They are planning to put a roof over Court Philippe Chatrier within the next five years, but Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic were last night regretting the fact that Roland Garros is behind the times in comparison with two of the three other Grand Slam tournaments. With rain falling on a damp and miserable afternoon, the French Open final was called off for the day with Nadal leading 6-4, 6-3, 2-6, 1-2 after Djokovic had launched a typically spirited fightback. Weather permitting, the match will resume at 1pm today (midday BST).
Wimbledon and the Australian Open both have retractable roofs over their main show courts (Melbourne even has covers over two stadiums), but Roland Garros remains open to the elements. While rain is less of a problem on clay courts – the last time the men's final was not completed on Sunday here was in 1973, when it eventually finished on the Tuesday – the surface on Court Philippe Chatrier had become too slippery after persistent drizzle during the afternoon. Nadal in particular was unhappy about the state of the court and Stefan Fransen, the referee, eventually took the players off just before 7pm.
Considering there was so much at stake, it was the only sensible decision. For both players this final was a key moment in their careers. Djokovic was attempting to become the first man for 43 years to hold all four Grand Slam titles – only Don Budge in 1938 and Rod Laver in 1962 and 1969 have performed the feat – while Nadal was aiming to win the title here for the seventh time in eight years, taking him clear of Bjorn Borg.
Given the weather forecast – heavy rain had been predicted for yesterday, today and tomorrow – it was regrettable that the start time for the final had been set as late as 3pm. The morning and early afternoon had been dull and overcast, but it had remained dry. There was no sign of rain when the two men came on court, though it was decidedly cool, as it has been for most of the second week here.
Nadal was immediately into his stride, hitting a succession of huge forehands to prevent Djokovic finding any sort of rhythm and the world No 2 raced into a 3-0 lead with two breaks of serve.
If anyone was expected to benefit from the slow and damp conditions it was Nadal, but as the first drops of rain started to fall Djokovic began a mini- comeback, levelling the score at 3-3. The rain stopped momentarily – upon which Djokovic dropped his serve again. There had been five breaks in the first seven games.
Nadal (left) served out for the first set and immediately took command of the second, breaking for the fourth time in Djokovic's first six service games as the Serb struggled to get his first serve in court. Djokovic threw his racket to the floor in frustration after one point and hurled it at his seat, smashing an advertising hoarding and earning a code violation for racket abuse after Nadal broke yet again to lead 4-3.
By now the rain was falling again and with Nadal leading 5-3 the players were taken off court. As they entered the locker rooms, Nadal's door was shut gently while Djokovic's closed with a loud slam. When they resumed 33 minutes later, Nadal needed only five points to take the second set as he broke Djokovic for the sixth time.
Once again it was Nadal who made the early breakthrough in the third set. Djokovic had a break point in the opening game, but Nadal saved it with a smash after a thrilling exchange of big shots from the baseline. Djokovic had a look of despair on his face and his pain grew in the next game as Nadal broke to 15 to take a 2-0 lead.
Against any other player, especially on clay, you would have expected Nadal to close out a straight-sets victory, but Djokovic is one of the game's great fighters. As he showed by beating Roger Federer in the semi-finals of the last two US Opens when two match points down and by saving four match points against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the quarter-finals here four days ago, the world No 1 never knows when he is beaten.
Astonishingly, Djokovic went on to win the next eight games in succession. The Serb, appreciating that it was now or never, raised his game and started hitting the ball with more power. When he had tried to up the tempo earlier in the match he had made too many errors, but now his biggest blows were finding the corners and the lines.
Djokovic broke to 15 to begin his fightback, held serve to level at 2-2 and then played a superb game to break again. A huge forehand set up three break points, the second of which he converted when Nadal netted a forehand. At 4-2 he broke once again as Nadal missed two backhands in succession. Djokovic served out to love to take the set – the first Nadal has dropped here this year – in just 45 minutes, with the match clock showing two hours and 39 minutes.
Nadal, meanwhile, had become increasingly unhappy with the condition of the court, which was becoming more slippery as the drizzle continued to fall. When the players returned to their seats at the end of the set he complained bitterly to the umpire. "Do you think the conditions are right?" the Spaniard asked. "Don't make faces, tell me 'yes' or 'no'."
Play continued in the fourth set and so did Djokovic's domination. The Spaniard protested again, saying the conditions were as bad as they had been when they were first taken off, and this time the referee agreed.