NEW YORK (AP) — Unhappy about being sent out to play at the rain-soaked U.S. Open, a trio of tennis stars — Rafael Nadal, Andy Roddick and Andy Murray — marched from their courts to the tournament referee's office to voice their complaints.
A second consecutive morning-to-evening damp day at Flushing Meadows washed out all but about 15 minutes of action Wednesday, leaving nerves frayed and the schedule in disarray.
"If you know you're going to go on court only for 10 minutes, you don't have to lie to the fans at that point, and you don't have to lie to the players, too," Nadal told The Associated Press. "The players knew when we (went) on court that it was still raining, so it was a very strange decision, and we were upset about that."
Added Nadal, the defending champion, who trailed unseeded Gilles Muller 3-0 when they were ushered out of Arthur Ashe Stadium: "The court is dangerous. I cannot imagine what happens if somebody gets injured from that. ... We need to be more respected."
The U.S. Tennis Association still was holding out hope of wrapping up the tournament on time with a men's final Sunday, something that, because of rain in the past, last happened in 2007. But tournament director Jim Curley acknowledged that a Monday finish is possible only if the four incomplete men's fourth-round matches — including Nadal's — get done Thursday, when play was scheduled to begin at 11 a.m., despite a forecast predicting more rain.
And Friday and Saturday could be wet, too.
As it is, even if the weather is actually good enough to permit play the rest of the week, this would be a highly unusual Grand Slam tournament. Instead of getting days off, a man on the bottom half of the draw — Nadal, Roddick or Murray, for example — would need to win four best-of-five-set matches in a span of four days to take the title.
Nadal called that a "big disadvantage."
"Thursday-Friday-Saturday-Sunday would seem like a tall ask. It's tough," 2003 U.S. Open champion Roddick said. "It almost puts it into who finishes a match quicker and is fresher."
Not everyone was all that sympathetic.
Jimmy Connors, a five-time U.S. Open champion, said playing back-to-back-to-back-to-back certainly would be a physical and mental test. But he also said that's the sort of thing that makes the U.S. Open special.
"That's why this is the toughest tennis in town, right here. You have to put up with not only the playing of the tennis but ... the waiting to play and everything else," Connors said. "If they play four matches in four days, they're going to like getting that check for $1.8 million at the end of the tournament, so it's still worth fighting for, I would think."
Curley said there is no chance of shortening men's matches to best-of-three-sets, but he wouldn't rule out asking players to compete twice in one day.
All in all, there was far more drama off the courts than on them Wednesday, including renewed debate about whether the players need to form a union to advocate for them, and the annual discussion about why the U.S. Open is the only Grand Slam tournament without at least one roof in place or definitive plans to build one.
The Australian Open already has two courts with covers and a third on the way; Wimbledon put a retractable roof on Centre Court in 2009; and the French Open announced it will have one by 2016.
"Going back in time, do I wish that there were a roof over Ashe? Absolutely. I wish I had four of them," Curley said. "But I don't, and we play the cards we're dealt."
All told, three men's fourth-round matches briefly began Wednesday, and one never started. The two men's quarterfinals on the other half of the draw — Roger Federer vs. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, and Novak Djokovic vs. Janko Tipsarevic — and all four women's quarterfinals — including Serena Williams vs. Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova — were postponed entirely.
By 5:30 p.m., all of the men had been told they could head to their hotels. The women needed to stick around, though, waiting to hear whether they'd be able to play at night. Williams walked through the halls with a pink Hello Kitty backpack on her shoulders before eventually being sent out onto Ashe at 7:30 p.m.
Fifteen minutes later, right after she and Pavlyuchenkova finished warming up on court, sprinkles prompted tournament referee Brian Earley to tell them they could forget about playing Wednesday.
Hours earlier, it was Earley who found himself face-to-face with an angry group of boldfaced names.
Nadal never had wanted to try to play in the first place, knowing there was a mist in the morning.
"I said it in the locker room: 'It is raining. I don't know why we are going on court.' Especially if the rain didn't stop," he said. "On clay, I always say, 'We can go on court.' But not on grass, not on a hard court."
When he and others stepped on court, they found the lines slick and wet patches near the walls.
Murray, who trailed unseeded Donald Young of the United States 2-1 on serve when they stopped, said that the main message given to Earley was: "We want to play, but if it's dangerous, we're not going to go out there."
Nadal also wondered why the ATP couldn't back the players and suggested that Grand Slam tournaments — which are overseen by the International Tennis Federation, not the men's circuit — have too much power and their main concern is money.
"It seems like I am the rebel," Nadal said before heading out at the end of a long day. "The ATP must have enough power to say we cannot go on court if it's raining. And it seems like in the Grand Slams, we don't have this power. It's something that has to change, but not next year — today."
According to Curley, Roddick was the only one of the six men who got a handful of points in Wednesday who told a chair umpire he didn't think the courts were fit for play. During the prematch warmups, chair umpire Carlos Bernardes dragged his foot along the baseline to check how slippery it was; not much later, the match was under way.
And not much after that, play was halted.
After taking a 3-1 lead against No. 5 David Ferrer, Roddick said he didn't think it was safe to be running around on a slick court.
He also said Earley understood the players' point during their unusual meeting.
"We just wanted to say that if the conditions are similar, and he puts us out there, it might turn it into a little bit of an uncomfortable situation," Roddick said. "He knew they might have rushed it a little bit."
Earley declined an interview request through a USTA spokesman. Aware of the criticism from players, the tournament issued a statement saying there had appeared to be a two-hour window without rain in the morning, which is why Nadal et al were told to start their matches.
"Unfortunately, not all light rain and mist shows up on radar," the USTA said. "We have experienced referees, and they decide if courts are fit for play. Conditions may be not ideal, but still can be safe. However, if a player or players feel that conditions are unsafe, we listen to them."
AP National Writer Eddie Pells contributed to this report.