Dinara Safina feels disrespected by U.S. Open officials.
Because of a long day session of tennis, where Melanie Oudin upset Maria Sharapova in three tense sets and then Andy Roddick spent almost four hours on Arthur Ashe Stadium court while losing a stunning five-setter to John Isner, Saturday night's session at the U.S. Open that was supposed to begin at 7 p.m. was clearly going to have a late start...late as in like 10 p.m. late.
Two matches were on that night schedule on Ashe Stadium: first-seeded woman Dinara Safina against Petra Kvitova to be followed by James Blake, who is a favorite of the night crowds, against Tommy Robredo.
When the Roddick match had finished and as the day crowd was being hustled off the court, an announcement was made by U.S. Open officials that Safina and Kvitova had agreed to play their third-round match on Louis Armstrong Stadium at 10 p.m. leaving Armstrong to Blake and Robredo after a ceremony that had been scheduled to honor Pancho Gonzales, a ceremony hosted by actor Benjamin Bratt and which also featured actor Jimmy Smits. Blake and Robredo didn't begin playing until about 10:30 p.m.
Meanwhile on Armstrong, Safina was playing her third straight split-personality, split-set, three-set marathon. This one she lost in a third-set tiebreak, beaten by 72nd-ranked Kvitova, a result not unexpected because Safina had been displaying her angst and her unreliable serve all week.
There was a hint of trouble when Kvitova mentioned that while she had no problems with having the match moved, that Safina had been "very" unhappy.
And finally, about 2 a.m. Safina came into the interview room. There were about 10 of us, a couple of Associated Press writers, a couple of New York writers, Matt Cronin from TennisReporters.net and Safina was asked, was she unhappy?
Safina said she wasn't asked. She was told by tournament officials. "They came to us at 9:10 p.m. and just told us to switch to Armstrong," she said. "Basically, that's it. It was very unfair. The best player in the world to put on Armstrong. Their answer was that they prefer a five-set match to a three-set woman match."
Turned out the men's match was three sets too, Blake went out without much fight and the men's match ended up 10 minutes after Safina's upset.
"That's it, they don't want to listen, just move to Armstrong," Safina said. "I keep asking why we're playing on Armstrong at 10. They tell us just play, go on, go on 10 on Armstrong."
After speaking about the match and about how she had a game plan to go on the court and make Kvitova move all around, she instead came on the court, stood still and let Kvitova dictate play. "It's my brain," she said.
But then she went back to the other subject.
"I'm No. 1 player in the world," she said. "Why move me? American Blake because they want five sets instead of three. I always look forward to play night session on Arthur Ashe, it's best thing in the U.S. Open."
Kvitova didn't complain at all. "Yeah, doesn't matter to me," the 20-year-old from the Czech Republic said. "I'm not a star."
The problem was that thousands of night session ticket holders had to stand outside until the Roddick match ended after nine.
Tournament officials said they didn't want to delay the Robredo-Blake match because the winner was slated to meet Roger Federer next. Federer had finished his match about 2 on Saturday.
U.S. Open spokesman Chris Widmaier said, "You've got to balance safety issues, a big crowd, but the No. 1 factor is competitive integrity," he said. "If we had not split matches, the women's match would have been started at about 10:30 and who knows what time Blake and Robredo would have finished?"
A similar situation happened in Australia two years ago with a late-running day session and two big night matches featuring highly ranked Venus Williams and Sania Mirza followed by Aussie hero Lleyton Hewitt and Marcos Baghdatis. Williams refused to change courts so the schedule was adhered to and Hewitt and Baghdatis played until 4:30 in the morning.
Safina said she felt treated disrespectfully and that WTA Tour officials felt the same way though none were available for comment.
And at the end of the day one suspects Safina would have lost a three-set match on Arthur Ashe as well as she could have lost it on Louis Armstrong.
Never a dull moment here.
-- Diane Pucin
Photo: Dinara Safina walks back to the baseline after a point against Petra Kvitova on Saturday. Credit: Jim McIsaac / Getty Images