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Rain, rain, go away: French Open players deal with the stress of schedule-changing showers

PARIS (AP) — For 2021 U.S. Open runner-up Leylah Fernandez, the biggest question at this rainy-as-can-be French Open was: Should I eat a full lunch or just have a tiny snack? Her second-round match, like many others, was being delayed by heavy showers, and she couldn’t possibly know when it would resume.

Turned out the 31st-seeded Canadian didn’t get back on court later that day at all, so her coach made the right call by telling her to go ahead and have a plate of pasta — along with some croissants, a banana and an orange. Then, after returning to Roland Garros the next morning, Fernandez had to wait until about 5 p.m. to pick things back up on Court 8 and, eventually, finish off her victory.

The wet weather just keeps coming this week at the French Open. It has been delaying and postponing matches, jumbling the schedule, prompting court changes and, all in all, creating stress and uncertainty for the world’s best tennis players.

“It is hard, more mentally than physically. You don’t know when you can mentally relax a little bit. You kind of have to be switched on all the time,” Fernandez said after winning Thursday to set up a third-round match against two-time Grand Slam finalist Ons Jabeur. “Even when your coaches tell you can take a nap — ‘Close your eyes; we’ll be on top of things’ — for me, it’s like, ‘No, I cant fully switch off.’ I need to be ready for whatever happens.”

There were hours and hours of rain on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, when the last second-round match did not get finished until a minute shy of 1 a.m. — after the calendar had flipped to Friday.

The other bad news? There was more rain in the forecast for Friday. The “lousy weather,” as tournament referee Amélie Amélie Mauresmo called it, prompted her to push up the start times on some courts to 10 a.m., an hour earlier than usual, mainly to try to fit in a bunch of doubles matches that have been in a holding pattern.

Some players handle the conditions caused by the downpours better than others, of course, whether it’s the way the dampness of the courts and the sogginess of the tennis balls affect the footing and the shot-making or the way the start-and-stop-and-restart rhythm — or lack thereof — can affect the body and the mind.

“Just this whole week, every day, you just kind of don’t know what to expect. You have to accept that,” said Peyton Stearns, the unseeded American who beat No. 10 Daria Kasatkina on Thursday in a match that didn’t start until after 9 p.m. ”So today when I woke up, it was blue skies. It looked like a great day. But in the back of my mind, I was like, ‘I could play right now or at 8 p.m., and I just have to be ready for both and be very flexible with what’s happening.’ Just having that kind of a peace of mind helped a lot.”

The ideal situation is to have a match at Court Philippe Chatrier or Court Suzanne Lenglen, the two largest stadiums — and the only ones equipped with retractable roofs that allow for competition no matter what.

Those also have the most expensive seats and so tend to be reserved for the players with the most past success and most drawing power. That’s why stars such as Novak Djokovic, Carlos Alcaraz, Iga Swiatek and Coco Gauff, along with their foes, tend to find themselves there, removing any weather-related fretting.

“It’s not easy. You kind of wish you were one of the top seeds playing on Lenglen or Chatrier and you didn’t have to worry about rain delays or when you’re playing, because things are moving smoothly when you have a roof,” said No. 15 Ben Shelton, an American who won an NCAA title at the University of Florida and is in his second full year on tour.

Players whose matches are suspended in progress will try to guess when the action might get going again, because they need to warm up physically and get themselves in the right head space.

“Getting the engine started over and over,” Shelton said, “and getting cold and then warm again and then cold — it takes a big toll.”

No. 14 Madison Keys, who reached the final at the 2017 U.S. Open, considered herself fortunate to be at Lenglen on Thursday. On Tuesday, she only got to hit for 15 minutes ahead of her first-round match because of a scheduling change.

“I basically ran from the practice court to get ready,” she said. “So it just added an extra layer of stress and chaos a little bit.”

The various inconveniences did not prevent No. 11 Alex de Minaur from reaching the third round for the first time in eight French Open appearances.

Still, that doesn’t mean the 25-year-old Australian is thrilled about all of the rain.

“I’m going to age a lot these two weeks,” de Minaur said. “It is not easy. It’s not ideal. It’s probably one of the worst parts of our sport.”


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