PARIS – Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic were locked in a thrilling French Open final duel Sunday when rain caused a suspension until Monday, only the second time in history that the tournament has not finished on time.
Nadal, chasing a record seventh Roland Garros title, was leading 6-4, 6-3, 2-6, 1-2 when play was halted for a second and final time at 6:50 pm local time (1650GMT) with conditions on Philippe Chatrier Court becoming increasingly treacherous.
There had been an earlier 40-minute stoppage from 5:10 pm (1510GMT) because of rain.
The final, already in progress for three hours, will resume on Monday at 1:00 pm local time (1100GMT) with Djokovic in the ascendancy and serving for a 3-1 lead in the fourth set.
The last time a French Open men’s final failed to be completed on a Sunday was 1973 when it was played on the following Tuesday with Ilie Nastase beating Niki Pilic.
Organisers came under fire for starting the final at 1500 local time (1300GMT) on Sunday, instead of an earlier slot, despite the dire weather predictions.
Monday, too, could be disrupted with the forecast for even more rain.
“TV does not dictate the schedule. Of course, their expectations are important factors, but they do not dictate,” said tournament director Gilbert Ysern.
“Not everyone knew for sure what time it was going to rain, it’s not that precise. Arrangements for the final starting time are made months in advance and, out of respect for the broadcasters, we cannot change at the last minute.”
Yserns said he had been confident that the match could have been finished on time.
“We can play here until 9.30 at night, that allows six and a half hours to play so starting at 3pm is not too late for Paris.”
World number one Djokovic, bidding to become only the third man, and first in 43 years, to hold all four Grand Slam titles at the same time had looked down and out at one stage on Sunday.
After slipping two sets down, he was also a break down at 0-2 in the third before he reeled off eight games in succession to take the third set and lead 2-0 in the fourth.
Nadal had stopped the rot for 2-1 before play was suspended.
Tournament referee Stefan Fransen admitted that Nadal and Djokovic had both complained that the playing surface had become too slippery.
“I have to take the decision whether the court is playable or not and that’s what happened,” said Fransen.
“Novak said the court was slippery and Rafa said the conditions were not the best.”
Spanish world number two Nadal, playing in his 16th Grand Slam final and seeking an 11th major, went into Sunday’s final with a staggering record of 51 wins against just one loss at Roland Garros.
Djokovic, the Wimbledon, US Open and Australian Open champion, was looking to emulate Don Budge (1938) and Rod Laver (1962 and 1969) by holding four majors at the same time.
In a record fourth successive Grand Slam final between the two, and following their almost six-hour epic in Australia, Nadal swept into a two-set lead with Djokovic undone by 30 unforced errors.
He had also earned a warning for smashing his raquet into his courtside chair box which left a gaping hole in the front.
But Djokovic, who had been two sets to love down to Andreas Seppi in the fourth round, and saved four match points in his quarter-final victory over Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, refused to buckle.
From 2-0 down in the third, he reeled off eight games in succession to take the third set and lead 2-0 in the fourth.
The first game of the fourth set had featured a gruelling 44-shot rally.
Monday finishes have become common at the US Open in New York with the last four finals taking place on the extra day while the 2001 Wimbledon final was also played on a Monday.
Roland Garros will eventually avoid late finishes as a main court with a retractable roof will be built from 2017.