Rafael Nadal: Adjusted US Open Schedule A ‘Big Disadvantage’

NEW YORK (WFAN/AP) — Unhappy about being sent out to play at the rain-soaked U.S. Open, a trio of tennis stars — Rafael Nadal, Andy Roddick and Andy Murray — marched from their courts to the tournament referee’s office to voice their complaints.

A second consecutive morning-to-evening damp day at Flushing Meadows washed out all but about 15 minutes of action Wednesday, leaving nerves frayed and the schedule in disarray.

“If you know you’re going to go on court only for 10 minutes, you don’t have to lie to the fans at that point, and you don’t have to lie to the players, too,” Nadal told The Associated Press. “The players knew when we (went) on court that it was still raining, so it was a very strange decision, and we were upset about that.”

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Added Nadal, the defending champion, who trailed unseeded Gilles Muller 3-0 when they were ushered out of Arthur Ashe Stadium: “The court is dangerous. I cannot imagine what happens if somebody gets injured from that. … We need to be more respected.”

The U.S. Tennis Association still was holding out hope of wrapping up the tournament on time with a men’s final Sunday, something that, because of rain in the past, last happened in 2007. But tournament director Jim Curley acknowledged that a Monday finish is possible only if the four incomplete men’s fourth-round matches — including Nadal’s — get done Thursday, despite a forecast predicting more rain.

And Friday and Saturday could be wet, too.

As it is, even if the weather is actually good enough to permit play the rest of the week, this would be a highly unusual Grand Slam tournament. Instead of getting days off, a man on the bottom half of the draw — Nadal, Roddick or Murray, for example — would need to win four best-of-five-set matches in a span of four days to take the title.

Nadal called that a “big disadvantage.”

“Thursday-Friday-Saturday-Sunday would seem like a tall ask. It’s tough,” 2003 U.S. Open champion Roddick said. “It almost puts it into who finishes a match quicker and is fresher.”

Not everyone was all that sympathetic.

Jimmy Connors, a five-time U.S. Open champion, said playing back-to-back-to-back-to-back certainly would be a physical and mental test. But he also said that’s the sort of thing that makes the U.S. Open special.

“That’s why this is the toughest tennis in town, right here. You have to put up with not only the playing of the tennis but … the waiting to play and everything else,” Connors said. “If they play four matches in four days, they’re going to like getting that check for $1.8 million at the end of the tournament, so it’s still worth fighting for, I would think.”

Curley said there is no chance of shortening men’s matches to best-of-three-sets, but he wouldn’t rule out asking players to compete twice in one day.

All in all, there was far more drama off the courts than on them Wednesday, including renewed debate about whether the players need to form a union to advocate for them, and the annual discussion about why the U.S. Open is the only Grand Slam tournament without at least one roof in place or definitive plans to build one.

The Australian Open already has two courts with covers and a third on the way; Wimbledon put a retractable roof on Centre Court in 2009; and the French Open announced it will have one by 2016.

“Going back in time, do I wish that there were a roof over Ashe? Absolutely. I wish I had four of them,” Curley said. “But I don’t, and we play the cards we’re dealt.”

All told, three men’s fourth-round matches briefly began Wednesday, and one never started. The two men’s quarterfinals on the other half of the draw — Roger Federer vs. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, and Novak Djokovic vs. Janko Tipsarevic — and all four women’s quarterfinals — including Serena Williams vs. Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova — were postponed entirely.

By 5:30 p.m., all of the men had been told they could head to their hotels. The women needed to stick around, though, waiting to hear whether they’d be able to play at night. Williams walked through the halls with a pink Hello Kitty backpack on her shoulders before eventually being sent out onto Ashe at 7:30 p.m.

Fifteen minutes later, right after she and Pavlyuchenkova finished warming up on court, sprinkles prompted tournament referee Brian Earley to tell them they could forget about playing Wednesday.

Hours earlier, it was Earley who found himself face-to-face with an angry group of boldfaced names.

Nadal never had wanted to try to play in the first place, knowing there was a mist in the morning.

“I said it in the locker room: ‘It is raining. I don’t know why we are going on court.’ Especially if the rain didn’t stop,” he said. “On clay, I always say, ‘We can go on court.’ But not on grass, not on a hard court.”

When he and others stepped on court, they found the lines slick and wet patches near the walls.

Murray, who trailed unseeded Donald Young of the United States 2-1 on serve when they stopped, said that the main message given to Earley was: “We want to play, but if it’s dangerous, we’re not going to go out there.”

Nadal also wondered why the ATP couldn’t back the players and suggested that Grand Slam tournaments — which are overseen by the International Tennis Federation, not the men’s circuit — have too much power and their main concern is money.

“It seems like I am the rebel,” Nadal said before heading out at the end of a long day. “The ATP must have enough power to say we cannot go on court if it’s raining. And it seems like in the Grand Slams, we don’t have this power. It’s something that has to change, but not next year — today.”

According to Curley, Roddick was the only one of the six men who got a handful of points in Wednesday who told a chair umpire he didn’t think the courts were fit for play. During the prematch warmups, chair umpire Carlos Bernardes dragged his foot along the baseline to check how slippery it was; not much later, the match was under way.

And not much after that, play was halted.

After taking a 3-1 lead against No. 5 David Ferrer, Roddick said he didn’t think it was safe to be running around on a slick court. Play resumed on Thursday, but was halted again for Ferrer and Roddick due to a saturated court.

He also said Earley understood the players’ point during their unusual meeting.

“We just wanted to say that if the conditions are similar, and he puts us out there, it might turn it into a little bit of an uncomfortable situation,” Roddick said. “He knew they might have rushed it a little bit.”

