NEW YORK (Reuters) - A thunderstorm forced the suspension of Monday's U.S. Open men's singles final between Rafa Nadal and Novak Djokovic.
The match was delayed by a day for the third year in a row after foul weather washed out any chance of play on Sunday and was halted midway through the second set on Monday.
Nadal, bidding to win the U.S. Open for the first time and complete his collection of grand slam titles, won the opening set 6-4 in 50 minutes and was locked at 4-4 with Djokovic in the second when rain forced players, officials and spectators to dash for cover.
U.S. Tennis Association officials said they expected the storm to pass after an hour but local weather forecasters said there was a chance of more rain in the evening, which would jeopardize the chances of completing the match on Monday.
The delay spoiled what was looming as a classic match between the world's top two ranked players.
The pair set the tone for the match with an extraordinary opening point, which featured some ferocious groundstrokes, a sublime drop shot from Nadal and a brilliant crosscourt winner from Djokovic.
Unfortunately for the Serbian, who won the toss and elected to serve first, it was the only point he won in the opening game as Nadal, dressed menacingly in all-black, reeled off the next four points to grab an early break.
Djokovic, showing no signs of weariness after his gruelling five-set semi-final win over Roger Federer on Saturday, broke Nadal's serve in the fourth game to level the opening set a 2-2.
But the Spaniard regained his advantage when he broke for a second time to lead 3-2, pounding the ball deep into Djokovic's court after the Serbian, who leapfrogged Federer to number two in the world when the latest rankings were released earlier in the day, fended off five break points.
Nadal held his remaining games to wrap up the first set as the clouds began rolling in and the center court floodlights were switched on, but lost his groove midway through the second, giving up 11 straight points as Djokovic opened up a 4-1 lead.
But Nadal, who has not dropped a set in the tournament, rallied back and took the next three games to level the set when rain interrupted the match.
The delay was sure to raise more questions about why there is no roof over the center court at the U.S. Open.
The center courts at both the Australian Open and Wimbledon have retractable roofs while organisers of the French Open are in talks about covering up their main court.
But U.S. Tennis Association officials have balked at the idea because of the cost of covering Arthur Ashe Stadium, the world's largest tennis stadium.
Monday's final did not begin until 4:22 p.m. (2022 GMT) even though the stadium had been bathed in sunshine earlier in the day.
The women's doubles final, which was close to completion when the rain began on Sunday, finished almost an hour earlier, with American Vania King and Yaroslava Shvedova of Kazakhstan surviving a match point down to beat American Liezel Huber and Nadia Petrova of Russia 2-6 6-4 7-6.
"I don't feel like we've won because today was such a short day," Shvedova said.
Editing by Frank Pingue