Posted: Thursday September 8, 2011 8:12PM ; Updated: Thursday September 8, 2011 8:38PM
Jon Wertheim
Jon Wertheim>TENNIS MAILBAG

U.S. Open coming to the Garden?

Story Highlights

Amid recent rain issues, could the U.S. Open move to Madison Square Garden?

Today's U.S. Open court assignments should cater to the audience, not the rules

Serena Williams is being set up for failure by present tennis commentators

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2011 U.S. Open
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A quick spin through some questions during a crazy day:

Here's a great solution to the Ashe/rain/roof conundrum during inclement weather: use Madison Square Garden! It's got A) a roof already, B) a venerable history both as a venue and as a tennis venue, and C) proximity to the fans and the players alike. You could clear the MSG schedule around the Open and even surface the court similar to Ashe. Could be expensive to book MSG for 2 weeks, but not compared to $200 million in roof construction or 50,000 refunded tickets due to rain washouts! For those who say that a Grand Slam must take place on the same site, I respond: hey, if Canada can host the same tournament in two different cities, why can't the U.S. Open use two venues in the same city, especially during inclement weather? Transfer the U.S. Open balls, the sponsor logos, the umpires and ballkids -- and let's play ball! You even have luxury suites for the fat cats!

-- Bob, Washington, D.C.

• Bob is being facetious. At least we hope he is. (For the record, we'll see a return to wooden rackets before we move matches at a Grand Slam to an entirely different venue.) But though the sun is shining and the matches are back on, there's still so much collateral damage from the rain delays. And Bob illustrates one front: the essence of the entire event is called into question. Fans chastise officials. Players chastise officials. Officials chastise officials. The event is compared -- unfavorably -- to other tournaments. The venue comes in for a beating. The schedule comes in for a beating. The ticket refund comes in for a beating. There are runaway discussions about improvements and changes and alternatives. Here we are, the second week of the last Major of the season and there's less talk about the actual tennis than about finances and profits and architectural flaws. The U.S. Open -- and by extension, tennis -- lost a lot of authority these past few days.

Pressed about a roof, the USTA has -- reasonably -- cited the high cost and noted that, as a organization tasked with growing and promoting tennis, it would be irresponsible to make this kind of an outlay at the expense of other funding initiatives. I would contend it's at the point where the "growing and promoting" tennis is so undercut by the havoc wrought by rain cancellation, that building a roof, even at a cost in excess of $100 million, has now become a necessity.

Post-rain play: Roddick gets Court 13, Isner gets Court 17 while Young gets the Grandstand. Fair? This is New York, guys! More people want to watch Roddick-Ferrer than a Nadal-Muller, the result of the latter was obvious since the third round. Should court assignments be based on rankings or local popularity?

-- Raj Sonak, Sterling, Va.

• A rule, violated only under the most extraordinary circumstances: you start a match on Court A; you finish the match on Court A. Once Young and Murray played on the Grandstand yesterday, that match was staying there.

Granted their different situations with what happened the day prior to Roddick, but to provide a different reaction to court bubbles: We were watching the first round Karlovic/Gonzalez match. In warmups, the ball boy tossed a ball to Gonzalez and it bounced funny. Gonzalez looked at the spot, shrugged his shoulders, called the chair umpire over and he called for a tech to come over. During the five-minute wait, he dropped a ball on the spot and the ball landed flat with no bounce. The crowd chuckled. He thought for a second, then dropped another ball with no bounce... more chuckles. Then two or three more drops for the crowd. Then both players just waited near their chairs until the tech came and fixed the court with some sort of screwdriver.

-- John Gomez, Albany, N.Y.

• I like that story -- and hadn't heard it. So thanks. But it's a completely different situation. I think Roddick was well within his rights to become concerned and upset, especially coming as this did on the heels of yesterday's controversy. He and the other players were risking injury. This wasn't a "court zit" that could be popped with a screwdriver. This was (is?) a defect that could precipitate injury.

My observation is that nearly all of the tennis commentators are saying that the Open is Serena's to lose, thus setting her up for failure and enabling the commentators to crow about a major upset. They all seem to have forgotten that there remain other strong women in the Open and that Serena has really only recently returned to the courts after nearly a year away for substantial medical reasons. The commentators may be paid to sell "excitement," but I would suggest that they are being a bit unfair. I'd think that the wonder really is that Serena has gotten as far as she has in the tournament.

-- Lewis Redding, Arcadia, Calif.

• I'm not asking for "media sympathy" here. But consider the alternative. If you pretend, er, contend, that Serena actually may not win, you stand accused of shortchanging a champion, of trying infuse and manufacture drama, bolster the chances of Wozniacki -- and the like when the evidence suggests that Serena is an overwhelming favorite. Wouldn't "selling excitement" encourage you to discount Serena and make the event more competitive than it would otherwise seem? I said before the tournament, I would take Serena against the field. I stand by it.

