NEW YORK – With a potentially dangerous storm bearing down on the U.S. Open, play was suspended in the first set of defending champion Novak Djokovic's semifinal Saturday, making this the fifth consecutive year the tournament will fail to finish on time because of the weather.
Djokovic was trailing fourth-seeded David Ferrer 5-2 after about a half-hour of action when tournament referee Brian Earley came out on court and told the players and the chair umpire that they needed to stop.
As some spectators at Arthur Ashe Stadium booed or whistled, an announcement over the loudspeakers said: “At this time, we ask you to please make your way out of the stadium in an orderly fashion.”
That match, which will determine who faces Olympic champion Andy Murray in the final, was scheduled to resume today at 9 a.m. MDT. The men's final was shifted from its originally scheduled slot to Monday – something that has happened at every U.S. Open since 2008.
“I would say we're getting very tired of having Monday finals,” tournament director David Brewer said.
The women's final between Serena Williams and Victoria Azarenka that was supposed to be played Saturday night was shifted to 2:30 p.m today. It's the fourth time in the last five years the women's title match was rescheduled.
Unlike at Wimbledon and the Australian Open, the U.S. Open does not have a roof to protect any court used for tournament matches. It's also the only Grand Slam tournament that schedules two men's semifinals on Saturday, which leaves less room for scheduling flexibility when there is disruptive weather.
Next year, for the first time, a day off will be inserted between the semifinals and final, either by shifting the semis to Friday or by changing the title match to Monday.
Brewer said he did consider moving the Ferrer-Djokovic match to another court and playing it at the same time as Murray-Berdych, but “we thought the only way to go was to keep them back-to-back” in Ashe out of deference to ticket-holders, TV partners and viewers around the world.
There was a rain delay of more than an hour Saturday morning, delaying the start of Murray's 5-7, 6-2, 6-1, 7-6 (7) victory over Tomas Berdych of the Czech Republic in the opening semifinal. At least they got to finish, even if it meant dealing with 20 mph wind that blew a changeover chair onto the court on one point and yanked Murray's hat off during another.
“I'm surprised it didn't happen more,” Murray said. “It was so, so windy.”
In the end, he navigated his way into his fifth Grand Slam final.
Now he'll try to win his first Grand Slam title – and first for any British man in 76 years.
“It was brutal,” Murray said about the conditions during his 3-hour, 58-minute victory. “Hard to describe. You had to focus for every single point. ... Some of the hardest conditions I've ever played in, for sure, and I come from Scotland, so that's saying something.”
This major tournament is the first since the 2004 French Open with neither Roger Federer nor Rafael Nadal in the semifinals. Federer was beaten by Berdych in the quarterfinals, while Nadal did not enter the field, sidelined by a partially torn tendon in his left knee.
Federer, Nadal and Djokovic have combined to win 29 of the last 30 major titles, a stretch that began at the 2005 French Open.
The third-seeded Murray will get yet another chance to put his name on that list. The last major singles trophies for a British man were won by Fred Perry at Wimbledon and the U.S. Championships in 1936.
Murray also played in the 2008 final at the U.S. Open, losing to Federer.
“I'm obviously a lot more mature,” Murray said at a news conference interrupted by appearances from actor Sean Connery and Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson, who also are Scottish. “I have had a lot more experience in these sort of situations than obviously then. It was my first Slam final.”
Murray is playing confidently after beating Federer to win a gold medal for Britain at the London Games in August, about a month after losing to Federer in the Wimbledon final.
He also appeared in the final at the Australian Open in 2010 and 2011, settling for runner-up status each time. Only one other man in tennis history was defeated in his first four major finals – Ivan Lendl, who just so happens to be Murray's coach and was on hand Saturday.
While eliminating Federer on Wednesday, 2010 Wimbledon runner-up Berdych pounded his flat forehands right where he wanted them and made a total of 21 unforced errors in four sets. Bothered by the swirling air Saturday, the sixth-seeded Berdych nearly eclipsed that in the opening set alone with 19 and finished with 64 unforced errors. Murray only made 20.
“I don't see any reason that my game would just crash” other than the tough-to-handle wind, Berdych said. “It was something (that) really (affected) my game. But that's how it is.”
Berdych wondered aloud whether there should be a rule in place to prevent matches from being played when the wind is as much of a factor as it was Saturday.
As Murray hit a serve to start the second set's last game, his changeover chair was blown over by a gust and, like tumbleweed, rolled onto the blue court, spilling all sorts of other items, too – racket bag, white towel, etc.
A let was called, canceling the point, and both players smiled at the chaos. Murray held there to even the match at a set apiece.
Another strong burst knocked the 6-foot-5 Berdych off-balance as he was about to serve to begin the third, and he wound up getting broken at love.
Berdych repeatedly found simply launching a ball overhead for his service toss problematic, often letting it drop to the court without taking a swing. When he did actually serve, there still were plenty of issues, including six double-faults.
“There is not a player who likes these conditions, but there are some players that these kind of conditions can suit to their game a bit better than the other ones,” Berdych said. “That's the difference. ... Andy was better in this part definitely, and that's why he actually took the win.”
With Murray facing a break point in the fourth game, he raced forward and a combination of his momentum and the wind pulled his white baseball cap off as he made contact with the ball. At the other end, Berdych failed to get to Murray's response, and chair umpire Pascal Maria initially awarded the point to Murray, making the score deuce.
But Berdych argued he was distracted by the hat. Murray approached and asked Berdych whether he was certain the hat affected the point.
“I'm just asking if you're 100 percent sure,” Murray repeated.
That show of sportsmanship led to Maria's ruling that the point should be replayed. Murray tried to chip a lob that landed long, and Berdych got the point – and the break.
Murray hit a ball in anger, grabbed the troublesome hat and walked to dump it on the sideline, muttering “nonsense, nonsense, nonsense.” He looked or sounded disgruntled at other times, including when he tugged the two legs of his dark shorts up to his waist.
Ballkids scurried to collect items tossed about by the air, from paper napkins to plastic bags and various other debris. And through it all, both players were forced to adjust to swerving shots made tricky by the wind, recalibrating at the last possible second. Murray certainly was more capable of doing just that, and he used all sorts of slices and spins, dinks and dunks to frustrate Berdych.
“You have to get yourself in the right position for every shot,” Murray said. “The ball sometimes stops moving and goes the other way.”