The French Open men’s tennis final was pushed into an extra day because of rain for the first time since 1973, with defending champion Rafael Nadal leading 2 sets to 1 over world No. 1 Novak Djokovic.
Spain’s Nadal eased through the first two sets 6-4, 6-3 yesterday. After dropping the first two games of the third set, Djokovic turned the match around, winning eight games in a row to take his first set off Nadal at Roland Garros and going up a break in the fourth. After Nadal held serve for 1-2, play was halted and eventually called off, to be resumed at 1 p.m. today.
Organizers initially said the match would resume at 8 p.m. last night. The crowd on the main Court Philippe Chatrier whistled and booed when the tournament announced the postponement as rain continued. The final started at 3 p.m. and was halted for a first time for 34 minutes at the end of the second set. Intermittent rain is forecast this afternoon at Roland Garros, according to the website of Meteo Consult.
Tournament director Gilbert Ysern told reporters it hadn’t been possible to start the final an hour sooner because the forecast kept changing. He denied broadcasting contracts prevented the match starting earlier yesterday.
“TV does not dictate anything,” Ysern said.
The clay-court tournament at Roland Garros has been hampered by rain in the past week. It’s the first time since 1973 the event has gone into a third week. In that year, Ilie Nastase beat Niki Pilic in a final that took place two days late because of bad weather.
Unlike the Australian Open and Wimbledon, the French Open doesn’t have a court with a roof. A retractable cover and lights will be built at its main stadium by 2017.
Both Nadal and Djokovic have a shot at making history. The right-hander from Serbia is now a win away from becoming the first man in 43 years to win four Grand Slam titles in a row. Nadal is trying to become the first man to win seven Roland Garros titles.
Watched by former champion and fellow Mallorcan Carlos Moya, Nadal started off well, going up a double break as he sent several winners past Djokovic, who struggled to get his first serve in.
In the opening game of the second set, Djokovic once again handed Nadal the break with a double fault as drizzle turned to rain. The Spaniard failed to capitalize, losing his own serve on a lob by the Serb.
At 2-2, the crowd whistled as Djokovic threw his racket on the clay after another error. A loud thud reverberated through the stadium as Djokovic cracked a gaping hole in his bench with his racket after he lost his serve in the seventh game on a Nadal forehand winner. After he was given a warning by the chair umpire, play was suspended because of rain as Nadal led 5-3. Djokovic slammed the door to the trainers’ room shut before his coach Marian Vajda could walk in. Nadal used the break to have his racket re-strung.
Matters didn’t immediately improve for Djokovic after a 34-minute rain delay, during which his on-court green bench was replaced with new one. Nadal took a two sets to love lead with a sliding backhand passing shot.
In the third set, the match seemed over as Nadal took a 2-0 lead, only to let Djokovic back into the championship as he took the next six games with thumping ground strokes. The Spaniard complained throughout the third set to French chair umpire Damien Dumusois about the heavy court conditions, questioning whether play should continue.
At the start of the fourth set, Nadal lost a 45-stroke rally with a backhand into the net as he was unable to put his customary spin on the soggy balls, and he eventually dropped his serve. The Spaniard finally held in the third game, ending a run of eight games for Djokovic. Play was suspended for a second time at 2-1 for the Serb, as Nadal angrily complained to tournament referee Stefan Fransson that he should have acted sooner.
“Now we have to stop, always the same with you,” Nadal told the Swede.
“Both players didn’t have any comments about bringing them back on the court, even if it was spitting a little bit, Fransson said. “I told them that when they walked out. Then of course, Rafa was disappointed, not happy, whatever you want to say, when we stopped in the fourth set.”