FLUSHING MEADOWS, N.Y. — His hat flew off, courtside chairs took flight and ball-tosses danced wildly in the gusting, 25-mph winds. But Andy Murray adapted to Saturday’s maddening conditions at the U.S. Open far better than his opponent, Tomas Berdych. As a result, the Scot prevailed, 5-7, 6-2, 6-1, 7-6 (9-7), to advance to the men’s final and a fifth chance at the Grand Slam championship that has eluded him to date.
For the fifth consecutive year, however, the U.S. Open men’s final will be postponed to Monday, with severe weather scuttling play during Saturday’s second men’s semifinal.
Defending U.S. Open champion Novak Djokovic and fourth-seed David Ferrer were 33 minutes into their opening set, with Ferrer leading 5-2, when play was halted at roughly 5 p.m. because of reports that severe weather, including a possible tornado, was on the march. The players were told to leave the court, and the crowd at 23,500-seat Arthur Ashe Stadium was informed that severe weather was en route and the match would resume Sunday morning.
It was the second weather-related schedule change of the day.
Saturday night’s women’s final had already been moved to Sunday, given reports that potentially violent storms would hit New York’s Long Island shortly before 7 p.m., when top-seeded Victoria Azarenka and three-time champion Serena Williams were due on court.
Tournament officials had hoped that the four- to five-hour window of clear skies Saturday afternoon would be sufficient to complete both men’s semifinals. But they miscalculated. The Murray-Berdych semifinal was delayed 1 hour 15 minutes by a late-morning deluge. And the match lasted 3:38, pushing back the second semifinal until roughly 4:30 p.m.
Under the revised schedule, the Djokovic-Ferrer semifinal will resume at 11 a.m. Sunday, airing on ESPN2. The women’s final will follow, not before 4:30 p.m, on CBS. And the men’s final will be held Monday at 4 p.m., aired by CBS.
It’s yet another deflating denouement for the U.S. Open. TV ratings drop markedly for Monday finals. And it raises anew the question of why the U.S. Tennis Association, which owns and operates the country’s most prestigious tennis tournament, one of the sport’s four crown jewels, refuses to build a roof over Arthur Ashe Stadium (as officials at the All England club did to ensure Wimbledon’s finals would be held as scheduled) or construct a new, covered venue to avoid such circumstances.
As it stands, the winner of the Djokovic-Ferrer semifinal will be put at a considerable disadvantage, forced to play two best-of-five-sets matches on consecutive days, while Murray will enjoy a full day’s rest.
In a hastily called news conference, U.S. Open tournament director David Brewer defended the decision to hold Saturday’s semifinals back-to-back despite weather reports indicating no more than five hours of clear skies. Had the semifinals been staged at the same time, on adjacent courts, it’s likely both would have been completed Saturday, enabling the men’s final to be played Sunday, as planned.
Brewer said tournament officials queried all four men’s semifinalists on Friday about their preferences and got four different opinions. Tournament officials also weighed the priorities of broadcasters and Saturday’s ticket-holders, who had bought tickets expecting to see both men’s semifinals rather than being forced to choose between them.
Asked about a roof, Brewer said the technology didn’t exist to construct a roof over the world’s largest tennis venue.
Though the court was dry when Murray and Berdych started play at roughly 12:25 p.m., the gusting winds made high quality tennis impossible.
Murray got an early service break, but was broken in the subsequent game, in which his hat flew off just as he hit a winning drop shot. Murray offered to replay the point if the wayward hat had distracted Berdych — the remedy under the sport’s “hindrance rule.” Berdych said it had, and Murray proceeded to lose the replayed point, the game and set.
Murray said afterward it was the toughest conditions he had ever competed in, noting that as a Scot, that was saying a lot. Still, it worked to his advantage, upsetting the big-serving Berdych far more.
The Czech had averaged 14 aces per match in reaching the semifinals. Saturday he managed just seven aces while double-faulting six times and getting broken seven times.
Unlike Berdych, Murray abandoned high-risk strokes in favor of safer ones designed to simply keep the ball in play. He lowered the toss on his serve. He shortened his backswing when the wind was at his back. And when playing into the wind, he focused on hitting through the ball.
Berdych went for winners. He ended up with more outright winners than Murray (45 to 37) but committed more than three times as many unforced errors (64 to 20), undermining his cause.
“There is a skill to playing in the wind,” said Murray, 25. “I have never played in it when it’s been that bad. But, you know, people like to watch professionals struggle when they’re in tough conditions.”