Earley declined an interview request through a USTA spokesman. Aware of the criticism from players, the tournament issued a statement saying there had appeared to be a two-hour window without rain in the morning, which is why Nadal et al were told to start their matches.

“Unfortunately, not all light rain and mist shows up on radar,” the USTA said. “We have experienced referees, and they decide if courts are fit for play. Conditions may be not ideal, but still can be safe. However, if a player or players feel that conditions are unsafe, we listen to them.”

Do you think the players who voiced their opinions are right? Sound off in the comments below…

(TM and Copyright 2011 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2011 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

  • RC

    This issue comes up too regularly for the ITF, ATP and all others involved with putting the U.S. Open on every year not to make alternatives and arrangements for any worst case scenario. How much are they being paid to be ignorant and ignore the safety of athletes? The players should not have to tell them that conditions are unsafe and therefore, not ideal, when that is just a matter of common sense. I agree with Nadal that improvements and changes are needed immediately and maybe, meaning no respect, Jimmy Connors needs to remember that he is retired and not still in his prime playing the game because that is one of the most incomplete and reckless comments I have ever heard from him. It would almost seem as if he is beginning to lose his faculties and just maybe he should begin to think before he opens his mouth. Those of us who gain enjoyment from watching tennis would side with the players over the sport. We may need to offer them our support even if that means staging scheduled boycotts because it is insane for officials to offer whimsical excuses toward allowing an atmosphere and such conditions that would cause physical harm to a player just to make money, when in conditions like that, fans cannot enjoy themselves either. There are enough weeks in a month to display the U.S. Open as it was meant and not herd your prized “studs” in and out of sessions in keeping with a schedule that does not ever include a safety aspect. Also, the other problem is that of determining with this approach who is more fit by how much rest, or lack thereof, each has. Particularly, with the competition and pace of the game, asking any player having experienced a weather delay to then play two matches in one day, or a match each day for four days against another player who has been fully rested is all but giving the game away to the more rested player. Was there nothing learned from the epic 11-hour Wimbledon match involving John Isner, who after having won it, lost his very next match, for a lack of rest? If any one of them could manage a win under a “one-game-per day for four straight days” scenario considering the lineup on the men’s side, it is very unlikely they would have an equal and fair opportunity to play their best tennis. Nadal and others may perform as a result of skill like machines but there is no excuse for the lack of respect in this situation toward personal safety or their work ethic.

  • Nandra Price

    I agree with Nadal, this is how they make their living, and if they were to get injured on a wet court, who is accountable? And if their injuries prevent them from playing the rest of their lives,what are they suppose to do? Grant it , I would love to be watching the matches but, not at the expense of their safety.

  • Nandra Price

    I do have to agree with Nadal , the player’s know the courts better than anyone else,they do it for a living. And if they hurt themselves, who does that fall on? And if it is a serious injury because of the rain on the courts, what are the player’s suppose to do? Just chalk it up, get real, they have alot at risk here, don’t get me wrong, I would love to be watching them play but, I think safety for them comes first.

    • Linda Wright

      I totally agree with you. if someone is out with an injury and can’t play for six months, is the USTA going to compensate them for lost potential earnings, not to mention medical fees and pain. What if someone got a career-finishing injury? Absolutely the players health comes first – no players, no tennis tournaments – where are the USTA’s millions then?

  • http://michaelfenimore.wordpress.com mfenimore

    Here we go again, it’s all about money. The executives are freaking out every day it rains. This translates into lost revenue at concession stands, days passes that are not being bought, merchandise at shops not being purchases and then the BIGGEST revenue, TV by the way of sponsors, messed up broadcast schedules and now the threat of cutting into next weeks TV schedules.

    You’re not going to get a lot of eyeballs for a Monday final when everyone is at work. Hence we get “upper management” saying to get the players out there ASAP. Play in the misty rain, play back to back days, sit in a locker room for 5 hours and wait . . . let the “games” begin.

    These big-wigs are thinking, I’m loosing millions. So what if one gets hurt and pulls a leg muscle from sliding. The winner only gets 1.8 million. I’m looking 20-30 million (just guess at that number but you get the idea).

    • http://wallyhorse.wordpress.com wallyhorse

      Most of us know this, but by doing it as I would, a good amount of that revenue would be made up with an additional session on Friday night for the women’s semis (assuming the quarters are played today), while the bottom half of the Men’s quarters would be played in the afternoon on Friday. It might inconvenience ESPN/CBS (CBS probably would have to show the women’s semis Friday night due to ESPN having a NASCAR race and ESPN2 a college football doubleheader), but doing it that way, with the top half of the Men’s quarters on Saturday followed by the semis on Sunday (one on ESPN2, one on CBS) and Men’s Final on Monday evening (airing on CBS in most areas and ESPN2 where the CBS affiliate isn’t carrying it) probably would be more even on both ends.

  • http://wallyhorse.wordpress.com wallyhorse

    How I would handle it:

    1. Announce the Men’s final won’t be until at least Monday. This gives CBS time to alert to their affiliates of a Monday final that would allow them to make arrangements and adjustments to their schedules.

    2. Those playing the 4th round today if they are able to get their matches in play their quarterfinal matches tomorrow while the top half does not play theirs until Saturday in an attempt to try to take away from the advantage those in the top half may have (bottom half plays four matches in five days with a day off between the quarters and semifinals, top half plays three matches in three days).

    3. If the women are able to play their quarterfinal matches today, they play out as scheduled EXCEPT their semifinal matches are Friday night.

    That to me is the best way to handle this.

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