Italian Open: Rain delays Federer's Rome return as day matches cancelled

The Italian Open, a dual ATP-WTA clay showpiece, now faces a double-up day on Thursday in order to try and get back onto schedule for a pair of Sunday finals.

The central court is covered as all the matches are suspended due to the rain at the Italian Open.   -  ANSA via AP

Roger Federer's return to the Italian Open was scuppered by rain on Wednesday as officials were forced to cancel all day matches after waiting more than seven hours for the weather to clear.

Federer last appeared at Rome's Foro Italico in the 2016 third round, losing to Dominic Thiem, but he was kept waiting to begin his tournament against Portugal's Joao Sousa thanks to rain and wintery temperatures in what is normally a warm and pleasant period of the year in the Italian capital.

Against the odds, officials kept four scheduled night matches including one featuring men's top seed Novak Djokovic playing Canadian Denis Shapovalov.

However the dual ATP-WTA clay showpiece now faces a double-up day on Thursday in order to try and get back onto schedule for a pair of Sunday finals.

Federer, a four-time finalist in Rome, returns to Italy after skipping the clay season for the last two years as he concentrated on his grass game.

The Swiss was originally scheduled to play at 11 a.m. (0900 GMT) but was among dozens of players kept waiting in crowded locker rooms and lounges, as organisers inadvertently created a perfect storm of damaging PR.

They brought in a “no refund” policy after doubling ticket prices for Wednesday to reap the financial benefits of Federer's return to the venue — only confirmed after he lost in the quarterfinals in Madrid last week — generating ill-will for the event among the local public.

The Italian Tennis Federation justified the decision to raise prices by saying that they wanted “to reward fans” who had bought tickets before they knew Federer would play.

When informed of the decision on Tuesday during a media event, Federer did not seem particularly impressed.

“I heard some fans clearly were not happy about it. That's obviously disappointing to hear,” the 20-time Grand Slam champion said. “I just really hope it doesn't take away the fact I'm really happy to be here.”

Due to the poor conditions, the order of play was re-arranged and reduced, with starting times regularly delayed as the day dragged on. Finally, hopes were abandoned after 6 p.m. (1600 GMT).

Besides Federer, Djokovic and Rafael Nadal were also caught by the weather, with defending champion Nadal set to play France's Jeremy Chardy.

Among the women, world number one Naomi Osaka was waiting for a start against Dominika Cibulkova after beating the Slovak in the Madrid first round last week.