Hurricane on many players' minds
NEW YORK -- Sebastien Grosjean, his white hat backward with the visor turned up in trademark fashion, stared at the net that had betrayed him. The Frenchman grimaced and walked slowly to the changeover chair.
His second serve had hit the net cord and fallen back for a double-fault, giving Tommy Haas a critical break of serve and, eventually, the second set -- on another net cord. Ultimately, Grosjean lost Friday's second-round match here at the U.S. Open 6-4, 6-4, 1-6, 6-1.
Tennis, particularly at the highest level, is a difficult sport to play if you aren't concentrating intently on the point at hand. A momentary lapse can cost you a few centimeters on a ball's trajectory -- the difference between a clean winner and a net cord.
The weather at the National Tennis Center has been glorious this week -- it was sunny and in the 80s again on Friday -- but Hurricane Frances was churning through the Bahamas and poised to deliver a direct hit to Florida's east coast. The latest reports have it arriving between Saturday night and Sunday morning. "You worry, of course," Grosjean said after his loss. "I try not to think about these things during the match. But it is hard. I call them a little while ago.
"Already, they say, it is getting windy."
If you're a tennis player, Florida is a wonderful spot to live. The weather allows outdoor training 12 months a year and it's located equidistant from California and Europe. If you wear sunscreen, say UV-30, there's only one major downside: Hurricanes. First Charley two weeks ago, now Frances.
Frances, packing 145 mile-an-hour winds, was at one time a Category 4 hurricane but has since been downgraded to Category 3 with wind gusts as high as 115 miles an hour. Still, hurricane warnings were in effect for Florida's east coast from Florida City on the southern tip, all the way up through Flagler Beach. As of late Friday, more than 2.5 million people had been evacuated.
The offices of the ATP in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., were closed Friday and officials here were bracing for the worst. The WTA Tour offices, located on the west coast in St. Petersburg, remained open.
Twelve of the 128 men in the main draw list Florida as their residence and three of them -- No. 2 seed Andy Roddick, Vince Spadea and Tommy Haas, a transplanted German -- were still alive here as of Friday afternoon. Like Grosjean, Roddick and Spadea both live in Boca Raton. Carlos Moya, the No. 3 seed who is already through to the third round, and Marat Safin both have places in the Miami area. After Todd Martin lost a first-round match in his 15th U.S. Open, he promptly retired. Unlike most players, Martin did not hurry home with his wife Amy and young son Jack; he lives in Ponte Vedra Beach, right near the ATP offices.
Mardy Fish, the United States' silver medalist in Athens, lives in Tampa -- north of Frances' forecasted path. His mother Sally, however, has a business in Vero Beach. She left the Open before her son's second-round loss on Thursday to attend to her concierge business.
Eight women in the main draw call Florida home. Most famously, Venus and Serena Williams, who share a home in Palm Beach Gardens, north of Miami. Their father Richard reportedly went home for a day to prepare his nearby home for the worst.
The two weeks of the U.S. Open is the busiest time of the year for Rodney Harmon, the USTA's Director of Men's Tennis. Normally, Harmon would be overseeing the qualifying for the junior boys tournament and helping to organize the boys practice schedule -- but on Friday he was in Florida. When he heard the news reports several days ago, Harmon flew home immediately. In 1992, Hurricane Andrew had obliterated the apartment he and his wife Stephanie shared in Kendall, Fla., just before the Open. It was this memory and the fact that Stephanie gave birth to twins, Savannah and Sydney, exactly two months ago Friday, that moved him to action. His sense of urgency was deepened because they were born six weeks prematurely; Savannah was a scant 3 pounds, 2 ounces and Sydney was 4 pounds, 6 ounces.
"That's your first thought, your family," Harmon said Friday. "I went to South Florida as fast as I could."
He spent Wednesday putting the shutters on all the windows of his two-story house in Miramar, which is 10 miles inland on the Dade-Broward County line north of Fort Lauderdale. And then he and his wife drove the family's two cars, a van and an SUV, north to stay with friends. "We drove to Saddlebrook, up Route 75," Harmon said. "Normally, the ride takes four hours. Yesterday it took eight hours -- and the kids were screaming the whole way."
Harmon, like everyone in Florida and a significant group at the National Tennis Center, will be watching the Weather Channel closely.
"The storm is going to cross the state," Harmon said. "It all depends which side of the wind you're on. If you're on the south side, you're OK. If you're on the north side, you're going to be hating life."
On Sunday, Harmon is scheduled to address a gathering of coaches. He was planning to run down the impressive roster of America's finest junior boys, four of whom are ranked in the world's top 10.
"I don't think I'm going to make it," Harmon said.
Dean Goldfine is the USTA's high-performance coach and served as an assistant to U.S. Olympic men's coach Patrick McEnroe in Athens. He, too, left for Florida when the hurricane was upgraded to a Category 4.
On Friday evening, Goldfine was playing golf with his son Max, nearly 3, in the yard of his Aventura home north of Miami Beach.
"It's windy, but it looks like we're going to get pretty lucky," Goldfine said. "They're saying now that we'll probably only get three to six inches and winds of 40 miles an hour or so."
Concerned about his family -- wife Jessica, daughter Emma, nearly 1, and Max -- Goldfine left the National Tennis Center Thursday morning and he was pulling down the shutters on his home -- less than a mile from the Atantic Ocean -- by mid-afternoon. There was a mandatory evacuation ordered, but Goldfine elected to stay put when the forecast brightened.
"You never know how these things are going to go," Goldfine said. "I feel like we dodged a bullet here."
Ann Hartman, of the WTA communications staff, lives one block off the water in St. Petersburg. Even though it's on the west coast of Florida, she was concerned.
"I hope there's something to go back home to," she said. "Charley was supposed to hit us and then it took a quick turn. That's why you have to pay attention."
Charlie Bricker, the relentless reporter for the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel, filed a 28-inch notebook featuring Mardy Fish -- at 11:30 a.m. on Friday. That's because the state's second-largest newspaper was evacuating its offices. There will be no tennis results in Saturday's Sun-Sentinel.
"This is not just a distraction," Bricker said. "This is real life, here. Grosjean's got one eye on the ball and one eye back home."
It has been a difficult few days for Grosjean. He considered putting his family on plane to Paris, where he's got a Davis Cup match in two weeks. In the end, he decided to have his family remain in Boca Raton. The Grosjean home is 10 miles inland, safe from storm surges, if not the expected high winds and a potential 10-15 inches of rain.
Two hours after his match -- some 24 hours before the storm was expected to come ashore -- Grosjean wasn't sure if he could get home to be with his wife and two small children.
"The airports, are they open?" he asked. "I would like to take a plane tonight, but I just don't know.
"There is so much I don't know."
Greg Garber is a senior writer for ESPN.com.