USTA Magazine recently caught up with USTA Chairman of the Board and President Jon Vegosen to get his thoughts about this year’s US Open—as well as other issues on the minds of tennis fans.
Having had some time now to reflect upon this year’s us open, what are your thoughts on the event?
Despite several challenges, including an earthquake, a hurricane, four consecutive rained-out sessions, the unplayable condition of the court on our second-largest stadium for several days near the conclusion of the event, and a Monday afternoon men’s final, I think the 2011 US Open was outstanding. I especially want to thank the staff members at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center for all of their hard work and efforts. Among other things, they had to disassemble the site to prepare for the hurricane and then reassemble everything in short order—and they did a tremendous job. It is no easy task to host the highest-attended annual sporting event in the world at such a high level, but our staff and volunteers do a remarkable job year in and year out. I also want to thank and recognize the officials, ballpersons, broadcasters, sponsors, retailers, agents and, most of all, the players, who all worked with us to produce one of the best US Opens ever despite the challenges we faced.
What do you consider to be the highlights of this year’s Open?
There were several. We had excellent attendance despite the challenges and, in fact, set a record for attendance over Labor Day weekend. The fans were very supportive. TV ratings and website visits were up over last year. We unveiled the new Court 17— which quickly became a fan and player favorite. We inducted tennis legend Richard "Pancho" Gonzalez into the US Open Court of Champions. We expanded our USTA Bookstore and made it more customer-friendly.
With respect to the tennis, the high caliber of play was clearly a highlight. The crowning of two new US Open champions—Samantha Stosur and Novak Djokovic—was great for tennis. The performance of several of our American players also was very gratifying. We had four men reach the fourth round in the men’s singles draw—Andy Roddick, Mardy Fish, John Isner and Donald Young—and both Roddick and Isner reached the quarters. Serena Williams reached the women’s final, while Melanie Oudin and Jack Sock won the mixed doubles title. Grace Min won the junior girls championship, and Gabrielle Andrews and Taylor Townsend reached the final of the junior girls doubles championship. A number of other American players had strong performances as well, especially in the women’s and junior girls’ draws. In fact, in the junior girls’ draw, we had 14 Americans reach the Round of 32.
Were there other unique highlights?
Two very important ones come to mind. First, the visit of U.S. First Lady Michelle Obama was most special. Mrs. Obama has selected tennis as one of the sports for her important "Let’s Move" campaign to help combat childhood obesity and make sure that kids are active. Her attendance at the US Open reinforced the importance of our partnership, and her visit to SmashZone, where we featured 10 and Under Tennis, enabled her to see firsthand how we have "kid-sized" tennis for youngsters and how kids can have fun and more quickly master our sport, all while getting great exercise.
Second, our commemoration of the 10th anniversary of the terrorist attacks on America on Sept. 11, 2001, was conducted in a most respectful and dignified manner. By simply placing the date on the court in an understated way on the final weekend of the Open, we allowed people to remember that fateful day in a personal way.
There was some controversy at this year’s Open. A number of commentators and fans felt that Serena Williams only received a slap on the wrist for her behavior toward the umpire during the women’s final and that her sportsmanship left a lot to be desired. What are your thoughts on this?
As I said on court during the trophy presentation, it was great to have Serena back at the US Open. She is certainly one of the greatest players this country has ever produced. Serena had a very difficult year medically yet overcame these obstacles and staged a terrific comeback. With regard to the incident, the umpire made the right call—interference—when Serena shouted before Sam Stosur had a chance to play the shot that Serena had hit. Serena’s reaction was strident, and she refused to shake the hand of the umpire after the match, both of which were unfortunate. But she did not touch the umpire nor did she swear at her. Ultimately, the fi ne assessed against Serena was commensurate with fines imposed on other players at other Grand Slam tournaments for similar infractions. While one can certainly debate whether the current level of fines is appropriate, Serena was treated fairly and consistently under rules that exist for all of the Grand Slam tournaments. Whether the rules need to be re-examined is not a question for simply the USTA but a question for all of the Grand Slam tournaments through the auspices of the GrandBy the way, it should be noted that there were times during the match that Serena did exhibit excellent sportsmanship. She applauded a number of Sam’s shots and was very gracious in congratulating Sam when she won the match and sat next to Sam talking before the trophy presentation—an act of sportsmanship that I don’t recall ever before happening at the US Open. One didn’t hear much about that.
