This year’s U.S. Open hasn’t been a great tournament for the USTA from a player standpoint.
First, Sam Stosur, normally diplomatic in her words, blasted (at least by her standards) the referees’ office when her match against Maria Kirilenko was moved from Arthur Ashe Stadium to another show court. Stosur complained that no official came to the players to notify them of the change for 45 minutes and that both women were left frustrated and wondering what was going on.
On Wednesday, with schedulers pressed to try to fit in 10 singles matches and avoid having to cancel play for a second straight day, the players were brought out to the court while the air was still heavy with moisture. Rafael Nadal was late taking the court, forcing his opponent, Gilles Muller, to wait for a good 10 minutes until he emerged. Nadal apologized to Muller and blamed the referees’ office for not telling him when he needed to arrive.
“Sorry for that,” Nadal told ESPN. “It was a little bit of my fault but more fault from the ATP because they don’t have to put Gilles on court if I’m not ready. With the rain delays, you never know when you have to go on court. I have to do all the [medical] tapes. I cannot do the tapes half an hour before the match. I have to do it at the last moment and I have to know exactly when I have to go to the court. They told me that at the last minute. I thought we would go on later. What cannot happen is Gilles waiting for me. So sorry for that, sorry for Gilles, sorry for everybody.”
Play began under a slight mist. Then rain started coming down again and play was suspended, with no match getting through more than four games. An explosion of frustration from the top men quickly followed. Nadal, who was down a break at 0-3 to Muller, gave tournament referee Brian Earley an earful on court and purportedly said, “It’s the same old story. All you think about is money.” The defending champion was referring to being forced to take the court under such conditions knowing that more rain was coming shortly. According to its Inclement Weather Policy, the USTA has to complete only one match or 90 minutes of play to avoid issuing refunds to ticket holders.
The anger continued off-court, as Nadal, Andy Murry and Andy Roddick went directly into the referees’ office to complain behind closed doors about having to take the court for their fourth-round matches.
“They know it’s a lot of money, and we are just part of the show,” Nadal told ESPN. “They are working for that [show], not for us. They put us on the court even though it’s still raining.”
Roddick and Murray agreed, telling ESPN that they went into the referees’ office with Nadal as a show of solidarity. All the players are angry and frustrated for having to be put in the position of playing in dangerous conditions.
“The players, I think, more than anyone, want to play and that’s what we were kind of saying,” Murray said. “With each day that passes, for the guys that are on me and Rafa’s side [of the draw], it reduces our chances. So for us, we want to play. Four best-of-five matches in four days is a huge task physically, so that would be really tough. We want to play, but if it’s dangerous, we’re not going to go out there.”
Said Roddick: “I understand they need to put tennis on TV, and I understand the business side of it, but first and foremost the players need to be safe on the court.”
“When we went onto the court it was still raining, the back of the court, the net and the balls were wet too,” Murray explained. “We talked to the umpire but he said it was fine. So we told him [Earley] it doesn’t make sense to get us out there for seven or eight minutes, so I don’t think that will happen again today.”
ESPN commentators and former Tour pros Patrick McEnroe and Brad Gilbert applauded the player unity and noted it as a potential “watershed moment.” Hours later, the USTA issued a statement in response to the players’ concerns.
“As of 12 noon today, the best information available to us indicated the chance of a two-hour window without rain,” the USTA said. “Unfortunately, not all light rain and mist shows up on radar. 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, as we have always done, and the referee uses that information as part of his/her assessment on whether to continue or halt play.”
The USTA has postponed all of Wednesday’s men’s matches, including the two quarterfinal matches — Novak Djokovic vs. Janko Tipsarevic and Roger Federer vs. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga — that had yet to begin. Organizers were hoping to play all four women’s quarterfinals during Wednesday’s night session, but after sending some of the players out to the courts for warmups, the rain resumed and the USTA issued a statement canceling the night session shortly after.