By Steve Keating
NEW YORK (Reuters) - A $150 million high-tech retractable roof for the Arthur Ashe Stadium court looked like money well spent as play went ahead as scheduled on Thursday, despite steady rain at the U.S. Open.
But while fans stayed dry, United States Tennis Association (USTA) officials were showered with complaints about the noise inside the cavernous 23,771-seat facility that left umpires pleading for quiet and players unable to hear the ball coming off their racquets.
Wimbledon and Olympic champion Andy Murray, who has played his opening two matches on the showcase court - one under an open roof, the other closed - said he had noticed a definite rise in noise level but was pleased to have completed his match.
"At first, we didn't know if there was just more people come in at the change of ends, but then we quickly realized it was the rain," said Murray, following his 6-4 6-1 6-4 win over Spain's Marcel Granollers on Thursday.
"It was tough, you couldn't really hear the ball which makes it tricky. But we're lucky to play under the roof; otherwise there wouldn’t be any tennis so it's good for everyone."
The new covering, which follows years of rain delays and postponements that often extended the year's final grand slam to an extra day, leaves the French Open as the only slam without a retractable roof, which they hope to put in place by 2020.
New York crowds, long recognized as the rowdiest in tennis, have created a unique problem not found in Wimbledon's more intimate setting where fans observe tennis etiquette or the Australian Open's Rod Laver Arena, which has about half the seating capacity (14,850) as Arthur Ashe.
The Ashe roof, an engineering challenge that took three years to complete, is part of an ongoing $600 million renovation of the Billie Jean King National Tennis Centre, which will include a second retractable roof stadium scheduled to be ready for 2018.
"This is New York," USTA executive director Gordon Smith told reporters. "Yes, there is crowd noise and yes, we want the crowds to come, we want them to be excited.
"We think that, over time, the fans will adjust and the players will adjust. It was obvious there would be more noise in a closed environment than in an open environment.
"This is a learning year for us ... we'll look at doing things in the future to deal with that."
Until then, players will simply have to adjust as best the can.
Some have found the pumped-up volume a serious distraction while others, such as twice U.S. Open champion Rafa Nadal, have described it as music to their ears.
"Was a little bit more noise than usual," conceded fourth seed Nadal, who played part of his first round match under a closed roof. "I didn't feel the difference when the roof was closed and when the roof was open. You get used (to it) later.
"The roof is so high, you don't feel that you are closed. That's my feeling. I didn't feel the change. Is an unbelievable, unbelievable court."
(Editing by Mark Lamport-Stokes)