters and treat players equally.
"We have looked at all kinds of protocols and talked to the relevant parties [ATP and WTA]," Smith said. "We are just going to have to go on a case-by-case basis."
The best solution: Assume that the Murphy's Law kicks in — that after you build the $150 million roof, you never get rained on. Ever again.