What’s New, and What’s Free, at the 2018 U.S. OpenKevin Anderson could hear the clang of fans thumping their sneakers into the metal bleachers during his fourth-round win over Paolo Lorenzi at the temporary Louis Armstrong Stadium during last year’s United States Open. The noise sounded like a toddler brandishing a wooden spoon against the side of an oversized pot.
Anderson also was unnerved by the shadows that crept along the back of the court, the result of trees hanging a bit too close to the end of the makeshift structure.
But Anderson, a lanky South African who would go on to reach his first major final at the 2017 Open, was still fortified by the support of the crowd that packed into the 8,500-seat structure and did his best to focus on the match rather than the environment.
“In the end, it isn’t the court or the physical structure that matters,” said Anderson, a finalist at Wimbledon this year. “What really matters out there is the atmosphere. When you get an intimate court, everyone feels like they’re part of the match and the energy just goes way up.”
If Anderson likes intimacy and energy, he will be thrilled to compete on the new Louis Armstrong Stadium, a 14,061-seat, terra cotta-covered edifice that opens with this year’s tournament and serves as the capstone for the United States Tennis Association’s five-year, $600 million overhaul of the U.S.T.A. Billie Jean King National Tennis Center.
The new stadium has the tournament’s second retractable roof, after one was added over the 23,771-seat Arthur Ashe Stadium in 2016. That guarantees that more matches than ever will be completed regardless of inclement weather.
The entire upper tier at Armstrong, more than half the seats, is open to all fans on a first-come, first-served basis. The lower level, situated on the same footprint as the Singer Bowl from the 1964 World’s Fair, requires a reserved ticket.
The most significant innovation of the new Armstrong Stadium is its lack of commercial air conditioning. While Ashe Stadium is ventilated by a water-cooled system that blows cold air into the seating area to keep the structure dry and minimize humidity, the new Armstrong is billed as the first naturally ventilated roofed tennis stadium in the world.
This is accomplished through a design that allows for a north-to-south breeze that is enhanced by 14,250 terra cotta louvers (that would, if placed end to end, stretch further than the length of Manhattan) and a perforated lower-level seating bowl that allows air to pass through underground pathways.
The concourse level is open on both ends, making the structure seem downright balmy even on hot days. More than 50 percent of the Rossetti-designed building is shaded by the Teflon-coated polytetrafluoroethylene fabric that stretches over the roof panels. The roof, like that on Ashe, can be closed in about six minutes.
The lines that often snaked around the old Armstrong when marquee matchups were underway also could be a thing of the past. Two new entranceways — each featuring a large staircase, escalator and elevator — should ensure that fans can find a seat, as well as food and tournament merchandise, without leaving the venue.
The rebuilt Armstrong cost $200 million of the $600 million “Five-Year Strategic Transformation,” as the U.S.T.A. called the renovation. All of it was completed on time, within budget and with no public funding, according to Danny Zausner, the chief operating officer of the National Tennis Center. The Ashe roof cost $180 million, and the new Grandstand and the renovation of the South Campus, which also debuted in 2016, cost an additional $165 million. The first phase of the project — an elevated 1,300-seat gallery overlooking Courts 4-6 and the practice courts — began in 2014.
The addition of another roofed stadium on site allows for a tweak in the tournament schedule. Armstrong will have a designated two-match night session — with separate ticketing — for the first six days of the tournament. (The day sessions at Ashe have been reduced to two scheduled matches from three.)
“This is going to be tremendous for the fans,” the tournament director, David Brewer, said. “With two roofs we now have the ability to rotate every top player through both stadiums. Fans want star power, but, first and foremost, we want to give every player the opportunity to compete at their best.”
One thing hasn’t changed, however: the name of the stadium. While many thought the new court might be named for an American champion, perhaps the six-time U.S. Open winner Chris Evert or the four-time victor John McEnroe, a New Yorker, that discussion never got started. As part of the approval process, the city stipulated that the stadium continue to be named for Armstrong, the noted jazz musician and a former Queens resident.
