I walked up to Joe Carrico, president of the United States Tennis Association, at the Tennis Hall of Fame luncheon last Thrusday and said, "Joe, I've gotta have something positive about the U.S. Open to balance off all the complaints."
Half apologetically he said, "It's better than last year."
His statement was both an admission of guilt and an apology for poor planning. Not that he was solely to blame. But the USTA owns the Open and is ultimately accountable for its successes and failures. In comparison with past Opens, this year's event rates a passing grade; in comparison with Wimbledon, the USTA is better off avoiding a comparison.
Although this is only the second year for the Open at the brand new Louis Armstrong Stadium, this is the first year that the qualifying rounds were played there. These best-of-three sets encounters were played on the "fast courts" here. Problem is, there are also "slow courts" here -- in the 17,000-seat stadium and in the adjoining 9,000-seat grandstand.
After last year's promise to resurface all the courts before each Open, the USTA somehow neglected to fulfill the promise on the faster field courts.
Tom Gorman, who got to the fourth round, thought the difference in speeds between the stadium and outside courts varied as much as 20 percent.
Then there was the problem with the lights. Bjorn Borg got himself in hot water before the tournament even started by requesting to play his matches only in the daytime. Seems he has trouble seeing the ball at night. His coach, Lennart Bergelin, likened playing at night to gambling -- "no one sees the ball very well," he said.
Part of the problem in Borg's Wednesday night quarterfinal might have been Roscoe Tanner's serve. I have 20-15 vision with my glasses, and I have trouble seeing Tanner's serves in Palm Springs in the middle of the desert at high noon. Tanner served 11 aces against Borg.
But the referee's decision to schedule Borg for a night match may have been due to pressure from the "no-name" pros who claimed Borg was getting special treatment because he's Borg.
Meanwhile, Jimmy Connors was giving the impression that he could decide what time the officials could open the parking lots. The defending champ admitted that the referee asked him when he wanted to play his quarterfinal match against Pat DuPre. DuPre claimed he wasn't consulted at all.
DuPre had played a grueling five-set match the night before his loss to Connors. He assumed he would get a day off. A break seemed only fair since Vitas Gerulaitis got two days off between his quarterfinal against John Kriek.
If DuPre's wife, Darcy, had not gotten up early Wednesday morning to look at the schedule in the paper he might have slept through his court date with Connors.
Technically, DuPre erred in not finding out before he left the grounds what time his next match was to take place. He figured he'd get a day off because everybody else did. Bill Talbert, the tournament chairman, readily admitted that he may have made a mistake.
Incidents of mismanagement have abounded here. The qualifying competition was three hours late getting started because of a mix-up involving the RFK pro-celebrity tournament shown live on ABC. Tom Leonard was partnered with Peter Duchin and the pair won the annual event on the slow stadium court at 4:30 p.m. Leonard then rushed off and played his qualifying match on a fast court 40 yards away 30 minutes later.
Nevertheless, the National Tennis Center ("the house that Slew built" as it has been affectionately dubbed in tribute to past USTA President Slew Hester) was necessary. The U.S. Open unquestionably outgrew the staid and cozy West Club at Forest Hills three miles away, so there was a clear need for a new home, Joe Carrico and company must now, without hesitation, clear away more than the bugs that were found on the floodlit field courts.
Success is not to be judged solely in terms of gross and paid attendance. This public facility is home to thousands of hackers, 50 weeks a year. During the 16 days of the U.S. Open, the USTA needs to put its best foot forward. This year it stepped on a banana peel.