Photos: A … warm Rafa warmup

TORONTO – It’s been the summer of the hot and sweaty.

And it continues in Toronto this week, where the humidity has made the players – and the courts – a drippy mess.

Even on Wednesday, a long period of rain did nothing to drop the humidity level.

And so as Rafael Nadal finally got on the practice court to warm up for his Rogers Cup opening match against Benoit Paire, it got a little … clingy.

Nadal’s a heavy sweater at the best of times. But on days like these, you wonder how he doesn’t jump out of his skin after 20 minutes in a shirt like that.

He managed to finish his warmup before another wave of rain came, while opponent Benoit Paire’s warmup was cut short by the steady downpour.

Here’s what Nadal looked like.

 

Not pretty, but straight sets

On the court, despite a few moments on his own serve, Nadal wasn’t particularly troubled by the mercurial (but less liquidy) Paire. Paire could break him, but he couldn’t hold his own serve to consolidate it.

The 6-2, 6-3 score made it seem a little more routine than it actually was.

The red shirt was probably just as soaked. But it didn’t show up as much.

Warm

He was surprisingly pumped after that victory, even though he was 3-0 against him and hadn’t lost a set. All of those matches were on clay, though.

Frantic Friday at Wimbledon – Choices, Choices, Choices

It was Friday the 13th. So it wasn’t a huge surprise that a few wacky events took place at Wimbledon.

But what transpired, from 1 p.m. when John Isner and Kevin Anderson walked onto Centre Court until 11:05 p.m., when Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic walked off with unfinished business, was beyond anyone’s imagination.

Chapter 5 is called Choices, Choices, Choices

WIMBLEDON – We’ll have to assume, for the sake of argument, that there was no way for the All England Club to get special dispensation from the Merton Borough Council to break curfew – just this once.

Because a 1 a.m. finish for Djokovic vs. Nadal Friday night into Saturday would have been a better solution for all concerned.

The winner of the match could have slept in Saturday, perhaps had a light hit, a lot of treatment. And then, on Sunday, play the final.

As it is, one of them had to play late Friday, relatively early Saturday – and again on Sunday, where he will face the equally exhausted Kevin Anderson.

Anderson spent over 11 hours on court from Wednesday through Friday, just in two extra-time matches against John Isner and Roger Federer.

11:03 p.m.: the end

choices

If the All England Club had the option somehow, and didn’t exercise it, it did two of its illustrious former champions a disservice.

As it was, they returned to the court just 14 hours later to finish where they left off Friday night, when Djokovic squeezed out the third-set tiebreak to lead two sets to one.

The decision to start their semifinal – which kicked off around 8 p.m. because of the length of the Anderson-Isner marathon – under the roof was up to the referee, Andrew Jarrett.

It made sense, because there wasn’t going to be much daylight left, and better to take the time to close the roof and get the air-conditioning systems adjusted during the break after the first match.

It was going to have to happen anyway at some point, and time was precious.

The decision to resume on a beautiful, sunny Saturday with the roof closed was also Jarrett’s. Except, if both players agreed to play “outdoors”, with the roof open, at what is an outdoor tournament, it could have been changed even if it wasn’t a hard and fast rule.

One wanted to, one did not, is the general consensus although there’s no official confirmation from any of the parties involved at this point. 

No. 1 Court option not an option

There certainly is precedent at Wimbledon for a men’s semifinal to be played on No. 1 Court.

We tend to forget all the years when rain played havoc with the schedule, often threatening to prevent the tournament from finishing on time. And a couple of times, it actually did.

But as former finalist Andy Roddick pointed out Friday night on Twitter, he’s been there.

Once he was moved over to finish. On the second occasion, he played the entire match there.

Roddick celebrates after beating Mario Ancic on No. 1 Court on the second Friday of Wimbledon 2004.

Both times, he won, and ended up losing to Roger Federer in the final.

But Djokovic vs. Nadal in 2018 is not Roddick vs. Ancic, or Roddick vs. Johansson a dozen years ago.

No offense to those two fine players.

There was virtually no chance in Hades the tournament would move Nadal and Djokovic to No. 1 Court to finish their match.

Beyond the television considerations, the players likely would have both raised a ruckus.

It would have eliminated the roof-or-no-roof choice, though.

Had the second semifinal featured, say, Alexander Zverev and Grigor Dimitrov, you can speculate it might have been a different story. Had the women’s final not featured Williams, it might have been another story again.

Maybe.

The women pay the price – again

The way the schedule panned out, part of it no one’s fault, is a tough one for the men.

But it’s an even tougher one for the women.

