Quiet please: Silence becoming a thing of the past in tennis

Noise becoming an issue with new US Open roof? (1:42)

ESPN's Brad Gilbert and Prim Siripipat discuss whether the loud crowd noise caused by the new roof on Arthur Ashe Stadium is becoming a problem or something the players should be able to deal with. (1:42)

NEW YORK -- "Quiet, please."

The two iconic words have always been associated with tennis. They've been sampled in pop songs, printed on T-shirts, borrowed in ad campaigns. They're symbolic, representing what some people love and some people find irritating about the game. But they may soon go the way of wooden rackets and white tennis balls packed in tin cans.

Those words are being put out of business by the US Open. Is the last major domino in the long line of tennis traditions about to fall for good?

The long, ongoing war against noise at most major sporting events might have reached a tipping point at this US Open. The fans aren't yelling during points, and cheering service faults is still frowned upon by players and most spectators alike. But the ambient noise in Arthur Ashe Stadium has been striking this year.

During some matches, repeated pleas for less commotion during play have been ignored. It soon became apparent that the root of the problem was not chatty fans, but the acoustics of the newly roofed Arthur Ashe Stadium.

It was clear from the start of play that the roofworks contain and perhaps even magnify sound rising from below, like the skin of a drum. Anyone who sat down in the stadium when it was near capacity noticed it immediately.

"I didn't feel silence at any moment," said Garbine Muguruza, the No. 3 seed who was upset in the second round. "It was continuously a noise. I think it's very big, this stadium. Also, it's kind of [an] echo. But it's the same for the other player."

Steve Johnson, the American player who made his debut on Ashe this year, was more positive despite losing his own match: "It was definitely louder than most courts. But the atmosphere was great. I didn't have a problem with [the noise]. You watch as a kid night matches on Ashe. You kind of expect it."

Significantly, no player of importance lit into the tournament or made claims about the noise ruining concentration or performance, not even famously grumpy No. 2 seed Andy Murray. He probably had the worst of it, too, having to play while a thunderstorm played the equivalent of a heavy-metal band's drum solo on the polyester roof.

Murray, who has played a Wimbledon final with the Centre Court roof closed, said the Ashe court is louder. He wasn't thrilled by the fact that he couldn't hear the ball coming off his opponent's racket, but he felt the conditions with the roof closed over the hard court didn't change the playing surface as much as they do on the grass at Wimbledon.

"I don't know what the TV people or fans have said about it [the noise] yet, but the players will adjust," Murray said. "The players will deal with it. You get used to stuff. As an athlete, that's what you do."

Murray's last assertion represents a major leap forward for a sport in which the top stars once had few good words to say about any challenging innovation. Most former players, particularly the highly strung champions, might have blown a gasket -- and trashed the USTA -- had they been asked to play under the conditions that now characterize tennis at Ashe.

At 29, Murray is a responsible, intelligent pro. The younger generation is more flexible for other reasons. Ryan Harrison, 24, believes that playing under the cacophonous conditions of World Team Tennis actually helped him hone his ability to focus. Others of his generation are also more relaxed about distractions older players might have deemed unacceptable.

After he upset Milos Raonic in the first round of the Open, Harrison said: "There's been times in my career when someone drops a ball, someone does something, and my first reaction is, 'What did you do?' But it's not as big a deal as you think it is. All the things I yell about when someone is moving in the stands are not that big of a deal if I decide to just focus in and block it out."

This is what critics mean when they tell tennis players that collegiate basketball players routinely shoot -- and make -- critical free throws with fans screaming and waving oversized foam No. 1 mitts right beneath the basket. It's just a matter of acclimatization.

It's fitting that the assault on "Quiet, please" is happening in New York. Noise is the distinguishing feature of the city. It's inescapable, regardless of your race, creed or color. Rich and poor are equally subject to the wail of the police siren, the "thwock, thwock" of the helicopter, the mournful horns of a thousand frustrated taxi cab drivers. Noise is the backing track to life in New York, and now to tennis in New York as well.

It all makes you wonder if the players' willingness to deal with the conditions will lead to a change in the habits of fans. New fans coming into the game might be more inclined to hoot and holler.

Shouting and cheering during points wouldn't make watching or playing tennis a better experience. Silence is observed during points for a reason: An attentive spectator is too busy watching, and there's plenty of time to cheer because the ball is in play for only brief periods. But cheering or heckling before serves, or between first and second serves, could become a common occurrence, as it sometimes is in Davis Cup.

Adaptable as today's players are, they aren't eager for fans to bring constant noise. As Venus Williams said after one of her matches:

"There's something very special about tennis in the quiet. There's that tension that everybody feels, the sound of the ball, the sound of the footwork is very special in sports. I do enjoy the quiet. Especially the more important the moments, silence says it all. Personally, I don't think it should go away."