Each day during the U.S. Open, Peter Bodo will recap the previous day's events and look ahead to the upcoming day's play. We encourage you to discuss the action from Flushing Meadows in the comments section below.
NEW YORK—Every Grand Slam tournament is a slumbering beast, and that’s particularly true here in Gotham, where the first round is spread out over three days, each with a separate day and evening session.
Sometimes, the beast is aroused early, as it was at Wimbledon this year when Rafael Nadal lost to Steve Darcis in the first round. Suddenly, it was abundantly clear to anyone even halfway paying attention that the tournament was on. But there was no comparable, seismic event to prod the leviathan that is the U.S. Open to life yesterday.
The storied names in action all took care of their designated business, as personified by the Williams sisters. Oddly enough, unseeded WTA No. 60 Venus scored one of the significant upsets of the day, knocking off No. 12 seed Kirsten Flipkens, 6-1, 6-2. But let’s keep it real here. Her name is Williams. It’s only an upset when she loses.
Second on Arthur Ashe Stadium, Venus set the tone for the day, and her kid sister Serena ended it emphatically with a formidable display of firepower in the evening match. She crushed Francesca Schiavone, 6-0. 6-1. Still, we witnessed some interesting interludes between those two impressive performances. Let’s review a few the most significant ones.
Was it just a year ago almost to the day that Bernard Tomic, then still a teenager, earned the nickname “Tomic the Tank Engine,” when he appeared to quit trying in his second-round loss to Andy Roddick? So much has happened since then, so little of it truly good, that Tomic’s five-set comeback against Albert Ramos must make him feel pretty good. Tomic won it, 6-3, 3-6, 4-6, 7-6 (1), 6-3.
This spring, Tomic’s father and coach, John, allegedly head-butted his son’s hitting partner, Thomas Drouet. As a result, John Tomic, generally a ubiquitous presence at his son’s matches (Bernard once actually appealed to the umpire to remove his father during a match in Miami, on the grounds that he was an irritant) was deemed persona non grata and denied access to tournaments, including Wimbledon and the U.S. Open. Bernie has spent much time this year defending his father, or rather refusing to abandon his father and, if anything, emphasizing how crucial John is to his success.
Nobody was able to spot John Tomic at the match today, and afterward Bernie said: “I’m not looking where my dad is. Of course my dad is still on my side with me and that’s an important thing, but, you know, I’m trying to find myself deep down inside and become the best player I can be. Each day is a new stepping stone for later in my career. I approach days differently now, so it’s good.”
Tomic’s rap as a quitter is now increasingly hard to justify in spite of what happened last year. Including today, Bernie has won five of the six five-set matches he’s played at majors. He would not deny that he felt he had something to prove today, given last year’s controversy.
“To turn any match around like this, where I think I was probably one or two points away from being out of the tournament, being able to turn that around and find something inside you to win this match was very, very good for me,” he admitted. “And I take that as confidence into my next round. I’m going to approach it with a lot of confidence. That’s the important thing.”
Just Show Her the Money
An upset of Sloane Stephens by Mandy Minella (in another life, she might have had a life as a tween chanteuse with that name) probably would not have rocked the tournament to its core. Stephens isn’t quite that big a star yet.
On the other hand, it would have put a serious dampener on the growing hopes pinned on the up-and-coming U.S. women, among whom the 20-year-old holds the highest ranking (No. 16) and ranks as the finest hope.
Stephens has a talent for playing her most persuasive tennis on the most important occasions. She also has a talent for scaring the bejesus out of her supporters by making things far more complicated than seems necessary. Her first-round match was a pretty good example of this. Stephens lost the first set to Minella, then rebounded to win an excruciatingly close one, 4-6, 6-3, 7-6 (5). That improved her record in Grand Slam events this year to a stellar 13-3, while she’s a lackluster 17-15 in regular WTA tour events.
Given to baffling lapses of concentration during which she resembles a young lady waiting for a bus more than one who makes her way chasing tennis balls, Stephens lost control of the second set but eked it out, then fell behind 2-4 in the third—at which point a savvy New Yorker who mysteriously knew exactly what button to push hollered: “If you don’t get it together, this lady is going to take your second-round prize money!”
