PARIS — His big lead over Novak Djokovic in Sunday’s drenched French Open final slipping away, Rafael Nadal tossed a soaked, clay-smeared tennis ball toward the chair umpire.
A drizzle was now a downpour, making the balls heavy, the clay court slippery and changing the complexion of a match with so much at stake: Djokovic’s bid to become the first man in 43 years to win four consecutive Grand Slam titles, and Nadal’s attempt to become the first man to win seven titles at the tournament.
Moments later, play was suspended with the No. 2-seeded Nadal trying to protect a 6-4, 6-3, 2-6, 1-2 lead over a surging Djokovic, who’s seeded No. 1. A tarp was pulled over the court, and after another hour or so, the decision was made to stop for the day and resume today.
Yes, this French Open already has made history, but not for a reason that was expected: It’s the first time since 1973 that the tournament at Roland Garros didn’t conclude on a Sunday.
This sort of thing is becoming a regular occurrence at tennis’ top tournaments: The U.S. Open men’s final has been postponed from Sunday to Monday each of the past four years because of rain. Unlike at Wimbledon and the Australian Open, neither the French Open nor U.S. Open has an indoor court available for tournament play; there is a plan to have a retractable roof in Paris five years from now.
Nadal and Djokovic were scheduled to resume at 1 p.m. local time (4 a.m. PDT) today, when the forecast calls for intermittent rain. NBC, which aired Sunday’s action, said today’s U.S. TV coverage will shift to NBC Sports Network, a cable channel in about 35 million fewer homes than the broadcast network.
Toni Nadal, Rafael’s uncle and coach, said he thought action should have been suspended earlier Sunday because “the court was too wet.”
Clearly, Djokovic dealt much better with the conditions — consistent, heavy rain that left both men using their rackets to knock caked clay from the soles of their shoes. Sliding on the court was tougher.
Nadal couldn’t apply his usual heavy topspin on shots. Normally unflappable, particularly at his favorite tournament, the Spaniard began to gesture and mutter between points.
When the second delay began, after three hours of playing time, the players did not return to the court.