Posted: Wednesday August 30, 2006 6:20PM; Updated: Friday September 1, 2006 1:47PM
Not surprisingly, Rafael Nadal was a star attraction during Wednesday's huge slate of action at the U.S. Open.
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NEW YORK -- There are two ways to look at Tuesday's rain delay at the U.S. Open: The first is to lament the tennis that was missed. The second is to celebrate the flood of matches to be made up.
Me being a glass half-full guy, and the blue courts here in Queens now being half-empty, I say it's time to party. Wednesday's schedule featured 71 singles matches. What follows is a diary of one man's attempt to catch them all.
1) 11:21 a.m.: Nalbandian-Berrer, Court 11
My first match of the day is knotted at a set apiece. It's still early, and the crowd is groggy. A Slamboni warbles off in the distance. A slight breeze tickles the tops of trees and pushes David Nalbandian's serve slightly off target. I count four instances where his serve strays from its intended path, my tally interrupted by two older gentlemen who take seats next to me. Both are dressed as if they themselves might take the court next: short-sleeve polo, khaki shorts, white New Balances with matching calf-high socks.
The one closest to me spies my lanyard and, after tiring his companion with his exhaustive tennis knowledge, tries me on for size. "I think Philippoussis can really give Nadal trouble," he offers. He goes on to say that he saw him earlier at Newport, R.I., and found the Australian (who went on to win the tournament) head and shoulders above the field. "He was better than anyone else there," he said, adjusting his straw golf hat. Anxious that I might be missing a potential upset, I excuse myself with Nalbandian ahead 5-3 to mosey over to Ashe.
2) 11:57 a.m.: Nadal-Philippoussis, Ashe Stadium
There are more blue seats than butts in them, a sharp contrast to the scene here a day earlier when an AndreAgassi-Andrei Pavel thriller kept some 23,000-plus on the edge of their seats. The few butts here today, though, you can be sure are here for Rafa.
I find him with a set already under him, 6-4, and sporting yet another ensemble that seems a better fit for power forward than his power forehand: baggy red shorts, a black cut-off top with what can only be described as the mark of Daredevil on his back (in red). White socks. White sneaks. Red bandana. It looked like something Horace Grant might have worn to the Berto Center -- so much so that I half expected the boys in the press box to start blaring Steely Dan's Reelin' in the Years during the changeover.
While I reminisce, Mark Philippoussis claws back in the second, at one point smacking a 133-mph ace past Rafa en route to a 3-2 edge. I gather up my tears and make a beeline for Armstrong.
3) 12:23 p.m.: Vik-Safin, Armstrong Stadium
I came for Marat Safin. I stayed for Robin Vik. I happened upon the Czech as he had broken Safin to take a 5-3 lead in the third. Safin held the overall lead, 6-1, 6-1, but you wouldn't have known it from the way Vik was playing in the third. Terribly efficient, he had landed 74 percent of his first serves up to that point, ripping four aces, 11 winners and only four unforced errors to Safin's 14. (He didn't turn down many invitations to come to the net, either.)
It was only upon looking at Vik's face that his frustrations became clear. All match long he carried the pained expression of a teenager getting pummeled by his older brother. Safin soon put him out of his misery, taking the next set 6-3.