By Larry Fine
NEW YORK (Reuters) - The U.S. Open will start on Monday as planned after the National Tennis Center escaped serious damage from Hurricane Irene, officials said on Sunday.
The hurricane surged through New York in the early hours of Sunday morning, flooding waterfronts and low-lying areas, but America's most populous city avoided the heavy devastation which had been feared.
U.S. Tennis Association officials said they were communicating with city officials regarding mass transit and road conditions, but would be starting the year's last grand slam tournament as scheduled.
"We are currently preparing the venue for the gates to open at 10 a.m. as scheduled," the USTA said. "Play around the grounds will commence as close to 11 a.m. as possible with the first match on Arthur Ashe Stadium starting at 1 p.m."
In a revised schedule, eighth-seeded American Mardy Fish will play the first match at Arthur Ashe Stadium against Tobias Kamke of Germany.
Former champion Maria Sharapova, the third seed, follows on to the center court against Briton Heather Watson.
Twice-winner Venus Williams and five-times champion Roger Federer feature in the opening night session.
Monday's weather forecast predicts sunny skies and warm temperatures, a stark contrast to the gloomy, dangerous conditions over the weekend.
As a precaution to the advancing storm, USTA officials shut the Flushing Meadows facility down on Saturday, telling players to find alternative places to practise and cancelling some pre-tournament news conferences.
Sunday's annual Arthur Ashe Kids Day, where players practice and meet with the public to help raise money for charity was canceled.
While Hurricane Irene lost some of its force by the time it hit New York, the storm caused significant damage as it travelled up the U.S. East Coast, leaving at least 12 dead, as many as 3.6 million customers without electricity, and bringing flooding damage to coastal towns in several states.
It forced the closure of New York's mass transit system, and the cancellation of thousands of flights.
About 370,000 city residents who had been ordered to leave their homes as a precaution were told on Sunday afternoon that they could return.
(Editing by Ed Osmond)