3D at The Open

It’s been said that when he’s playing well, Roger Federer floats around a tennis court.

And that notion was certainly furthered by the 3D views provided by CBS Saturday afternoon at the U.S. Open. There, Panasonic set up a trio of 3D viewing areas, where its Viera plasmas displayed the action from center court at Arthur Ashe Stadium that was being transmitted to DirecTV’s n3D service.

In the Panasonic 3D Experience, located on the site of the former International Tennis Hall of Fame Gallery on the floor level of Louis Armstrong Stadium (the others are located at the SmashZone and on the South Plaza area), I was fortunate enough to get a couple of looks at the pros through the active glasses. I was less fortunate when I got a gander at my forehand (better) and backhand in 3D on a large screen.

During an extended rally during the third game of the third set in his third-round match on Sept. 4, Federer was playing defense, facilely sliding back and forth along the baseline. His floating perception was enhanced by the wide angle in which could see his opponent Paul-Henri Mathieu framed across the net. Federer’s flow was furthered because he appeared to move in front of the match score graphic, which dangled behind him as it seemed to be positioned lower than on typical tennis telecasts (perhaps because the baseline camera was lower) on the left-hand part of the screen.

The rotating CBS Sports logo also proved to be an intriguing 3D image.

On another play, I witnessed Federer in the distance making his way toward the net. Alas, Mathieu, as he did for the most of the day, didn’t come up with the goods, smacking his up-the-line pass attempt into the bottom of the net, depriving a 3D depiction of a forehand volley in the process.

The best angles during my limited time watching, though, came from a side angle of the court. After the concluding point of the game, Federer and Mathieu moved toward their chairs, alongside the umpire’s tower. That gave a real sense for the depth of the court, the locations players’ seats, where their towels whipped in the breeze, and the crowd behind them.

Similarly, in the first set of Kaia Kanepi’s upset of No. 4 seed Jelana Jankovic, the underdog rushed the net and had to put on the brakes before hitting the twine. Her successful stop and the room she had to spare was revealed by the side angle, as the umpire stared down at her footwork. Very cool.

Not so cool were the relatively few patrons in the expensive seat during the women’s match. The absence of bodies robbed that point of spatial reference from the 3D telecast.

On Sept. 1 in the main player’s interview room, CBS EVP engineering, operations and production services Ken Aagaard, during a press conference touting the upcoming 3D coverage on Labor Day and championship weekend, talked about the importance of the opportunities for the TV sports community in general and CBS, which presented the 2010 Final Four in 3D to select movie theaters, in particular to continue to experiment with different competitions in the format.

To that end, Aagaard pointed out that previous 3D productions, whether basketball, an NHL contest, the MLB All-Star Game, the Yankees-Mariners games from Safeco Field, a NASCAR race, and action from The Masters and PGA Championship,  emanated from larger venues than the relatively “confined area” at center court in Ashe Stadium.

In addition to 3D mountings on top of standard tennis camera positions behind the baseline and opposite the umpire for looks at the individual players, Aagard said that CBS, which was working with PACE, would present 3D shots from low camera positions, presumably from the camera dugouts along each baseline.

After the press conference, Aagaard said that he anticipated that the “slash camera,” which he explained would provide unique vantage points framing the umpire, ball boys and the players, could emerge as a “good play-by-play camera. While emphasizing that there is much to learn about 3D sports TV production during these early days, he said “I do think you’ll see some great pictures.”

And maybe at the 2011 U.S. Open there will be even more of them.

During the press conference, Panasonic officials and DirecTV SVP Steve Roberts talked about having more 3D content. (Not to mention more subscribers - an article on U.S. Open’s Web site put the number of those who can watch n3D at home at this stage at just 20,000.)  Hopefully, that would include ESPN, whose 3D network is sponsored by Sony, and Tennis Channel, CBS’s telecast teammates from Flushing Meadows, providing format action from the other show courts, Louis Armstrong and The Grandstand.

That’s where the two best matches of Saturday’s day session — Mardy Fish’s five-set victory over Arnaud Clement and Gael Monfils’ four-set takeout of Andy Roddick’s vanquisher, Janko Tipsarevic — unfolded, respectively. From competitive standpoints, those matches certainly were more compelling than Jankovic-Kanepi, Federer-Mathieu and Maria Sharapova’s double-bagel on Ashe of Beatrice Capra, whom the USTA hoped would emerge as the 2010 version of Melanie Oudin. Sharapova’s dismantling of the 18-year-old wasn’t pretty regardless of what format, including live in the stadium, you watched it in.

Having 3D cameras positioned on Armstrong on Saturday would have also provided another inviting vista: No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki, playing in what she concedes is her very, very short tennis dress.