By Larry Fine
NEW YORK (Reuters) – A $150 million retractable roof that will keep the U.S. Open tennis championship’s Arthur Ashe Stadium main court dry was displayed with great fanfare and a minor glitch at Flushing Meadows on Tuesday.
The technological wonder had a grand closing, as a crowd of reporters looked skyward on a sunny day as the translucent fabric, moving at the rate of 25 feet per minute, covered the world’s largest tennis stadium in 5 minutes and 12 seconds.
Jeanne Ashe, wife of the late champion for whom the stadium is named, did the honors of hitting the button to close the roof and put the assembled audience in comfortable shade.
Tennis Hall of Famer Billie Jean King, for whom the National Tennis Center complex is named, was then summoned to hit the button to trigger the opening – but the roof did not budge.
On her third try, after a delay of over 10 minutes, the roof was again in motion and in five minutes was open over the stadium’s 23,771 blue seats.
The delay was a bit embarrassing for officials who had been using the catch-phrase “redefine spectacular” about the high-tech achievement, but it was a minor hiccup as the new space age look of the stadium and prospects of relief from rain was a welcomed development.
U.S. Tennis Association Executive Director Gordon Smith put a positive spin on the delayed opening of the roof.
“It actually worked exactly like it was designed,” Smith told reporters.
“There are 16 brake clamps that stop it. One sensor on one of those 16 said ‘I’m slightly out of alignment’ and it then sends a signal that says ‘You need to reboot and check me out and make sure I’m OK.’
“That’s what they did. It was fine. It behaved like it was designed to behave.”
Tennis Center Chief Operating Officer Danny Zausner said the roof, an engineering challenge that took three years to complete, will continue to be tested daily ahead of the Aug. 29-Sept. 11 championship.
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.
Besides keeping the court, players and spectators dry, the shape of the roof seems to have cut down the swirling wind that has often vexed players in the past.
Though refrigerated air is pumped into the stadium to manage humidity and help keep the temperature down when the roof is closed, Smith said: “We’re not closing the roof for heat purposes, we’re an outdoor tournament.”
(Editing by Frank Pingue)