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Players upset about playing in rain
After only 10 games had been played across three courts at the rain-blighted US Open, the players returned to the locker room and then three of them — Rafael Nadal, Andy Murray and Andy Roddick — were soon heading to make their views known to tournament referee Brian Earley.
As they emerged, Nadal said: "We do not feel protected. You have to care for the health of the players. The rain never really stopped. We cannot accept these things."
Murray insisted that the back of the Grandstand Court, where he was playing Donald Young, was still wet when they went on court. Roddick said simply, "If the condition of the court is up for discussion, then it is not fit for play."
It is easy to sympathize with the members of the tournament committee who are battling hopeless odds with the weather and are under enormous pressure from both the public and TV interests to get some tennis played. Nadal said he understood this and insisted, "I try my best always," but that as a professional he could not risk injury.
For anyone not familiar with the pace and physicality of modern professional tennis, it would be easy to mock these players. But the fact is a slippery court — and, more pertinently, a slippery line — can cause a heavily muscled athlete severe damage.
It is does not take much to tweak a hamstring or go over on an ankle. And although the top 10 do not have to worry about the financial consequences, that is not true of the lesser-ranked players who do not earn nearly as much as their counterparts in golf.
And there is one, huge difference here between tennis and most other high profile professional sports, such as baseball, basketball or soccer. If a tennis player can't play, he or she doesn't get paid. Players do not have contracts that guarantee them an income whether they are fit, selected or dropped. Injury means a massive loss of earnings. It is a factor that cannot be ignored.
It is interesting to note that Nadal is vice president of the ATP Player Council — Roger Federer is president — and this is the body which recommends changes in rules or playing conditions to the six-man ATP Board. However, tennis politics being what they are, the four Grand Slams, of which the US Open is one, are not ATP tournaments. They come under the umbrella of the Grand Slam committee which is affiliated with the International Tennis Federation. As a result of a separate issue, many top ATP umpires have elected not to work at Flushing Meadows this year, highlighting the schism that exists in the game.
The ATP does have officials here who, generally work closely and harmoniously with the US Open staff, but Nadal appeared to be suggesting that his association was not having a vociferous enough voice in how matters directly affecting the players' welfare were being handled. A couple of ATP Board members have been on site each day, but they would not normally get involved in the decisions that caused so much grief today. I have not seen Adam Helfant, the ATP CEO, who is leaving at the end of the year. But then he has never been a particularly visible leader.
Darren Cahill, who is becoming one of the most respected voices in the game, was quick to pick up on Nadal's remarks.
"Nadal seemed to be blaming the ATP," Cahill said. "It's a fact that there has been no very visible leadership from the ATP over the last few years. I think it is very important that whoever they appoint next has to be a strong leader."
The original Association of Tennis Professionals was formed in a tent at Forest Hills during the 1972 US Open.
Jack Kramer was appointed CEO, and Cliff Drysdale was elected the first president. A boycott of Wimbledon followed in 1973, after which the power of the ITF was diminished to a certain extent. But the players were still not happy and, in 1989, under the leadership of Hamilton Jordan, the famous parking-lot press conference was held outside the main gate here at Flushing Meadows to announce the formation of a new ATP Tour which created a partnership between the ATP tournament directors and the players. In effect, that killed off any idea of having a pure players' union — hence the subject rearing its controversial head again today.
After their brief, and hotly disputed period on court, the three matches stood as follows: Nadal was 0-3 down against Gilles Muller, having arriving on court late and appearing to be distracted; Roddick was 3-1 up against David Ferrer; and Murray was 1-2 on serve with Young after the American had saved a break point in the third game.
And the forecast was not good.