Sunday, August 12, 2012

Rain Delays - the Bane of Tournament Tennis


Canada's Week of Rain

Have you seen all the rain that Toronto and Montreal got this week? It threw off the schedule so badly that most of the players had to play 2 matches on the same day to get into the quarterfinals. They are doing everything they can to squeeze in the men's and women's semifinals late at night.

Also with a 2+ hour rain delay that occurred at the tail end of the first set in DC at the Citi Open, it really put a damper on the TV guys who were probably showing replays of semi's the night before. Many fans who attend the ATP Finals are older, have kids/families and time is scarce so generally those long delays mean when play finally starts back up, only about 3-4 rows of people actually can stay for the conclusion.

A similar rain delay happened to me back at the 2009 Nadal vs. Djokovic US Open Final where there was a long delay that made me miss my flight back home. But like a true fan, I had to watch Rafa seal his last major to complete his career grand slam. I've also watched him playing through steady rain in Paris at the French Open, with just a baseball cap on while others were scrambling for their ponchos, umbrellas and many even for the exits. My opinion: it's worth getting a little wet to watch a legend.

Let's not beat around the bush - Rain Delays suck.

Fans may not come back or want to wait it out, and your TV crews will try their best not to show an empty stadium.

What happens when the weather drys? How do you fit 5 days of tennis into 3 1/2 days? Should there be an extra day of rest between the semis and finals? Is playing under a roof good or bad?

Back-to-back 3-set matches (up to 6 sets in 1 day)

Playing 2 back-to-back matches on same day is NOT the same as playing best of 5 match. Also players have to get back on the very next day usually to play again without the usual day off break. The next opponent you face in the 2nd match could have had a hour less of match time and an extra hour of recovery time. All of that matters in these rapid fire situations during the summer.

Mother nature is now deciding when players must play again

So as they are mentally preparing for a match while trying keep their body temperatures and heat rate up if they feel like they might go back on soon. They are waiting in the players locker room or lounges for the call to play. Having been there in those locker rooms, and I can tell you it can be pretty stressful game of "get ready and wait".


Rain-checks: Monday Finals

This is not ideal as Sunday Finals are the norm and get much higher viewers. But as the US Open has gotten in the last 3 out of 4 years, the rain delays during the 2nd week have eaten into players ability to count on their matches starting on time.

It is important the needs of the players be put of paramount importance. In the past, players such as Nadal have completed (and I believe rightly so) that they have been pushed to get on court and play even when the conditions are too wet to proceed. I know that it is tough financially to delay play, but if tennis is to be played at the highest level, you cannot push the players beyond safety limits in favor of court time or air time.

I am a firm believer that when both players agree to postpone, then the tournament director should oblige them.

Having a roof is another option, but I feel like it changes the dynamics of the game. Wimbledon is not suppose to be an indoor tournament, but for much of the Grand Slam and even the Olympics, many important matches and finals were played in that controlled environment.

Whether the players feel that is better than getting rain delayed is a good question.


What do you think? Post your comments below!


More tips for USTA recreational tennis players dealing with the rain and compressed schedules...


What do you do? How do you recover and refocus with only 1 hour of break?

So you try to get a quick shower, change into dry clothes, stuff your face with whatever snack you can find. Do some quick stretching and drink some recovery fluids to try to get right back on the court to play another match.

It is usually nearly impossible to get a decent lunch in this short amount of time unless you already know a place nearby. So my suggestion is to always have some power bars or snacks to keep you through. Plus downing a quick lunch and then trying to play in less than an hour can leave you sluggish and slow as your body is still breaking the food down. I would stay away from heavy protein-rich foods, unless you have already finished your last match.

Here are more tips about handling the rain delays and staying loose but focused to be ready when you need to get back on court.

Personal experiences with playing double-headers on same day


I've had the "double-header" situation twice in the last month, plus many more times in my career. Sometimes I even get put on the court as the last match in my bracket (when all the other competitors are already playing or done with their matches already before I have even started).

At USTA/MAS NTRP Championship on July 4th weekend, it was a 1.5 hour later start in the day. Quite a bit warmer on a weekend that had a 115 heat index in DC, plus less recovery time for the next round. So psychologically you feel like you're at a disadvantage going in - whether you end up winning or losing.

Also there does not be any seeding this year in any of the Mid-Atlantic USTA tournaments anymore? At least for the ones I entered...in fact, having a top ranking did not give me any 1st round byes for the Annual Shiloh Open in DC tournament and instead I had to play a Friday, 3PM match. No other players in my NTRP bracket were assigned a Friday start time...interesting. Not sure the reasoning behind this or if it is purely random?

The worst thing was that rained very heavily that day and no matches would be played outdoors. However, any player that did not report to the tournament site or arranged an alternative way to play was disqualifiedDef (ns) = Default (No Show). So instead of missing work, driving out of state to a rain out, and then getting another compressed Saturday schedule, I opted to pay for an indoor court so at least I could play my opponent that day. I then proceeded to lose in the 3rd set tie-break which was unfortunate.

It is sort of "pick your poison". In the compressed schedule situation, both times, I was given the standard 1 hour of rest until playing my next opponent (unfortunately often times you next opponent got a walkover or an easy win 6-0, 6-0, in less than an hour). So he's fresh and you're just walking off the court when they tell you to please hurry up and get ready to play as soon as they have the next available open court.

Would having more outer courts or remote courts available help? At least that way more early round matches can be completed, leaving a safety buffer for the later rounds in case it does rain?

Also how about limiting USTA tournament to certain draw sizes so that it would be practical to fit in all matches? With limited space especially in DC, it makes 2 hour delays for all matches too common; plus the lack of updates on a tournament website can leave a lot of players wondering what they should do.

It makes many players including myself hesitant to register in advance because you have to pretty much block out an entire weekend to play, in addition to have so much uncertainty with the weather and court time assignments.


Athletic Endurance and Conditioning

It is tough. And for anyone who would judge the pro athletes as being too under-prepared  in their conditioning, I would challenge any person to play a competitive 4+ hour singles match or a 5 setter that goes the distance. Yes, they get paid to be in great shape and practice nearly every day... Even professional football players have commented that a best of 5 set match is more physically taxing than an entire game of football - and those guys play once a week whereas most players play up to 6-7 possibly 4+ hour matches in a 2 week period during grand slams.

When you have trained in the same 80% humidity, scorched in the same blazing sun 5 hours a day, played marathon matches and come back the very next day to do it all over again - I think only then do you have the right to judge the players. I personally have more respect for tennis commentators who have been in the grind and/or coached at the highest levels: Brad Gilbert or Darren Cahill or John McEnroe, for example.

The perspective and respect I have for those coaches and former players is much higher Because of their visceral, 1st-person account of the battlefield. They do no assume or imagine what it is like. They know because they have been there. No amount of television make-up or tennis trivia knowledge or player's name-spelling prowess will ever replace that.

Agassi commentary at the US Open to a regular tennis player has so much more meaning than simply time-filling dibble I've heard by others TV personalities.

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