NEW YORK (Reuters) – Organizers took advantage of lack of spectators to build a sprawling outdoor lounge at Flushing Meadows this year, affording U.S. Open competitors an unprecedented range of outdoor recreation on otherwise empty plaza inside Billie Jean King National Tennis Center.
Fist-bumps and hugging are out at this year’s U.S. Open – as many signs across the campus are quick to remind. Socially distanced recreation is in, with a “life-size chess board,” miniature golf and popular lawn games like a beanbag toss placed in front of Arthur Ashe Stadium, which would normally see thousands of fans milling about.
Foosball, a basketball hoop, “soccer billiards” and shufflepuck are also available for players to enjoy, in public spaces where ticketholders once roamed, as tournament organizers aim to keep players away from the lockerroom and into fresh air.
While indoor activities like table tennis have long been available to players on their off hours, tournament organizers said this year was the first time an outdoor display of this size and scale has ever been installed.
Without fans on site, “it’s definitely a change, but it’s kind of peaceful, you know,” Canadian Denis Shapovalov told reporters after his first-round, four-set victory over Sebastian Korda on Monday.
“We have so much space on the grounds.”
Setup began on the south plaza Aug. 3 and took two weeks, with players at last week’s Western & Southern Open getting a first crack at the new toys.
At the newly dubbed “Ashe Beach,” players can relax in Adirondack-style lounge chairs in front of the large television screens in front of Arthur Ashe Stadium, where the soothing sounds of the water fountains provide an air of tranquility.
Those looking for more privacy can opt instead for a seat at one of the available cabanas, in a scene that one could nearly mistake for a resort lounge, were it not for signs reminding people to wash their hands and stop hugging each other.
“They got a little arcade for us at the hotel and some basketball and activities here,” 16-year-old American Katrina Scott told reporters after her first-round win again against Natalia Vikhlyantseva.
She called the amenities “a nice addition” to the campus, “especially since we’re in the bubble and we can’t do much.”
(Reporting by Amy Tennery; Editing by David Gregorio)