Top players object to playing
Not exactly a mutiny, but the objection voiced by three high-profile players over U.S. Open officials' decision to start play in a light mist Wednesday underlined the tournament's slippery scheduling dance around bad weather.
With the championship weekend fast approaching, and Tuesday's washout having left half of the men's fourth-round matches yet to be played, tournament referee Brian Earley attempted to wedge action into an apparently dry window shortly after noon on three show courts.
But the rain, which already had delayed play for 90 minutes, resumed 15 minutes later. And, as they came off their still-slick courts, defending champion Rafael Nadal, fourth-seeded Andy Murray and former champ Andy Roddick met with Earley to express concerns about potential injury.
"We're not feeling protected,'' said Nadal, who was down 3-0 to Gilles Muller in the first set when play was called. "Grand Slams make a lot of money, but we are part of the show. They dry the court for 45 minutes but the rain never stops [and] they still put us on court. The health of the players is important . . . If I have to play raining, I play raining. But it's not fair. We have to fight to change that.''
All three of those fourth-round matches -- Nadal-Muller at Arthur Ashe Stadium, Roddick against David Ferrer at Louis Armstrong and Murray vs. Donald Young in the Grandstand -- quickly were suspended and, at 5:30, postponed until Thursday, as was a fourth-round match between John Isner and Gilles Simon, originally planned to follow the Murray match in the Grandstand, moved to Court 17 but never started.
The persistent precipitation, though not nearly as heavy as on Tuesday, now has backed up the singles competition to the point at which the eventual finalist in the Nadal-Roddick-Murray half of the draw potentially faces four matches in four days. Given the men's Grand Slam format of best-of-five sets, all breathing room has disappeared in the one major tournament that doesn't build in a day off between the semifinals and final.
"The players, more than anyone, want to play,'' said Jim Courier, the former four-time major tournament winner who now serves as U.S. Davis Cup captain. "We're talking more about the players being on the same page with Brian Earley and his team.
"It's in the players' best interest to get out there and play. But you have to listen to the players. If a player is out there pawing the ground like a pony , it's probably not safe to play.''
Hard courts do not tolerate moisture well, and it was on a barely damp court at the 1999 Open that American Mary Jo Fernandez badly injured a knee when she slipped during play. Murray said that the back of the Grandstand court still was "soaking wet and the balls were really wet, too'' when he commenced play against Young, but that he was told by the chair umpire that conditions were "fine.''
Roddick made it clear there was no threatened player revolt, and "to Brian Earley's credit, he listened to us. I think it's up for discussion whether the court's playable or not, and that probably means it's not playable. I know it's not our choice but we just wanted to make it known that we don't want to be in that position again.''
The U.S. Tennis Association defended the decision to start the matches based on indications of a two-hour window without rain by an on-site meteorologist.
"It we had known they were only going to play for 15 minutes,'' tournament director Jim Curley said, "we never would have sent them out there.''