Soggy Stops and Starts at the Open
By CHRISTOPHER CLAREY
he day session at the United States Open was drizzling to a close yesterday, but two Canadian junior players, Stephanie Dubois and Alexandra Wozniak, were braving the elements and trading ground strokes in the rain as a few dozen spectators moved their heads back and forth in the traditional style to keep track of the ball.
All that was missing was the court. Dubois and Wozniak were swatting balls back and forth on the pavement next to the food court on the main concourse at the U.S.T.A. National Tennis Center.
''At least there will be no bad line calls," said Laine Kenan, 38, who had traveled from his home in Atlanta to Flushing Meadows to watch one day of tennis and ended up watching one day of rain, along with Sampras versus Agassi reruns on the big-screen television.
''We've put in a request for a retractable roof," Kenan said.
Indoors in the much drier, yet much more crowded confines of the players' lounge, Anastasia Myskina was thinking along similar lines "Are you sure we are not at Wimbledon?" said Myskina, a Russian who is seeded No. 7 in the women's singles draw, her green eyes full of mischief.
''Seriously, I've been thinking about the roof, and I've been thinking it costs a lot of money," Myskina said. "But after these three days maybe they are going to think it's worth it. Every year it's the same. Every time, if it's raining, we are just stuck here."
Myskina and her German coach and boyfriend, Jens Gerlach, were stuck at Flushing Meadows longer than most Monday and yesterday. She and Mary Pierce, her fourth-round opponent, were initially scheduled to play the third match in Armstrong Stadium on Monday. She arrived in the rain at 11 a.m., and she and Pierce were eventually told that they would play instead on Court 11 in the late afternoon. But those plans also had to be revised, and when they finally got to play their first point, it was 11:10 at night on the Grandstand Court in front of fewer than 30 witnesses.
Not that Myskina took offense. "I was surprised there were even 10 people still out there," she said. "I was thinking, 'Thank God anyone is here.' "
It was by far the latest start to a match in the 22-year-old Myskina's career. "I think the latest I ever finished a match was at 10," she said. "Usually I'm asleep at 10 during the tournament, so it was kind of really hard. At 11 o'clock my eyes were closing, and I was thinking about the hotel and my bed."
The last time a match started that late at the Open was last year when rain played more nasty tricks on the schedule and Younes el-Aynaoui and Wayne Ferreira struck their first balls on Court 4 shortly after 11 p.m. and did not finish until 2:14 a.m. Myskina would not have to wait nearly that long, but then she would not get the satisfaction of finishing either. At 11:34 p.m. on Monday, she and Pierce were driven off the court for the night by more rain with Myskina leading, 4-2, in the first set.
She really could hurry back to her hotel and her bed in Manhattan. The problem now - after a postmidnight dinner at McDonald's - was falling asleep. "You're still really pumped up, you're ready to play and your heart is beating and your mind is working, and now you have to sleep because you have to get up early the next morning," she said.
As it turned out, Myskina, who did not fall asleep until shortly before 2 a.m., could have slept in without fear of missing the resumption of her match. When she woke up at 9:30 a.m. yesterday it was still raining, and it was still raining by midafternoon as she sat in an overstuffed chair in the players' lounge, wondering when one of the most important matches in her career would finish.
If this were Wimbledon, she could have walked, umbrella in hand, to her rented home. If this were Melbourne and the Australian Open, she could have hopped in a chauffeured van and been at her hotel in fewer than five minutes. But here, with Manhattan and its diversions at least 45 minutes away (depending on traffic), her options were more limited, and with no indoor practice courts on site, her training options were limited, too.
''It's not a good thing to go drive like half an hour, find a practice court, and then come back," she said.
And so, she compromised, riding the stationary bike in the lounge or running on the treadmill in an attempt to get warmed up for her matches. "I've done this like 10 times already," she said.
As Myskina finished her sentence, Martina Navratilova sat down in the overstuffed chair in front of her with a small dog and a weary expression on her face. "This is the poorest scheduling I've ever been part of in any Grand Slam,'' Navratilova, 46, said. "If you ask the other players, they would say the same thing, but they haven't played in as many as I have.''
Navratilova, like all tennis players, is used to waiting. In a sport where matches have no 60-minute or 90-minute clock, killing time becomes part of the process. It happens in club tournaments, at junior tournaments and the Grand Slam tournaments, and as Myskina strolled through the lounge yesterday, her peers were killing time.
Ivan Ljubicic, the Croat who was busy being Andy Roddick's critic last week, was busy scrutinizing a chess board. The big-serving Australian Wayne Arthurs was playing cards with friends and doing a crossword puzzle at the same time. Fabrice Santoro was in a rattan chair with his wife on his lap. Juan Carlos Ferrero and Todd Martin, waiting to play each other in the fourth round in front of the television cameras, played each other first at foosball in front of the television cameras. Roger Federer and his coach, Peter Lundgren, took turns playing an electronic putting game, which only served as a reminder why both of them became professional tennis players.
Meanwhile, downstairs in the nursery, the Swedish serve-and-volley specialist Jonas Bjorkman took an active part in feeding dinner to his 8-month-old son Max. Off-days are not what they used to be for tennis stars. "Start by changing some diapers," Andre Agassi said. "Followed by, you know, cooking some breakfast for a 2-year-old, followed by a little bit of Buzz Lightyear."
The problem yesterday was the same as the day before: The tennis part was missing, and as dawn turned to dusk; suspended day session to interrupted night session, Myskina was still under stress in the lounge, tired of the rain but still eager to know whether she could be a quarterfinalist at the United States Open.