September 15, 2010
In a perfect world, every court at the U.S. Open would have a roof to protect it from rain and wind. And every match would be a crackling five-set thriller. And TV coverage would never get bumped to cable and then cut-off for mediocre football games. And sunshine, lollipops and rainbows would fill the sky, and Maria Sharapova's grunting would sound like the laughter of children, and all would be at peace in the world (and WTA locker rooms).
But because things aren't perfect, there's no need to spend over $100 million to build a roof for Arthur Ashe Stadium. It could use a roof, but logistically and financially it doesn't make any sense.
The calls for the roof have intensified over the past three years when rain delays have moved the men's final to Monday. It's a big hassle for players, organizers and television networks, and a bit of a financial drain as well. (Although, if anybody has quoted a figure on how much money the USTA loses because of a weekday final, I couldn't find it.) Is it enough of a hassle to build a roof though?
I live near Washington, D.C., and we had three major snowstorms last year, but that doesn't mean I'm going out and buying a fancy snowblower. Overreacting to temporary aberrations is rarely prudent (just ask people who predicted a deep run at the Open by Tomas Berdych).
Consider: Before the current run of rain-delayed Opens, there had only been one postponed final since 1975. That's one in 33 years. Since 1935, only 13 finals have been delayed. Annoying, yes. Epidemic, no.
Of course, it's not just about delayed finals. Rain delays are inconvenient whenever they occur, forcing fans to change plans, compressing schedules and wreaking havoc with television coverage. But it's not like a roof on Ashe is going to wipeout rain delays, it will just end them for the main court. A washout on the first Monday of the tournament this year still would have been a washout for everyone but Roger Federer, Venus Williams, Andy Roddick, Kim Clijsters, Melanie Oudin and the opponents they played that day.
Estimates place the cost of building a roof over Ashe near $150 million, but you can always bump up any New York construction costs by about 20 percent, so let's figure it'll run $175 million to be conservative. For comparison, Ashe cost $254 million when it was built in 1997.
Those advocating for a roof are likely the same ones who wanted one built over the stadium when it was constructed. Back when Ashe was conceived, there were calls to use the $250 million to build a smaller stadium with a roof instead of the 23,000-seat, open-air behemoth we have today. John McEnroe was a staunch advocate of such a move.
They should have done it then, but the USTA wanted size, not sensibility. Now, if they decide to build one, the organization will have spent nearly a half-billion dollars on one stadium that's used two weeks out of every year. The mistake was already made, no need to compound it now.
It's not my money though, so I don't particularly care what the USTA does with it. I'm not anti-roof. Like I said, in a perfect world Ashe would be covered and we all could have spent our Sunday afternoon watching Nadal-Djokovic, as planned. I just don't see how a roof would be an effective use of funds.
The USTA says its mission is to "to promote and develop the growth of tennis." If building a roof is going to be a financial windfall for the organization, then show us the numbers and do it. If it's not, then use that $175 million to build courts in impoverished areas, start programs for children and buy equipment for those that need it.
We've done without a roof at the U.S. Open since 1881. A few more raindrops aren't going to hurt anyone.