I believe that the issue of sportsmanship is larger than Serena or tennis itself. At times, it seems that our society is increasingly acting with less civility and respect. We see this in all sports. To address how we can make positive strides for tennis, I created a Sportsmanship Committee this term with Todd Martin serving as the Honorary Chair. Its charge is to educate and inspire youngsters and their parents to develop and exhibit a high degree of sportsmanship and an attitude of fair play and mutual respect both on and off the tennis court. Underlying the charge is the ethical imperative that fairness is more important than winning.
With the rain, there always comes the question of building a roof over Arthur Ashe Stadium. There were some reports in the press that the USTA is not going to build a roof. Can you comment on that?
There has been some misinformation in the media. Let me set the record straight. The USTA would very much like to have a stadium with a roof at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. I believe that the question is not if, but when, how and at what cost. During the last three terms, the USTA Board of Directors examined the feasibility of putting a roof over Arthur Ashe Stadium. Indeed, the Board engaged some of the best architects in the world to submit proposals and find a solution. Suffice it to say that, at the present time, it would be both technologically challenging and cost prohibitive to build a roof over Arthur Ashe Stadium. We have some unique and difficult challenges that create these technical and financial feasibility issues.
First, Ashe Stadium is the largest tennis stadium in the world. The area that would need to be covered to have a roof over Ashe is about four times the area that covers Centre Court at Wimbledon. Second, the stadium is built on a former ash dump and the remains from two different World’s Fair structures. This creates some of the worst land conditions in New York City, requiring pile supports that would need to be driven more than 200 feet below grade to support a new roof structure, significantly adding to the expense. Although we have not yet found a suitable answer in regard to building a roof over Arthur Ashe Stadium, the USTA is always reviewing its options with respect to a roof and will continue to do so.
We are, however, constantly looking for ways to improve the player and fan experience at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. In fact, we have already begun making improvements and look forward to continuing to do so.
We recognize that we must ensure that the US Open continues to be our crown jewel that provides the funding we need to invest in the game’s grass roots in local communities across the nation. In this regard, the USTA is continuing to fulfill its mission to promote and develop the growth of tennis by supporting tennis and providing opportunities through tennis and education to all, irrespective of their socioeconomic backgrounds. Indeed, tennis is the sport of opportunity.
During the US Open, some of the players complained about playing conditions and scheduling. How do you respond to these concerns?
We understand that the players are the stars of the show, and they certainly have a right to speak their minds about issues that concern them. It is important to hear from the players and to seriously consider their views. Neither the tournament director nor the referee at the US Open ever would put a player in jeopardy by asking them to play on a court if conditions are not safe.
As for the schedule of play at the US Open, while the USTA needs to consider the interests of its fans, sponsors and broadcast partners as well as the players, this is something the USTA can and ultimately does control. I am happy to report that we are in the process of evaluating the US Open schedule. In particular, we are looking at potential changes to the final weekend schedule that would allow for a day of rest between the semifinals and finals for both the women’s and men’s singles championships. This year, the players did appreciate our proactive decision to move the women’s final to Sunday and the men’s final to Monday to allow for a day of rest.
As for scheduling of tournaments throughout the year, the USTA does not control the professional tennis tournament calendar. The ATP World Tour and the WTA have jurisdiction over the scheduling of most professional tournaments, and the International Tennis Federation has jurisdiction over the scheduling of Davis Cup and Fed Cup. There are also the interests of sponsors and broadcasters to consider. The USTA can certainly appreciate the players’ concerns regarding the long tennis season, and we hope that all of the constituents involved with our sport can work together so that these concerns can be addressed to everyone’s satisfaction.
In conclusion, I would say that, despite some bumps in the road, the 2011 US Open was very successful. Rest assured that we will continue to work hard to ensure that the US Open experience continues to be a great one for players and fans alike.