The usual last-minute preparations for the US Open, the last Grand Slam of the year, were aborted as Flushing Meadows was shut down in anticipation of Hurricane Irene, which was expected to hit New York.
Players were told to find alternative places to practice as officials took the unusual step of locking up the National Tennis Center in the countdown to the mega event that is scheduled to start today.
Some of the top players, including Serena Williams and world number one Novak Djokovic, cancelled their scheduled press conferences as the first showers arrived and security prepared to lock the gates in preparation for the storm.
With the practice courts closed, the hurricane was the main topic of conversation for the players. World number three Roger Federer was clearly not happy at the prospect of the hurricane lashing the city.
“It’s scary because we don’t know how hard it’s going to hit us,” said the five-time US Open champion. “I’ve got family. We’re in New York City. And it’s not just a regular city. It’s unusual, but we’ll follow the news closely and we’ll try to stay as safe as we can so we get through it.”
Meanwhile, Britain’s Andy Murray, who is not due to play until tomorrow at the earliest, said he had been stocking up on food supplies, just in case he has an even longer wait to play.
“I think people are right to be cautious about it,” he said. “I think I just have to wait and see what it’s like, because I’ve no idea what to expect.”
But not everyone was expecting the worst. Russia’s Maria Sharapova, who has been based in the US since she was child, said she was not taking any extra precautions.
“I’m a Florida girl, so I’m used to this,” she said. “I think everyone’s a bit overreacting, but of course you have to take precautions. I just hope that our hotel is tough and sturdy.”
Meanwhile, defending champion Rafael Nadal, who beat Novak Djokovic in last year’s final was clearly more worried about his form against the world number one this year than by the prospect of facing the hurricane.
“I think I played fantastic this year,” said Nadal, who has lost five straight times to Djokovic this year. “I had a lot of victories but I’m not happy about how I’ve played against Djokovic. It’s strange tennis talks of his big new improvement. Djokovic played fantastic before. For everybody it’s surprising, but for me it’s no surprise that Djokovic is number one.”
Published in The Express Tribune, August 29th, 2011.