NEW YORK (Reuters) - The usual last-minute preparations for the U.S. Open were aborted Saturday as Flushing Meadows was shut down in anticipation of Hurricane Irene, which was expected to hit New York this weekend.
Players were told to go and find alternative places to practice as officials took the unusual step of locking up the National Tennis Center in the countdown to the last grand slam of the year.
Some of the top players, including Serena Williams and world number one Novak Djokovic, canceled their scheduled press conferences as the first showers arrived Saturday afternoon and security prepared to lock the gates in preparation for the storm.
With the practice courts closed and Flushing Meadows unusually quiet, the Hurricane was the main topic of conversation for the few players who did attend their press conferences.
“It’s somewhat scary, because we don’t know how hard it’s going to hit us,” said five-time champion Roger Federer.
“I’ve got family. We’re in New York City. And it’s not just a regular city.
“It’s unusual, but we’ll follow the news closely and we’ll try to stay as safe as we can so we get through it.”
Officials have already taken the unusual step of cancelling Sunday’s annual Arthur Ashe Kids Day, where players practice and meet with the public to help raise money for charity.
The worst of the storm was expected to be over by Sunday night but officials won’t know whether the tournament will proceed as planned on Moday until they inspect the venue for any damage.
Britain’s Andy Murray was not due to play until Tuesday at the earliest and said he had been stocking up on food supplies, just in case he has an even longer wait to play.
“I think people are right to be pretty cautious about it,” said the Scotsman.
“We don’t see weather like this from the UK. It’s never, never this bad.
“So I think just have to wait and see what it’s like, because I have no idea what to expect.”
But not everyone was expecting the worst. Russia’s Maria Sharapova, who has been based in the U.S. since she was child, said she was not taking any extra precautions.
“Well, I’m a Florida girl, so I’m used to this stuff,” she said.
“I think everyone’s a bit overreacting about everything, but of course you have to take precaution and all that.
“Where are we going to go? I just hope that our hotel is nice and tough and sturdy.”
Editing by Alastair Himmer