Roger Federer: First in the rankings and first on court.
The 2012 U.S. Open tennis tournament has been marred by rain after a partial washout on Tuesday, but Roger Federer is not affected in the slightest—or far less so than Novak Djokovic and the rest of the bottom half of the draw anyway—thanks to yet another case of favorable scheduling.
Rain delays at this tournament mean lots of discussion about the lack of a roof over one of the show courts at Flushing Meadows and the ridiculous scheduling of the semifinals and final on back-to-back days.
But rarely, if ever, is mention made of the fact there are winners and losers when the conditions get soggy.
In the 2003 U.S. Open, Andy Roddick and Andre Agassi were the only two players in the quarterfinals prior to the start of play on the second Thursday, meaning Roddick played his last four matches in five days, while Juan Carlos Ferrero, his opponent in the final, played four matches in four days.
Did that make any difference? Were Ferrero's legs just a tad more weary than Roddick's because of that lack of a rest day?
I don't think we can rule out the possibility.
That was then, though, when Federer was the king of Wimbledon but not yet the lord of tennis, and even he was being jerked around while Roddick and Agassi were one step ahead of the rest.
But on his road to tennis immortality, Federer began to get favorable scheduling at virtually all Grand Slam events—most recently getting the Monday start at the 2012 U.S. Open tennis tournament while John Isner, the top-ranked American player, first took the court on Wednesday.
Is it an advantage for Roger Federer to start playing before his main rivals at Grand Slam tournaments?
The Swiss maestro's half of the draw also started first at the 2012 Wimbledon, the 2012 French Open, the 2012 Australian Open and the 2011 U.S. Open.
His half of the draw did not start first at the 2011 Wimbledon due to the tradition of the defending champion playing the opening match, but by the second week, Federer was being scheduled ahead of Rafael Nadal.
In the quarterfinals, he was first on against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga on Centre Court, which has a retractable roof, while Nadal was scheduled for the late afternoon on Court One, which does not.
Did that make a difference? In that case, no. It made zero difference. There were no rain problems that year, so Nadal came into the final fresh and was simply second best to Djokovic.
But that's immaterial. The point is that Federer is safeguarded from scheduling chaos because he virtually always plays first.
It's a little secret of men's tennis.
Or maybe an unwritten rule?
Perhaps a perk of GOAT-hood?
At the 2007 Wimbledon, rain battered the then-roofless tournament and just about every player in the draw—besides Federer, of course—was on court every day of the second week.
Djokovic, who was still eating gluten back then and had nowhere near the fitness he currently possesses, retired from his semifinal match, partly due to injury and partly due to exhaustion.
According to the BBC, he told reporters after exiting the tournament that he was "really not happy with the way they dealt with the schedule and the rain, really not happy."
Sure, Federer was the defending champion and started first, but couldn't he have been put on court last during the second week like Nadal was in 2011?
At the 2009 Australian Open, Nadal managed to recover from a grueling semifinal win over Fernando Verdasco to top Federer in the final in five sets.
He had a fighting chance because the Australian Open—unlike the U.S. Open—gives players at least one day off between the semifinals and final.
But if Nadal had started the tournament on Monday instead of Tuesday, he would've played his semifinal on Thursday of the second week instead of Friday and had two full days to recuperate instead of one.
I'd argue he won the final in spite of some fatigue. Another day of rest and he wouldn't have been tired at all.
It's the U.S. Open, though, where the scheduling issue is most pressing.
I never hear it mentioned, but the Thursday quarterfinal night match is a dangerous slot every year. If it rains, the eventual winner of that contest must play three matches in three days to win the event.
Now, to the U.S. Open's credit, tournament organizers did push last year's final to Monday after multiple days of rain, avoiding a repeat of 2003, and they might have to do the same this year too.
Of course, a myriad of things can happen between now and the end of the tournament. Djokovic, who now is staring at four matches in five days to win the title, might have virtual cake walks prior to Sunday and Federer might play a grueling five-set semifinal against Andy Murray with four tiebreakers.
Tennis is unpredictable in many ways.
But there's one prediction I can make with total confidence: When the 2013 Australian Open begins in January, Federer will be playing round 1 on Monday.