Rafael Nadal has played tennis all over the world on all sorts of surfaces in all sorts of conditions. Yet, on Wednesday, the 30-year-old Spaniard stumbled upon another first.
Playing under the lights at Arthur Ashe Stadium, Nadal led Italian Andreas Seppi 6-0, 3-3 in the U.S. Open second round when rain started to fall. The match was suspended at 10:38:58 p.m., but for the first time the USTA turned to its roof protocol. The roof closed in five minutes and 35 seconds, and Nadal and Seppi continued play at 10:46:20, seven minutes and 22 seconds after taking a break.
Nadal hit the first practice and match ball under the Arthur Ashe Stadium roof. The two-time U.S. Open champion then explained to the media and the tennis world what he saw.
The Roof Is Way, Way, Way Up
When the USTA unveiled the roof to the media for the first time on Aug. 2, it was revealed that 2.6 billion tennis balls can fit within the stadium bowl with the roof closed. Nadal noted that when compared to Grand Slam roofs at the Australian Open and Wimbledon, the U.S. Open roof is notable for its height.
"I feel it's a little bit different because the roof is higher," Nadal says. "How much higher the roof is, the less feeling of an indoor court you have."
No lobs will be a concern under the new roof.
Noise Level Up
The roof is physically high, but the noise level is an invisible metric.
"There was a little bit more noise than usual," Nadal says.
"You get used [to it]. In the beginning, in tennis, normally you are used to playing in silence. I don't know, with the new court, even if the roof is open, there is more noise out there. Normally, it's probably not the fault of the people because I have been playing here for so many years and I don't remember that noise when playing.
"It was a bit strange. For moments, it was a little bit too much during the points. I always love the energy and noise of the New York crowd. It's just fantastic. You know, I feel very close to them because I play with a lot of passion and they give me that electricity. But it is true, that was a little bit more noise than usual."
Hear that, U.S. Open fans? When the roof is closed, and your voice is trapped, everyone can hear what you are saying. Even if you whisper. So, in Arthur Ashe Stadium, stay quiet.
"We want them to cheer," USTA executive director Gordon Smith tells Reuters. "We think that over time the fans will adjust and the players will adjust.
"This is a learning year for us ... we'll look at doing things in the future to deal with that."
— US Open Tennis (@usopen) September 1, 2016
Wind Isn't A Factor
The USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center sits next to LaGuardia Airport, along Flushing Bay. On most courts, wind and airplane noise are a factor. Nadal believes Arthur Stadium blocks most of this out on a regular basis, and the roof does not change that.
"The difference is not [much]," he says. "With the roof open, there is no wind at all, so it's not a big change. And the roof is so high, you don't feel that you are closed."
Now, if the USTA just puts a big bubble over the whole National Tennis Center, wind will never be a problem on any court.
Nadal Adds More History
Rafael Nadal is tied with Pete Sampras for the second-most Grand Slam titles in tennis history. His plaque at the International Tennis Hall of Fame is ready, and he could retire tomorrow and still be considered one of the greatest players ever.
But just in case he needed anything more, Nadal will now always have the title of hitting the first practice and competitive shot under the Arthur Ashe Stadium roof.
"It's great to be the first player to play with the roof closed, on the competition, because I was the first player to hit in center court with the roof closed," Nadal says. [I'm] just happy."
Nadal will send that racquet to Newport, although, not for his usual reasons.
-- Follow Jeffrey Eisenband on Twitter @JeffEisenband.