U.S. Open atmosphere strikes a chord with top players

Reuters News
Posted: Sep 06, 2014 11:49 AM

By Simon Cambers

NEW YORK (Reuters) - When Serena Williams walks out for the U.S. Open final on Sunday, she will do so with her favorite music booming out in the background.

The U.S. Open is the only one of the four grand slam events to play music consistently before and during matches and the players have been embracing it.

"I think it's great," said two-time defending champion Williams, who chose Katy Perry's "Roar" as the music she would most like to walk on to.

"I love that song Roar," she said. "I listen to it all the time. I love Katy Perry and I think it's an inspiring song. I love the words to it."

Players are invited to pass on a few songs they would like to hear if they are lucky enough to play on Arthur Ashe stadium.

Canada's Eugenie Bouchard, the runner-up at Wimbledon in July, said the atmosphere is unlike any other tournament.

"The changeovers were like a party scene on the court, (with) the loud music, the fans," she said.

"It was definitely an entertainment type of experience. I think that's really cool for the fans to get into it."

High above Arthur Ashe, the musical selections are handled by Dieter Ruehle, who mixes his U.S. Open DJ duties with a full-time role as the music director at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, where he is the DJ for the LA Kings and LA Lakers.

In his ninth year in the role, Ruehle and his close-knit team try to be inventive so when Grigor Dimitrov broke his shoe during a match with Gael Monfils, seconds later, Paolo Nuttini's "New Shoes" rang out.

When Roger Federer completed his quarter-final win over Monfils on Thursday night, Ruehle, now in his ninth year in the role, put on the Darth Vader sequence from Star Wars, a homage to the Swiss and his all-black “Darth Federer” outfit.

Fabio Fognini requested the music from the film “Gladiator” and David Ferrer chose “Eye of the Tiger” by Survivor, made famous by “Rocky IV”.

More than ever, players are buying into the entertainment side of things, said Michael Fiur, the U.S. Open's Director of Entertainment, who conducts operations down below the stadium.

"Even Andy Murray, he used to be somebody who was not big on music (to walk out to) but now he gives us a little Ed Sheeran or something," he said.

"Roger (Federer) had “Hall of Fame”, by The Script; then if Anna Wintour is in his box, we play (Madonna’s) “Vogue”.

Fior said there was a balance between entertaining the crowd and remembering that serious business was happening on court.

"We try not to be too cute and we try not to do anything that will be inappropriate," Fior said.

"I think we got grief one time when one of the players was taking their shirt off and we played Justin Timberlake's “Too Sexy”.

"As we get further into the tournament and further into the matches, we tone it down a little bit and keep it middle of the road.

"Like (in the Novak Djokovic-Andy Murray) match, for example, (usually) when it gets to be after midnight we'll start to play the “Macarena” or “YMCA”, but that match was more like a final so we kept it very respectful."

Ruehle works together with Andy Taylor, the official U.S. Open announcer, and Todd Noonan, the head of production.

"A lot of the clever choices go to Dieter, who is very quiet and doesn't really want to be interviewed," Fior said.

"They are all in their group upstairs and they don't like anyone hovering over them. But that's the team that does it. It used to be somewhat unique, it's now more in the fabric of what we do, but I think it's what makes it special and makes the Open special."

(Editing by Martyn Herman)