COO: USTA unprepared for rain, but did its best


After thousands of fans were left stranded at Flushing Meadows as a result of flash floods Wednesday in New York, Daniel Zausner, the chief operating officer of the United States Tennis Association, said the organization was not adequately prepared for the large amount of rain but doesn’t believe the USTA would do much differently if it had the chance to do it again.

“We were talking about it this morning … would we do anything differently with the decisions and the answer simply is no right now,” Zausner said in an interview with ESPN’s Chris McKendry on Thursday. “And if we get more information … we will reevaluate it and will know for the next time. I am sure there are subtle things along the way that we could always do better, we’re not perfect, but we kept the fans safe and secure.”

Flushing Meadows saw a logistical nightmare Wednesday after the suspension of public transportation, closure of several roads and a temporary travel ban.

Zausner said the organization had the second of two meetings with the NYPD on Wednesday at 4:30 p.m., several hours before the storm began wreaking havoc, and he believed it made the best decisions with the information and forecast it had at that time. He said the organization’s meteorologists believed there would be heavy rain, but nothing the roofs of stadiums couldn’t handle, and they made the decision to hold the night sessions as planned.

While it had rained sporadically throughout the day, the heavy rainfall started in the area just as the evening sessions began in Arthur Ashe and Louis Armstrong stadiums, around 7:30 p.m.

The USTA asked fans to shelter in place inside the stadiums, as they deemed those to be the safest options. But, as rain continued to get heavier, the roof in Armstrong, which was erected in 2018, appeared to leak, and sideways rain poured in through ventilation gaps just below the roof, leaving the entire stadium soaked in water. The second-round match between Diego Schwartzman and Kevin Anderson was moved to Arthur Ashe Stadium, and slated to be played after the conclusion of the match between Stefanos Tsitsipas and Adrian Mannarino.

As Tsitsipas and Mannarino continued to play, the rain could be heard pouring down on the roof of Ashe. Tsitsipas later said he initially believed it to be the sound of fans talking before he figured it out. Those in attendance received several flash flood warnings on their phones throughout the evening, with one reading, “This is a dangerous and life-threatening situation. Do not attempt to travel unless you are fleeing an area subject to flooding or under an evacuation order.”

Around 10 p.m., a notice flashed on the video board in the stadium alerting those in the crowd that service for the 7 subway line and the Long Island Railroad had been suspended until further notice.

Fans were left uncertain about what to do following the conclusion of Schwartzman and Anderson’s match around 1 a.m. on Thursday morning. “I’m fairly certain I’ll be sleeping at Arthur Ashe Stadium tonight,” one such fan tweeted. Zausner, however, said on Thursday the subway service had resumed quickly and was “positive everybody left the site last night.”

“The beauty of last night was that even the 7 train, while it was down for a period of time at 10 o’clock at night, it came back up again,” Zausner said. “We got everybody out of here safely, we got them on the trains, we got them in their cars, we even took some of our US Open fleet and took fans back to Brooklyn, Stamford, Connecticut, whatever we needed to — we put people on buses and we were dropping them off at their homes like it was a bus stop.”

Heavy delays were reported on the roads and Sloane Stephens, who had played in the first night match on Ashe, said her return trip to her hotel took several hours. Patrick Mouratoglou, who coaches Tsitsipas, said he was stuck in the players lounge until 2 a.m. waiting to leave.

A travel ban came into effect until 5 a.m. for all non-emergency travels, but transportation was allowed to leave the venue.

Play was delayed from 11 a.m. to noon on Thursday in order for tournament officials to inspect the grounds for further damage. World No. 1 Ashleigh Barty said her team allowed for extra time to arrive at the site ahead of her match against Clara Tauson on Ashe on Thursday. Reports on the ESPN broadcast said it was taking tournament shuttles 2½ hours to make the 7-mile trip from midtown Manhattan to the venue.

“It was quite a wild storm,” Barty said after her match. “It did wreak some havoc, obviously there was a later start today I think because of obviously the damage to the site. But for us, it took us a while to get in this morning, but we kind of allowed for that time, expecting there would be a little bit more of an issue than just a normal commute coming in.

“I think we were kind of prepared for it in a way as best we could be, and, yeah, we just kind of got on with it.”

While he was adamant the organization did the best it could in the circumstances, Zausner said the organization would take lessons from Wednesday’s events to be better in the future.

“In my 20 years [with the USTA] we’ve always said that we think we’ve seen everything, but we know with each US Open that something unique is going to happen,” Zausner said. “We learn from it and we make sure we can do that much better the next time.”

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