MATCH POINT: New York’s lesson for Wimbledon as impressive Flushing Meadows hosts the US Open… get controversial SW19 expansion off the ground or be left behind

new balance


Considering it started life as a salt marsh before becoming a huge rubbish tip, the Billie Jean King National Tennis Centre at Flushing Meadows has looked in fine fettle this week.

It is not a place of great aesthetic beauty, but gone are the days when the late American commentator Bud Collins lamented: ‘It may be a dump, but it’s our dump.’

The Arthur Ashe Stadium remains the centrepiece, the size of a decent football stadium around a concrete rectangle of tennis court, which is best seen lit up under the night sky.

Imperfect as it is, the modern Flushing Meadows is a product of perseverance, something that might be reflected upon across the Atlantic in the far more stately surrounds of the All England Club.

Troubles continue with plans to expand on to a neighbouring golf course that Wimbledon now owns.

Andy Murray plays his first round US Open match on one of the impressive outside courts at Flushing Meadows, with the New York venue transformed over the past 30 years

Andy Murray plays his first round US Open match on one of the impressive outside courts at Flushing Meadows, with the New York venue transformed over the past 30 years

The towering Arthur Ashe stadium is certainly a worthy show court for the American Slam

The towering Arthur Ashe stadium is certainly a worthy show court for the American Slam

A view of the Manhattan skyline taken from the top of Arthur Ashe Stadium on Tuesday night

A view of the Manhattan skyline taken from the top of Arthur Ashe Stadium on Tuesday night

According to insiders from both the club and local authorities, the latest is that the scheme has hit yet more delays in its planning application.

It now seems unlikely that, amid much legal wrangling on all sides, the scheme will be brought before the relevant committees of Merton and Wandsworth councils this year.

Going back to 2022, expected dates for the long-awaited hearing have come and gone, but now nothing is expected to happen for several more months.

The All England Club, who declined to update their previous statements when contacted, are said to have been extremely displeased with the latest postponement, which sources say is due to an unusual variety of legal opinions over the status of the land covering the former 18 holes at Wimbledon Park.

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There continues to be much discussion among consulting barristers about the impact of a recent ruling in Shropshire involving a similar, if smaller, development dispute.

Wimbledon continues to try to swing opinion within the local community over its plans for 38 courts and a new stadium, plus facility buildings.

A new move, which is unprecedented, has been to invite locals to enter a ballot for the privilege of playing for a day on the practice courts at Aorangi Park next week, before the grass closes down for the winter.

Although local opinion is divided, a coalition of organisations in south-west London remains implacably opposed to the plans and a public meeting has been called to discuss the matter in mid-September.

Wimbledon has grand plans to expand but the project continues to be met by opposition

Wimbledon has grand plans to expand but the project continues to be met by opposition

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Centre Court may have a roof but a curfew in the area means matches can't always be finished

Centre Court may have a roof but a curfew in the area means matches can’t always be finished

The fact is that, nearly five years after buying out the golf club’s members, first base in what was already looking like being a long planning process has not been reached.

The arguments involved are complex, but to be fortunate enough to visit the different Grand Slam venues around the world is to see that – looking purely through the tennis prism – Wimbledon genuinely needs expansion to firm up its position at the top table.

The other three have grown substantially in the past 30 years with Flushing Meadows, despite its often chaotic organisation, transformed from the concrete khazi that greeted visitors in the early 1990s.

Its sweeping Grandstand court is particularly impressive and the Louis Armstrong – on the site of the former main stadium – is massively improved and imposing.

Roland Garros will have another upgrade in time for the Olympics next summer, and every time you go back to Melbourne a new arena appears to have sprung up.

Like Paris, Wimbledon is more affected by space constraints and the proximity of housing.

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Once again there are delays and you can only hope that some form of consensus at SW19 can be reached among all parties, and a breakthrough can be made in what is starting to feel like an opening set with no tie-break.

Roland Garros, which hosts the French Open, will be upgraded for the Paris Olympics in 2024

Roland Garros, which hosts the French Open, will be upgraded for the Paris Olympics in 2024

RETIREMENT, OR SIMPLY HAVING A CAREER BREAK?

Another strange week when it comes to career endings in tennis, the sport where retirement announcements seem to be a mere basis for negotiation.

Trying to qualify at the US Open was the now unretired former Wimbledon finalist Kevin Anderson, and in the field has been former No 1 Caroline Wozniacki, coming back for another crack after the birth of her two children.

John Isner found himself insisting that he really did mean it when he said this US Open would be his last tournament, and that he will not be popping up again when the difficult reality hits that the whole focus of your life has shifted.

He was unequivocal as, in a different way, was 24-year-old Swede Mikael Ymer, who took to social media last week to abruptly announce he was quitting, having been suspended for missing three whereabouts tests (which he insists were entirely innocent occurrences).

You suspect that he will eventually be back, as when these kind of statements are made it is increasingly a guessing game about whether it is adieu, or see you later.

Caroline Wozniacki celebrates her first round win at the US Open after making a comeback

Caroline Wozniacki celebrates her first round win at the US Open after making a comeback

POSTCARD FROM A LIFE ON TOUR

A previously unexplored neighbourhood discovered at the weekend was vibrant Little Ukraine, down in the East Village of Manhattan. 

You can hardly miss it now due to the number of blue and yellow flags flying. At the 24-hour Veselka, in business for nearly 70 years, you can dine under a large portrait of President Zelensky and eat bigos, a stew made mainly of sauerkraut and sausage. 

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Not bad, but the highlight was the horseradish and beetroot sauce on the side. It was reasonably priced, too, in what has become a stratospherically expensive city in recent times.

An added bonus was that, unlike some places here, staff seemed pleased to see you without giving off the sense that it was your privilege to be served by them, in return for a whopping obligatory tip.

PADEL PRESENTING A UNITED FRONT

Confirmation last Thursday that the ATP NextGen finals are heading to Saudi Arabia was far from the only interesting news to emerge that day from the increasingly influential sporting region of the Middle East.

Although it has had a fraction of the coverage, a LIV Golf-style dispute has been raging in the fast-emerging world of padel tennis, that has seen two rival international circuits competing against each other and has led to lawsuits involving different factions of players. 

This was effectively solved – far more conclusively than has so far been the case between LIV and the PGA – when Qatar Sports Investments announced they were merging the two and taking ownership of a unified tour from 2024 onwards.

Cristiano Ronaldo tried his hand at padel in Singapore as the sport continues to grow its profile

Cristiano Ronaldo tried his hand at padel in Singapore as the sport continues to grow its profile

In time this could impact sports like tennis in terms of competing in a similar commercial space and padel should have the advantage of more coherently structured governance when it comes to shaping its offering in the marketplace. 

There is quite a lot they could learn from parallel experiences when it comes to building a circuit that can maximise the sport’s potential, supported by growing participation beyond its already established territories, such as Spain, Argentina and the UK.

One key priority for the new padel tour should be getting the important, well-known players to turn out reliably at a set number of events. That happens in sports such as Formula One, but sadly not often enough in tennis.

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