By Ben Fisher, special to EmiratesUSOpenSeries.
TORONTO - Rain delays aren’t a lot of fun. They prevent fans from getting their tennis fix, create havoc for tournament organizers and mess with the pre-match routine of players.
But short of building a roof on Rexall Centre ("It’s not feasible at this time," said tournament director Karl Hale), rain delays are going to continue being an on-going reality at Rogers Cup - and plenty of other tournaments, too. It’s up to everyone involved to make the best of it.
For fans, that means passing the time by grabbing a bite or a beverage, or taking part in any of the many activities around the grounds. For tournament staff, it’s a matter of simply riding out the storm – albeit maybe not as literally as in 2008, when a mid-week rain delay saw venue operations staff turn center court into their own Slip-N-Slide.
For the players, it becomes a little more complicated on account of their rigid, structured match preparation.
"Yeah, it can be pretty frustrating," admitted world No. 1 doubles player Daniel Nestor, who won his second round doubles match alongside Max Mirnyi on Thursday after being moved to a nearby indoor tennis club. "You try and get a warm-up in indoors and be ready when your time is called and just try and stay positive. You understand that this is out of your control."
It should hardly come as a surprise that, for players, everything is built around match play. When they play determines their meal timetable, their rest times and their day’s entire layout. Not knowing when they will step on court – not to mention how a delay will impact their routine for the following day – is an annoyance that comes with the territory of playing a predominantly outdoor sport.
"We decided to call it early [on Thursday] to let [the players] get into their routines tonight – their eating schedule, their massages… so that we protect the players as much as we can," said the beleaguered Hale.
Players find ways to make the most of rain delays, be it through playing games, catching up with colleagues or getting some added shut-eye. Of course, it helps to hold the advantage of finding yourself close to home.
"I’m fortunate that I live 10 minutes away," said local favorite Milos Raonic. "[Rain delays] are part of the sport. Nobody likes them, but everybody deals with them."
For those who aren’t lucky enough to reside down the road, the posh player’s lounge isn’t a bad second option.
"There’s an Aveda spa in there, so a lot of [players] are getting massages," said Hale. "Some of them are just relaxing, a lot of them are playing Ping-Pong and we’ve also got some foosball tables in there. They’ve got the Olympics on, and some of them are watching matches in Montreal [from the women’s tournament]."
Then again, if you’re Novak Djokovic, the opportunity to have some fun with the fans may come ahead of a desire to stay dry. On Thursday night, the No. 1 seed in Toronto took his scheduled spot on center court even as the rain came down, offering his hand at squeegeeing the court and even hitting a few balls while holding an umbrella.
Now THAT is called making the best of it.