The US Open used to bill itself as “The World’s Toughest Tennis.” It’s New York, which has to bill anything having to do with itself as the “biggest and toughest” or the city will collapse in on itself. But the Open was on hardcourt, it was at the end of summer so it was hot, and they used to make players play the semifinals and final on back-to-back days. The tournament just had to be known as the ultimate grind.
It may or may not be, but the past few days in Flushing have been tough on anyone involved, whether playing, working, watching there, or watching at home. While it’s hard to miss the fit that players have to negotiate the worst parts of a New York summer to claim the title — the humidity, the mugginess, the stifling atmosphere that feels like it’s constantly climbing on top of you — there have to be limits.
While the Australian Open also deals with severe heat at times, they do have guidelines on when they will close the roofs on their show courts and give everyone a break. And the shapes of their stadiums come into play as well. The Aussie Open courts, when the roofs are open, are open. There can be a breeze, some movement.
Arthur Ashe Stadium provides no such thing. Thanks to the covering over the stands that does not change, it has the same effect as the old Texas Stadium in Irving (and no, it wasn’t so God could watch his Cowboys, it was that they were too dumb to figure out beforehand the structure wouldn’t support the retractable roof they wanted. TEXAS!) where it just holds air in and no breeze can get through. It is a sauna when it gets hot, as New York tends to do in August and early September, and the thick-ass air just sits there like a walrus.
And with New York going through a heatwave, the past few days of tennis have been a torture chamber. Players are drenched in sweat 10 minutes in and their clothes become a weight vest. Fans in the stands are questioning almost every one of their decisions. The product itself isn’t great to watch, as players look more for survival than to craft anything memorable.
While conditioning is certainly part of tennis — especially a Grand Slam — it shouldn’t be the main criterion. We want it just to be one element, with the actual playing taking a higher place. The way the game has evolved makes it a physical challenge no matter the temps, as both men and women battle through extended rallies and slugfests. Their fitness is tested every round without running them through a car wash in the desert.
Taylor Fritz and Novak Djokovic looked, and mostly played, like they wanted to be anywhere else. Danil Medvedev and Andrey Rublev both looked beaten during the first set. All four women’s quarters had a 6-0 or 6-1 set as someone had to come to grips with the conditions. We got a classic out of Alexander Zverev and Jannik Sinner, and then Zverev basically only had fumes left to face Carlos Alcaraz last night. Sure, having to back up going five sets the next round is part of Grand Slam tennis, but there’s a limit to what can be asked. And this isn’t going to get better given climate change. The need to be “the world’s toughest tennis” goes too far when the actual tennis sucks.
It’s awful to play in, and it’s not great to watch, so what’s anyone getting out of this? Close the roof and get some sort of ventilation system going and don’t tell us the USTA doesn’t have the money. We know they do. Let the tennis decide, instead of who sweats better.
I don’t know at what point the A’s still-proposed move to Las Vegas will become too much of an embarrassment for MLB. Having it collapse and then John Fisher having to crawl back to the Bay Area would certainly be the bigger embarrassment to Rob Manfred. So we’re not there yet.
We may get there.
The PAC “Schools Over Stadiums” took the first step to get the funding for the A’s stadium — reminder, it would be the smallest in the league — on a referendum in the November 2024 ballot for all voters to decide on. Ask the Coyotes how that can go.
There are still a lot of steps, as the PAC has to get over 25,000 signatures in each of the state’s four congressional districts, survive challenges to them, and then get enough people to vote it down. And you can be sure there will be heavily funded opposition forces and campaigns to make sure it doesn’t get to the ballot and then to get people to vote against it if it does. The unions in Nevada want this, which is certainly a force to overcome.
But still, how many more people are rooting for Fisher and Manfred to get it shoved up their ass just like Gary Bettman and the Coyotes did? It’s what they deserve for sure, as well as the residents of Nevada not having to foot the bill that the A’s and MLB can cover easily themselves. Without stealing another place’s team. Let’s see them eat this L.
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