Seven-time champion Serena Williams and two-time Grand Slam champion Angelique Kerber will reprise their 2016 final.

choices
Serena Williams beat Angelique Kerber in a final women’s final in 2016, the last time Williams played. They started on time.

Except they had no clue when they would play. They couldn’t be sure when to eat, when to warm up, when to do anything.

And that was especially key because of the lack of a fifth-set tiebreak for the men.

At precisely 1 p.m. Saturday, when they were due to walk on Centre Court with their flower bouquets, Nadal was just wrapping up the fourth set against Djokovic.

Didn’t it seem as though we were beyond this back in the 1990s, when they finally did away with the facetiously-named Super Saturday at the US Open?

For a couple of decades, the women were an afterthought. They were the white creme between the two Oreo cookies as CBS dictated they be scheduled between the two men’s semifinals on the second Saturday.

Mercifully, that finally ended.

Serena and her sister Venus had everything to do with this when, back in 2001, it was decided that they could headline a night session with their significant star power.

The end of CBS’s longstanding contract as the event’s main broadcaster also allowed for more flexibility.

And then, the fact that someone finally decided that having the men play best-of-five sets on the Saturday, and come right back on the Sunday afternoon and play another best-of-five sets for a major title didn’t make for optimal tennis.

Well, maybe they considered that. Maybe.

Super Saturday to the max

The epic moment in Super Saturday history came on Sept. 8, 1984. Every match went the distance and every player on court that day was a champion.

First off was a legends’ match that began at 11 a.m. when Stan Smith defeated John Newcombe. Ironically, CBS had requested that extra match because the previous year’s Super Saturday had featured three blowouts.

Then came the first men’s semi: Ivan Lendl defeated Pat Cash 3–6, 6–3, 6–4, 6–7 (5–7), 7–6 (7–4). (Thank goodness for the fifth-set tiebreak).

Then, finally, the legendary Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova came on to play the women’s singles final.

Navratilova won that one, 4–6, 6–4, 6–4.

Then, closing in on 7:30 p.m., bitter rivals John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors finally took the court for the second men’s semi.

McEnroe won that one, 6–4, 4–6, 7–5, 4–6, 6–3. It all ended at 11:16 p.m.

Women’s doubles also a casualty

With Nadal and Djokovic taking priority on Centre Court, one of the other finals was bumped off.

Of course, it was the women’s doubles final between Barbora Krejcikova and Katerina Siniakova and Nicole Melichar and Kveta Peschke.

choices

They had been scheduled after the women’s singles final and the best-of-five sets men’s doubles final.

That’s long enough to wait (and with the men’s doubles also not having a deciding-set tiebreak, who knows how long).

But with the change, they have been relegated to “Court to be determined – not before 5 p.m.” status along with the far less consequential legends match featuring Thomas Enqvist, Thomas Johansson, Tommy Haas and Mark Philippoussis.

So they don’t know when they’re going to play. And they don’t know where.

It’s thin soup. Even given the extraordinary circumstances, you feel somehow that the tournament could have made better choices.

Frantic Friday at Wimbledon: The Sportsmen

It was Friday the 13th. So it wasn’t a huge surprise that a few wacky events took place at Wimbledon.

But what transpired, from 1 p.m. when John Isner and Kevin Anderson walked onto Centre Court until 11:05 p.m., when Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic walked off with unfinished business, was beyond anyone’s imagination.

Chapter 2 is called The Sportsmen.

WIMBLEDON – When it was over, and the South African Kevin Anderson became the first from his country to reach a Wimbledon men’s singles final in nearly a century, so many of his thoughts were for his opponent.

His muted reaction after the marathon six-hour, 36 minute, 7-6(6) 6-7(5) 6-7(9) 6-4 26-24 was surely, in large part, sheer exhaustion and disbelief.

But it was also a respectful and remarkable show of respect towards Isner.

“Just playing like that, really tough on both of us. At the end, you feel like this is a draw between the two of us, but somebody has to win,” Anderson said during a thoughtful interview right after he came off the court.

“John is a great guy and I really feel for him because if I was on the opposite side, I don’t know how I could take playing for that long.”

Anderson apologized for not “seeming more excited”, which under the circumstances was completely unnecessary.

“To be honest, he’s really pushed me throughout my career as well. He’s had such a great career. I’ve pushed myself harder because of some of the successes he’s had,” Anderson added.

Isner a gracious loser

After it was over, and Isner saluted the crowd, he did what only a few runners-up do. He went over to the stands, to the fans who eventually filed in to fill the Centre Court by the end, and signed autographs.

sportsmen

“I competed hard. That’s what it comes down to. That’s what I have to be proud of. It stinks to lose, but I gave it everything I had out there. I just lost to someone who is just a little bit better at the end,” Isner said.