What Else Is New?
Last year, the U.S. Open tried two experiments during the qualifying rounds. The first was countdown clocks, which note the seven-minute warm-up period and the 25 seconds allotted between points. Those will be implemented in the main draw this year.
The second, off-court coaching, in which a player may consult with one designated coach during changeovers throughout the match, was not adopted for the main draw, but will be used again during the qualifying, junior and wheelchair events.
“It’s fairly fluid and produces free-form conversations between points,” Brewer said. “But it’s still in the experimental phase. We’ll see how it goes and then revisit it before next year.”
Also, for the first time, the Hawk-Eye line-calling challenge system will be available on every court, not just the main show courts.
What Events Are Free?
The U.S.T.A. has scheduled several free events at the National Tennis Center and around the city this week and beyond:
- U.S. Open qualifying tournament: Beginning Tuesday, 128 men and 128 women will try to play their way into the main singles draw. Among those expected to compete are the veterans Ivo Karlovic and Donald Young, the former Wimbledon finalist Genie Bouchard and the American Lauren Davis, who was ranked in the top 40 a year ago. Qualifying matches will be televised for the first time, on Tennis Channel.
Practices: Fans at the tennis center this week can watch their favorite players practice. Schedules are posted daily on the U.S. Open website and mobile app. Sunday’s activities also include a doubles clinic featuring Mike Bryan, Jamie Murray, Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Lucie Safarova.
Legends matches: Exhibition matches featuring tennis greats used to be held during the second week of the tournament and usually required a ticket. This year, fans can watch those matches for free, beginning Wednesday. The final Legends match on Sunday will feature Martina Navratilova, Lindsay Davenport, Tracy Austin and Arantxa Sánchez-Vicario.
Armstrong Stadium dedication: On Wednesday, the new Armstrong Stadium will be dedicated at 2 p.m. as part of “Queens Day” festivities, which will include a performance by the jazz musician Wynton Marsalis. Afterward, the Queens natives John and Patrick McEnroe will play James Blake and Michael Chang in the honorary first match on the court.
Draw ceremony: The first-round matchups in men’s and women’s singles will be set at the draw on Thursday at 2 p.m. at Brookfield Place, just outside the World Financial Center in Manhattan. The defending champions Sloane Stephens and Rafael Nadal will attend the ceremony, which will be followed by an exhibition match featuring the former players Robby Ginepri, Justin Gimelstob, Luke Jensen and Taylor Dent.
Media day: On Friday, U.S. Open media day will be open to the public for the first time. From 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. in Armstrong Stadium, fans can hear top players answer questions from reporters from around the world.
Arthur Ashe Kids’ Day: While the concert and player appearances inside Ashe Stadium require a ticket, the other programs for children on Saturday at the National Tennis Center are free. They begin at 9:30 a.m.
Community Day: As has been the case for the past few years, the grounds of the National Tennis Center are open to the public during the day session on the second Thursday of the tournament, which this year is Sept. 6. The schedule that day includes doubles, mixed doubles and the junior tournament.
How Will the Open Celebrate Its 50th Anniversary?
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the United States national championships becoming the U.S. Open, allowing professionals to compete alongside amateurs. To commemorate 50 years of Open tennis, the U.S.T.A. will celebrate the 27 male and 23 female singles champions with on-court presentations and legends matches. The ceremony on opening night on Aug. 27 will honor the 1968 women’s singles finalists, Billie Jean King and Virginia Wade.
There will be a special exhibit, sponsored by the International Tennis Hall of Fame, featuring six-foot enlargements of never-before-seen photos of Arthur Ashe, who won the 1968 U.S. Open. The photos will line the walkway that connects the Grandstand and Court 17. There also will be a virtual reality experience inside the Chase Center near the East Gate that allows fans to feel as if they have a front-row seat for Ashe’s 1968 victory over Tom Okker. Ashe, who was a lieutenant in the Army when he won the title as an amateur in ’68, will be honored by the U.S. Military Academy on Sept. 3.