Hurricane threatens US Open start
I'm writing this as rain hammers my hotel window, streets deserted down below, some shops boarded up, the New York public transport system completely closed with approximately 300,000 neighbours having fled the city in fear of Hurricane Irene.
One of the most energetic and upbeat cities in the world - the city which never sleeps - pretty much shut down on Saturday afternoon, creating an eerie atmosphere as the wind swirled through deserted districts.
The storm didn't "slam" New York, to quote the over-dramatic US rolling news networks, as severely as expected, but it's still likely to have a major impact on the US Open which is scheduled to start here on Monday.
The site was closed on Sunday to anyone without senior organisational credentials. Most of the scaffold, including TV platforms, has been taken down and various items such as outdoor furniture and decorative plants removed from the grounds.
A woman walks through the puddles as Hurricane Irene causes devastation in New York. PHOTO: GETTY
On Saturday the place was pretty empty soon after lunchtime. Practice courts were packed from 7am with four players to a court through breakfast and mid-morning.
Then the rain arrived and most players took that as the sign to head back to Manhattan, stock up and camp down for who knows how long.
The privileged few, top seeds like Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray, were allowed to practise indoors but if any player wanted to hit on Sunday, the eve of the tournament, they had to find their own court off site.
Murray, travelling back to midtown on a communal shuttle bus on Saturday night, reserved an indoor court somewhere downtown but wasn't sure whether the place would be able to open, such was the uncertainty over Irene.
It's incredible to think that on the day before the final major of the season, most players will be staying in their hotel rooms with snacks and salads acquired yesterday from the take-out section of the competitors' restaurant.
Here in midtown, only the hardcore shopkeepers and bartenders are in business - they know Weather Channel over-exuberance when they see it.
Virtually every shop, restaurant and bar closed yesterday well before the normal Saturday night rush.
The major issue is the transport system because it's unlikely to reopen until after the Monday morning peak, meaning the first day of the tournament faces huge logistical issues to get everyone out to the borough of Queens, a 40-minute journey from central New York on the best of days.
There has to be a strong possibility that the first few matches - including Heather Watson's centre court debut against Maria Sharapova - will be played in front of drastically reduced crowds, if they're played at all.
Watson, playing her first Grand Slam event without the aid of a wild card or a route through qualifying, is one of four British women in the main draw,along with Elena Baltacha, Anne Keothavong and Laura Robson, the first time that's happened for almost 20 years.
And it was almost five as Naomi Broady fell in the final set of the final round of qualifying, having played her second round match earlier in the day.
Sharapova, if she can negotiate the admirably level-headed Watson, is an obvious title contender having won the warm-up event in Cincinnati, following her runner-up finish at Wimbledon.
Caroline Wozniacki comes in with another title from New Haven - even giving new beau Rory McIlroy a smacker on court after her win - but yet again it's on the eve of a major. Her schedule remains a curiosity.
It will be interesting to see if Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova can improve on a dismal US summer so far, with just two wins from two tournaments, while Victoria Azarenka, Li Na and, of course, Serena Williams will have their backers. I may go for Andrea Petkovic as a long shot.
It's been good to see Novak Djokovic rediscovering a bit of his love for impressions this week. The world number one does a brilliant Sharapova and even the wig came out this week to prove he may be world number one but he hasn't lost his sense of humour.
His shoulder is completely fine and he's raring to add a third major to his incredible 2011 title collection. He has to be the favourite. How can a guy with only two defeats all year not be? Personally, I think Nadal could take him out, but then I think Murray could repeat his 2008 sem-final win over the Spaniard.
Then there is Roger Federer, who chatted to all and sundry in the media cafe yesterday and looks "super relaxed", as they say here. And the intriguing outsider is Mardy Fish, the 30-something who has gatecrashed the top 10 this summer and is having the time of his life, more than a decade after first hitting the tour.
Some other players, such as Andy Roddick, are stranded elsewhere in the US with flights into New York suspended over the weekend. Hardly ideal preparation and another reason why the start of this event could be disrupted.
When we do start, I think we could have a thrilling end to the major tennis year. And, who knows, if the weather improves and stays kind we may even get a scheduled finish on the second Sunday for the first time in four years.