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Tennis Is In The Forecast...Eventually

By Richard Pagliaro

Rain has fallen under the radar of the three weather services the U.S. Open employs, but the ever-expanding puddles piling up on the National Tennis Center’s courts have left the tournament shower-stalled.

At about 5:25 p.m., a dry break in the drizzly day allowed Andre Agassi and Taylor Dent to begin warming up on Arthur Ashe Stadium court for their fourth-round match. An hour before the top-seeded Agassi and Dent took the court, tournament referee Brian Earley and USTA Chief Executive, Professional Tennis Arlen Kantarian met with the media to discuss prospective scheduling options should the rain continue.

During the past day, the city that never sleeps has become the city where the rain rarely stops. About an inch of rain has fallen on the grounds of the National Tennis Center in the past two days and there is more rain in the forecast for Thursday. Tournament officials are hoping the rain subsides enough to permit of periods play tonight and tomorrow and stressed they are committed to concluding the Open as scheduled with the men’s final on Sunday.

"All of us here are working hard with one top priority and that is to finish this tournament this weekend on Sunday as scheduled," Kantarian said. "Rain affects every part of this tournament. From a scheduling stand point, we do fully intend at this point to complete this tournament Sunday."

The last time the tournament was not completed on its scheduled final Sunday was in 1987 when the men’s final between Ivan Lendl and Mats Wilander was washed out on Sunday and played on Monday afternoon. Lendl prevailed in a four hour and 47-minute final.

Early in the afternoon, the day’s scheduled junior doubles and senior mixed doubles matches were cancelled clearing the way to get the men’s fourth round underway. Kantarian is confident the tournament can get back on schedule if the weather cooperates with a full dry day and night session.

"With the number of courts we have, to the degree we can get some good weather, we can play catch up pretty quickly," Kantarian said. "Obviously, that’s dependent on one full day and one full night, regardless of how far behind we are, we can play catch up in almost a day to a day and a half’s time, given all the courts. You saw that happen last year."

The extended forecast calls for the sun to emerge Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Earley said as long as there are dry days from Thursday onward the tournament can be completed on time.

"If we’re given Thursday, Friday, Saturday — remember we have four rounds to play on both singles events — yes (it should be completed as scheduled)," Earley said. "I think our focus is singles, but we have every confidence we’ll finish all of the events on time. Then we’ll evaluate it day to day."

Declining to speculate on the prospect of shortening or possibly eliminating some of the junior or senior events, Earley inspired some spontaneous laughter when he suggested junior or senior players could play multiple matches in a day if necessary.

"Remember, most of the senior events are only two sets and a tiebreak," Earley said. "Quite frankly, the doubles they play is not exactly taxing."

Asked to assess how much revenue the USTA has lost as a result of the rain, Kantarian leaned forward and uttered a two-word response: "A lot".

The Australian Open is the only Grand Slam tournament to feature a retractable roof over its stadium court. Kantarian said the USTA has hired a firm to analyze the financial feasibility of adding a roof to Arthur Ashe Stadium, but even if such a plan was approved, construction of a roof is not imminent.
"It is certainly a costly situation, a much more costly situation after a venue has been built," Kantarian said. "And then contemplate whether or not a roof would make sense. If you look at the 122-year history of this event and trace the weather, it certainly would not make sense based on that history."

According to Earley, there are no plans to start matches earlier than the standard 11 a.m. start time, but the referee did not rule out the possibility of starting matches late at night.

"We’ve started matches as late as 11 o’clock," Earley said. "The players have been so cooperative. They really are eager to play. If it’s a question of playing two matches in a day or starting a match and finishing a match, they’re here and they want to play if the weather is right and we have a court for them."

Of course, that all depends upon the weather cooperating. The soggiest summer to soak New York in recent memory has squeezed more rain on the city this week, transforming the Big Apple into a Sizeable Sponge.

Players and fans were making the most of a day devoid of tennis. As four junior girls turned a stretch of blacktop between the Heineken Red Star Café and Court Five into a makeshift court where they traded strokes while fans guzzled drinks and watched.

Asked if he had a reliable forecast for the next two days, Kantarian answered the question with the question on the minds of most: "Does anyone?"
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