Best 4 Out of 5: So What is “Fair” for the Men?

When play resumes tomorrow (if it resumes tomorrow…or ever) there are still Men’s round of 16 matches waiting to be played by the majority of the remaining men; including Murray, Roddick, Nadal, Isner, Young, Mueller, Ferrer and Simon. Meanwhile, a lucky handful of guys – Tsonga, Federer, Djokovic, and Tipsarevic – are up to play their quarterfinal matches.
They are a full round ahead of the other guys. In what it’s increasingly a best-case scenario, they would play 3 of the next 4 days. The other guys would play every day leading up to and including the final.
Remember, too, that this is grand slam tennis. Whereas the women routinely play best 2 of 3 set matches on back to back days, the men never play best 4 of 5 set matches on back to back days…unless we have weather like we are seeing in New York right now. Bottom line is that it’s going to suck for all of the guys once play is resumed. As @TennisConnected tweeted today, whoever wins this title will have earned it. But there is a legit question as to whether the guys who are already in the quarters should be held back a day so that there is a level playing field between them and the round of 16 guys. The first question of fairness is this: Is it fair to ask the men, in general, to play back-to-back-to-back days of potential 5 set matches? The second question is this: Is it fair to ask the round of 16 men, specifically, to play4 straight days of potential 5 set matches when there opponents on the other side will have only 3 days of play? This is not a trivial issue when you consider the amount of withdrawals and injuries prevalent on the tour these days. We have already had a record number of injury withdrawals from these US Open Championships. Many of the guys that are left in the draw have been hanging on by bandage, tape, and painkiller to make it to this stage of the summer anyway. Is it realistic and fair to ask them to potentially put their physical well-being at risk? And why? Because the needs of TV (CBS, ESPN, and The Tennis Channel) dictate that we must have a prime-time final on Sunday after football? I don’t want to pretend that I know that is the real reason. But it kinda looks that way no matter which way you look at it. In fact, the schedule of play for Thursday is out and the two available Men’s quarterfinal matches, Federer vs. Tsonga and Djokovic vs. Tipsarevic, are scheduled for play. There aren’t many ways I can see this situation where one of these “won’t” be the winner at the end of this. They will have a clear advantage. All of these athletes are prepared and fit. But what is being asked of the guys on the other side, the guys in the bottom half of the draw, is an impossible task. Rafael Nadal, who has already been pretty on edge most of this tournament, hit his personal wall today. As he was leaving from the court in frustration, down a break at 0-3, he said: “It’s the same old story,” Nadal said to Early of the decision to play in the light rain. “All you think about is money.” His comments were directed to Brian Early, the tournament referee. These were very uncharacteristic of Rafa, and show his general level of frustration at the struggles he has had this tournament. He is also realistic about his chances of winning and defending his title…and under the circumstances he has almost no chance at winning. His grinding style of play has finally started catching up with his 25 year-old body, and he knows that on a hardcourt he will not survive 4 days of matches with a realistic chance of winning. I’d be frustrated too.
I’d also be frustrated if I were Roddick. This won’t help his chances either. He’s on the old side of the guys left in the draw, and definitely doesn’t bounce back well in hard matches. But really, I could say the same for all of the guys. Moreover, all of this really just amounts to the fact that whatever final pairing we have on Sunday — if play is allowed to continue without more rain (unlikely) — it’s going to be a pretty crappy match, Grand Slam or not.

That is unfortunate. Whatever was paid for broadcast rights to the USTA: was it worth the money?

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