Just as Anderson credited Isner for pushing him, Isner did the same.

“Obviously a very good player, a contemporary of mine. We’ve been playing together for the longest time now. He’s someone that I have so much respect for because he works very hard at what he does. He’s someone that pushes me, I think. Maybe he’d say the same about myself. I mean, we’re about the same age. We’ve been doing this together for a long time,” Isner said.

“I see how professional he is. When I see him doing all the things that he’s doing, I think that’s a very good thing for me. It allows me to look at that and keep going, try to even work harder than he does, so… He’s one of the most professional players on tour. There’s a reason why he’s playing so well right now, because he does all the right things.”

(BBC screenshot)

Nadal and Djokovic: fan appreciation

The second semifinal got under way shortly after 8 p.m.

And despite the test of will and endurance of the first semifinal, Centre Court was all but full for the start.

Part of it may have been due to Wimbledon’s ticket resale system. And some of it was surely due to the fact that Nadal vs. Djokovic was the most anticipated matchup on the day.

Anticipating there might be some spots available for the second men’s semifinal, the lineup at the resale queue snaked along during the latter part of the Isner-Anderson match. (BBC screenshot)

If the fans who just couldn’t take any more sitting decided to leave, they could scan out at the exit and the ticket could be resold to a fan with a grounds pass or No. 1 Court ticket for just 15 pounds.

The lineup stretched and wiggled a long distance, during the latter stages of the Anderson-Isner match. And no doubt some of the patrons got a bonus trip to Centre Court they couldn’t have imagined when they entered the club many, many hours before.

But those fans – unless they have a Centre Court ticket for the women’s final on Saturday, won’t be able to see the dénouement.

And whether Djokovic and Nadal were aware of this, when they walked off the court for good shortly after 11 p.m. Friday night as play was suspended, they acknowledged the perseverance of the fans who stood by them until the very end.

First Nadal walked off, applauding the fans as he left. Given he’d just dropped a crucial set he had every shot at winning, that was extra.

Then Djokovic gave them the thumbs up, and went over to sign some autographs.

The circumstances were extreme for all parties involved in this crazy, insane day.

How great that it brought out the sportsmen in all of them.

 

 

Men’s quarters spark court assignment debate

WIMBLEDON – It wouldn’t be a Grand Slam without a good, old-fashioned debate about court assignments and scheduling and who’s being snubbed and who’s being given preferential treatment.

And so, as we arrive at the second Wednesday of Wimbledon and the men’s quarterfinals, we see three-time champion Novak Djokovic on Centre Court.

With that, we also see seven-time champion Roger Federer “relegated” to No. 1 Court for the first time in the tournament.

Actually, for the first time in three  years.

(Relegated is such a relative term here, as it is at Roland Garros where Court Philippe Chatrier and Court Suzanne Lenglen are considered virtual co-equals. Still, it’s a status thing that seems to mean a lot to some people).

Second trip to Centre Court for Djokovic

assignment
Djokovic has definitely been hard done by at times with the scheduling. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

The way people have been whinging, you’d think Djokovic had been turned away at the door to the celebrated Wimbledon Centre Court for failing to bring a jacket and tie.

That said, it’s fairly evident over the last few years that despite his sterling resumé, he’s rarely gotten the top-two treatment accorded here to Federer and, less defendably, to Nadal.

The Serb was on Centre Court on Saturday for his third-round match against Brit Kyle Edmund, after being relegated to No. 2 Court for his second round.

Until Manic Monday, there was never a choice to be made between Federer and Djokovic in terms of courts assignments. In opposite sections of the draw, they were playing on different days.

The choice, then, has been between Djokovic and Nadal – currently the No. 1 ranked player in the world, even if he is the No. 2 seed here because of the weighted grass-court seedings.

Djokovic is currently ranked No. 21 and seeded No. 12.

Nadal on Centre every match

Nadal has won out each time there was a choice to be made between the two. The Spaniard’s match against Juan Martin del Potro will be the fifth straight time he has been on Centre Court.

And the quarterfinals are the last opportunity to play anywhere else but Centre Court.

Nadal warms up on Court 15 Wednesday morning, ahead of his match later in the day against Juan Martin del Potro. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

Djokovic said, after he squeezed his Monday victory over Khachanov in under the wire, that he had heard his last-on match was likely to be cancelled had the prior match between Kevin Anderson and Gaël Monfils had gone to a fifth set.

Meanwhile, a mixed doubles match involving Brit Jamie Murray and his partner Victoria Azarenka was played on Centre Court, with the roof closed and the lights switched to finish the third set.

