NEW YORK -- Coming into the U.S. Open, Rafael Nadal's knees were the subject of much scrutiny.
As he has advanced somewhat tentatively through the draw, a torn abdominal muscle has required increasingly regular attention from the ATP World Tour trainers. Clearly, after skipping Wimbledon and missing eight weeks, Nadal is not exactly match-tested.
Then on Thursday night, after 10 days of pristine weather, the wind gusted as high as 21 mph. And then, midway through the second set, it began to rain on Rafa. The one thing going for him? His head. He remains one of the most mentally tough athletes -- in any sport you choose to name.
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Rafael Nadal will have to wait until Friday to complete his quarterfinal match.
In his quarterfinal match against Fernando Gonzalez, Nadal scuffled and scraped for most of the 56-minute opening set. Gonzalez, the Chilean who lost to Nadal in the gold-medal match at the Beijing Olympics, held two set points with Nadal serving at 5-6.
Nadal won them both.
In the tiebreaker, Nadal won the first four points and landed the first big blow when Gonzalez missed an eager forehand wide. The telling moment: when Gonzalez sent an 89 mph serve into the net, he slammed his racket to the court -- and it came back up and clipped him, butt-end first, in the face.
At 12:02 a.m., when the match was officially suspended after two lengthy rain delays, both players were almost certainly irritated -- or worse. Nadal won the first set in a 7-4 tiebreaker and was up 3-2 in a second-set breaker. The elapsed time of the partial match was officially 2:03, but it took nearly five hours before the players were finally sent home.
Advantage, Juan Martin del Potro, who won his quarterfinal match over Marin Cilic in four sets nearly six hours earlier. He'll be considerably better rested Saturday than whoever survives that quarterfinal match.
This season has been a trial for Nadal (his parents reportedly are divorcing), and this match was truly microcosmic. With the score 2-all in the second set, the long-predicted rain finally touched down on the court at Arthur Ashe Stadium. After a few minutes of waiting in their changeover chairs, Nadal and Gonzalez departed for the locker room.
It was bad news for Nadal, who probably would have preferred to keep that muscle pull warm on this chilly night. Would he have the stomach to complete the match? Singer Placido Domingo, sitting in Rafa's box, wore a look of concern.
After about an hour and 15 minutes, play resumed. There were several lets called by chair umpire Carlos Ramos when napkins or plastic bags swirled onto the field of play. One -- the offending swirling napkin was brown -- interrupted a critical point. Nadal had a set point with Gonzalez serving at 4-5, and the upper hand, too, when Ramos called for a do-over. Nadal seemed irritated. When Gonzalez squirmed his way into another tiebreaker, Nadal was downright angry. And then, when Gonzo stalled on the baseline (serving with the score 2-3) looking heavenward at the tumbling raindrops, Rafa looked furious. Ramos, after consulting with tournament referee Brian Earley, sent the players back inside.
The women's semifinal matches are scheduled to begin at 12:30 p.m. ET, but with the forecast calling for an inch of rain in the next 20 hours or so, tournament officials worked out a number of possible scenarios.
If it clears by Friday evening, the USTA might first try to complete the Nadal-Gonzalez match on Arthur Ashe, followed by the Serena Williams-Kim Clijsters semifinal. That would push the other semi, Yanina Wickmayer versus Caroline Wozniacki, to Louis Armstrong Stadium.
Unlikely partners win title
There are some stellar names on the list of mixed doubles champions at the U.S. Open. Billie Jean King, Martina Navratilova, Mark Woodforde and Todd Woodbridge all hoisted the sterling cup, and the Bryans had won in four of the past seven years (three titles for Bob, one for Mike).
The newest champions are not, by any means, the usual suspects. Before this, believe it or not, they had played only one match together, with the Philadelphia Freedoms of World Team Tennis.
Fans of tennis, please meet Carly Gullickson and Travis Parrott. Somehow, the underrated Americans worked their way completely through the draw, beating No. 1 seeds Liezel Huber and Mahesh Bhupathi in the semifinals, then, on Thursday, No. 2 seeds Cara Black and Leander Paes, 6-2, 6-4.
It wasn't really close; Gullickson and Parrott won in 66 minutes, and their winners-to-unforced-errors ratio was a spanking 31-4. It was the first Grand Slam title ever for both.
The funny thing? They weren't supposed to play together.
Parrott, a 29-year-old from Portland, Ore., was prepared to play with Abigail Spears, but she opted to play with WTT teammate Robert Kendrick because they were offered a wild-card berth by the USTA. Gullickson, who is 22, lives in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.
"I was actually supposed to play with Rajeev Ram," she revealed in the first answer of the postmatch news conference.
"Brutal," Parrott said. "I didn't know that. I'm just finding this out now."
When Spears opted out, she suggested Gullickson to Parrott, who texted her two days before the Sept. 3 sign-in. They were one of eight teams to receive a wild card, and they returned the favor to the USTA.
Parrott and Gullickson have combined for five doubles titles between them but nothing in the singles category.
"I still can't believe we actually won the U.S. Open, but it's weird to me still," Gullickson said.
Will they play together again?
"If she'll play with me," Parrott said.
"Yeah," Gullickson said, "for sure."
Greg Garber is a senior writer for ESPN.com.
Del Potro-Cilic: Future shock?
Juan Martin del Potro and Marin Cilic, born five days apart 20 years ago and both ranked in the top 20, oddly had played only one previous match, going all the way back through Challengers and ITF to the juniors.
The last time there was a similar matchup in the U.S. Open quarterfinals was eight years ago, when 19-year-old Andy Roddick met 20-year-old Lleyton Hewitt. The fiery Australian went on to win, and the two of them collected a total of three majors.
Based on the early returns, del Potro and Cilic might approach that number in the future, possibly even exceeding it.
Cilic pressed del Potro early, winning the first set 6-4. He won the same number of games in the last three sets combined, however.
The Argentine played nearly flawless tennis in the big moments. He won all eight of his break points, a statistic that will send you into your second career Grand Slam singles semifinals (the second in three tries). Del Potro is developing a reputation for coming through in the clutch; he has won an ATP World Tour-best 11 matches after losing the first set.
"On the beginning of the match, I was playing really good and moving him a lot around," said Cilic, who was playing in his first major quarterfinals. "And then he was like all the time on top of me and not letting me find any other solution to get back."
"I like to play here in U.S., and I like hard courts," del Potro said. "I like this tournament. I like everything. It's so lovely."
Tweets of the day
DevinBritton: Watch out for Chris Johnson today against the Steelers. He is gonna rack up some points for me on fantasy football -- let the games begin.
bryanbros: I did go to the top of the Empire State Bldg last night. Sweet views. Flying today to Miami for some R&R.
vincespadea: My cell phone has been suspended cause I have a bill of $2,300. No thats not a typo. I'm investigating it. If you try to call, try again late.
Serena Williams versus Kim Clijsters: This is the 12th match in Clijster's comeback after giving birth to Jada. Serena, on the other hand, has been busy winning three of the past four Grand Slam singles titles. She has beaten Clijsters seven of eight times -- and this time the Belgian is not in match shape.
ESPN.com prediction: Serena in three.
Caroline Wozniacki versus Yanina Wickmayer: This is a totally unlooked-for semifinal between two 19-year-olds who have never been this far in a major. Wozniacki has beaten No. 6 seed Svetlana Kuznetsova and Melanie Oudin in her travels; the biggest name Wickmayer has beaten? Take your pick, Kateryna Bondarenko or Shuai Peng.
ESPN.com prediction: Wozniacki in straights.