When heavy rain began pelting the closed roof atop Arthur Ashe Stadium, Andy Murray couldn’t pick up the usual sounds of a tennis match.
Most importantly, he said, the thwack of a ball coming off his opponent’s racquet strings – or his own, for that matter – was completely indiscernible during a 6-4, 6-1, 6-4 second-round victory over Marcel Granollers at the U.S. Open on Thursday.
As it is, the $150-million (U.S.) retractable cover making its tournament debut this week makes the main stadium louder because the structure, even when open, traps the sounds of spectators chatting in the stands.
When it’s shut, as was the case Wednesday because of showers that delayed play on all other courts for hours at a time, the roof amplifies all of that ambient noise.
And when the drops came down early in Murray’s second set, well, it was loud as can be.
“You can’t hear anything, really,” said 2012 U.S. Open champion Murray. “I mean, you could hear the line calls.”
But that was about it.
As Murray and Granollers played, there was a constant din during points, an amalgam of the downpour bouncing off the outside of the roof and the murmur of the crowd bouncing off the inside. From a seat in the 10th row parallel to a baseline, the racquet-ball impact was rendered silent by a louder version of what you hear when you hold a seashell to your ear.
It’s not simply that it’s an unfamiliar soundtrack for a Grand Slam match. It affects the competition. “We use our ears when we play. It’s not just the eyes. [The sound] helps us pick up the speed of the ball, the spin that’s on the ball, how hard someone’s hitting it. If we played with our ears covered or with headphones on, it would be a big advantage if your opponent wasn’t wearing them,” Murray explained. “It’s tricky. You can still do it, but it’s harder, for sure.”
Granollers offered a similar take. “We’re not used to playing with that noise. … I was not feeling like I was hitting the ball right. It was difficult also to concentrate. Tough to play,” Granollers said. “There is more noise with the roof, but, I mean, if it’s not raining, it’s okay. With the rain, it was too much.”
Just as Murray, he acknowledged players will need to learn to adjust.
“When it rains, you’re going to get noise,” said U.S. Tennis Association executive director Gordon Smith, when asked about the players’ comments about the ruckus. “We will look at potential ways to attenuate some of the noise going forward. It’s going to be louder than it was. We knew that. And it’s something the players will deal with and the fans will deal with.”
The good news: At least Murray, Granollers and others were able to play. Rain has often been a schedule-wreaker at the U.S. Open, where the men’s final was postponed five consecutive years from 2008-12.
Because of Thursday’s wet weather, action around the grounds was limited until the early evening. Winners included seven-time major champion Venus Williams, who beat Julia Goerges 6-2, 6-3, and No. 5 Simona Halep, who eliminated Lucie Safarova 6-3, 6-4 in a meeting between past French Open finalists that was the first contest played entirely with the roof closed (it was shut for the first time during a match midway through Rafael Nadal’s victory Wednesday).
Williams’ younger sister Serena, seeking a record-breaking 23rd Grand Slam title, faced Vania King in the night session.
Men advancing included No. 6 Kei Nishikori and No. 8 Dominic Thiem. Juan Martin del Potro, the 2009 champion, was scheduled to face 19th-seeded Steve Johnson of the United States at night.
The Canadian duo of Vasek Pospisil and Daniel Nestor were forced to retire in the first set of their doubles match against Americans Taylor Fritz and Tommy Paul.
Murray is having the best season of his career and can become only the fourth man in the Open era, which dates to 1968, to reach all four Grand Slam finals in a single year. He was the runner-up at the Australian Open in January and the French Open in June, then won his second Wimbledon championship in July and his second consecutive Olympic singles gold medal in August.
“He’s playing better,” Granollers said, “and with a lot more confidence ... and in tennis, that’s very important.”
The only hiccup for Murray came during about a 20-minute stretch of the first set, when he failed to convert his first six set points, double-faulting away one of them.
But he improved as the match went on, making only five unforced errors in the final set.
As for the noise under the roof – Murray said it was more intrusive than when the top is closed for rain at the All England Club’s Centre Court – he was asked whether he thinks the USTA will need look into a remedy.
“I’m sure if the feedback is that the TV or the spectators aren’t enjoying the match as much,” Murray said, “then they will look into it and try and change it.”Report Typo/Error