It could all have been even worse. The absence of Andy Murray, who is pretty much an automatic (perhaps even more than Federer) to get a Centre Court slot made life a little easier this year for a lot of people.

Mid-match relocation rare

Djokovic dealt with that last year as well. The tournament wouldn’t move his Monday match, delayed by rain under the Centre Court roof to finish it.

(Tournaments rarely relocate a match that’s already in progress to another court. But it does happen. Notably in 2014 here, Genie Bouchard’s first-round match against Magdalena Rybarikova on Court 12 was moved to Centre Court, under the roof, on a day where just about everything was wiped out by rain.

There was a specific scenario involved there. The winner was to play Brit Johanna Konta. And they needed a Centre Court slot for her. And that was going to be difficult to manage had the second-round match been delayed a day, because of the other high-profile matches that needed to be scheduled. So yes, it’s pretty much all about television).

Last year’s stubbornness about not moving Djokovic’s match meant he had to finish up Tuesday. And on Wednesday, he had to retire in his quarterfinal match against Tomas Berdych. He didn’t play the rest of the season because of his elbow injury.

Luckily, that repeat scenario was avoided. Because Djokovic would have been right to raise a huge stink if it did.

assignment
The three kings of tennis practiced side by side by side on Sunday at Aorangi Park. But for the actual match scheduling, Djokovic is often the odd man out.

Federer to No. 1 Court, TV follows

So the seven-time champion Federer therefore led things off on No. 1 Court Wednesday for the first time in the tournament, facing No. 8 seed Anderson of South Africa.

Generally, the BBC’s main station is the spot for Centre Court action, while BBC2 has No. 1 Court.

Except … as Wednesday’s coverage began, Djokovic and Nishikori were nowhere to be seen on BBC1. The BBC lunchtime news was all over its coverage of U.S. president Donald Trump and other world leaders in Brussels, and didn’t switch back to the tennis until about 1:50 p.m., when they showed the two players walking onto court (50 minutes earlier)

After that, Federer’s match was switched to BBC1, while Nishikori and Djokovic was being shown on BBC2. 

It was all a very delicate dance.

The last time Federer played on No. 1 Court was against Gilles Simon of France the same round  – the quarterfinals – three years ago. Djokovic beat Federer in that 2015 final. 

Switching the matchups

Nadal vs. del Potro is the “fan favorite” match of the day, with both players having huge followings. So Federer was moved, risking the wrath of the all-powerful Centre Court debenture holders.

It also led to some scrambling as Federer fans who had tickets for Centre Court assuming their favorite would be there, trying to swap them out for No. 1 Court.

Meanwhile, the generally accepted scheduling plan that the two players who meet in the next round should play at approximately the same time wherever possible, was turned upside down to make this change.

The winner of Federer-Anderson will play the winner of the match between Milos Raonic and John Isner. But they play one after the other on Court 1.

Same scenario on Centre Court, where the winner of Djokovic-Nishikori will play the winner of Nadal-del Potro. And yet, they follow each other.

In this configuration, Federer or Anderson, and Djokovic or Nishikori will both benefit from some extra down time before Friday’s semifinals.  

The later the better for the Americas

The later time slots are more coveted by television in North and South America – which applies to Raonic, Isner and del Potro.

1 p.m. is 8 a.m. in New York and Toronto, 9 a.m. in Buenos Aires and 5 a.m. in Los Angeles. So the later the better, as far as the television rights holders in those countries. But the same is somewhat true in Europe, where the early evening match can spill over into prime-time blocks.

So there are no correct answers to this puzzle. Even though it’s typically not about the “best tennis matchup” or about fairness to all players.

But in the end, everyone will play and win, somewhere. Someone’s nose will always be put out of joint. and Isner and Raonic are probably happy just to still be playing on the second Wednesday of Wimbledon.

They’d probably play on the Centre Court roof, if they were asked to.

Rafael Nadal withdraws from Queen’s Club

It used to be that the iconic photo during the first week of the grass-court season, was Rafael Nadal going almost directly from the winner’s circle in Paris to the practice courts of Queen’s Club in London.

But the 11-time French Open champion is 32 now, and his body has spoken.

Nadal will pass on playing the Queen’s Club tournament. And barring a last-minute entry into Eastbourne, he will head to Wimbledon without having played a tuneup event.

“Queen’s is a great event, I have happy memories of winning the title in 2008 and I wanted to come back this year,” said Nadal, in a statement released by the tournament. “But it has been a very long clay court season for me with great results. I would like to say sorry to the tournament organizers and most of all to the fans that were hoping to see me play, but I have spoken to my doctors and I need to listen to what my body is telling me.”

