Am I Blue? The U.S. Open Soon Will Be

By Liz Clarke
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, May 17, 2005

In an effort to jazz up interest in professional tennis, the U.S. Open is undergoing an extreme makeover this summer, switching its playing courts from their traditional green to royal blue.

Washington's annual Legg Mason Tennis Classic (July 30-Aug. 7) will undergo the same radical re-tinting -- unveiling royal-blue playing courts trimmed with green -- along with the nine other North American hard-court tournaments that compose the U.S. Open Series.

The reasons for the switch are two-fold, according to U.S. Tennis Association officials, who announced the change yesterday.

First, the blue courts should make it easier for players, fans and TV viewers to see the ball, they said. Secondly, the royal-blue courts will give the U.S. Open and U.S. Open Series a "signature look" that links the 10 tournaments that precede the Open to the Grand Slam event.

"There will be an instant connection for fans," said USTA spokesman Chris Widmaier. "It will further establish the branding of the U.S. Open Series."

USTA officials had been kicking around the idea of coloring their courts for two years and tested different tints in recent months on several Florida courts, which were then evaluated under a range of conditions -- daylight and evening from the stands, as well as on TV. According to Widmaier, the ball was easier to pick up against the blue backdrop.

Widmaier said the color change wouldn't affect the characteristics of the playing surface. Both the U.S. Open and Legg Mason will continue to be played on DecoTurf II; the surface will simply be tinted differently.

Legg Mason tournament director Jeff Newman said he was enthusiastic about the change. "It will be great for the tournaments involved, as well as the sport of tennis, in making it fresh and, at the same time, helping the quality of play," he said.

The idea also drew kudos from Len DeLuca, ESPN's senior vice president of programming strategy, who issued a statement supporting the USTA's efforts "to further resonate the U.S. Open Series with the tennis fan."

It marks the first change in court colors at the U.S. Open since 1978, when the tournament moved from the green clay of Forest Hills (which had been grass) to the National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows, N.Y.

The U.S. Open Series was launched last summer in an effort to bring more coherence and excitement to hard-court tennis in the months preceding the U.S. Open. Over six weeks and 10 major North American tournaments, players collect points toward the series title and bonus money.

© 2005 The Washington Post Company