New Ashe roof set for US Open debut

US Open (File)
US Open (File)

New York - The US Tennis Association on Tuesday unveiled a long-awaited retractable roof over Arthur Ashe Stadium in time for this year's US Open, ensuring rain will not ruin the last Grand Slam of the year.

The roof is the flagship improvement in a multi-year $600 million upgrade of the USTA's Billie Jean King National Tennis Centre in Flushing Meadows.

Rain pushed back the men's final to Monday five years in a row from 2008 through 2012 and delayed last year's epic contest between Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic by more than three hours.

The gleaming new roof - a 6 500-ton steel superstructure with teflon covering and a surface area of 17 Olympic swimming pools - should put an end to washouts of key matches when the US Open begins on August 29.

The roof demonstration for reporters went flawlessly - almost.

In the first phase, the roof dutifully unfurled itself in about six minutes after Ashe's widow Jeanne pressed an activation button.

About eight minutes later, King herself was sent to the controls to reopen the court to natural sunlight. This time, the roof didn't budge.

After another failed attempt, the roof eventually behaved on a third try following a reboot of the sensor system, said USTA executive director Gordon Smith.

"This wasn't a real-life situation," Smith explained, noting that a decision to deactivate the roof during actual play would only take place after the rain had passed.

In addition to the roof, the USTA this year is launching a brand new Grandstand court that will seat 8,125, replacing its predecessor of the same name, a venue beloved by fans for its intimacy and quirky shadows.

Officials vowed Grandstand 2.0 would also wow fans with features that include a sunken court and shading from the sun.

They also outlined an upgrade for the former centre court, the Louis Armstrong Stadium, which is currently the second show court at the facility.

Armstrong will be destroyed after this year's tournament and replaced with a temporary structure for the 2017 US Open before being permanently revived with a retractable roof of its own in 2018.

That will leave the US Open with two all-weather courts, placing it near the top of the Grand Slam pecking order.

The Australian Open was the pioneer roof-raiser in 1988 and now has three courts with roofs.

Wimbledon installed a roof over Centre Court in 2009 and plans a roof over its second show-court stadium targeted for 2019.

That leaves the French Open, also known as Roland Garros, as a laggard among the 'big four' tournaments. Organisers this year vowed a roof over Court Philippe Chatrier after rain plagued much of this year's tournament.

The new retractable roof covers Arthur Ashe Stadium at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Centre (AP)

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