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‘Can’t hear anything’: As rain pelts Open roof, Murray wins

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NEW YORK (AP) When heavy rain began pelting the closed roof at Arthur Ashe Stadium, Andy Murray couldn’t pick up the usual sounds of a tennis match.

Most importantly, he said, the thwack of a ball coming off his opponent’s racket strings – or his own, for that matter – was completely indiscernible during a 6-4, 6-1, 6-4 second-round victory over Marcel Granollers at the U.S. Open on Thursday.

As it is, the $150 million retractable cover making its tournament debut this week makes the main stadium louder because the structure, even when open, traps the sounds of spectators chatting in the stands.

When it’s shut, as was the case Wednesday because of showers that delayed play on all other courts for hours at a time, the roof amplifies all of that ambient noise.

And when the drops came down early in Murray’s second set, well, it was loud as can be.

“You can’t hear anything, really,” 2012 U.S. Open champion Murray said. “I mean, you could hear the line calls.”

But that was about it.

As Murray and Granollers played, there was a constant din during points, an amalgam of the downpour bouncing off the outside of the roof and the murmur of the crowd bouncing off the inside. From a seat in the 10th row parallel to a baseline, the racket-ball impact was rendered silent by a louder version of what you hear when you hold a seashell to your ear.

It’s not simply that it’s an unfamiliar soundtrack for a Grand Slam match. It affects the competition.

“We use our ears when we play. It’s not just the eyes. (The sound) helps us pick up the speed of the ball, the spin that’s on the ball, how hard someone’s hitting it. If we played with our ears covered or with headphones on, it would be a big advantage if your opponent wasn’t wearing them,” Murray explained. “It’s tricky. You can still do it, but it’s harder, for sure.”

Granollers offered a similar take.

“We’re not used to playing with that noise. … I was not feeling like I was hitting the ball right. It was difficult also to concentrate. Tough to play,” Granollers said. “There is more noise with the roof, but, I mean, if it’s not raining, it’s OK. With the rain, it was too much.”

Like Murray, he acknowledged players will need to learn to adjust.

“When it rains, you’re going to get noise,” U.S. Tennis Association Executive Director Gordon Smith said, when asked about the players’ comments about the ruckus.

“We will look at potential ways to attenuate some of the noise going forward. It’s going to be louder than it was. We knew that. And it’s something the players will deal with and the fans will deal with.”

The good news: At least Murray, Granollers and others were able to play. Rain has often been a schedule-wreaker at the U.S. Open, where the men’s final was postponed five consecutive years from 2008-12.

Because of Thursday’s wet weather, action around the grounds was limited until the early evening – but matches kept coming under the roof in Ashe, including Serena Williams’ 6-3, 6-3 victory over American wild-card entry Vania King at night. That pulled Williams even with Martina Navratilova’s Open-era record of 306 Grand Slam match wins; only Roger Federer, with 307, owns more.

“It was definitely a little different playing with Ashe closed,” said Williams, who produced 13 aces yet clearly was displeased with winning only 13 of 40 points on King’s first serves. “But it still feels great.”

Chair umpire Alison Hughes repeatedly asked spectators to keep it down.

“Your voices are carrying to the court,” she said. And: “Ladies and gentlemen, respect the players. Please remain quiet.”

Men advancing included No. 6 Kei Nishikori and No. 8 Dominic Thiem, but No. 16 Feliciano Lopez lost to Joao Sousa 6-2, 6-4, 1-6, 7-5.

Juan Martin del Potro, the 2009 champion, was scheduled to face 19th-seeded Steve Johnson of the U.S. later Thursday.

Earlier, Williams’ older sister, seven-time major champion Venus, beat Julia Goerges 6-2, 6-3, while No. 5 Simona Halep eliminated Lucie Safarova 6-3, 6-4 in a meeting between past French Open finalists that was the first contest played entirely with the roof closed (it was shut for the first time during a match midway through Rafael Nadal’s victory Wednesday).

Serena is seeded No. 1, and Venus is No. 6.

“It’s really amazing to have, you know, myself and my sister in the top six. It’s pretty cool. It’s a great feeling,” Serena said. “We’re still just doing the best that we can.”

Follow Howard Fendrich on Twitter at http://twitter.com/HowardFendrich

Nadal doesn’t see himself skipping tournaments like Federer

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MONACO (AP) For now, Rafael Nadal doesn’t see himself skipping any major tournaments the way Roger Federer has been sitting out the French Open.

The veterans are back at the top of world tennis, with Nadal needing to win the Monte Carlo Masters this week to avoid losing his top ranking once again to Federer in their seemingly eternal battle for tennis supremacy.

For the second consecutive season, the 36-year-old Federer is skipping the entire clay-court season in order to be at his best on grass.

After coming back from injury to win the Australian Open last year, Federer skipped the clay-court season, won Wimbledon, and retained his Melbourne crown to extend his record tally to 20 majors.

The Swiss star is keeping his aging body fresher by playing a bit less – avoiding Nadal on clay at Roland Garros or elsewhere – and it is working for him.

But Nadal still thinks he can play a full schedule.

“There (are) tournaments that I can’t imagine missing on purpose, because (they are) tournaments that I love to play,” Nadal said on Wednesday. “I don’t see myself missing Monte Carlo on purpose. I don’t see myself missing Wimbledon on purpose, or the U.S. Open, or Australian, or Rome. These kind of events, I don’t see missing (them).”

The 31-year-old Spaniard recently returned from a right hip injury which forced him to retire during the fifth set of his Australian Open quarterfinal against Marin Cilic.

With his 32nd birthday coming up on June 3 – during the French Open – the 16-time Grand Slam champion accepts he may think differently when he gets closer to Federer’s age.

“Of course, when you get older, you need to adjust a little bit more the efforts and the calendar. But for me (it) is difficult to say I don’t play, for example, grass, or I don’t play hard (courts),” Nadal said. “(It) is not in my plan, but I can’t say `never’ because I cannot predict what’s going to be in the future.”

Nadal is chasing an 11th title at both Monte Carlo and Roland Garros, which begins on May 27.

More AP tennis coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/apf-Tennis

Jerome Pugmire on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/jeromepugmire

Thiem reaches third round at Monte Carlo

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MONACO — Dominic Thiem saved a match point and beat Andrey Rublev of Russia 5-7, 7-5, 7-5 in the second round of the Monte Carlo Masters on Tuesday.

Rublev was serving for the match at 5-4, 40-30 but hit a forehand narrowly wide. Fifth-seeded Thiem broke him with backhand pass down the line and held for 6-5.

The Austrian was 15-40 up on Rublev’s serve and clinched victory on his first match point, when Rublev double-faulted with a weak serve into the net.

“I was 10 centimeters from being out of the tournament,” a relieved Thiem said. “But I’m happy that I played two hours and 40 (minutes).”

Thiem has reached the French Open semifinals for the past two years. He next meets 12-time Grand Slam champion Novak Djokovic or Borna Coric of Croatia, who play their second-round match on Wednesday.

“I’m looking forward to watching Djokovic and Coric in front of the TV, and then playing the winner on Thursday,” Thiem said.

In the second round later Tuesday, fourth-seeded Grigor Dimitrov of Bulgaria faced Pierre-Hugues Herbert and seventh-seeded Lucas Pouille played Mischa Zverev.

In remaining first-round play, there were wins for Gilles Simon of France, Marco Cecchinato of Italy and Jan-Lennard Struff of Germany.