PARIS (Reuters) - Novak Djokovic and Rafa Nadal will have to come back to finish their French Open final after rain prevented a conclusion on Sunday with the match on a knife-edge.
The encounter was halted with Nadal leading 6-4 6-3 2-6 1-2 but the momentum was with the Serb who had launched an early evening fightback.
It had been a intriguing encounter.
Nadal came into the match the overwhelming favorite and quickly took it by the scruff, claiming the first two sets.
His rasping forehand winners pierced holes in Djokovic’s defensive armor as he looked to be running away with the match, while the Serb was doing all he could just to keep hold of his temper.
He twice showed his petulance by tossing his racket and smashing his chair as he lost control of the second set.
But as the drizzle began to fall and the evening gloom set in, Djokovic launched a resilient revolt and roared in delight as he secured a second break in the third before comfortably closing it out.
It was then the Spaniard’s turn to get rattled. Nadal began to lose his cool at the beginning of the fourth as persistent light rain made visibility tough and conditions treacherous underfoot.
It was not just a trophy and a 1.25 million euro ($1.56 million) prize money on the line: Djokovic was bidding to become only the third man to win all four grand slams consecutively while Nadal was hoping to become the outright holder of the record for Roland Garros titles.
The six-times champion was already a break down when the match referee called players off for the second time at 1251 EDT and despite hopes that play would resume, it was decided to postpone the on-court duel until 0700 on Monday.
That was scant consolation to fans, many of whom had travelled from abroad, to come and see tennis’s best two players fight out for high stakes.
A resounding theme among their complaints was the start time. When bad weather had been forecast long in advance of Sunday’s final, why was the match not brought forward from its scheduled start of 1500 local time (0900 EDT)?
“This is very bad organization, they should have started the match earlier because they knew the forecast,” Vladimir Bojovic told Reuters after travelling to Paris from Belgrade to support Djokovic.
“This is just dreadful for tourists as we came for this day and now we have pay even more money to change our flight tickets and spend an extra night in the hotel.”
It was left to tournament director Gilbert Ysern to provide the answers.
”Why did we not start earlier? You have to imagine that even though TV does not dictate, there are arrangements that are made weeks and months before the event regarding starting times and all that.
“You cannot change overnight and tell all broadcasters in the world, ”Sorry, but you have to change everything and wait because we are going to change the schedule of tomorrow’s matches“. It doesn’t work like that.”
The match had looked like it was on the verge of turning into another classic. Nadal was the hungrier of the two as he raced into a 3-0 lead in the opening set with two breaks of serve.
Djokovic immediately struck back to level but he allowed Nadal to edge ahead again with a double fault at break point in the seventh game.
The Spaniard did not turn down the gift and he finished the set three games later with a forehand across court.
The second set began in a similar vein to the first with Djokovic losing his opening service game with a double fault on break point and then fighting back from 2-0 down to lead 3-2 as the drizzle began to fall on Court Philippe Chatrier.
The Serb tossed his racket down in anger in the fifth game before exhibiting extraordinary sportsmanship to gift Nadal a point following a late and incorrect line call when the rules called for it to be replayed.
Nadal then broke in the seventh game with a rasping forehand winner, which again brought the worst out in the frustrated Serb who, with a single swipe of his racket, smashed a hole in his courtside bench.
The second seed moved to within one game of the set when rain suspended play for 35 minutes and he was quick out of the blocks on the restart, breaking to take the second set with a scorching backhand winner on the run.
With the momentum firmly in his favor, Nadal broke early in the third, but typically of a match in which service games were hard to hold and breaks easy to come by, Djokovic leveled with some rugged defense that brought out errors in the Spaniard.
The Serb then began to scamper around the court with increased impetus, while Nadal moaned about the damp conditions underfoot.
The world number one was not complaining. He let out a trademark roar after breaking twice more before closing out the set, the first Nadal has dropped in the tournament.
The rain got worse and balls became dirty as they picked up damp clay from the court surface, and after consultation with the referee the players left the arena.
When we stopped the match on the court, Rafa... didn’t really want to play on, and Novak said that the court was too slippery to play on,” tournament referee Stefan Fransson said.
The crowd slow clapped and pleaded for them to return and it was announced that they would, but not until Monday.
Reporting by Toby Davis; editing by Pritha Sarkar