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Inclement weather raises roof rhetoric

9/11/2009 - Tennis

NEW YORK -- Rain-soaked Arthur Ashe Stadium was virtually empty Friday afternoon, aside from a small corps of drying machines crawling across the blue court.

But inside, the second-floor players' lounge was crowded. There was a happy buzz in the room as people went about the business of killing time. Three principals in the day's marquee matches were within 30 feet of each other, yet they all were very much in their own, insular worlds.

Rafael Nadal, readjusting his white hat to wipe the sweat off his forehead, was engaged in a spirited game at the foosball table with three chums. They spoke Spanish, loud and fast, and -- by the sounds of things -- some of it was trash.

"Si, si, si, si, si!" Nadal exclaimed, executing his trademark fist pump after scoring the final goal.

Benito Perez-Barbadillo, Rafa's media liaison, surrendered that goal.

"Of course," Perez-Barbadillo said. "I can't take away from his confidence, can I?"

Kim Clijsters, smiling, delivered bottled water to her husband, Brian Lynch. Caroline Wozniacki, sitting on a large leather couch, chatted with friends on her laptop.

When rain suspended play of Nadal's Thursday night quarterfinal match with Fernando Gonzalez just after midnight ET, the U.S. Open got a lot more complicated. With that men's match crossing over into Friday and two women's semifinal matches scheduled for 12:30 p.m., the unplayable conditions sent the USTA into three-for-one contingency mode.

When -- if was probably a safer assumption -- a window of clear weather materialized, the Serena Williams-Clijsters match would be played at Ashe, with Nadal-Gonzalez moving to Louis Armstrong Stadium. The match between Wozniacki and Yanina Wickmayer would be moved to the adjacent Grandstand.

Just after 5 p.m., the USTA announced that the women's matches would be played, weather permitting, on Saturday. It was still hoped that the men's quarterfinal match could be squeezed in Friday.

At 6 p.m., the USTA released Nadal and Gonzalez and laid out a prospective schedule for the rest of the tournament, weather permitting. According to the USTA, the rain is scheduled to leave the area about 2 p.m. Saturday.

On Saturday, the first match at Arthur Ashe Stadium, scheduled for noon, is Nadal-Gonzalez, followed by the men's doubles final and then Wozniacki-Wickmayer. The other women's semifinal, between Williams and Clijsters would be televised in prime time, probably about 8 p.m.

Sunday's tentative lineup: The two men's semifinals (Roger Federer-Novak Djokovic and Juan Martin del Potro against the winner of Nadal-Gonzalez) would start at noon. If the USTA can iron out all the television issues, the women's final would start at 9 p.m. If not, it would fall in between the two men's semis in the day session.

The men's final is now scheduled to be played Monday.

Last year's men's final was also played on Monday, and it began at 5 p.m. If Serena gets to the women's singles final, the women's doubles final -- featuring the Williams sisters -- would be played Monday. If Clijsters advances from that semifinal, the doubles final would be played Sunday.

This is the point in the story at which it is obligatory to mention that the U.S. Open is the only Grand Slam event not to have a roof covering its center court -- or at least a plan in place to do so.

The Australian Open has two show courts with roofs, and earlier this year, Wimbledon rolled out its $140 million, high-tech retractable roof. The French Open unveiled plans earlier this year to build a new 14,600-seat stadium with a roof, due to be ready in 2013. The cost will be $162 million.

In 2008, USTA chief executive Arlen Kantarian conceded of a prospective roof over cavernous Arthur Ashe Stadium, "I would say at this point it's a question of when as opposed to if."

This comment was prompted by a series of showers that pushed the women's final between Williams and Jelena Jankovic into Sunday night and the Federer-Andy Murray final to Monday -- for the first time since 1987. Now, it looks to be happening for the second year in a row.

Citing three feasibility studies, Kantarian said, "Our board has approved taking this concept to a more serious construction-planning stage, cost estimates, and we're in a position, unlike three years ago, where we feel this tournament would require a roof."

None of the major players queried on the subject here insisted a roof is absolutely necessary.

"We've played -- all the Grand Slams have been played a pretty long time without one," Andy Roddick said. "I think it's a rarity that it gets backed up enough to where it becomes a real problem.

"Plus, when would we watch Connors and Krickstein again?"

Roddick was referring to the reruns of the terrific 1991 fourth-round match between Jimmy Connors and Aaron Krickstein, won by Connors on his way to the semifinals at the age of 39.

Federer, though, said it would be a good idea.

"Last year -- was it a Monday final?" Federer said. "Yeah, it was. Those are just things that are unpredictable, and with a roof, you can make it more predictable for fans, sponsors, TV, for players. That's why it's a good thing to have. That's why I'm obviously for it."

Greg Garber is a senior writer for ESPN.com.