Tennis Stars Lash Out At U.S. Open For Dangerous Playing Conditions
Rafael Nadal, Andy Murray and Andy Roddick privately met with U.S. Open tournament referee Brian Earley yesterday "shortly after their matches were suspended for what they considered questionable, if not dangerous, court conditions on a misty afternoon," according to Douglas Robson of USA TODAY. Nadal, Murray and Roddick "were told to take the court and played just a few games before their matches were suspended and eventually postponed." It was a "rare show of unification" in tennis. ESPN announcer Pam Shriver said, "In my 30 years in tennis, I can't remember three such prominent players getting together to complain." Robson reports Nadal was the "most vocal, saying in earshot of TV commentators that it was all about money." Under the U.S. Open's "inclement-weather policy, ticketholders are entitled to refunds only if no matches are completed or less than 90 minutes of play takes place." The USTA issued a statement saying that there "had appeared to be a two-hour window without rain, which is why it started play." Former tennis player Taylor Dent said that he "sides with the referees." Dent: "They're not going to send the players out there if it's not safe. It's not in their best interest." Since rain forced the USTA to postpone matches yesterday and Tuesday, the "eight fourth-round players in the bottom half of the men's draw ... now must play on consecutive days." Still, the "forecast is not promising: a 60% chance of rain today and a 40% chance Friday" (USA TODAY, 9/8). Tournament Dir Jim Curley said, "If we had known they were only going to play for 15 minutes, we never would have sent them out there." Former tennis player Jim Courier: "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" (NEWSDAY, 9/8).
THREE AMIGOS: Nadal said yesterday, "We don’t feel protected. The players, we’re not feeling protected from the tournament. Grand Slams, it’s when a lot of money and we’re part of the show, and they are just working for that, not for us. They know that it’s still raining and they call on us on court." He added, "The court was dry for 10 minutes, but then after 10 minutes we have to go out to the court on our time, and they still put us out on the court for the fans. I understand that the fans are still there, but health and the players are important in this part of the show too and we don’t feel protected.” Murray: "From when we went out onto the court, it was still raining and the back of the court was soaking wet, and the balls were really wet too. Everyone I spoke to mentioned it to the umpire, and they were just like, ‘Well, it’s fine.’ But it doesn’t really make sense if you’re just trying to get out there for like 7-8 minutes and then having to come back inside. So, I think that’s why everyone was kind of a bit disappointed." Roddick added, "It probably hits more to home when there’s three of us standing there as opposed to one, and it doesn’t make it one person maybe just being a little upset. So, that’s the situation. I certainly understand they need to put tennis on TV, and I understand the business side of it as well, but I think first and foremost the players need to feel comfortable and safe” ("U.S. Open," ESPN2, 9/7). ESPN announcers Patrick McEnroe and Brad Gilbert "applauded the player unity and noted it as a potential 'watershed moment'" (SI.com, 9/7).
TIME TO STAND TOGETHER: FOXSPORTS.com's Richard Evans noted while Nadal is VP of the ATP Player Council, which "recommends changes in rules or playing conditions" to the ATP BOD, the four Grand Slams "are not ATP tournaments." Furthermore, "many top ATP umpires have elected not to work at Flushing Meadows this year." Nadal yesterday "appeared to be suggesting that his association was not having a vociferous enough voice in how matters directly affecting the players' welfare were being handled." ESPN's Darren Cahill: "Nadal seemed to be blaming the ATP. It's a fact that there has been no very visible leadership from the ATP over the last few years. I think it is very important that whoever they appoint next has to be a strong leader" (FOXSPORTS.com, 9/7). Murray said, "It’s not just about this tournament, it’s about all the tournaments and the players having a bit more of a say into what goes on. Because there’s a lot of things that we would like changed, but it doesn’t happen because the players aren’t all together. But I think that now is probably time, maybe after the tournament, to get everyone together and sort of form some sort of union, I guess" (Newark STAR-LEDGER, 9/8). In London, Simon Briggs notes the players' bargaining power is "restricted by the fact that they have no independent union but are instead part of the ATP" (London TELEGRAPH, 9/8). SI.com's Jon Wertheim noted Roddick "didn't shy from discussing issues of leadership and unions." Roddick pointed out the "difficulty -- impossibility? -- of an organization representing both players and events, labor and management," and he also noted that "organizing players isn't easy." There are "different languages, different agendas, different cultures with different views about organized labor." Wertheim added, "Where's the outrage and the chatter and the organized demonstrations over ... the prize money? The U.S. Open will make well in excess of $200 million in gross revenue. Prize money is barely ten percent of that. Seems to me that the players are well in their rights to think seriously about a union" (SI.com, 9/7).
BALANCE NEEDED: ESPN's Tony Kornheiser said of the decision to start the matches yesterday, "The players aren’t in any sort of life-and-death situation -- they play a few games in the mist, when it rains heavy, they’re off the court." However, the USTA needs to "balance this." Kornheiser: "People pay a lot of money for tickets and come from very long distances for that one day in the two weeks -- they want to give them a chance. What you can’t do to players is what we saw with college football. You can’t yo-yo them in and out and expect that they’re then going to give high-quality performance for the ticket buyers. They’re not going to do it, they can’t” ("PTI," ESPN, 9/7).
SHELTER FROM THE STORM: As calls for a roof at the National Tennis Center continue to grow louder, Curley said that U.S. Open officials "would do everything possible to complete the tournament on time." He indicated that "absolutely no consideration would be given to paring men’s matches from best-of-five sets to best-of-three sets, but he didn’t rule out the possibility of asking men or women to play two matches in one day." But Tennis Channel analyst Justin Gimelstob noted that he is "particularly concerned about the competitive imbalance caused by the out-of-sync schedule on the men’s side, with half the field facing the prospect of playing four matches in four days" (WASHINGTON POST, 9/8). Curley stressed that officials "intend to finish the tournament on time." He said that if the men's fourth-round matches finish today, "such a time frame remains realistic." Curley: "It’s fair for all the players. They’re all in the same situation. I don’t think it’s a safety issue. I think it’s a fitness issue" (N.Y. TIMES, 9/8). ESPN's Tom Rinaldi noted the tournament "is going to be pretty chaotic heading forward. On the women's side of the draw, to determine a women's champion, three matches in three days. For half of the men's draw, it will require four matches in four days to do the same" (“SportsCenter,” ESPN, 9/8).