Novak Djokovic trails Rafael Nadal through three-plus sets, but had momentum… (Patrick Kovarik / AFP/Getty…)
PARIS — As expected, the men's final at the French Open made history Sunday, but it was for a reason no one wanted: Completion of the match was postponed until Monday.
It was the first time in 39 years that no singles champion was declared on the tournament's final Sunday, and it left world No. 1 Novak Djokovic of Serbia and No. 2 Rafael Nadal of Spain to ponder their chances overnight with their match suspended at 6-4, 6-3, 2-6, 1-2 in favor of the Spaniard.
Each man is hoping to accomplish something remarkable on the red clay at Roland Garros: Djokovic to become the first man in 43 years to win four consecutive Grand Slam titles, Nadal to hoist the French Open trophy for a record seventh time.
But to boos from the disappointed crowd, tournament officials called off the remainder of the match at 8 p.m. local time during its second rain delay. The players are expected back on court at 1 p.m. Monday (4 a.m. PDT), though how many spectators will show up again is unknown and the intermittent showers being forecast could cause more problems.
Tournament officials immediately came under fire for insisting on a start time of 3 p.m. Sunday despite the high probability of rain in the late afternoon and the fact that Djokovic and Nadal have a recent history of marathon matches against each other. In their last Grand Slam final at the Australian Open in January, the pair duked it out for nearly six hours, a record.
Gilbert Ysern, the tournament director, defended the decision to stick to 3 p.m. and denied that it was dictated by the demands of television coverage.
"You can't say that everybody knew for sure at what time it was going to rain," Ysern told reporters. "If anybody is able to tell for sure at what time it's going to rain the next day, I'm willing to hire him. He's going to help us a lot."
Neither of the dueling finalists looked happy when play was suspended in the fourth set. Perhaps more annoyed was Djokovic, who had mounted a momentum-shifting comeback, rattling off eight games in a row, including a break of serve to start the set, before Nadal managed to hold serve in the third game .
The turnaround was in stark contrast to the first two hours of play, when Nadal seemed on track to burnish his reputation as tennis' king of clay.
On the strength of superbly consistent groundstrokes from the back of the court, he had two sets in his pocket. An error-prone Djokovic was so frustrated that he flung his racquet to the ground in disgust after one point and later whacked it into his bench, shattering an advertising placard. The people at Perrier would not have been pleased. (It was quickly replaced.)
An easy, straight-sets rout looked increasingly possible when Djokovic lost his serve early in the third set. But the Serb appeared to settle himself down, his powerful shots began to hit their mark more often and it was Nadal who grew flustered as cheers and chants for his surging opponent rocked the stadium.
Not long afterward, the rain started falling in earnest, and the crushed red brick dust began turning into a sticky mess.
And then the world's two best tennis players were shouldering their bags and heading for the locker room. Destiny would have to wait.