NEW YORK — Rafael Nadal, Andy Roddick and Andy Murray got in about 15 minutes of tennis Wednesday — barely enough to work up a sweat, but more than enough to get into a snit.
Rain washed out the matches for the second straight day at the U.S. Open, creating a logjam in the schedule and a bigger mess in the locker room, where the big-name players questioned the wisdom of putting them out on courts that were still damp thanks to a fine mist that was falling in the morning.
Shortly after they started, play was called, then late in the afternoon, the men were sent home.
Much later, and right after Serena Williams warmed up for her match against Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, the U.S. Tennis Association finally scrubbed the women’s matches, too, calling everyone back for an 11 a.m. start Thursday, when the weather forecast is every bit as dodgy — an 80 percent chance of rain.
“Right now, it’s our intention to finish the tournament on time,” said tournament director Jim Curley, while acknowledging all the things working against that possibility.
If the weather cooperates, this will be a Grand Slam the likes of which very few of these players have seen. To win, a man on the bottom half of the draw — Nadal, Roddick or Murray, for example — would need to win four matches in four days. The men on the top of the draw — Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic among them — had their quarterfinal matches postponed and are in for a long haul, as well.
But well before Nadal and Company pondered the weekend, they expressed their concerns about being put in harm’s way. When play was halted, they marched straight into the tournament referee’s office to discuss the situation.
“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,” said Nadal, the defending champion, who trailed unseeded Gilles Muller 3-0 when play was stopped. “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.”
Curley, however, said player safety is the USTA’s top concern and that only one player — Roddick — made any mention to a chair umpire of the slick conditions when he walked on the court.
“The players want to make sure they’re playing under safe conditions,” Curley said. “That’s the concern they’ve expressed. We share that concern. But at the end of the day, it’s the referee who makes the call on whether or not the court is fit for play.”
With rain showers lingering over the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center for the rest of the day, this debate about safety, weather and scheduling — along with whether the USTA should build a covered stadium and whether the players should form a union — had to suffice for the day’s entertainment.
Murray and Roddick also weighed in.
“It didn’t really make a whole lot of sense in the end to go out for nine or 10 minutes when it’s still raining,” Murray said.
Nadal conceded he let his reluctance get to him, which played into a pair of double-faults in his opening service game and his early 3-0 deficit.
No. 4 Murray was trailing 2-1 to American Donald Young, but on serve. No. 21 Roddick got an early break and led No. 5 David Ferrer 3-1. Roddick said he did, in fact, speak to the chair umpire before play began.
“I was just wondering if he saw the same mist in the air that I saw,” Roddick said. “The back was still a little wet. I understand everyone wants to see it on TV and certainly, at the end of the day, we’re a sport, but this whole thing is a business. Everyone here is kind of in the same boat, so they need a product on the court.”
The match between No. 28 John Isner and No. 12 Gilles Simon was moved to Court 17 in an attempt to complete the fourth round as soon as possible. But the rain started before they hit a single ball.
One person who liked the way the whole thing was playing out: Jimmy Connors, who was in the indoor practice facility hitting with Jim Courier in the afternoon — tucked on a court between Williams and Tsonga, who will play Federer when the weather clears.
“I like it because it’s more than tennis now,” Connors said. “The tennis is primary, but how you deal with all the surroundings, the scheduling, the rain, on-and-off and things like that, this is old school. It’s why they call it the toughest tennis in town.”