Still a stellar field

withdraws
On Tuesday, June 10, 2008, Nadal arrived at Queen’s Club on the heels of his French Open title, to start his grass-court prep immediately. Back then, the grass-court prep season was just two weeks, and the London event began immediately after the end of Roland Garros.

The entry list, even without Nadal, remains stellar – especially with the addition of Novak Djokovic this week.

The next question mark will be whether home-country hero Andy Murray will play.

Murray has not played a competitive match since losing in the Wimbledon quarterfinals last July, He had hip surgery during the Australian Open in January.

And the Scot pulled out of planned participation in a grass-court tournament this week in the Netherlands.

As well, Diego Schwartzman of Argentina has also pulled out of Queen’s, with an abdominal injury.

In other news, American John Isner has withdrawn from a competing event in Halle, Germany.

With No. 11, Nadal finally feels the French love

PARIS – The applause kept coming for Rafael Nadal, on the occasion of his unthinkable 11th French Open title Sunday.

It came in waves. And it wouldn’t stop.

The man himself stood on the court he has made his own. And he didn’t know what else to do but nod, and wave, and smile.

And then the tears came.

“For me, I don’t have words to describe the motions I felt at that moment. Something exceptional for me to find myself on that court,” Nadal said later, in one of his endless television interviews. “Nowhere else do I feel this.”

The accolades and the banners held aloft in the crowd and the commemorative merchandise came with the 10th title a year ago – La Décima.

But perhaps the love of the French partisans finally came with this one – La Undécima.

The Austrian Dominic Thiem was vanquished, 6-4, 6-3, 6-2. And as he put it, winning at Roland Garros 11 times is one of the most outstanding things that has ever been achieved in sport.

And yet, if Nadal had conquered the tournament, he had never quite conquered the French.

love

The French stingy with the love

It has always been somewhat surprising, because the Mallorcan has been unwavering in his devotion to the city, its fans, the tournament and everyone associated with it.

“Since the first time that I came here until today is a love story with this event, not only with the victories, but this is all about the people who is working the event, too. I feel very close to all of them,” Nadal said in his press conference later in the evening.

With the passing of time, he even has spoken more and more in la langue de Molière in post-match interviews.

lovePerhaps it was because he kept winning it, taking much of the suspense out of the fortnight.

Perhaps Paris is more Roger Federer territory, a place reluctant to embrace a kid from a small town on a small Spanish island.

We certainly know they prefer their tennis more … artistic? Although art is in the eye of the beholder.

Nadal won’t have forgotten the emotions he felt back in 2009, when Robin Soderling defeated him and the crowd was firmly on the Swede’s side.

“They say it themselves and it’s true, the Parisian crowd is pretty stupid. I think the French don’t like it when a Spaniard wins,” Nadal’s uncle and former coach Toni Nadal said at the time. “Wanting someone to lose is a slightly conceited way of amusing yourself. They show the stupidity of people who think themselves superior.”

loveNadal has never actively sought their love, but he has unequivocally deserved it.

On Sunday, he felt it – maybe really and truly for the first time.

Perhaps that’s why he hugged the Coupe des Mousquetaires a little more tightly this time, as if he never wanted to let it go.

He did say later that the emotions weren’t necessarily stronger than they were a year ago.

Just different.

“Last year was very, very important. It had been awhile I hadn’t been winning when I got here last year,” Nadal said. “I feel like each year, it’s tougher to win it. Because the years are passing. I’m 32 now.”

Suspense – but not about the outcome

This was the first time Nadal had met a much-younger opponent in the French Open final.

And Thiem was a worthy foil, arguably the second-best clay-court player on the planet. It’s clear Nadal sees him as his successor, and considers him a good friend as well.

loveSo there was a different dynamic to the quest for undécima, a faint hope for a changing of the guard – or at the very least, a compelling final.

Thiem, after all, had beaten Nadal three of the seven times they had played somewhere other than Paris.

But in Paris, in two attempts, he had failed to win a set.

In this third attempt, Thiem also failed to win a set.

Lucky with the weather

The biggest suspense on the day concerned whether the weather would cooperate. Rain and a thunderstorm were nearly guaranteed to hit the 16th arrondissement somewhere in the late afternoon or evening.

For nearly three weeks, through the qualifying and the main draw, this had been a possibility. But somehow, with only a couple of exceptions, the showers circumnavigated Roland Garros and allowed the tournament to proceed more or less on schedule.

Not 45 minutes after all the festivities were concluded, the wind picked up. And the thunder bellowed. And then the rain fell.

A worrisome moment

loveAs Nadal was serving up a break in the third set at 2-1, at 30-love on his serve, he suddenly bolted to his chair after missing his first serve.

He was grabbing the middle finger on his left hand. And he looked really concerned.

