Commentary

Super Saturday devolves into bedlam at U.S. Open

Tropical Storm Hanna's dissension over the U.S. Tennis Center, coupled with befuddling scheduling decisions, caused the conclusion of the Rafael Nadal-Andy Murray tilt, as well as the women's final, to be pushed back until Sunday.

Updated: September 7, 2008, 10:05 AM ET
By Ravi Ubha | Special to ESPN.com

U.S. OpenChris McGrath/Getty ImagesHeavy rain brought by Tropical Storm Hanna wreaked havoc on the U.S. Open on Saturday.
NEW YORK -- As predicted, a tropical storm hit the U.S. Open on Saturday.

The rain was only part of the problem.

Organizers drew criticism for not starting both men's semifinals at the same time, a result that ultimately gives Roger Federer a distinct advantage in a Grand Slam final for the second occasion in a little more than a year.

Bedlam it was.

Federer polished off a tired looking Novak Djokovic on the main court at Arthur Ashe Stadium in four sets, the match beginning just after 11 a.m. ET and ending at 1:55 p.m. Nadal's clash kicked off at about 12:35 p.m., and with Tropical Storm Hanna finally unleashing the expected rain, the match was called at about 2:45 p.m.

Remaining schedule

Sunday:
• 9 p.m. ET -- Women's final: Serena Williams vs. Jelena Jankovic

Monday:
• 5 p.m. ET -- Men's final: Roger Federer vs. Andy Murray
An inspired Murray led a sluggish Nadal 6-2, 7-6 (5), 2-3. Simple math shows if the tussle began at 11, there's a good chance it would have been over. (That's a window of about 3 hours, 40 minutes, rather than roughly two hours.)

In the end, the resumption is scheduled for 4 p.m. Sunday, when fine weather is forecast -- and host broadcaster CBS is done with early action on the opening weekend of the NFL season.

The women's final, due for 8 p.m. on Saturday, was shifted to 9 p.m. Sunday, and the men's final takes place 5 p.m. Monday. The last time the latter was held on a Monday came in 1987, when Ivan Lendl down Mats Wilander. Lendl was seen roaming the grounds Saturday and chatting with Federer and golf great Greg Norman close to the men's locker room.

"To start Federer an hour and 40 minutes earlier than Nadal and Murray, it gives him quite a big advantage," said doubles standout Peter Fleming, now a commentator for Britain's Sky Sports. "He will rest tomorrow. Playing on Monday, that's a big advantage [for Federer.] The [organizers] knew the rain was coming. They really needed to step up to the plate and just say, 'You know what, we're starting both of them at 11.'"

At first, Arlen Kantarian, CEO of the United States Tennis Association, scoffed at a suggestion starting both semis simultaneously was the fair solution, saying that was "pure speculation. I don't think it would have solved it." Later at a news conference, however, he admitted officials blundered.

"In hindsight, that would have been the right call," he said.

Tournament referee Brian Earley added that both Nadal and Murray were OK with the plan -- for Saturday and Sunday. Wait and see what the victor says. While Federer has more than 48 hours rest, Murray or Nadal will probably have less than 24.

Federer was in almost the same position at Wimbledon last year. Rain played havoc with the schedule, and Nadal ended up contesting full matches the last four days of the event. Federer, in the top half of the draw, had an easier time of it, also benefiting from a walkover by Tommy Haas. Federer went on to beat Nadal in five sets in the final.

On Saturday, Federer, looking almost embarrassed when Don King loudly congratulated him in a corridor outside a small interview room, said he was hoping for fairness to prevail.

"I hope Rafa and Andy get the same thing," he said in a courtside TV interview, when the rain still hadn't arrived, meaning he wanted their match to be finished Saturday.

John McEnroe, the former tennis standout turned television analyst, relayed a few anecdotes in which he was the beneficiary of some extra rest, and others when he wasn't. He said it's difficult to predict what might transpire, though essentially agreed with Fleming.

[+] EnlargeRafael Nadal
Don Emmert/AFP/Getty ImagesThe postponement of play may be a nice respite for Rafael Nadal, who finds himself in a two-set hole versus Andy Murray.
"You always like it to be as fair as possible, but sometimes it doesn't work out that way," McEnroe said. "You would think given these circumstances they would have played both matches at 11."

If the match continues in the same fashion, Murray might not need to expend much energy. Acknowledging he needed to return well to beat Nadal for the first time in six tries, he did that and more, delivering 17 aces and serving at more than 60 percent, a rarity for the Scot. He didn't face a break point in the first two sets, finally conceding serve in the third to fall behind by a break.

Nadal, seeking a first U.S. Open title following his success at the French Open, Wimbledon and Olympics, was forced to save seven break points in three different games in the second. On another, he was down 0-30.

The tiebreaker turned on a couple of loose Nadal returns. At 3-3, after Murray just uncorked a double fault, the Spaniard was the recipient of a short second serve. His reply was almost shorter, and Murray duly punished it. Then at 5-4 for Nadal, Murray, in his first Grand Slam semifinal, served up another short second serve. This time Nadal couldn't get it over the net, the ball hitting the tape and falling on his own side. Falling behind 6-5, Nadal showed some frustration, a rarity, by slapping his thighs with his hand.

"At one hand you want to play on the bigger stadiums, on the other you want to get the match in potentially, and think ahead, but you're afraid to think ahead because you don't want to look past the guy," McEnroe said. "Then you go to the biggest match of Andy Murray's career and the stadium is empty. So then you think what kind of respect is that, Nadal could be thinking [the same thing]. All these things go through your head."

Ravi Ubha is a frequent contributor to ESPN.com.

London-based Ravi Ubha covers soccer and tennis for ESPN.com.