Many of you will recognize the reference in the headline of this post to the iconic essay by satirist Jonathan Swift regarding the children of the poor in Ireland, but I borrowed it with quite a different intent — how to solve the problem of rainouts at the U.S. Open, given the fact that putting a roof on cavernous Arthur Ashe stadium is probably a non-starter (it would be a nightmarish undertaking from an engineering point of view, and the price tag could top out at $200 million — or more).
First, though, a quick update on the conditions here in Queens. When I woke up this morning to the sound of rain on the window, my first thought was, What a difference a day makes ... Yesterday, the rainout was welcome to many of us, including some of the players. It had a Middle Sunday at Wimbledon vibe. Today, the rain is more than an irritant — it is a menace, threatening to ruin the tournament even though one way or another it will end. It may not until next Wednesday, though, and at an enormous cost to a remarkable number of people, including the promoters of next week's Davis Cup ties (the ITF) and the WTA tournaments in Tashkent and Quebec City.
But when I entered the grounds this morning, in a rain jacket with the hood up and rain dripping off the brim of my trucker's cap, I had to smile at the surreal nature of the scene. The cheery USTA greeters employed by the USTA at various gates were out in force, even if there were precious few spectators to welcome. They looked like lunatics in their straw hats and flimsy, transparent, ineffective rain ponchos. The PA system — and it's an excellent one with great sound quality and volume — was pumping out an upbeat number by Kesha. Or was it Rihanna? Or the Black Eyed Peas? I don't know, being an old dude, and I didn't encounter anyone young enough to give me a positive ID.
As I write this, they're drying off Arthur Ashe, half a dozen groundsworkers of either sex piloting bizarre little vehicles that look like the bumper cars at the county fair, only they're not painted like ladybugs, sharks, or sad-eyed bloodhounds. They're a tepid blue, and bear the U.S. Open logo. It's an insane show of wishful thinking, given the forecast for the day, but I guess it's better than everyone just throwing up his hands and repairing to the Heineken bar to get plastered with the two Andys (Murray and Roddick), Rafa and Donald Young.
Throw roofs over the Grandstand and the new Court 17, or contemplate enclosing them entirely. That doesn't appear to be too daunting a challenge, compared to the mechanics required to put a retractable roof over Ashe, and it would give the USTA two courts to use in the event of a weather disaster. Follow the lead Wimbledon established with its "People's Sunday" in the event that matches have to be played on those courts. That is, make the limited seating first-come, first-served; just make sure you have plenty of electronic eyes to feed the world from inside those arenas.
Of course, the USTA would have to refund or otherwise make good on tickets that were bought but went unused for those days, but I have to believe the cost of that wouldn't be a deal-breaker, given how much havoc is loosed when the tournament has to run beyond its alloted time. The bottom line is that the matches must be played — with or without spectators, despite whatever objections the players might lodge vis a vis dramatically different conditions (as long as all the players face the same challenges, it's fine).
For more news, go to Tennis.com
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