NEW YORK (AP) — Day 2 at the U.S. Open was a day for the hot and tired.
The hot: Those who played in the glare of the punishing midday sun, when temperatures veered into the mid-90s and forced tournament officials to employ their extreme weather policy.
The tired: The 14 men and 28 women whose matches went the distance — that’s five sets for men and three sets for women — including the first three matches in Arthur Ashe Stadium, where play ended at 12:53 a.m. Wednesday.
The highlight match of the long, steamy day at Flushing Meadows wound up being one that went straight sets but felt like something more. Top-seeded Rafael Nadal got a stern test from 93rd-ranked Teymuraz Gabashvili of Russia and needed 3 minutes short of 3 hours to defeat him 7-6 (4), 7-6 (4), 6-3.
“I prefer to play 1 hour, 10 minutes. Win easier, no?” Nadal said. “But no, one match is easy, especially in a big tournament. The pressure’s there. You play against players that don’t have much to lose, so they play aggressive. This is difficult to stop.”
Nadal’s match ended at 11:34 p.m. Tuesday, and left the top-seeded woman, Caroline Wozniacki, to finish out the night with a 6-1, 6-1 victory over Chelsey Gullickson in the only meeting of the five on the feature court, spanning almost 14 hours, that didn’t have much drama.
“The matches before me were so long. Nobody expected that,” said Wozniacki, who traded off between watching Nadal, reading a magazine and running in the gym while she waited. “But a win is a win. It doesn’t matter what time I get on. As long as I win, I’m happy.”
By the time Nadal took to the court, the sun had long gone down, though the temperature stayed up in the 80s. Gabashvili also did plenty to keep things uncomfortable for this year’s French Open and Wimbledon champion.
Needing a U.S. Open title to complete his career Grand Slam, Nadal has long had a knack of making even the easy matches look hard. That’s especially true on hard courts, where every violent stop, and every precise change of direction, comes with a vicious squeak that screams of the toll taken on the Spaniard’s body. Against a game first-round foe, this one looked and sounded every bit that tough.
There were a total of seven break points through the first 32 games and neither player could convert. Nadal did what great players do — winning a few more key points in both the tiebreakers to take a two-set lead. But not until Gabashvili netted a forehand on ad-out in the seventh game of the third set did Nadal find a crack in his opponent’s service game, and the opening he needed to close it out in straight sets.
Rafa said he was happy with his own service game, in which he faced only one break point and topped out at 131 mph. While many experts are giving him as good a shot as ever to break through at the U.S. Open, he knows he needs to amp up his serve to do it. It has been a long-term project.
“All my life, I’ve worked a lot on my serve,” he said. “Not (just) this summer, all my life.”
Well before Nadal began, on-court temperatures reached near 110 and tournament officials put the extreme weather policy in play, meaning women could ask for a 10-minute break after splitting sets.
There were plenty of opportunities.
No. 14 Maria Sharapova got off to a slow start in Ashe Stadium before rallying for a 4-6, 6-3, 6-1 over Jarmila Groth of Australia.
“Days like this where your opponent was playing really well, you really have to find ways to hang in there and ways to fight,” Sharapova said. “And at the end of the day, you just hope you give yourself another opportunity.”
She did, as did No. 4 Jelena Jankovic and No. 11 Svetlana Kuznetsova, each of whom needed three sets in the heat to fight off their first-round foes.
“The conditions were tough,” Jankovic said. “But I didn’t want to think about that. I just wanted to focus as much as I could on the match and play each point one point at a time.”
Another long one in Ashe Stadium was No. 3 Novak Djokovic’s 6-3, 3-6, 2-6, 7-5, 6-3 victory over friend and fellow Serbian Viktor Troicki. The match took 3 hours, 40 minutes and Djokovic felt the heat.
“You kind of start panicking a little bit when you don’t feel great physically and your opponent takes advantage,” he said.
Also needing five sets was No. 8 Fernando Verdasco, who defeated Fabio Fognini of Italy, 1-6, 7-5, 6-1, 4-6, 6-3.
“I got lucky, because the shadows were on the court for a lot of my match,” Verdasco said. “But it was hot. It’s the same for both players, so you just see what it is and go out and play.”
No. 19 Mardy Fish had a bizarre five-set win against Jan Hajek. The score: 6-0, 3-6, 4-6, 6-0, 6-1.
“Yes, it’s hot. This is probably the hottest it’s gonna be here,” said the American, who has lost about 30 pounds and can credit his improved fitness for his leap up the rankings, and his ability to hang in there on Tuesday.
No. 31 David Nalbandian needed five sets for his victory over Rik de Voest. No. 16 Marcos Baghdatis lost in five to Arnaud Clement of France.
“Tell you the truth, OK, it was hot, but, I mean, we play so many matches in the heat, I cannot tell you,” Baghdatis said when asked if his 3-hour, 27-minute stay in Armstrong Stadium was one of his hottest matches ever. “I cannot rank today’s heat.”
The weather is supposed to be equally brutal on Wednesday and Thursday, then a change.
Tournament officials are already looking south to see how Hurricane Earl, making its way up the East Coast, might affect things. There’s a 60 percent chance of heavy rain on Friday, the possibility of at least a one-day break. If there are more days like Day 2, it’s hard to imagine many would complain.