FLUSHING MEADOWS, N.Y. — The real action at the U.S. Open on Thursday took place not on the court but underneath it. Just when it appeared that the players finally had a window of sun in which to play after two straight days of maddening rain delays, the effects of the recent weather woes struck again. Just minutes into the restart of the Andy Roddick vs. David Ferrer match on Louis Armstrong Stadium, with the American ahead 4-2 in the opening set, Roddick noticed a crack in the court just behind the baseline, the result of water bubbling up from underground.
“I’ve seen rain delayed matches, but I haven’t seen one delayed by a bubble,” said Tennis Channel commentator Martina Navratilova.
Roddick and officials gathered to inspect the troublesome spot, and play was soon called as the players returned to the locker room. All the while, play continued on the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center’s other showcase courts. Later, when the spot was supposedly dried off (think power vacuums and towels), the players were called back out to the court.
That’s when words began to fly.
Roddick immediately noticed more water bubbling from the crack and, clearly frustrated, barked at tournament director Brian Earley, saying, “I’m really starting to get pissed off. How hard is it not to see water? Jesus! What are we doing here? Why are we out here right now? I’m absolutely baffled.”
Earley, Roddick and Ferrer adjourned to the walkway beneath the stands, where they began to debate the issue. Roddick insisted they wanted to get the two-day-long fourth-round match in, but he wanted the conditions to be safe. When Earley asked if they wanted to continue even if they had “to play on a rotten court,” both players agreed. So the match was moved to Court 13, ironically, the same court upon which Roddick suffered some of his earliest USO Junior losses, to Fernando Gonzalez and Scott Lipsky in ’98 and ’99, respectively. (He hadn’t played a USO match away from Ashe Stadium in nine years).
An official USTA statement informed us, “We have faced an inordinate amount of rain in August and through the early part of September which has saturated the court surfaces…All courts were completely dried prior to play on Thursday…However, as the sun began to warm, or ‘bake’ the courts, evaporation of these saturated conditions began to surface…Until this situation is rectified, no further play will occur on Louis Armstrong Stadium.”
“It’s been a U.S. Open like none other,” observed ESPN’s Chris Fowler, stating the obvious.
Fowler was referencing the out-of-the-blue earthquake that struck during qualifying matches; the heavy rain and high winds of Hurricane Irene; the remnants of Tropical Storm Lee; and now the bubbling court. Seeing Andy Roddick smacking aces in the outback nether-regions of the BJK Tennis Center was like watching Cliff Lee hurling fastballs on a suburban sandlot. And the fans who scurried en mass across the grounds and were lucky enough to grab a seat ate it up. (The Texan likened the venue to “an intimate little rock show.”)
Ferrer had won five of their eight career head-to-heads, including a straight-sets victory over Roddick on the Austin resident’s home turf during the U.S.-Spain Davis Cup tie earlier this year. But Roddick jumped out quickly in his outside-court appearance, amassing 15 of his 19 aces in the first and second sets alone. Ferrer, meanwhile, amassed 34 unforced errors. And while the No. 5 seed was able to fight back to take the third set, he was never really himself and fell 6-3, 6-4, 3-6, 6-3, sending Roddick to his first Grand Slam quarterfinal since the 2010 Australian Open.
Following the win, Roddick encircled the court al la Cal Ripken, Todd Martin even, showing his obvious appreciation for the fan support.
“I enjoyed it,” said Roddick, who will next face world No. 2 Rafael Nadal. “I like playing kind of the smaller more intimate stuff when I can. I haven’t always gotten that opportunity here. I know Armstrong and Grandstand, there are so many great courts here that I just haven’t been a part of at all. I didn’t think Court 13 was in my future, but I probably could have promised you if it ever came to that I was just going to call it quits. But extenuating circumstances, I guess. I enjoyed myself out there.”
Of the colorful, only-in-Queens atmosphere, Roddick seemed to embrace it all.
“It was a little bit of everything,” he said. “We had some Van Morrison wannabe playing music in the courtyard, so we had a ‘Brown Eyed Girl’ soundtrack for about two games there. There was a guy scaling the fence in the back for a second. He was about to serve and I saw a guy climbing up the fence. A couple people wanted to do commentary from the service line. I didn’t think that was going to work…There was a repetitive screaming from the courtyard at one point. It was actually kind of shrill. It was a little stressful. It sounded like someone was getting hurt. I don’t know if that’s what it’s always like out there.”
Roddick did revisit the surreal turn of events that had occurred that morning, when the match first got underway in Armstrong Stadium.
“I looked down at one point and I saw like kind of like a little crack, and it had probably seven or eight nickel-sized water drops on it, but it looked too perfectly placed. It almost looked like someone almost poured a little bit of water out. So I dried it off, played the next game, went back to play the point, and saw it was there again. That’s when I realized that we had a problem.”
“I was surprised the second time we got called out,” he continued. “We walked back there and it was wet, so I couldn’t quite figure out why we were called out. I even said it’s coming from under. It’s not something you can dab a towel on and make it go away. I watched the monitors, and they were dabbing towels on it the entire time. Then they called us back out, and we walked right over it and it was wet. I could not believe what I was looking at. I mean, it puts us in a little bit of an uncomfortable position, too, because, obviously, we want to play and stuff. But it’s still there, dude….At that point, I think [Earley] was just trying to scramble and find us some sort of court.”
That court turned out to be, for Roddick’s sake anyway, lucky Court 13.