Well, they almost didn’t pull it off. But with the assistance of a potential oncoming tornado, the U.S. Open has officially managed to book its fifth straight Monday men’s final. Yesterday, the tournament squeezed in the first semifinal between Andy Murray and Tomas Berdych, but the second semi between Novak Djokovic and David Ferrer was cut short just as the latter was (surprisingly) serving for the first set. As a result, the women’s final too was postponed to this afternoon. So not only will the match between Murray and [insert either Djokovic or Ferrer here] take place on a work day instead of this evening, but it’ll conveniently start at 4 p.m., while you’re probably still chained to your desk.
Murray said in his post-match press conference that the USTA made it clear to the players that severe weather was expected around 6:30 p.m., and that once it kicked in, they’d essentially be done for the day. This is supported by the fact that the tournament announced early, around 1 p.m., that the women’s final would be postponed to Sunday afternoon. Several of the ESPN commentators, as well as just about everyone else, openly wondered: If weather was a concern, then why wasn’t the tournament attempting to play both men’s semifinals at the same time, instead of consecutively on the same court? If they didn’t complete both semis on Saturday, then there was no way the U.S. Open would finish as planned. For whatever reason, this didn’t happen, and the secondary Louis Armstrong Stadium was instead used for final ceremony practice rather than match play. (You know what helps you to prepare for the final? The semifinals. But whatever.)
We at least managed to see one full match yesterday, although it was a fairly absurd one at that. The conditions under which Murray and Berdych were playing were, in a word, ridiculous. In the fourth game, Murray’s cap was blown right off his head in the middle of a point, causing the chair umpire to call a let. His microphone, by the way, was switched off between announcing points because it would amplify the slightest gust of wind into a stadium-wide echo. The net cord device, too, was turned off because it falsely beeped before Berdych even served. Airplanes from LaGuardia Airport periodically boomed low in the sky, and if anything wasn’t strapped down it either blew away or vibrated loudly in the wind. Halfway through the match, Murray’s entire chair and racket bag (presumably full of rackets), flew onto the court. And throughout the match, the players frequently had to chase the ball after they’d tossed it for a serve.
These are not the conditions that make for good tennis, a sport that, at its most beautiful, relies on finesse. But as Murray pointed out after the match, “There’s a skill to playing in the wind.” That usually entails using high percentage shots, slowing the pace of your groundstrokes, and incorporating safer slice and spin. The result kind of looks like everything is taking place underwater, in contrast to the normal breakneck speed of modern tennis.
Murray also went on to jokingly say that “people like to watch professionals struggle.” However, between the two players, Berdych was the one doing most of the struggling. Murray admittedly played too conservatively in the first set, which he lost, but he looked perfectly at ease in the following two. He began playing more aggressively, within the limitations of the elements, while Berdych dropped serve multiple times and did things like this.
Murray claimed the second and third sets, and it seemed like the fourth would go the same way. But just as everyone was thinking, “Hey! Maybe the second semi will start soon and get mostly finished,” Berdych suddenly figured out how to play in the wind. He held serve (for consecutive games!) after breaking Murray to get back on serve, and he pushed Murray to a tiebreak that he very nearly won. But the Scotsman remained calm and patient, two virtues he hasn’t always been blessed with, and encouraged errors from Berdych’s racket. Murray likely won’t encounter such terrible conditions again, but his win in the wind demonstrates his talent for adapting — something that’s crucial to not only overcoming the elements, but also an opponent.
Shortly after Murray secured his place in the final, Djokovic was on court, spiraling in the first set of his semifinal against Ferrer. The defending champion was clearly displeased to be playing in such conditions, and his aggravation only made him more vulnerable to Ferrer’s consistency. The Spaniard ran away with the first set… almost. The match was called before Ferrer was able to serve out his 5–2 lead, which was a shame since it was still awhile before the rain actually started coming down. The semifinal will resume at 11 a.m. today, and you can put money on the fact that Djokovic will come out roaring with a more assured level of play. Assuming their exchange doesn’t become an epic marathon, the women’s final will begin around 4:30 p.m.