Roof in the Wrong City?
It was an absolutely gorgeous, sunny day in London Saturday. I know, because I am in London on vacation while trying to keep an eye on the finale of the US Open back in New York. Ironically, the All England Lawn Tennis Club a few miles away at Wimbledon built itself a retractable roof for rainy days that was not needed at all during its first season– the Championships fortnight in 2009. However, the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in New York remains open to the elements and drenched since Thursday evening when play was suspended. While we wait for the rain to subside in Flushing Meadows, we have time to contemplate the final four left standing in the men’s singles and how their chances may be affected by the schedule-Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, and Juan Martin Del Potro.
Watching the U.S. Open from England has been a little frustrating. The commercials on the Tennis Channel at home are more fun, with Venus and her dog, Dinara Safina and her chocolate cake, etc. The TVs are much smaller here and the British commentators on Sky Sports are bland, devoid of personality, and lacking in inside scoops or anecdotes about the players. If I hear the Sky Bet commercial one more time (“It matters more when there’s money on it”), I may have to mute the whole thing. And I would miss very little if I did. How frustrating to see Brad Gilbert standing behind Rafael Nadal on the changeover, talking intensely into his ESPN2 microphone and not be able to hear the tidbits of insider wisdom he was sharing!
Nadal’s Disjointed Quarterfinal
Let’s move on to the tennis itself. In a brief 34 minutes of non-rain Saturday, Rafael Nadal of Spain and Gonzo (Fernando Gonzalez of Chile) wrapped up their quarterfinal match, with Rafa completely in control. It was a straight sets win with a dramatic 6-0 score in the final set. It was a surprisingly weak performance by the #11 seed, who had been very competitive with Nadal (#3 seed) prior to the extended rain delay and strong earlier in the tournament. With the last of the quarterfinals in the books, the stage was set for two exciting semifinals: Roger Federer vs. Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal vs. Juan Martin Del Potro.
Originally both semis were scheduled to take place on “Super Saturday” along with the women’s final match. With Thursday’s play shortened, Friday play obliterated, and Saturday play limited to the 34 minutes for Nadal v. Gonzalez finale), tournament organizers had painted themselves into a corner. Both women’s semis were eventually squeezed into the final time slot on Saturday evening after 9 pm, but that leaves an amazing amount of tennis to be packed into Sunday, with the men’s final pushed over to Monday afternoon. One can only imagine the shuffling and negotiating among the television networks, tournament organizers, advertisers, ticketholders, tennis center administrators, players, and others.
Meanwhile, the cool as a cucumber Roger Federer (#1 seed of course) will have had an extraordinarily long break of four days since he beat Robin Soderling of Sweden (#12) in the quarterfinals in four sets last Wednesday. He will face Serbian star Novak Djokovic (#4), who will also be well-rested since his victory the same day also in four sets over Fernando Verdasco of Spain (#10). Djokovic has prevailed over Federer in the recent past, although their head to head record (8 wins Federer, 4 wins Djovokic) strongly favors Federer. Federer defeated Djokovic in the finals at the US Open prep tournament in Cincinnati. Federer has been in fine form at the US Open, looking like a man on a mission to claim a sixth US Open title. With his uncanny ability to rise to the big occasions, Federer must be viewed as the favorite here.
In the other semi, a rehabilitated and resurgent Rafa (#3) must be viewed as a favorite to defeat young (20) Juan Martin Del Potro of Argentina (#6). Rafa will have been off duty since the 34 minutes he played on Friday. Although he made a splash in the U.S. Open Series earlier this summer with a win over Andy Roddick at the Legg Mason Tennis Classic in Washington, D.C., the tall Delpo has little experience with the grinding pressure of four and five-setters in the majors. Rafa has won 4 of their 6 prior meetings, although Del Potro has taken 2 of the 3 meetings earlier in 2009. We should expect an interesting and competitive match.
Another Historic Final?
If the weather holds, the semis will begin at noon Sunday with Nadal vs. Del Potro, then Federer vs. Djokovic. Another dramatic Federer vs. Nadal final may well result. Let’s hope New Yorkers are able to rearrange their lives to attend a Monday final so the Arthur Ashe Stadium will be brimming full of tennis aficionados ready to appreciate a repeat of this historic matchup. In years to come, we will look back on Federer vs. Nadal contests with the kind of nostalgia that we now have for Borg and McEnroe, Agassi and Sampras, Evert and Navratilova. Even if it means staying up very late again here in the UK and putting up with the anemic commentary on Sky Sports, I will be watching, that’s for sure.
Sky Sports (UK) coverage of the US Open Grand Slam Tennis Tournament
US Open official tournament website: www.usopen.org
ATP World Tour website: www.atpworldtour.com