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New Courts, Old Spirit: The National Tennis Center Turns 40

At this, the 50th anniversary of the U.S. Open and the 40th at what’s now officially called the U.S.T.A. Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, the event’s organizers will be unveiling Armstrong 2.0. The new stadium completes a five-year, more than $600 million campuswide overhaul. ROSSETTI, the Detroit-based firm, designed all the new facilities.

Yes, the Open today is anything but quaint. It has become a vast moneymaking corporate playground and high-end shopping mall. That said, the old spirit of the World’s Fair, on whose bones the tennis center rests, somehow hasn’t been extinguished. If most major sporting events these days are generally better experienced on television, this one remains a singular joy to attend, a two-week bingeathon for tennis lovers, not least because in almost every meaningful way the renovations, overseen by Danny Zausner, chief operating officer of the tennis center, have improved the bottom-line experience of watching the matches.

New Armstrong

Night Matches and a Retractable Roof

Television loves the south entrance to the tennis center, where the splattering fountain of the World’s Fair Unisphere in Flushing Meadows Corona Park faces Arthur Ashe Stadium. But 80 percent of visitors funnel over the rickety, picturesque boardwalk leading from the 7 train and Long Island Railroad to the East Gate, where the old Armstrong Stadium and Grandstand used to be.

With about 10,000 and 5,000 seats, those aging arenas had their Kodachrome charms. Unfortunately, shade was hard to come by. Entryways were congested, and lines were long. Sightlines could be appalling. Much of the seating was on overcrowded benches. Concessions, shared with Armstrong, occupied passageways that summoned to mind the subway concourse beneath Madison Square Garden.

And there were alarmingly few bathrooms.

The stadiums were demolished after the 2016 Open, and now what greets visitors through the East Gate is the new Armstrong. Taller than the old building, occupying a smaller footprint, and with a retractable roof, it looks from the boardwalk a little like a parking garage: boxy, hulking and loveless, with a louvered facade.

Inside, though, it is state-of-the-art: a 14,000-seat, open-air arena with shade, great sightlines, loads of concessions, and a huge terrace and bar overlooking the grounds, where fans are expected to do what a surprising number of people seem to go to the Open to do — just hang out, eat, drink and hope to be seen.

We will have to see how well the new Armstrong actually works once the tournament starts. But it wouldn’t be surprising if it, and its terrace, turn out to be mobbed from morning until the wee hours now that, like Ashe, the new stadium will also host night session matches.

To read the original article by Michael Kimmelman for The New York Times, click here.