The blustery conditions made life difficult for those in action Saturday. (Stan Honda/AFP/Getty Images)
Friday threatened to be a washout with Hurricane Earl bearing down on the East Coast. But when the storm bypassed New York City (along with much of the seaboard) on the way to making landfall in Nova Scotia on Saturday morning, tennis fans exhaled. Tournament organizers, too.
Though we were spared the rain, the storm’s remnants provided plenty of wind on Saturday -- most of it swirling inside the cavernous Arthur Ashe Stadium. Some gusts approached 25 m.p.h., starching the giant flag atop the press box, buffeting shirts and reducing some rallies to whiffleball at-bats. When one gust puffed a flurry of jetsam onto the court during Novak Djokovic’s nighttime victory over James Blake, umpire Carlos Ramos pleaded with near 20,000 in attendance to “Please hold onto any napkins.”
Meanwhile, Djokovic was trying to hold onto his composure. “It’s a big mental struggle when you have such a strong wind to find a way to try to play good tennis, especially when you have somebody across the net who is so aggressive,” said third-seeded Serbian after beating Blake in straight sets.
But not every top seed weathered the wind. The most notable one knocked off by it was fourth-seeded Jelena Jankovic of Serbia, who lost her third-round match to 31st-ranked Kaia Kanepi of Estonia. In her news conference afterward she bemoaned the blustery conditions. “You know, obviously [the balls] were going all over the place, “ said Jankovic, who played first on Ashe. She thought Kanepi handled the wind much better. The Estonian was especially sharp with her returns (landing 76-of-84 in play) and at net (winning 10-of-12 points). “I mean, it's tough to serve, tough to hit the balls,” Jankovic continued. ”I had a really hard time.”
Strong winds forced players to adjust their games accordingly -- and left fans clinging to their trash in the stands. (Chris McGrath/Getty Images)
Maria Sharapova, who followed Jankovic on center court, struggled too -- though you wouldn’t know it by looking at the scoreboard. After being upset in her past two appearances here by admiring teenage upstarts Agnieszka Radwanska of Poland (in 2007) and American sweetheart Melanie Oudin (2009), the 2006 U.S. Open champ waxed Maryland 18-year-old Beatrice Capra 6-0, 6-0. “I mean, it's tough to serve, tough to hit the balls,” said Sharapova, who overcame five double faults on the way to winning 72 percent of her service points. “The balls move all over the place.”
Conditions on the auxiliary courts weren’t much calmer. Out at the Grandstand, France’s Gaël Monfils, who triumphed 7-6, 6-7, 6-2, 6-4 over Serbia’s Janko Tipsarevic, watched more than a few shots knuckle out of his pterodactyllian reach. (His exact words: “For me to play my game, it was tough to swing my balls. Tennistically it was not a great match.”) Top seed Caroline Wozniacki of Denmark, who breezed through her third-round match against Yung-Jan Chan of Taiwan 6-1, 6-0 at Louis Armstrong Stadium, needed time to adjust too. “It was very difficult to play,” said Wozniacki, who will face Sharapova in the next round.
Even Roger Federer, who was third on at Ashe, labored to calibrate his game to the conditions. “You have to be careful with it,” said the second-seeded Swiss, who blew past France’s Paul-Henri Mathieu in straight. “Maybe not aim at the lines as much. After four games or so, I knew what I could do and what I couldn’t do.”
And he dominated the tousled Mathieu, who committed 56 errors -- 27 of them unforced. Opting for firm and flush strokes over finesse ones, Federer leaned on his powerful ground game in overcoming Mathieu and the weather. “If you just played soft into the court, as well, it's kind of tricky then to measure the ball well,” said Federer, who’ll face Austria’s Jürgen Melzer on Monday. “You just go with the pace of the other guy. It’s not so easy to create pace when it’s so windy.” Still, those who survived the wind can at least take comfort in this forecast: by Sunday, it will have all blown over.