Thursday, September 8, 2011

US Open Report: Day 10

It was another washout day at the US Open as rain halted play and caused plenty of drama both on and off the court.

With yesterday's matches not being played also because of rain, there was real urgency to get some of the players on court today, especially the remaining eight men still to play their 4th round matches. With a supposedly small two-hour window of no rain, three of the matches were started to the consternation of the players. Most vocal was defending champion Rafael Nadal who at one point told tournament referee Brian Earley "It's the same old story, all you think about is money." Whoa. After a few minutes of play, Andy Roddick complained to his chair umpire about the slickness of the court and play was promptly suspended. The other matches, including Nadal's, followed suit. Nadal, along with Roddick and Andy Murray, then went to the tournament office to confront Earley.

After their behind-closed-doors meeting, commentator Pam Shriver talked with the players. Murray confirmed that they went in to protest the decision to bring the players out without guaranteeing the safety of the courts while Roddick was a bit more diplomatic as he expressed understanding the business side of tennis. Nadal was clearly still angry about the whole thing telling Shriver that with all the money the Slams make, they should make sure that the players as "part of the show" should be protected.

The ESPN commentators for their part tried to recap all of this for the tennis-starved audience and I admit, as one of those fans I was enjoying the drama of it all while being very sympathetic to the players. John McEnroe took a pro-player stance and went on a long speech putting the problems in context as a former pro. The usually zen-like Darren Cahill boldly stated on air that "There's no strong or visible leadership from the ATP." Wow.

The women, by the way, weren't bystanders to all of this. After the men's matches were canceled, their quarterfinal matches were inexplicably kept on schedule in hopes that they might get to play a bit later. All of them, including the top two seeds Caroline Wozniacki and Vera Zvonareva, grouped up and had their own meeting with Earley to make sure that what happened with the men earlier that day didn't happen to them. Earley for his part learned his lesson and duly made sure they would only go out to play if it was 100% safe. As a result, they didn't play. Of course, this means that tomorrow, weather-permitting, all of the remaining men's fourth round matches will be played simultaneously on the three show courts as well as the new Court 17 followed by the four women quarterfinal matches.

It will be a real challenge the next few days especially if the matches scheduled tomorrow don't finished. As of now, if the tournament were to remain on schedule (with the women's final on Saturday and the men's final on Sunday), the bottom half of the men's draw will likely need to play four 5-set matches in four days and the women would play three days straight. It will be grueling and the quality of play will surely suffer. Are we possibly heading to a fourth year in a row of a Monday finish for the tournament?

This post is already longer than I intended, but the real question now is what to do moving forward. The rain caused most of this drama and the only solutions are to wish it never rains again or build a roof over the courts. From all the commentaries on this the past few days, however, it seems wishing is the likelier option. All I know is this conversation isn't done and won't be swept under the rug. The complaints today came from very high-profile and important people with some clout. Here's hoping for sunnier days ahead.

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