A gleaming new retractable roof is the crown jewel in a $600 million U.S. Open makeover that bets big on tennis as the sport enters a transition period.
Anticipation for the final Grand Slam tennis tournament of 2016 has been mounting, in part because it will mark the premiere of a sweeping transformation of the U.S. Open's home, the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Queens.
The centerpiece of the upgrade is the moveable roof over Arthur Ashe Stadium, the facility's mammoth center court, ensuring continuous play, including for the final weekend's championship matches.
Other major modifications include the launch of a new 8,000-seat Grandstand court and the relocation of almost all of the tournament's outside courts, a shift that allows more walkways and retail space. A 50 per cent increase in the number of Wifi access points will provide better connectivity for smartphone-addicted patrons across the 40-acre site.
The upgrade comes as tennis begins to eye a future without a group of elite players who have defined the sport in the twenty-first century.
The 2016 tournament, which starts Monday, will be the first of the millennium without the injured Roger Federer of Switzerland.
Questions also surround the fitness of women's No. 1, Serena Williams of the U.S., who was hobbled by a shoulder injury during a third round loss at the Rio Olympics.
The era's other major champions are 30 or approaching it, including Serbia's Novak Djokovic, Spain's Rafael Nadal, Britain's Andy Murray and Russia's Maria Sharapova, who is suspended for doping.
"We are transitioning from what many have described as a sort of 'golden era,'" said Lew Sherr, chief revenue officer for the United States Tennis Association.
"We will be in the not-too-distant future be transitioning to a new crop of hopefully great, exciting new players."
Beyond that, professional sports in general is navigating a changing landscape as it competes for precious media oxygen and leisure time with everything from "Pokemon Go" to "Game of Thrones."
"You read today, at least in the U.S. with many sports teams struggling with 'How do I get my fan away from the couch?' and away from the TV experience because that's become so great?" Sherr said.
The average fan spends about seven hours on the U.S. Open grounds, an experience that can include time in the nosebleed section of the Ashe stadium watching superstars like Murray and Djokovic, as well as jaunts to buy U.S. Open paraphernalia or a gourmet sandwich.
Fans can also wander the grounds and watch lesser-known players do battle 20 feet before their eyes, a pastime especially popular with hardcore tennis fans.
An upgraded U.S. Open mobile app will enable fans to receive push notifications if a favorite player is scheduled to practice, offering an up-close view of players like Williams or Nadal, unusual for a major sporting event.
Statistics-geek types can do deep dives on matches in real-time, probing, for example which player is better at coming back from 0-40 to hold serve.
Fans will be able to query via the app on how to find the nearest restroom or concession stand for the popular "Honey Deuce" vodka drink.
The embrace of mobile technology has radically shifted consumer tastes compared with when the Ashe stadium was built in 1997, said Matt Rossetti, a Detroit architect who developed the masterplan.
"You don't sit with that boomer mentality and just watch a sport," he said. "You want to engage it, you want to engage your friends, so there's this whole new technology of consumption going on."
The revamp also builds on the Open's identity as a rowdy end-of-summer party, with information walls, live music and constant stimulation.
"That's the allure of the U.S. Open. You're in New York, you've got a New York flare," Rossetti said. "It's not Wimbledon. It's not British and proper. It's much more raw and in your face."
The upgraded facility, which will be complete in 2018 with the revamping of the Louis Armstrong stadium, will ultimately have annual capacity of 800,000 over the fortnight, an increase of 100,000 from last year and a key means of paying off the debt-financed enhancements.
Organizers hope to increase mentions on social media, which can improve leverage with sponsors and broadcasters.
The roof guarantees continuous play, another benefit, although one the USTA does not expect will be sufficient to offset the cost of the addition.
The Ashe roof bears the logo sponsor JPMorgan Chase, a sign of the tournament's unabashed commercialism, which contrasts with Wimbledon, where players clad in all-white gear compete amid a much more subdued advertising presence.
The U.S. Open is "very lively, very loud, very advertising-rich and there's a lot of brands all over the place," said John Kent, a worldwide sponsorship executive at IBM who works on all four tennis Grand Slams.
- IND vs ENG Live Score Updates, 4th Test Day 4: IND 186/5, 6 runs to win; Gill, Jurel in control of run chase
- Ranji Trophy Live Score, Day 4 Quarterfinal updates: MP beats Andhra by 4 runs; Prithvi Shaw falls for 87 vs Baroda
- PKL 10: Patna Pirates defender Krishan Dhull gears up for playoff challenge against Dabang Delhi
- Nike to release Australia women’s goalkeeper jersey after backlash
- NBA roundup: Pacers snap Mavs’ 7-game win streak