NEW YORK—Well, it appears that Mother Nature may win her first Grand Slam before Caroline Wozniacki or Andy Murray does. A men's rainout today sent the the U.S. Open into territory where it's never been before, poised on the razor's edge between (perhaps) being completed on time (should the men in the bottom half of the draw, who were denied the opportunity to play their fourth-round matches today, be able and willing to play four five-set matches in four consecuitve days) and, well, another Monday final—or worse.
The dilemma, about which nothing has been said yet, is intriguing. Would the USTA prevail upon the men to undertake that kind of death march? Will the players agree to do it? I suppose one option would be to reduce some or all of those rounds to best-of-three. It may seem unthinkable, but it's an alternative to avoiding a Monday or even Tuesday final. For financial reasons, the USTA will want to finish the tournament as soon as possible. We'll see if the player's push back.
Oh well, look on the bright side. The "little people" who work here sweeping aisles or flipping burgers may be looking at an extra payday, or—could it be?—overtime! Good for them.
But let's take a look at the way this second consecutive rainout may affect the players, starting with those most affected—the men in the bottom half of the draw.
No. 2 and defending champion Rafael Nadal: Nadal was among the players (the two Andys, Murray and Roddick, were the others) who marched into the tournament referee's office early this afternoon to officially protest having been made to play under the prevailing conditions. Given the somewhat unexpected challenges that have been flung at Nadal this year (0-5 vs. Novak Djokovic; continuing injury issues) and the fact that he's not playing very persuasive tennis (especially compared to last year), he must be tempted to just say, heck with it.
No. 21 Andy Roddick: The disruptions caused to everyone's psyche, routine, and enthusiasm could help Roddick in that it represents opportunity. The more level the playing field, the better it is for the favorites. Roddick is very fit, and he's lost just one set here so far. If he can keep his interest and determination up, he may be able to knock off David Ferrer and earn a place opposite either Nadal or the surprising Gilles Muller. Guess which guy he'd prefer to play?
No. 4 seed Andy Murray: As a Scot, he ought to be accustomed to this kind of weather. On the other hand, Murray is no stranger to negative moods, and this weather certainly is conducive to them. But with Donald Young in the way of a quarterfinal match against either John Isner or Gilles Simon (who's already played two five-set matches here), you can expect him to do anything required in order to keep his spirits up.
Unseeded Donald Young: I thought yesterday's rainout hurt Young's chances against Murray. The 22-year-old American was on a bit of a roll, and a rainout is a momentum stopper. Multiply the effect by two and you can see where young Donald might lose the plot somewhere along the way. On the other hand, he looked sharp in the few (three) games he played early today, so maybe he'll be able to stay sharp. It would be a noteworthy accomplishment for a guy in his position.
No. 12 Gilles Simon: He must welcome the unexpected rest, after going the five-set distance in two of his first three matches. He could be dangerous.
No. 28 John Isner: His monster serve and the degree to which he builds his game on quick points mean that he can get through matches, even four- or five-set ones, relatively quickly, absorbing less punishment than a grinder on the order of Ferrer or Nadal. That could really help him if he gets through Simon to meet potential opponents in the quarters who have played back-to-back tough matches.
No. 1 Novak Djokovic: He's in the catbird seat, although he's had to surrender a bit of momentum. Djokovic ought to be fit and ready for as brutal an assignment as the USTA can cook up, because he lost a grand total of just 10 games (and no sets) in his first three rounds, and just 12 against Alexandr Dolgopolov in the fourth round. Throw in his much-heralded fitness and the stamina he's shown this year, and it's easy to see how he's in the best position of any man to benefit from the disruptions.
No. 20 Janko Tisparevic: He's not going to bite the hand that feeds him; look for him to put on a good show but bow to his countryman, pal, and de facto king of Serbia, Djokovic. The rain has nothing to do with it.
No. 3 Roger Federer: He's been playing fine tennis, demonstrating how foolish it was for anyone to discount his chances at this tournament. He plays Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, who beat him at Wimbledon. Nobody is more professional than Federer, so you can expect him to show the fewest ill effects of the dead days. Unfortunately, he's 30, and back-to-back five-set matches could be a big mental ask, no matter how fit he is.
No. 11 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga: Granted, he did a good job at Wimbledon (upset of Federer after trailing by two sets) and in his last match he showed something he had previously lacked—the mental and emotional stamina to prevail in a five-set match. But can a guy who's got a reputation for going away in long matches win a number of demanding matches in a very short period? I doubt it.
The women are in much better shape, with the quarterfinals all set. They have three rounds to play in four days. Even as I write this, there are all kinds of rumors flying around about how the USTA is going to handle the scheduling going forward. But nothing has been confirmed yet. Stay tuned for news of what the scheduling might be over the next few days.