U.S. Open 2011: Super Saturday format attracts increasing criticism

Emmanuel Dunand/AFP via Getty Images - Five-time U.S. Open champ Roger Federer is among many players against the tournament’s scheduling the men’s final the day after the semis. “I don’t think TV should dictate just to have the finals on Sunday and the semis on Saturday.”

FLUSHING MEADOWS, N.Y. — Roger Federer has won all five of his U.S. Open championships since the tournament unveiled its made-for-TV “Super Saturday” format in 1984.

Marketed around an action-packed Saturday bill that includes both men’s semifinals and the women’s final, the format also dictates that the men return Sunday to contest a best-of five-sets championship match less than 24 hours later.

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At the sport’s other three majors — Wimbledon and the French and Australian opens — men have a day’s rest between the semifinals and finals.

This week Federer added his voice to a growing number of high-profile players arguing that the format has outlived its purpose and poses an unreasonable demand on athletes, creates an unfair playing field and compromises the quality of the men’s final.

“The Super Saturday I just think is not feasible,” Federer said. “It shouldn’t happen anymore. And I don’t think TV should dictate just to have the finals on Sunday and the semis on Saturday and not have the true champion hold the trophy up. I just don’t think that’s the goal here.”

Resentment about the format isn’t new. But it’s growing as the game’s physicality escalates. It’s no easy feat playing a best-of-five-sets match, which can last more than four hours, on hard courts. To play best-of-five-sets matches on consecutive days demands superhuman conditioning.

(This Open has set a Grand Slam record for retirements during singles matches, with 15 players — 11 of them men — pulling out with injury.)

Moreover, playing the men’s semis and finals on consecutive days is inherently unfair, with the winner of Saturday’s first semifinal finishing as much as six hours ahead of his rival. That window can mean a lot when the turnaround time is short.

Said Rafael Nadal, “Having the semifinals on Saturday, you know, is something crazy for the players.”

This year’s rain exacerbated the unfairness.

While no one can control the weather, the U.S. Open’s peculiar schedule makes the consequences of rain unnecessarily dire. That’s because the tournament stretches men’s first-round matches over three days and leaves no cushion in the back-loaded second week.

So when rain inundated New York, there was little wiggle room to fix a schedule that got out of whack when half the men’s field reached the quarterfinals Monday, before rain halted play for two days, while the other half didn’t reach the quarters until Thursday.

After a closed-door meeting with the most aggrieved — Nadal, Andy Murray and Andy Roddick, who were sent out to compete on hazardous wet courts in the scramble to catch up — tournament officials announced they would postpone Sunday’s final until Monday, ensuring one day off before the championship.

It’s the fourth consecutive year that rain has pushed the men’s final to Monday. And it decimates the TV audience for the season’s final major and the only one held in the United States.

Asked whether he thought Super Saturday had outlived its purpose, Roddick said he could argue both sides of the debate.

“The way any business works, if you provide the money, you get to make the decisions most times,” Roddick said. “From a pure quality of tennis player standpoint, it’s obviously not the way to go. So you pretty much have to make up your mind which side of the fence you stand on.”

Gordon A. Smith, executive director of the U.S. Tennis Association, which owns and operates the U.S. Open, said that players’ concerns would be noted when the tournament’s broadcast deal with CBS, which runs through 2014, is revisited.

“Super Saturday has been a great tradition! We have had some great semifinals and many great finals,” Smith said. “I don’t think it will change in the short term, But we certainly are reviewing it, and as our contracts come up for renewal, we’ll certainly take the players’ views into account.”

 
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