Don't Blame It on the Rain

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Simona Halep was one of many frustrated players at a drenched French Open. (AP)

Tuesday at the French Open wasn’t good for much, but it did produce two of the best I-can’t-take-it-anymore quotes of the tournament so far.

“I’m just pissed,” Agnieszka Radwanska said after losing her fourth-round match, 2-6, 6-3, 6-3, to Tsvetana Pironkova after being up a set and a break on Court Suzanne Lenglen. “I cannot play in those conditions.”

Over on Court 1, Aga’s fellow high seed Simona Halep was having a similarly exasperated reaction.

“I have no words,” Halep said after squandering her own lead, and losing her own fourth-round match, 7-6, 6-3, to Sam Stosur. “It’s impossible to play, in my opinion.”

The problem for Radwanska and Halep was the same one that has been driving everyone involved in tennis—from beleaguered officials tearing out their hair, to exasperated players roaming the player lounge, to sad fans left staring at Roland Garros’s red tarps—up a wall: rain. From the start of the tournament, there have been rumors of foul forecasts to come, but I don’t think anyone thought it would be this bad. On Monday, an entire day of play was cancelled, and it wasn’t much better on Tuesday. Unfortunately for Radwanska and Halep, while Roland Garros obviously wanted to move the schedule along, theirs were the only singles matches completed.

But one woman’s loss is another’s gain, and not surprisingly, Stosur and Pironkova had a different opinion of the conditions.

 “It was raining for the first part when we went out today,” Stosur said, “but the court was OK for the most part.”

“We have all played in all sorts of conditions,” Pironkova said. “Usually if the court is not fit for play, like if it’s slippery, they would cancel the match right away. But today the court was still hanging in, it was OK, we could have played, and so we did...It wasn’t perfect, but that’s the way it is.”

There were two other, more important, common denominators between these two matches: (1) the player who was behind in the score when play resumed quickly caught up, and (2) the player who surrendered the lead began to play even worse.

This should be enough to let us know that, rain or not, what really mattered was the fact that Stosur and Pironkova began the day with less to lose than Halep and Radwanska, and because of that, they played more relaxed tennis to start. As for the No. 2 and No. 6 seeds, once their opponents caught up, they blamed the turnaround in their fortunes on the wet courts (though Halep did credit Stosur's good play afterward). The conditions, obviously, were a challenge for the mind as much as the body. 

The upside of clay is that you can play on it when it rains. The downside is that it’s hard to decide how much rain is too much rain. It’s possible that Roland Garros’ officials—in their desire to give their paying customers something to see, and keep the tournament on or close to schedule—pushed the players out there too quickly. Now that a Sunday finish is next to impossible, they shouldn't push that hard again. Still, unless a player is prepared to walk off the court unilaterally, the only thing he or she can do is make the best of it. Did Pironkova and Stosur play well because they accepted the conditions? Or did they accept the conditions because they played well? All we know is that they won.

That's kind how it works with tennis and weather. There have been a lot of complaints over the last week about Roland Garros not having a roof, and not even planning to have one until 2020 at the earliest. On the one hand, if you remember that this facility has never had a roof, and that the French Open is still a phenomenally successful and popular event, those complaints sound like idle grousing. If it’s sunny next year, will we even remember that this happened? 

On the other hand, if you consider that the the Australian Open has three roofs, Wimbledon two, and the US Open two on the way, those complaints sound legitimate. Roland Garros has tried to find a way to put one in, but has run into local restrictions. Maybe the tournament is in a similar situation to the one the US Open found itself in back in 2011. That year rain drowned out several days of play, and left everyone in the sport, especially the players, frustrated that its richest event was still roof-less, and seemed to have no idea how to build one over colossal Arthur Ashe Stadium. Soon after, the Open did discover a way, and a process was begun that led to the covering that will be in place over Ashe this year.

The complaints at Flushing Meadows didn’t fall on deaf ears in 2011, and hopefully these won’t, either. For now, though, it will be easier on players and fans alike if they don’t blame it on the rain.

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