- Associated Press - Saturday, August 27, 2011

NEW YORK (AP) - As Hurricane Irene’s first showers arrived, the site of the U.S. Open was quiet and nearly empty Saturday, a stark contrast to the customary hustle and bustle two days before the Grand Slam tennis tournament’s start.

Normally, thousands of fans attend the celebrity-and-music-filled Arthur Ashe Kids’ Day, but that event was canceled because of concerns about the approaching hurricane. And while dozens of players usually would be scattered around the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Queens, a light rain pushed them off the courts before noon.

“Sure, it’s somewhat scary, you know, because we don’t know how hard it’s going to hit us. I’ve got family. We’re in New York City; it’s not just a regular city. It’s quite something with all the buildings,” 16-time major champion Roger Federer said. “So it’s unusual, but we’ll follow the news closely.”

Maria Sharapova, the 2006 U.S. Open champion, shrugged her shoulders when asked about the hurricane.

“Well, I’m a Florida girl, so I’m used to this stuff. I think everyone’s a bit overreacting about everything, but of course you have to take precaution and all that. But, I mean, where are we going to go?” said Sharapova, who moved from Russia to the United States as a kid.

“I just hope that our hotel is nice and tough and sturdy,” she added with a chuckle. “That’s all we can do, right?”

She and Federer spoke at pre-tournament news conferences Saturday; top-ranked Novak Djokovic and Serena Williams were originally scheduled to attend but did not.

The tennis season’s last major tournament is scheduled to begin Monday and finish on Sept. 11. Each of the past three years, rain disrupted the end of the tournament, pushing the men’s final to Monday and sparking discussion about whether the USTA should put a roof over a court. This year, the bad weather is hitting at the start.

Workers prepared Saturday for the brunt of the storm by “taking away anything that was not secured to the ground,” U.S. Tennis Association spokesman Chris Widmaier said. That included wood benches, potted plants, banners and television equipment at the six courts from which matches are broadcast.

The entire facility was being shut before 5 p.m. on Saturday, and will be closed to the public on Sunday. After the hurricane moves out of the area, the USTA will assess whatever damage there might be.

Organizers will consider several factors before deciding whether to go ahead with play on Monday, including the condition of the entire facility, whether there is electrical power, and whether players, officials, tournament employees and spectators can make it out there. The city’s transit system was shut down Saturday and won’t reopen until at least Monday.

“Based on the most recent forecasts, we’re looking at winds in the 40 to 60 mph range. We know our structures are certainly capable of withstanding that. They’re all structurally sound,” said Daniel Zausner, managing director of the National Tennis Center. “If the forecasts are off, and things are significantly worse than that, then we’re going to be in the same position as everyone else in the area.”


AP National Writer Eddie Pells contributed to this report.

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