Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray led a protest at the US Open here last night as the leading players voiced their anger at being forced to play on wet courts which they said were dangerous. As rain drenched here for the second day in succession, long-standing resentments by some of the players came to the surface. Brad Gilbert, Murray's former coach, said it was "hopefully a watershed moment when the players can come together."
By the time the men's singles matches were called off for the day shortly after 5pm only a quarter of an hour's play had been possible, which was at least more than the previous day's wash-out. The players were sent out to play at 12.30pm during a brief dry spell. They complained that the surface was wet and slippery and rain forced them off within a quarter of an hour.
Donald Young was leading Murray 2-1 on Grandstand Court, Nadal was trailing Gilles Müller 3-0 in Arthur Ashe Stadium and Andy Roddick was leading David Ferrer 3-1 in Louis Armstrong Stadium. Nadal was said to have told officials as he left the court: "It's the same old story. All you think about is money."
Nadal went immediately to complain to Brian Earley, the tournament referee, and was joined by Murray and Roddick. "We don't feel protected," Nadal told ESPN afterwards. "Grand Slams earn a lot of money and we are part of the show. They are just working for that, not for us. They know that it's still raining and they call us on court. That should not be possible.
"The court was dry for 10 minutes, but they knew that we would have to come off after 10 minutes. Yet they still put the players on court. We understand the fans are there, but the health of the players is important."
Murray said the surface had been dangerous. "When we went out on the court it was still raining," he said. "The back of the court was soaking wet and the balls were really wet too. Everyone that I spoke to mentioned it to the umpire and they just said: 'No, it's fine.' But it doesn't really make sense to try and go out for seven or eight minutes and then have to come back inside."
Roddick was asked by Murray if he wanted to join him and Nadal in their meeting with Earley. "I think it probably hits home a little bit more when there are three of us in there as opposed to one," Roddick said. "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."
John McEnroe sympathised with the players. "Rafa Nadal is one of the all-time greats," he said. "He's trying to defend his US Open title. What the hell difference does it make whether he comes out at 12 or 12.10?"
Players have long complained about the scheduling of matches here, particularly as there are no roofs or even tarpaulins to protect the courts. Not only do the men dislike the fact that the semi-finals and final are played on successive days on the concluding weekend, but they also believe the scheduling can adversely affect those in the half of the draw who play a day later than their rivals.
While Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic, among others, completed their fourth-round matches on Monday, those in the bottom half, including Nadal, Murray and Roddick, will have to return today to play theirs. Assuming the weather improves sufficiently – and the forecast for the next three days suggests only a slow relenting in the rain – the finalist who emerges from the bottom half of the draw will have to play four best-of-five-set matches in four days.
Murray said: "With each day that passes, for the guys that are on me and Rafa's side, it reduces our chances. We want to play. Four best-of-five matches in four days is a huge task physically, so that would be really tough. We want to play, but if it's dangerous, we're not going to go out there."
Jim Curley, the tournament director said: "It is our intention at this point to finish the tournament on time, on Sunday. We feel we're dealing with some of the best conditioned athletes in the world and it's something we've experienced before, in 2003, when players played four matches in four days. It's certainly not ideal, but we think it's fair for all players. There is the possibility of more showers and mist and rain tomorrow, but we're being told by our meteorologists that things are improving."
Yesterday's events could lead to players coming together to discuss other issues, such as the fact that they do not take a share in the profits from Grand Slam tournaments, which are not part of the men's and women's tours. "I hope that what just happened will lead the players to get together," McEnroe said. "We get treated worse than any other sport in terms of revenue-sharing."
Lack of covers magnifies problems
When rain forced the 2008 US Open final to be played on a Monday it was the first time for 21 years that the tournament had gone into a third week. 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 are usually fine until the latter stages – the weather is not unprecedented. Between 1968 and 1974 competition had to be extended into a third week on four occasions.
The United States Tennis Association have compounded the meteorological problems with their match scheduling, which is geared to the demands of television, and their failure to install a roof. 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.
The problems are magnified by the lack of covers for the courts. 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 building their retractable roof, it will be the only one without any cover.
John McEnroe was among those who called for a roof when designs for Arthur Ashe Stadium were being drawn up, but the USTA did not follow his advice. 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 £125m).
During showers not even tarpaulins are used to cover the courts because they are said to damage the playing surface.