Tennis-Rain delays play at U.S. Open

By Julian Linden

NEW YORK, Aug 28 (Reuters) - New York's fickle weather forced a delay at the U.S. Open on Wednesday, raising the possibility that Andy Murray may not begin his title defence until the fourth day of the tournament.

Only a handful of early matches had been completed when the rain began falling at the U.S. National Tennis Center, and with more foul weather forecast for the rest of the day, further delays could play havoc with the schedule.

The biggest loser could be Murray, who ended a 76-year British drought in the grand slams when he won the U.S. Open in dramatic fashion last year.

Because of the unique scheduling at the U.S. Open, where the men's first round is played over three days, he was not scheduled to play his opening match at Arthur Ashe Stadium until Wednesday night.

If the prediction of thunderstorms plays out, Murray might have to wait until Thursday before facing his first-round opponent Michael Llodra.

The weather has been a major talking point at the U.S. Open for years with each of the last five men's finals spilling into a third week because of rain delays.

The problem was exacerbated because of the controversial scheduling at Flushing Meadows.

Apart from playing the men's first round over three days, the U.S. Open was the only grand slam where both singles semi-finals and finals were played on successive days, leaving no room for catch-up if rain falls on the last weekend.

Tournament organisers have changed that rule from this year, having a day off between the semis and final, but remain powerless to combat Mother Nature.

The U.S. Open is the only grand slam where the main stadium is not covered by a roof. For years, U.S. Tennis Association officials balked at the idea of building a roof because of the enormous cost of covering Arthur Ashe Stadium, the largest tennis stadium in the world.

But they have finally relented, announcing two weeks ago that they would commence a massive renovation program, which would include a roof, by 2016 at the earliest.

Each of the five matches that were completed on Wednesday before the showers arrived were decided in straight sets.

China's Li Na beat Sweden's Sofia Arvidsson 6-2 6-2 to ease into the third round while Poland's Agnieszka Radwanska, the third seed, defeated Maria-Teresa Torro-Flor of Spain 6-0 7-5.

Spain's Carla Suarez Navarro and Russia's Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova also won through to the third round while Marcos Baghdatis of Cyprus won his first-round match against Japan's Go Soeda 6-4 6-3 6-1. (Reporting by Julian Linden; editing by)