Not sure if he got to put his ritual bite on it, but at least tennis viewers did get to see Rafa briefly hold the U.S. Open trophy aloft in triumph on ESPN2.
With rain and lightning in the Big Apple air, ESPN found itself in a bit of a scheduling quandary Monday night. After rain canceled the U.S. Open men’s final yesterday, pushing it past championship Sunday for a third consecutive year, CBS showed the initial set, and the first eight games and four points of the second between Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic late Monday afternoon, before lobbing the rest of the match over to ESPN2 in favor of encore presentations of its Monday night primetime lineup.
Still, Black Rock is reported to be looking to extend its contract with the United States Tennis Association, which concludes after next year’s tourney, with a rights reduction/weather clause in the face of schedule disruption.
Meanwhile, lightning over the New Meadowlands Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., delayed the start of ESPN’s Monday Night Football presentation of New York Jets-Baltimore Ravens by 25 minutes to 7:25 (ET). That, by itself, was very likely going to put a scheduling crimp in ESPN’s MNF nightcap, San Diego Chargers visiting the Kansas City Chiefs at 10:15 p.m.
Coverage of the tennis resumed around 7:50 p.m., with CBS lobbing the match — in which Nadal was seeking his first U.S. Open title to become the seventh man to win the career Grand Slam — over to ESPN2, the Grand Slam Network.
As Djokovic took the second set 7-5, the only set Nadal would lose the entire fortnight, it became apparent that unless the third and fourth unfolded quickly that ESPN’s plan to shift the start of Chiefs-Chargers to ESPN2 was going to come against the 10:15 changeover. Forget about it if the match went five. ESPN2 began running a crawl indicating the match would be switched to ESPN Classic to ensure that the NFL game would kick off on time.
Well, the Bristol behemoth caught a bit of a break. Djokovic, fighting off bushels of breakpoints and Nadal’s tenacity, really gave the Spaniard a run during the match, before running out of steam and succumbing to the world’s best in the fourth. After Novak pushed a last shot wide, Rafa finally scored his elusive triumph, rolling over in ecstasy behind the baseline just short of 10 p.m.
The closing ceremony ensued with trophy and check presentations, and speechifying, including the very slow delivery by USTA president and chairman Lucy Garvin, and some words from the combatants, who really didn’t get a chance to elaborate much. As mentioned, ESPN2’s last image depicted Rafa holding the cup skyward before the network cut quickly to Kansas City, where Brad Nessler provided an open over the pyrotechnics exploding over the remodeled Arrowhead Stadium.
Don’t get me wrong. Pro football butters a lot more bread in Bristol and captures millions more eyeballs than tennis. It should: ESPN pays $1.1 billion a season for MNF, while it shelled out a reported $140 million for its multimedia Open rights from 2009-14.
But in this case, show a little class. ESPN2 couldn’t have stuck with a couple of more minutes from Arthur Ashe Stadium to soak up the atmosphere and celebrate Rafa’s moment? On center court, Bill Macatee couldn’t have posed queries about what it felt like for Rafa to join the career Slam club, including becoming the first man since Rod Laver in 1969 to hold the French, Wimbledon and U.S. titles in the same calendar year? Nadal couldn’t have danced around a question about whether he was ready to net the “Rafa Slam” Down Under in Melbourne come January?
Surely, sports fans could have indulged missing a couple of minutes of the KC-SD pregame. Moreover, the millions of viewers already invested in the MNF opener, no doubt were focusing their attention on Rex Ryan, Mark Sanchez and the final moments of the Jets’ horrific Hype Knocks offense, which certainly mucked things up for the defense in a 10-9 loss at the new venue.
Of course, ESPN2 could have thrown a quick tennis wrap to ESPN Classic, which is where I turned and instead found regularly scheduled celebrity bowling pitting Ed Asner and Gavin McLeod against Elena Verdugo and Loretta Swit, filmed a generation or more ago.
At the end, it wasn’t very grand that ESPN chose Murray and Hot Lips over Rafa and Novak. Of course, if the historic tennis match had been extended to five sets ESPN execs would have had to bump those Classic kegglers Pat Morita and Vince Edwards versus Peter Bonerz and Jim McKrell.