by Pete Bodo
NEW YORK—Just as it was a sure bet that installing a roof over Centre Court at Wimbledon would guarantee sunny, warm weather for eons to come, so the fact that the U.S. Open is one of just two majors (the French Open is the other) without a roof pretty much ensures that we'll be seeing more frequent rainouts in the coming years. The trend is already established, even though historically speaking, the U.S. Open has been blessed with almost exclusively fair weather. I'm sure Al Gore has a theory about this.
Anyway, if you're going to lose an entire day to rain, today wasn't the worst one to sacrifice. The only half of either draw in which the fourth round has yet to be played is the bottom half on the men's side. If they play tennis tomorrow at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, aka Flushing Meadows, the first matches they will try to get in are those uncompleted fourth-rounders featuring Andy Murray, Rafael Nadal and Andy Roddick. This rainout also gives us worker bees a welcome breather, kind of like that civilized, Middle Sunday at Wimbledon, and thus an opportunity to take stock. Here are some reactions to week one:
Most Pleasant Surprise, Men: Given that this is the U.S.Open, and that U.S. tennis is in the doldrums, and that Donald Young Jr. has been a lightning rod for controversy because of the trouble he's had breaking through as a Top 100 player, he easily gets the nod. This is the deepest he's gone at a major (he's playing Murray in the fourth round), and the way he backed up his upset of Stanislas Wawrinka with a terrific performance against Juan Ignacio Chela was both encouraging and impressive. Young has recorded good wins before, but he's never followed up on them the way he has in this first week at the Open.
Most Pleasant Surprise, Women: It's a close call, with the quarters having been decided, but I have to go with Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova (over Flavia Pennetta), mainly because she's a newcomer and likely to have a more profound impact on the future of the game. Although she still appears to be carrying too much weight (but remember how pudgy Ana Ivanovic looked at a comparable age), she did a great job in her fourth-round match, outlasting No. 7 seed Francesca Schiavone, 6-3 in the third. And that was after she knocked off former No. 1 and No. 11 seed Jelena Jankovic.
Scariest Moment, Men: Rafael Nadal slipping down in his chair like water disappearing into a puddle under the table in the press interview room, the victim of—thank God—nothing more serious than a vicious cramp.
Scariest Moment, Women: Venus Williams' announcement that she's suffering from an auto-immune disease, Sjogren's Syndrome. The declaration was abrupt, puzzling, and more than a little scary because Venus had played a really good first-round match against Vesna Dolonts.
Most Baffling Scheduling Decision: Ignoring Juan Martin del Potro, the de facto defending champ (he was unable to defend the title he won in 2009 last year because of injury), when it came to making out the card on Arthur Ashe Stadium. It's too late to do anything about that now, as Delpo lost in the third round to Gilles Simon. Has a defending champ ever been treated with such undeserved scorn? A first-rounder on Ashe would have been a nice "welcome back" for a much loved champion.
Most Disappointing, Men: Ernests Gulbis. You know his name is bound to pop up whenever you have a category like this, but his second-round loss to Gilles Muller was a big disappointment. Gulbis was beginning to show signs of renewal and re-dedication this summer (he knocked off Mardy Fish in the final of L.A., and won at least three matches at every subsequent event leading up to the U.S. Open); a better run—or tougher loss—here would have kept the momentum going. But as always with this guy, it's one step forward, two steps back. Gulbis' only consolation is that Muller went on to win his third match, indicating that he's playing well.
Most Disappointing, Women: No. 5 seed and new Wimbledon champ Petra Kvitova has won exactly two matches since her masterful, poised performance in London. She was bounced out at this last major of the year in the first round by Alexandra Dulgheru, who promptly lost her next match to Monica Niculescu.
Clearly, Kvitova is still walking on clouds, and what would you take, if offered this choice: a semi at Wimbledon and a semi at the U.S. Open or a title at Wimbledon and a first-round loss in New York? It kind of puts things in perspective, but it's still a pity that Kvitova has mentally checked out.
First runner-up: Li Na, who went into a swoon shortly after she made the Australian Open final and again after she won Roland Garros. In each case, the impact of her achievement and the rewards it brought her ruined Li's focus and determination. Imagine if something terrible instead of great happened to her!
Best Tiebreaker, Men: No question, the wild first-set tiebreaker won by Novak Djokovic over Alexandr Dolgopolov, 16-14. A pity they couldn't last for four more points and thus re-enact the Battle of 18-16. But that's alright—theirs was a vastly more entertaining if less dramatic tiebreaker than that Borg-McEnroe epic in 1980.
Best Tiebreaker, Women: Flavia Pennetta might have locked this up with her comeback from 0-5 and then 2-6 down against Peng Shuai (Pennetta prevailed in that tiebreaker, 8-5), but you still have to go with what the WTA calls the longest tiebreaker in women's Slam history—Maria Kirilenko's 17-15 triumph over Sam Stosur. Incidentally, Stosur recovered brilliantly after losing that tiebreaker to even the match at a set apiece, winning the third set, 6-3.
Most Improved, Men: Janko Tisparevic recently revealed that he's re-dedicated himself and is bent on becoming a Top 20 player, then "attacking" the Top 10. He admitted that he was moved to make that decision because of what his pal Djokovic has accomplished. Ordinarily, that would almost guarantee that a guy like Tipsarevic would sink from sight, but not this time. Tipsarevic has battled his way to the quarterfinals, with back-to-back Ws over Tomas Berdych and Juan Carlos Ferrero. Unfortunately, he has Djokovic next. Expect him to roll over for his hero.
Most Improved, Women: Caroline Wozniacki appeared to be in deep trouble a week before the start of the U.S Open, having had a terrible (by her standard) summer. But she won New Haven for the fourth time just a week before the Open began and she's been playing terrific tennis ever since. She blew away her first three opponents and then survived a stiff challenge from former champ and ever-dangerous Svetlana Kuznetsova to make the quarters.
First runner-up: The woman Wozniacki plays next, Andrea Petkovic.
Funniest Moment of the Tournament: Rafael Nadal slipping down in his chair like water disappearing into a puddle under the table in the press interview room, the victim of—thank God—nothing more serious than a vicious cramp.
Least Surprising Performance, Men: Sure, Djokovic is still on a roll, as expected, but then he's a young guy just coming into his own. So I'd rather pick Roger Federer, who recently turned 30 and is often written off by pundits. Still, class will tell, and Federer has it. Can anyone be surprised by that he's playing great tennis and laying in wait for Djokovic, given the record this guy has amassed?
Least Surprising Performance, Women: When Serena Williams returned to action on the hard courts after losing to Marion Bartoli at Wimbledon, many people said, "You just watch, she's going to crush everyone in her path and win the U.S. Open." She's well on her way.
Quote of the Tournament: At a time when players are given to taking quick umbrage at even the slightest hint of being underestimated or taken for granted, check out what Djokovic said about having been relegated to overcrowded, relatively chaotic Louis Armstrong stadium for his tantalizing fourth-round battle with mercurial Alexandr Dolgopolov: "I was happy to experience the Armstrong court again. Sometimes it's really nice to be on the smaller court where the crowd is closer to the court, where you can feel them."
Does this guy have a great attitude or what?