So, for the fifth straight year we will have a Monday men’s final at the US Open. Is it a statistical anomaly or a scheduling cock-up that leaves little or no room for leeway and causes head-scratching, hair pulling and teeth grinding?
Well, I don’t think I need to tell you it’s the latter. The USTA, which runs the US Open, is a law unto itself (and television). Television rules everything over here and the USTA, which stands for the United States Tennis Association but whose initials have been rearranged into some not quite so savoury formations.
From next year, under extensive duress, they are going to put a day of rest between the semi-finals and final, at last some sanity in a sea of anything but. They have not yet revealed if it will be Friday-Sunday or Saturday-Monday but at least that’s something. The way the men’s game (and women’s) is played these days, to ask them to play back-to-back five-set matches in consecutive days is a bit of a joke, outdated and ridiculous. Not only is it hard on the player who plays the second semi-final but it simply makes it likely, every time, that the two finalists are not competing on a level playing field.
We all know that having built the site on a swamp, and not thought about a roof when they were doing so, having a covered court is proving to be a technical and architectural headache, to say the least. The latest news we have is that they would actually like one, and think it might happen at some stage, but only when technology makes it possible to build a lighter roof that the existing stadiums will support. So no time soon, then. The irony of all this is that the US Open consistently claims it as at the cutting edge of everything and they can’t build a roof.
The other big problem is the scheduling and the schedulers. Because everything is done for television, who pay a lot of money for the rights, players and fans are distinctly second fiddle. Spreading the first round over three days is unnecessary and creates unfairness in the draw. For example, Andy Murray had two full days off after his second-round match and another two days off after his quarter-final. Novak Djokovic has to play on three straight days now to try to win the title again.
By back-loading the schedule the USTA leave everything vulnerable to the weather and it only takes significant rain on Saturday or Sunday to push the final into a third Monday. Frankly, it is a surprise that it has not happened more often in the past, at least before these past five years. I am surprised television lets it happen – and think of the players who are off to compete in the Davis Cup next weekend for their countries – their preparation time is severely restricted.
The big problem is: the organisers just don’t care, or at least not enough to do anything. If they did, they would have done something about it. The players got together last year and it seems their efforts have resulted in the day off between the semis and the final. In truth, they have been a little more proactive this year, but their attitude is bordering on outrageous – try asking the USTA to answer a slightly difficult question. They might come back to you, but only when the issue has died down. Too tricky and they just vanish without trace.
The one thing the US Open does well, though, is celebrity and there was a perfect example of it during Andy Murray’s press conference after his win over Tomas Berdych on Saturday. Murray is a proud Scot but halfway through, his musings were interrupted by two of the proudest Scots of them all, Sir Sean Connery (aka 007) and Sir Alex Ferguson (the Manchester United manager). Connery wanted to introduce Ferguson to Murray, which Murray clearly enjoyed, and then invited the third seed’s Mum, Judy Murray, up for a group photo.
Here’s how the conversation went:
SIR SEAN CONNERY: Excuse me for interrupting, but I just wanted to make a point. Where’s Alex? (Applause.) I don’t know where your mother is. There she is.
ANDY MURRAY: Thank you very much for coming. Are you going to be around tomorrow?
SIR SEAN CONNERY: Come on, Judy. Judy, Judy, Judy.
ANDY MURRAY: (to Judy) You smell of wine. (Laughter.)
JUDY MURRAY: He (Ferguson) made me have wine. He’s just been telling me that Scotland invented the world.
SIR ALEX FERGUSON: I’ve been scoming here the last three years to New York, and I explained how Scotland invented the world; today we invented the wind.
SIR SEAN CONNERY: Today they conquered the world.
SIR ALEX FERGUSON: (to Andy Murray) Very good. Fantastic.
ANDY MURRAY: See you after the match tomorrow.
SIR ALEX FERGUSON: Continue your interview.