After quake, tennis tourney prepares for hurricane

August 25, 2011 04:21 PM

NEW HAVEN, Conn. (AP) -- The New Haven Open, which was forced to evacuate earlier this week when an earthquake swayed the Connecticut Tennis Center Stadium, has moved up its championship match in an effort to avoid problems with Hurricane Irene.

Officials at the final WTA tuneup before next week's U.S. Open announced Thursday that the single's championship would move from 5 p.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturday in advance of the storm, which is expected to hit on Sunday morning.

"But, it's not just the actual playing time of the final, but our staff has to break down the site, so it has a lot to do with their safety,'' said Anne Worcester, the tournament's director. "For example, our scoreboards weight two tons each, it takes six hours to take those scoreboards down. We're trying to have them up for our final.''

It's the second time officials have had to deal with a natural disaster this week.

On Tuesday, play was suspended for over two hours when tremors from an earthquake in northern Virginia shook the stadium and sent spectators, players and officials scurrying for the exits. The stadium was reopened after engineers determined it was structurally sound.

This is the second hurricane to threaten the tournament in the last three years. In 2009, the remnants of Hurricane Danny brushed by, forcing officials to remove the large scoreboards from atop the 15,000-seat stadium and move several matches, including the semifinals, to Yale's indoor tennis facility.

"It was like throwing a giant dinner party at someone else's house,'' Worcester said. "There was no check list of things we had to think about. Now, we've been through this.''

And a lot more. Strange weather-related problems have affected the tournament several times during its 22-year history.

In 1992, cracks suddenly appeared in the stadium's playing surface as water from heavy rains bubbled up from the ground beneath, forcing a lengthy postponement.

The following year, swarms of flying ants caused another long delay.

"Do I wish it never rained? Yes,'' Worcester said. "Do I wish that we didn't have a hurricane two years ago? Yes. Do I wish we didn't have an earthquake on Tuesday? Of course. But, when you stage a large-scale international sporting event outdoors, (those are) the risks you take.''

The problems have at least one silver lining for tournament vendors. The gift shop has been selling new T-shirts made this week that read, "I Survived the 2011 New Haven Open. Neither Rain, Nor Hurricane, Nor Earthquake Can Steal the Show.''