Louis Armstrong Stadium seats roughly 14,000 people. There were roughly 14 there on Monday morning. They were treated to player introductions over the public address system, which fell, if not on deaf ears, then on very few ears at all.
An hour later, the women’s No. 1 seed, Karolina Pliskova of the Czech Republic and Anhelina Kalinina of Ukraine, went through the same drill on Arthur Ashe Stadium, the cavernous 22,000-seat venue that is the largest stadium in the sport. There was booming music, and some brief piped in crowd noise, an attempt to deliver something of what might have greeted the top woman playing in the first match on the featured court.
Big screens that surround the court this year showed a grid view of fans cheering in small boxes, looking a bit like they were being held hostage and told to cheer on command.
The only word to describe this atmosphere on what is usually one of the busiest, buzziest, loudest, most crowded and most chaotic days in tennis, is bizarre. Nearly everything that makes the U.S. Open different from all the other Grand Slam tournaments — the noise, the chaos, the crowds, the New York energy — is missing. The usual quiet, which actually isn’t all that quiet compared with other tournaments, sounds so much different than the quiet of today.
And yet, by day’s end, 64 matches will likely have been completed, with players earning more than $60,000 just for showing up. It’s another day at the office, and like every other office these days, it feels so different than the one that existed the last time they were here.
“The first match I wondered if I should I cheer myself or be more calm,” Pliskova said after winning her match in straight sets, 6-4, 6-0. “For sure I would prefer to have people here.”