Controversy dominates US Open

Sept. 7, 2003, midnight | By Vivek Chellappa | 17 years, 4 months ago

Selective timing schedule leaves some players angry

Unfortunately, the 2003 US Open will not be remembered as the event where star Pete Sampras retired, or the year of any American victories. It will be remembered as a disaster for the most part, and even an insult to some of the finest tennis players in the world. The confusion that players dealt with on Tuesday and Wednesday, during which only two out of 198 matches were played because of miserable weather, is unprecedented in professional tennis.

The schedule, already delayed, was pressured even more because of CBS's insistence to show the men's finals on Sunday, and the semi-finals on Saturday, with the obvious goal of more ratings. Unfortunately, the money that CBS gave for exclusive TV coverage, spoke louder than what any player could say.

The two completed matches on Tuesday and Wednesday were won by Americans Andre Agassi and Andy Roddick, giving Agassi two days off until his next match, and Roddick one day off while the other six quarterfinalists squeezed in their games on Thursday, less than 24 hours before their next matches. The wear and tear showed; in all four of the quarterfinal matches, trainers were called onto the court for injuries. The other six quarterfinalists were put in a position of potentially playing four matches in a 4-day span, ridiculous by any standard.

The grumblings began even before the rainy weather delayed the tournament. In the hot, humid summer weather, top non-American players complained that Roddick and Agassi were given an advantage because they played in the evening slots, which are considered less grueling. Roddick had three of his four matches at night; Agassi had two.

The easiest way to determine the advantage Roddick had over his opponents is to check the score from his semifinal game against David Nalbandian. After losing the first two sets, Roddick was obviously much more energetic than Nalbandian, winning the last three sets 7-6, 6-1, 6-3. The commentators regularly commented that Nalbandian didn't have the legs to go after the ball like Roddick could. Although Agassi, the number one seed, lost to Juan Carlos Ferrero, the result can hardly be called an upset. Ferrero, who beat Lleyton Hewitt, Agassi and Todd Martin on his way to the finals, used his speed to wear the 33 year-old Agassi out.

Women's tennis wasn't spared from controversy either. Already suffering from the loss of the Williams sisters, the draw included other twists. After playing Jennifer Capriati in the semi-finals, Justine Henin-Hardenne needed hospitalization because of dehydration. She was still in the hospital the same day as the finals, but will play. The worst story of all, however, comes from the match between Ali Sugiyama (15 seed) and Francesca Schiavone (29 seed) was spread over four days. After the match finally ended, with Schiavone winning, she had less than four hours to prepare for an evening match against Capriati, who had three days of rest. Needless to say, Capriati dominated in a 6-1, 6-3 victory.

American men's tennis has been on the decline, and without the Williams sisters, women's tennis is in similar despair. While players compete to fill the shoes of greats like Pete Sampras, the last thing our players need is a controversy. Just as Phil Jackson called the San Antonio Spurs' championship in 1997, an asterisk championship, the last thing American players need is the reputation of being given championships.

Here's what the professionals said:

"In a Grand Slam, it's always important to have at least one day to rest. Agassi was kind of more rested."
"Everyone was upset."
Fifth seed Guillermo Coria.

"That's too bad for them. Just coincidence. I think maybe we got a little lucky."
Fourth seed Andy Roddick discussing the issue of extra rest

"I thought I had a little bit left in the tank, a little bit more than he did. To his disadvantage he had to play a couple more matches than I did in the last few days."
Roddick talking about his semi-final match

"Save CBS, Andy!"
Fan referring to the strain of ratings

"Two players who have played one more match, they have more chances to win, for sure,"
Antonio Martinez, coach of Spain's Juan Carlos Ferrero.

"The facts are very simple: Andy and Andre were placed on Arthur Ashe because they are the hottest things we have with the fans. I can understand when people say, `Well, my goodness, they're the only ones who don't have to play four straight matches.' But if there is a conspiracy, it's our conspiracy to get our most popular players on court to be seen by the greatest amount of fans."

"Ten years from now, we will look back and smile when asked, `How did you endure the Open of '03?' I don't think it impacts the integrity of the tournament. You don't destroy in four days of rain — of which you have no control — what has been built through a hundred years."
Alan Schwartz, USTA president

"This is the poorest scheduling I've ever been part of in any grand slam."
"It's atrocious - of course it's important to make money but you also have to run a good tournament. Those decisions are near-sighted."

Martina Navratilova

"I don't think it's a coincidence; it's a coincidence that they won, but not that they were scheduled when they were scheduled. Already the Americans benefit from a night session compared to the others. Generally when it's hot, they play at night and not during the day. And on top of that, if when it rains, they play and the others don't, that makes for a lot of favoritism in the end."
Fabrice Santoro, US Open unseeded player

Quotes compiled from AP, NY Times, New York NewsDay

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Vivek Chellappa. As Vivek beings his final year in Blair, several new hobbies draw his attention: his passion for standup comedy and making lists with only one real piece of information. Vivek has recently developed a strong liking for the works of Mitch Hedberg, Dave Chapelle and … More »

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