It's too loud under the U.S. Open roof for Rafael Nadal. Even though the U.S. Tennis Association tried to lessen the noise in Arthur Ashe Stadium after the retractable cover's debut during last year's tournament, there was still quite a bit of ambient sound when the top was shut because of rain Tuesday.
"Too much noise, no?" the No. 1-seeded Nadal said after beating Dusan Lajovic 7-6 (6), 6-2, 6-2 in the first round. "I was not able to hear the ball when you are hitting, no?"
Nadal, who counts two U.S. Open championships among his 15 Grand Slam titles, actually participated in the first match contested under the shut roof at the 2016 U.S. Open, when the $150 million sliding cover made its debut atop the event's main arena. Back then, he called it an "unbelievable improvement," because it finally allowed for play when it rains in New York. The man he beat that day, Andreas Seppi, was the one who made a point of saying, "There really was a lot of noise."
Madison Keys, an American seeded 15th, played with the roof closed Tuesday night and was struck by the sound level.
"Truly, it was the loudest court I've ever played on in my life. I'm assuming it had to do with the roof just holding all of that noise in," Keys said. "It took a while to get used to it."
Roger Federer, meanwhile, shrugged when asked about the noise after his five-set victory over American teenager Frances Tiafoe. It was Federer's first match under the roof, because he missed the tournament a year ago.
"I didn't think it was that bad, to be honest," Federer said. "I think when the crowd really got into it, it was really cool. It was a great atmosphere."
Some players and spectators described the sounds last year as being similar to a rushing waterfall, a result of a combination of equipment in the stadium and 20,000-plus fans speaking.
The USTA pledged a year ago to try to improve the situation and spokesman Chris Widmaier said Tuesday that steps had been taken:
—a cellphone tower above the stadium's broadcast booths was moved;
—old air conditioning equipment in the same spot was replaced with modern units that he said are much quieter;
—sound-dampening material was placed above other AC units located outside of Ashe.
Widmaier acknowledged that last year's "background noise level ... needed to be, at a minimum, reduced, if not eliminated."
Told of Nadal's complaint Tuesday, Widmaier agreed "it was loud in there today, especially with the roof closed." He said the USTA plans "to continue to work with sound experts" to see what else can be done.
Another player who spent some time under the roof in Ashe on Tuesday was French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko, whose first-round victory was completed there after being shifted from Court 17 because of the rain.
"For me, was fine, but I was there only, like, three games," she said. "Probably not enough time to really hear that noise or realize something like that."
Nadal said the noise under the roof at Flushing Meadows is worse than when the covers atop arenas at Wimbledon and the Australian Open are closed.
"I understand it's a show, at the end of the day, and I enjoy that. I feel part of this, of course. But under the roof, we need to be a little bit more strict about the noise, in my opinion, no?" he said. "Because all the noise stays inside, and this is difficult, no?"
Widmaier said the USTA expects things to be less problematic as the two-week tournament continues.
"What we noticed last year is that during the first week of the competition, there was noticeable crowd noise, both with the roof open and closed. Of course, that's exacerbated when the roof is closed. However, we also noticed that as the tournament progressed, and the matches became more compelling, the crowd noise reduced," he said. "It is early in the tournament, and we expect that as the tournament goes on, there will be more of a hush in the seating."