I'm really surprised that for so many years the U.S. Open organizers have allowed the desires of television networks to greatly influence the tournament schedule (i.e. the Wednesday start for some players, the men playing semifinals and finals on back-to-back days, the final on Sunday not starting until after the NFL games are finished). Do you think that drastic action by the players, like the top ones boycotting the event, is required to effect a change, and if so, do you think this is something the players would consider doing?

-- Bridget R., Montreal, Canada

• There's a longer discussion to be had here about prize money distribution and player solidarity and potential boycotts. But so long as the tournament is paying losing quarterfinalists $225,000 -- far more than most events pay the winners -- don't expect many principled absences. For another view:

Maybe it is just me, but I have a hard time sympathizing with the tennis players. Particularly when this call for a union came about because of wet courts. Not exactly people dying in a coal mine. And somehow I don't think Cesar Chavez was envisioning Rafael Nadal when he was thinking about worker's rights. Tennis players are often the most privileged, out of touch and coddled of all pro athletes. So sorry if anyone is not shedding a tear over their "plight" when unemployment is at 9.1 percent. Also, while the USTA makes $200 million, most of that is from sponsorship. It's not because anyone is packing the stands to see Svetlana Kuznetsova and the 98 percent of the other players who could walk the U.S. Open grounds without even being recognized. They have no bargaining power. Especially when the sport has lost most of its popularity in this country.

-- KL, Portland, Ore.

• You lose me on your first point. I can't complain about my migraine because it isn't cancer? I can't be unhappy with my "C" because think of all the other children who get "D's"? No one is likening tennis players to migrant worker or claiming their problems are akin to 14 million unemployed Americans. But that doesn't mean they forfeit their right to agitate for better conditions -- or even more money.

Your other point is interesting. The tournament needs about eight names to legitimate itself. After that? The other 248 players are largely fodder who are, most definitely, being overpaid relative to the revenue they generate. That's just reality. Bridget R. of Montreal could play KL of Portland -- so long it's a U.S. Open match.

With all the talk about the rain, roof over Ashe Stadium and the scheduling nightmares over the last two days, I say the USTA would be well served to just build an entirely new arena... in California. We have nothing but blue skies, warm 80-to-90-degree days and almost a 0-percent chance of rain in August/Sept!

-- Aidan Encarnacion, Fremont, Calif.

• But you wouldn't have the biggest tennis stadium in the world!

You've done a good job of emphasizing the great performance of young Americans in this year's Open. But so far I don't recall seeing mention of Melanie Oudin & Jack Sock, who have gotten all the way to the finals in mixed doubles. They even beat the formidable No. 1-seeded team (Huber-Bryan) along the way!

-- Mike R., Missoula, Montana

• Hey, thanks. Not sure mixed double is much more than a well-paying novelty. But, yes, Melanie Oudin and Jack Sock have a chance to become U.S. Open titlists. This is a nice storyline for Oudin. Obviously this is a difficult stretch for her. It's nice to see her win some matches, have some fun, make some cash and, optimistically, leave here with some confidence.

Capriati has not even retired yet, so how can she be nominated for the Hall of Fame? What if she got inducted and decided to continue her career like the Japanese wonderwoman at the age of 39? Can she?

-- James Poon, Hong Kong

• That's a risk you run in tennis these days!

Shots, Miscellany

• We'll have the winners of the limerick contest next week. But here's a leader in the clubhouse:

Jonathan of Brooklyn, N.Y. surges into the lead:

The U.S. Open's a serious test;

Of guile, of guts and finesse;

But a few drops of rain,

And the players complain;

Like the Wicked Witch of the West.

... and Peter Galante of Piedmont, Calif.:

There once was a girl named Pavyluchenkova

Whose name was so long, scoreboard runneth over

When umpires stumble on the name they do bumble,

they start to miss Betty Stove.

... and Skip Schwarzman:

There once was a man from Nantucket

Who dried the court with a bucket

When the was court was dry

He started to cry

It was raining again, he said "Chuck it."

• Jamie Prenkert of Bloomington, Ind.: "WTA drama alert! How spurned must Su-Wei Hsieh feel by the H-Consonant Player's Association when she contemplates the doubles team of Andrea Hlavackova and Lucie Hradecka? Do some digging, Jon."

• Play around on Facebook to find the links; then help former player Donald Johnson raise money for juvenile diabetes.

• American Express is holding U.S. Open Viewing Parties in Chicago, Houston and San Francisco this weekend, complete with large screens with live match coverage, Wii tennis and ping-pong for between matches. All fans are welcome, with priority seating, food and bevereges for American Express Cardmembers. Chicago's party is at Navy Pier from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Saturday and noon to 6 p.m. on Sunday. Houston's is Galleria Mall from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday and noon to 6 p.m. Sunday.

• MSN of England: "On the college tennis front, just to add yet more to your list, there's also Kevin Anderson. And the slightly different scenario of Colin Fleming, who played while at university in the UK, took a sabbatical to go pro for a few years, went back to university and got a first-class honours degree in economics and finance, worked as an energy trader, and then went back to playing tennis. Not quite your usual ATP pathway [check it out]."

 
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