Players Concerned for Safety at Rain-Soaked US Open

For a whopping 16 minutes, players at the U.S. Open were able to play a handful of games before rain drenched the courts — and the top players in the world were not happy about it.

Afterward, defending champ Rafael Nadal, Andy Murray and Andy Roddick marched into tournament referee Brian Early’s office and complained about being rushed onto the courts prematurely.

“Walking out there, it was still misting,” Roddick said.

Tournament officials were hoping they could get at least 90 minutes of play time — the magic number necessary to provide ticket holders before the box office must issue new tickets.

Rain has played an unwelcome role throughout the past three championships, and now it's starting to become the signature of the tournament. For three consecutive years, the premiere match of the U.S. Open — the men’s singles final — has been washed out. And this year could make it four in a row.

(Photo: The last big rain on Arthur Ashe Stadium during maindraw play at the U.S. Open fell on the Sunday final in 2010/ by Nate Chura for WNYC)

The USTA, the American tennis federation that runs the Open, has come under heavy fire for not coming up with an effective game plan for the rain.

The U.S. Open is currently the only major tennis tournament in the world without, at least, plans of building a roof over its main show court. The Australian Open has had one for years. Wimbledon added one in 2009. And the French Open will install a retractable roof at Roland Garros by 2016. Here in New York, however, there are no such plans.

“At this point a roof on Arthur Ashe stadium remains technically complex and financially challenging. And we have no current plans for a roof on Arthur Ashe stadium," USTA spokesman Chris Widmaier told me Wednesday.

Could the US Open be moved to a more weather-friendly block on the calendar, say two weeks earlier? Widmaier said, to his knowledge, the idea has never been discussed.

“Weather wise,” said Widmaier, “historically, this is the  time when we get the least amount of rain in New York. Obviously that pattern has changed over the last couple of years. However, we are not considering moving out of our timeslot as it currently exists.”

It may seem rash, but such changes to the major tournaments are not unprecedented. The Aussies moved their major all over the map. Until 1982 the Australian Open was played at Christmas time. Now it’s the first major of the year, beginning in mid-January.

Why can’t the U.S. make a similar adjustment?

While the players were waiting for a verdict on the weather, I spoke with 1988 U.S. Open champion Matts Wilander in the player’s lounge and asked him what he thought the hardest thing about moving the tournament on the calendar would be.

“I think the logistical challenges are, they’d have to move Labor Day too, and that’s pretty hard," Wilander said.

But the fact remains, the climate for the U.S. Open has been adversarial for several years now and the tournament is losing the match.

“What they need to do is figure out a way to put a roof on this thing,” Wilander said, referring to Arthur Ashe stadium, “and they need to find a way to put a roof on another court, so they can have two courts. You could never finish the whole tournament, but at least you could finish the second week ... if you had two courts.”

We’ll see if anyone in charge heeds Coach Wilander’s advice.