The doctor and trainer immediately came out, as Nadal ripped off the tight wrap around his wrist that he said was to keep the sweat away from his racket hand. (He had it on the right wrist as well).

loveHe stretched out the finger. And the physio massaged his forearm arm, up past the wrist, to get some blood flowing back into the finger.

Nadal finally returned to the service line for his second serve – and double-faulted.

But if the finger bothered him, it didn’t show.

Thiem didn’t win another game.

“Sort of a cramp”

“I had sort of cramp in the finger, and I couldn’t move it, and I was worried. I told myself I could have wasted all that energy if I couldn’t continue,” Nadal said to FranceTV. “The finger wouldn’t move. I couldn’t hold the racquet. So of course I was worried.”

Until then – and even after that – Nadal was in pure beast mode.

As much time as Nadal was taking between points, Thiem probably wasn’t objecting. So many of the points ended up with the Austrian fighting for oxygen.

love

If the point was short, Thiem was there with Nadal. If the point was very long, he stood his ground. But on the points between four and nine shots, Nadal was the master.

loveThe Austrian hit the ball as hard as he possibly could. But it still came back. And the moment he didn’t, Nadal finished it off.

“I did the best that I could, but there’s a reason why Rafa won here 11 times. He’s obviously the toughest challenge in tennis, and he showed it once again. I didn’t play that bad. I was fighting for every ball, but he was just too good. So I have to accept it,” Thiem said.

“To me, it’s still been two great weeks. I still remember when you won here for the first time in 2005 I was 11 years old, watching on the TV. And honestly I never expected one day that I would play the finals here, so I’m really happy,” he said to Nadal during the trophy ceremony.

“I lost the final in the in the juniors seven years ago, and I lost the final today, I hope I will have another chance, maybe against you, that would be a dream.”

Scheduling leaves Nadal fans crushed

PARIS – If the practice-court schedulers had seen the mass of humanity that gathered in and outside Court No. 1 Saturday to watch Rafael Nadal practice with Lucas Pouille, they might have known better.

The 10-time champion booked a two-hour block for practice Sunday with countryman Pablo Andujar.

And they ended up on … Court 17.

That’s not Court 17: 2017-and-earlier edition. That was one of the show courts even if it was all the way at the end of the site.

This was Court 17: new edition. It’s probably the only court on the entire site that doesn’t have a single seat around it. As in, zero. It’s tucked into a small area and, during the qualifying, was used mostly for the half-hour warmup slots for the players ahead of their matches. 

There isn’t even any space around that court for fans to stand to watch. There is a tiny area at one corner that might, at best, fit 15 people if you cram them in who might actually get a clear view.

So, predictably, it was utter chaos in that area of the Roland Garros site for nearly two hours Sunday.

Here’s what it looked like.

No access to Court 18

Meanwhile, there was a young French player on new Court 18, the replacement for the old Court 17 and a permanent, sunken court all the way at the back of the site.

So there was going to be demand for seating on that court – even more as Grégoire Barrere took an early two-sets-to-none lead on Radu Albot of Moldova.

But there was basically no way to get through, short of finding an exit, going all the way around the outside of the site, and re-entering through the gate next to that court.

There were people crammed in everywhere trying to get a look. They were even looking down from the elevated walk on Court 18.

There was a an abject lack of security around – save for one officious fellow whose job was to shoo the folks standing up in the last row of Court 15 right next to it.

It’s pretty hot out today. And add that to the humidity and the crush of mankind, it looked like a potential disaster waiting to happen. 

In the end, it seemed there was no harm done, other than most of the people out there never did catch a glimpse of their idol.

Hopefully they’ll figure out a better alternative next time.

Rafael Nadal hits the court in Paris (video)

PARIS – Rafael Nadal hit the practice court at the French Open for the first time Thursday, with a two-hour session on Court Suzanne Lenglen.

He had two more court times booked – two hours each – on Friday.

Nadal’s opponent on Thursday was quality clay-courter Pablo Cuevas of Uruguay.

The Mallorcan is obviously the prohibitive favorite at Roland Garros once again this year, as he seeks his 11th career title and comes into it in redoubtable form, based on his efforts during the clay-court season so far.

He also returns as the No. 1 player in the world, flipping with Roger Federer yet again as of Monday.

That wouldn’t change his seeding in Paris, obviously, with Federer once again skipping it this year.

First up is Dolgopolov

Nadal’s first-round opponent is Alexander Dolgopolov, who has been a bit of a ghost this spring as he returns from injury. 

The Ukrainian had been out since the Australian Open when he lost in the first round of Marrakech to No. 221 Andrea Arnaboldi last month. And he didn’t return until a month later, when he won just four games against Novak Djokovic in the first round of Rome.

