Positioned just outside the South Gate of the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, the Unisphere has been a global attraction since its construction for the New York World’s Fair of 1964-65. The 350-ton, 120-foot-diameter, steel globe was commissioned to celebrate the dawn of the space age.
On the night of Tuesday, Aug. 21, the globe will be transformed into an “out-of-this-world,” 3D canvas, as the first tennis match on the International Space Station (ISS) will be projection mapped onto the historic landmark.
“The US Open is the grandest stage on Earth, and we’re fortunate to have the Unisphere as part of our backdrop,” said Qianna Smith-Bruneteau, Director of Social Media & Strategy. “The Unishpere has never had video projected onto its surfaces or continents, so we’re excited to showcase tennis in space through an immersive experience for both fans on site and those tuning in globally via Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.”
Juan Martin del Potro (@delpotrojuan), 2009 US Open men's singles champion, will be on hand to help NASA's Andrew 'Drew' Feustel (@astro_feustel) prepare for play. Live from Arthur Ashe Stadium, the ATP world No. 3 will video chat with the tennis-loving astronaut as he orbits on the ISS the afternoon of Aug. 21, from 12:35 p.m to 12:55 p.m. ET.
Feustel, ISS Commander of Expedition 56, will attempt to play a game of doubles with fellow crewmates Ricky Arnold, NASA Flight Engineer; Alexander Gerst, European Space Agency Flight Engineer; and Serena Aunon-Chancellor, NASA Flight Engineer.
In December of 2017, the USTA set out on a mission with Feustel, a Ph.D. geophysicist by day, interstellar tennis player by night, to excite the next generation of tennis greats about space exploration while demonstrating that tennis is a springboard for unlimited adventures on and off the court.
Ahead of his team’s launch in March, Feustel predicted how he thought the match might go.
“The fact that we don’t have gravity is hard. Balls won’t bounce, and gravity has no effect. To me, it’s going to seem like that old game Pong, where you hit the ball and the ball just goes straight; it doesn’t bounce on anything. So it’s going to be challenging.” he said. "We might have to invent some new rules.
In the buildup to the first tennis match in space, the USTA solicited some space-tennis tips from professionals. What the players lacked in advice, they made up for in well wishes, as John Isner, Frances Tiafoe, Steve Johnson, Donald Young and Kevin Anderson all recorded video messages for the crew.
“I would have to do some research on how our astronauts prepare, and then go from there,” said a stumped Isner.
Now, thanks to some help from the USTA, Feustel and his team are ready for action.
“We rocketed two mini Net Generation racquets and balls to Feustel on the ISS,” said Amy Choyne, USTA Chief Marketing Officer. “Drew’s passion for tennis and space travel is inspiring our youth to serve to the moon and seek the unknown while also demonstrating the benefits of a fit and athletic lifestyle.”
Join the race for tennis in space using the hashtag #TminusNetGeneration.