IT WAS probably more in hope than expectation that Andy Murray sent a message on Twitter saying there was "no rain at all" at Flushing Meadows and that the weather looked "promising". Two hours later, when the 24-year-old Scot was due to start his fourth-round match against America's Donald Young here at the US Open, rain was steadily falling.
The weather eventually relented in time for their match on Grandstand Court to begin more than an hour and a half late, but after 11 minutes, with Young leading 2-1 on serve, rain was falling again and the players left the court. Heavier outbursts were forecast for later in the day.
Similar scenes were played out in Arthur Ashe Stadium, where Rafael Nadal trailed Gilles Muller 3-0, and Louis Armstrong Stadium, where Andy Roddick led David Ferrer 3-1. Nadal, who had complained that the court had been slippery from the start, was said to have told officials as he left: "It's the same old story. All you think about is money."
Nadal, Murray and Roddick were then reported to have entered the office of Brian Earley, the tournament referee, presumably to register their disapproval at having to play in such conditions. The players have long been unhappy with the scheduling and this is the fourth year in a row where bad weather has added to the problems.
When rain forced the 2008 final to be played on a Monday, it was the first time for 21 years that the tournament had gone into a third week. However, the 2009 and 2010 competitions suffered the same fate and rain - if not lightning - could yet strike for a fourth year in succession.
If the tournament has been unlucky in the last four years - the conditions have generally been fine until the latter end of the fortnight - the weather is by no means unprecedented. Between 1968 and 1974 competition had to be extended into a third week four times. Indeed in 1971 the last ball was struck three days later than scheduled.
Not even the most powerful country on earth can control the weather, but the United States Tennis Association contribute to their own problems through their match scheduling, which is geared to the demands of television, and their failure to install a roof.
At the start of play yesterday those in the bottom half of the draw, including Murray and Nadal, still had three matches to play in the space of four days if they were to reach a Sunday final. Murray did not play his first match until the third day of the tournament, while Roger Federer, who had completed his fourth-round win over Juan Monaco by close of play on Monday night, started on day one.
At Wimbledon, players in both halves of the draw are scheduled to play on the same day from the fourth round onwards, but here the two sections do not come together until the semi-finals. Provided rain does not intervene, the scheduling gives only a marginal advantage to those in the half of the draw playing first, but as soon as the programme is disrupted there can be significant consequences. Scheduling the men's semi-finals and final on the Saturday and Sunday of the concluding weekend leaves the organisers with no room for manoeuvre.
Forcing the two finalists to play two best-of-five-set matches on successive days is already a big ask and rain delays can often hand one player a big advantage. Three years ago Murray was playing for the third day in a row in the final, while Federer had enjoyed a day of rest after his semi-final.
The problems are compounded by the lack of any covers for the courts here. Arthur Ashe Stadium, which was completed in 1997, is the newest main show court at the four Grand Slam tournaments, yet by 2016, when the French Open finish their roof over Court Philippe Chatrier, it will be the only one without any cover. Melbourne Park has two roofed courts and will add a third in 2015, while Wimbledon installed its Centre Court cover two years ago.
John McEnroe was among those who called for a roof when designs for Arthur Ashe Stadium were being drawn up, but the United States Tennis Association did not follow his advice. In the last decade the USTA has conducted two feasibility studies and concluded that installing a roof was technically very difficult and prohibitively expensive. The 23,771-seat stadium is the largest of all the world's main tennis arenas and it is said that installing a roof would cost more than $200m (about (pounds sterling)125m).
During showers not even tarpaulins are used because they are reckoned to damage the playing surface. When the rain stops, the courts are dried by several different means, including squeegees and towels. Sometimes it is hard to believe here that we are in the 21st century at a major sporting event staged in the world's richest country.
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