So he wouldn’t be expected to put up much opposition.

There are some quality players through his first couple of rounds. But the first seed Nadal would be expected to face is No. 27 Richard Gasquet.

Unfortunately for Gasquet, he’s 0-15 against Nadal, even though he hasn’t played him on clay since 2011. He also hasn’t taken a set off Nadal in nearly 10 years.

After that, it could be Jack Sock, or Denis Shapovalov.

Here are some pics from the Thursday practice.

US Open to use serve clock in main draw

The US Open was the first to experiment with strict limits on the warmup period and time between points in its qualifying and junior events last year. This year, the last Grand Slam tournament of the season is taking it one step further.

According to a story from the New York Times, warmup limits and 25-second  “shot clock” will be used in the main draw events as well this year.

“Pace of play is a major issue in sports today. We recognize that and we want to be ahead of it,” USTA spokesman Chris Widmaier told the Times.

Were there any concrete science concluding the time-conservation rules resulted in an actual shortening of matches, no doubt someone (the Australian Open used the same rules in its own qualifying in January) would have produced it.

If matches are going longer these days, it more likely due to the fact that points are being shortened at the net a lot less frequently than in past eras. As a result, long rally after long rally means many matches can average an hour a set.

Qualifying experiment drama-free

Anecdotally, from walking around the courts all day at the qualifying both in New York last summer and Melbourne in January, there were very few instances where the players went over the 25-second limit between points. 

The serve clock did highlight players who were especially quick, though. There were many who typically took 15 seconds or less. But at least at the qualies level, the vast majority of the players just get on with it.

Sometimes, the conversation between the chair umpire and the two players at the net had to be extended. The umpires had to explain the changes. And it seemed that some players actually hadn’t gotten the memo.

Some were worried about being penalized for not being ready to serve at the start of matches. So they shortened their five-minute warmup period.

In the feature pic at the top, Canadian Françoise Abanda is heading back to the baseline to serve – with time left in the regular warmup period. The one-minute period between the end of the warmup and when the first serve must be struck hadn’t even begun.

Rafael Nadal will be pleased – not

At the main draw level – especially in its upper reaches – the proportion of time-wasters seems bigger. 

With all his rituals, Rafael Nadal is the most-mentioned offender. But he’s not alone. In recent months, Novak Djokovic has returned to his endless ball-bouncing ways. And Marin Cilic, out of nowhere, also has added a ball-bouncing ritual that takes up a lot of time.

(And yes, the perpetrators most often are on the men’s side – especially now that the human rain delay, Russia’s Maria Kirilenko, is retired).

(Note that the commentators – especially the former players, are absolutely no help in enforcing the rules).

Djokovic and Nadal probably set off all this focus on time with their five hour, 53-minute marathon at the Australian Open in 2012.

By the next year, the umpires were given directives to strictly enforce the existing rule. It was on the books, but they’d been notoriously lax with it. Many also are loath to be the bad guys and gals with players, by coming down on them about it.

Hot weather, longer breaks

According to a USA Today story, there were 36 time violations in the first five days of the Qatar Open, during the first week of that 2013 season. Guillermo Garcia-Lopez and Gaël Monfils in Doha, Marcos Baghdatis and Andy Murray in Brisbane, and Tomas Berdych in Chennai were among the perps.

By 2015, it came to a head in Rio de Janeiro between Nadal and longtime chair umpire Carlos Bernardes.

It doesn’t appear that Nadal has received significantly more time violation warning and sanctions than before. He also doesn’t seem to have speeded up very much.

But with the evidence right there on the serve clock for everyone in the stadium and at home to see, it’s going to create a very interesting dynamic for the time-wasters on the circuit.

The umpires themselves, and when they actually start the 25-second serve clock after points, will be under the microscope. They are allowed leeway after long points, on hot days and if there are crowd disturbances.

(Note Tommy Haas getting into trouble – at what is now his own tournament at Indian Wells).

No more lollygagging at the chair

But it’s more than just the 25 seconds.

Nadal also is one of the bigger lollygaggers after he arrives on court for a match.

How many times do you see the opponent, the umpire and whoever is out there to perform a coin toss standing at the net making awkward conversation for what seems an eternity? Meanwhile, Nadal arranges his bags, his drinks, sits down, has a little snack and only then finally gets to the net.

Now, the Mallorcan will have exactly one minute. The times we’ve put the clock on him, he’s typically taken three times that. He’ll have to snack in the locker room.

In one sense, it’s unfair to spring this on players in the middle of the season. They will not have had to deal with restrictions like this for a full eight months only to suddenly find themselves at a Grand Slam with additional elements to focus on.

