Rain is not good for tennis. Not for the tournaments that host the outdoor sporting event, not for the fans who have to wait through rain delays, and not for the players who are sometimes forced to play hours later than they are originally scheduled.
This week at the Citi Open, the constant deluge of rain has pushed the schedule back so that some players have had to play multiple matches in a day or start play past midnight. Andy Murray, the former world number one, has played three late night matches, including his third round match victory that finished at 3 a.m. on Friday.
Afterward, Murray, a notoriously emotional player, sat in his chair and cried into his towel in front of about a hundred devoted fans at Rock Creek Park Tennis Center. Later, Murray vented his frustrations about the long day to a small group of reporters.
“Finishing matches at 3 in the morning is not good. It’s not good for the players. It’s not good for anyone, I don’t think, involved in the event. It’s not good for fans, TV. Nobody,” Murray said, according to The Associated Press.
In that same conversation, Murray, who returned from an extended injury break in June, added he could “potentially” consider not playing his Friday night quarterfinal match, scheduled as the second match on stadium court after 7 p.m. On Friday night around 6:30 p.m., Murray officially withdrew from the Citi Open, citing fatigue, and also decided to skip next week’s Toronto tournament.
“I’m exhausted after playing so much over the last four days, having not competed on the hard courts for 18 months,” he said in a statement. “I also need to be careful and listen to my body as I come back from a long-term injury.”
Murray had similar sentiments after his third round match.
“I’m giving my view right now as someone who’s just come back from a very, very long injury layoff,” he told reporters early Friday morning. I don’t think I should be put in a position like that, when you’re expected to come out and perform the next day. I don’t think it’s reasonable. And I’m disappointed with that, because I know that the weather’s tricky and I know it is for the scheduling, but it’s a very difficult position to be in.”
In a conversation with two reporters Friday afternoon, Citi Open tournament director Keely O’Brien said she was “upset” by Murray’s post-match comments, but that she empathized with his situation.
O’Brien, who is in her second year as the tournament director, added that she had not reached out to Murray, as she wanted him to focus on his competition.
“When I read his remarks from the press conference this morning, I was certainly upset by it, but I do understand. 3 a.m. is very difficult for everyone,” she said. “I can’t imagine being on court and performing and fighting like they both were. At the same time, all of our staff were still here. We have volunteers that are still here. There were about 100 people, maybe more, in the stands that waited all night because they wanted to see Andy play. I do agree with them, it’s hard. But when you have four days of rain that is scattered throughout the day, there’s very little room for flexibility with the schedule.”
In regards to the report that Murray considered not playing, O’Brien spoke about Murray’s role as a global ambassador of the sport and a player that millions look up to.
“I think and hope that Andy really takes into consideration this role in his sport and as a global role model to guys and girls on the tour and kids around the world that when things are difficult and tough and the conditions aren’t great that it’s not okay to just give up,” she said. “I hope we see him on court tonight fighting like he did last night, because that, I believe, is the right message for anyone in this sport.”
On Friday night, O’Brien released a statement that read, “I am so grateful that Andy, an incredible champion, came back to D.C. to begin what we all know will be a great comeback. I sincerely respect his decision and know that his health and recovery process is his top priority, as it should be.”
Asked Friday afternoon whether or not she would have changed Murray’s schedule if she had the chance, O’Brien was adamant that the schedule did not allow much room for flexibility.
“For instance, he plays until 3 o’clock [and] if he wanted to play earlier, I’m not giving him enough time to rest and recover. So if he gets home and sleeps and then ask him to play at 4:30, how is that fair? So he’s locked into his time,” she said. “And hopefully we don’t have rain to push it back. But his match follows the 7 o’clock match. So 3 o’clock in the morning the way the schedule lies shouldn’t happen, but it does because of rain.”
The tournament made the rare decision to start play at noon on Wednesday to catch up on the matches delayed due to the rain, but O’Brien said that to do that, she must give the players enough of a heads up that play is starting earlier the day before.
Play has been caught up as of Friday afternoon, O’Brien added.
“That’s all in consideration for how you have to build a day, singles, doubles, who hasn’t played their second round match yet, when is weather going to hit us, television slots, it’s a huge jigsaw puzzle,” she said. “And then add rain on top of it. These decisions aren’t made lightly, we spend hours together with the ATP and WTA supervisors and the tour manager on ATP side, there are a lot of people who sit in this room and have to compromise and work together to put together what actually makes sense for the players.”
In 1974, Harold Solomon defeated Guillermo Vilas in a three-sets final that lasted two days due to rain delays.
O’Brien said the tournament has considered options like starting the matches earlier, but mentioned that when the tournament had day and night sessions, players complained about the excessive heat.
Other solutions that have been floated around include building a roof over the court, a costly option that O’Brien said she would not explore before looking into other, more cost-efficient ideas like adding more courts.
“We’re an outdoor event. And we are subject to all the conditions,” she said. “We’re not a minority in the sport as far as not having a roof. I think there are some other areas around the site and stadium that could be addressed prior to a roof, but if a new stadium was something that was coming my way, I would certainly ask if we could consider a roof.”
“I’m open to feedback, I’m not set in my ways,” O’Brien continued. “I want to make sure whoever is here has a good experience, whether that’s a fan or a player, that’s first, second, third, fourth priority.”
This episode has not soured O’Brien’s view on Murray, whom she calls “an incredible figure in this sport.” She said she would “absolutely” invite him back.
“He has a global voice and he is everything that you would want to see to represent your sport,” O’Brien said. “He is vocal about showing some love to the WTA tour and to Serena [Williams]. He’s not afraid to say what he’s thinking and he is a perfect example of hard work pays off, especially after coming back from such an extended injury.”