The tennis authorities should really do it at the big tournaments in Canada and Cincinnati that lead up to the US Open. That would give the players a chance to practice it, get used to it, and not be distracted by it in New York.

Of course, that would require cooperation between the ATP, WTA and ITF. And we know how rarely that happens in tennis.

At any rate, it’s done. 

We await Nadal’s reaction next week, when he arrives in Monte Carlo.

Spain to Davis Cup semis in dramatic finale

The best thing about Davis Cup is that its rich history is so full of career-making moments.

It can be a relatively obscure bench player who does something spectacular, as Germany’s Tim Puetz did Saturday in the doubles tie against Spain.

Or it can be a player who’s had a fine career , but never ever quite had that moment to shine.

For David Ferrer, in his Valencia home, charged with winning a fifth and decisive rubber for the first time in his career, this was such a moment.

Ferrer, who turned 36 last week, was playing in his 24th career Davis Cup tie. And as sterling as his 27-5 record was, he had never carried the entire tennis nation on his shoulders.

Magic moment, at home, when it counts

But on Sunday, before a faithful home-city crowd, after the return of Rafael Nadal to the competition put the first two points up on the board but the French Open-champion pairing of Feliciano Lopez and Marc Lopez were shocked the day before, Ferrer seized the day.

Overmatched in his first match Friday against world No. 4 Alexander Zverev, Ferrer finally put away a valiant Philipp Kohlschreiber, 7-6 (1), 3-6, 7-6 (4), 4-6, 7-5 Sunday in four hours and 51 minutes.

The victory puts Spain in the September World Group semifinals against France.

The moment put Ferrer in the pantheon of his country’s sporting heroes.

“Very emotional, this competition. I have my best emotions in my career. So I’m really happy,” Ferrer said during an on-court interview after the match. “It’s really difficult to describe the feeling in this moment. Difference was in the final set. I played better than him. I was very focused, and the first set (which Ferrer won) was the key. In the first set maybe he was better than me, and after that it was very very close.

“For me its a dream, playing at home, here in Valencia, have the support of al the people, my family, my team. We’re in the semifinals, so it’s one of the best days in my career, for sure,” he added.

The day began with Ferrer’s teammate Rafael Nadal taking world No. 4 Alexander Zverev to school in a clinical 6-1, 6-4, 6-4 win. It evened the tie at 2-2 in the wake of Saturday’s doubles defeat, and gave Ferrer his opportunity to shine.

Tough conditions in the bullring

And it was a day that had everything. Rain. Cool temperatures. Blustery winds that blew the red clay into the eyeballs of players and fans alike. But as the big crowd approached its seventh hour in the Valencia bullring, not many had left.

Kohlschreiber was up 3-0 in the fourth set tiebreak. But he lost it. Ferrer was up a break in the fifth set. But Kohschreiber won three straight games to go ahead again. 

Germany had two break points at 3-4 to have an opportunity to serve for the tie. But two Kohlschreiber backhands – one topspin, one careful slice – flew over Ferrer’s baseline as the wind carried them a little too far.

At 5-5, 30-all, Kohlschreiber got an awkward bounce on the clay-deprived court, missed a forehand, and gave Ferrer an opportunity to break. 

And then, on an epic point that sums up Ferrer’s career and heart, he ran down at least three near-winners, one after another. After more than 4 1/2 hours on court, he made Kohlschreiber hit just one more ball.

It was a backhand volley, near the net. And Kohschreiber couldn’t make it.

After that, with Nadal still frantically cheering from the sidelines, Ferrer was able to close it out. He fell to the court in exhausted ecstasy.

Ultimate sportsmanship

dramatic
Before even celebrating with his teammates, Ferrer was over on the German side consoling opponent Philipp Kohlschreiber and his teammates.

And then, to no one’s surprise, after shaking the chair umpire’s hand and hugging his captain briefly, he immediately headed over to his vanquished opponent, as Kohlschreiber sat disconsolate on the German bench.

A consoling moment with him, hugs and handshakes for the German squad. And only then did he head over to get mobbed by his teammates.

“I feel so emotional because … the match the both played was unbelievable. Also very special for David, that we love, one of the greatest person on the circuit. I think he deserves a match like this one, Davis Cup, in front of this crowd,” captain Sergi Bruguera said in an on-court interview.

“Philipp, he played an unbelievable match, one of the best matches I ever saw him play. … All the match was an incredible level of tennis, incredible intensity, for five hours.”

Ferrer didn’t even want to think about France, about September, about anything but the moment.

For me it’s one of the best days of my life, and I want to enjoy it,” he said. “Maybe one glass of red wine.”