That certainly got the attention of Stephens, who’s not exactly averse to putting her hard-earned money to work in the boutiques of this world. More to the point, it seemed to snap her out of her torpor. As she said later of that comment, “In a moment that’s so serious, you’re just like, ‘Oh, my God. . .’ I think that was a pretty good one today.”
Inspired by that appeal to her practical—or is it mercenary?—side, Stephens immediately broke back at love, then went on to win the match in a tiebreaker.
Saving Your Best for Private Ryan
It’s been a tough year for Ryan Harrison, the 21-year-old, ATP No. 97 who not very long ago was seen as a potential American star. Harrison hit a career-high ranking of No. 43 a little over a year ago, but he’s struggled ever since. And on Day 1, he was eliminated from the U.S. Open in the first round by No. 2 seed Rafael Nadal, 6-4, 6-2, 6-2.
Harrison refused to moan about how “tough” it was to draw Nadal as his first-round opponent after he lost. He said, “It’s not that tough. I mean, you know, it is what it is. I’m not thinking, ‘Gosh, I’m going to be done on Monday,’ as soon as I see the draw. You just get ready to play so can you do your best. Obviously my best today wasn’t good enough. He won pretty comfortably. Hopefully, you know, I can just get back to work and keep the process going.”
Actually, Harrison has frequently drawn elite players early in tournaments: He’s faced Nadal, Novak Djokovic, Juan Martin del Potro, and Andy Murray before the third round in four of his last seven majors.
On yesterday bluntly asked Harrison if he’s lost “faith” that he’ll make a big breakthrough, to which he replied: “Well, I’m 21 years old. If I lost faith in my career at this point, that would be pretty embarrassing. So, no. . .”
Now, let’s look to Tuesday:
The Jinx of New Haven
Unless WTA No. 133 Ying-Ying Duan—one of seven Chinese women (led by Li Na) in the Top 150—has an enormous surprise in store for us, it ought to be a relatively quiet day on the women's front, at least as far as elite players go.
Duan meets No. 6 Caroline Wozniacki, who no longer seems able to muster the magic, even at her beloved New Haven tournament. She lost in the semis for the second year in a row last week, after having won that event in her first four tries. Given what Wozniacki has been through (she was the year-end No. 1 two years running but was more famous for pulling that off without having won a single Grand Slam event), I’m almost tempted to think of New Haven as embodying some sort of jinx.
It may sound far-fetched, but Petra Kvitova has reached the New Haven for two years in a row now, and she’s also one of those players who’s becoming famous for what she hasn’t accomplished rather than for what she has done. She won Wimbledon in 2011, amid great fanfare and high hopes, but has done relatively little since then and is barely clinging to her Top 10 status.
Given what we know about Chinese players and how smooth and consistent they are, I wouldn’t write off Duan. She may be the best bet to pull off an upset on a day loaded with mismatches led by the USA’s Victoria Duval (No. 296) challenging No. 11 seed and 2011 champion Samantha Stosur. Avert your eyes if you don’t like the sight of blood.
The USTA rolls out the heavy artillery: John Isner, Milos Raonic, Sam Querrey, Jerzy Janowicz, and Tomas Berdych all play their first-round matches, and it’s hard to imagine any of them faltering. For domestic consumption, the Isner-Querrey double is a good deal—especially if you don’t have the cake to secure a ticket on Ashe. Isner is on the Grandstand and Querrey is in Louis Armstrong, both of which have plenty of open seating for all ticket-holders. Raonic, Berdych, and Janowicz also are on outside courts, thanks partly to the decision to re-schedule Roger Federer’s rained-out first-rounder with Grega Zemlja for Ashe.
The match I like among these is Isner’s with 31-year-old Filippo Volandri, who has that unique Italian talent for torturing straight-ahead power players. Volandri is No. 101, but still capable of creating plenty of mischief.
The connoisseur’s special for is No. 12 Tommy Haas vs. Paul Henri Mathieu of France, while the low-profile match of greatest interest to the U.S. audience will be Jack Sock’s meeting with Philipp Petzschner. And watch out for Ricardas Berankis of Lithuania, who meets top-seeded Novak Djokovic in first match at night on Ashe. Berankis is just 23 and has been plagued by injuries. But he has a very smooth, compact game and he could give Djokovic all he can handle—and more.
The firepower on display will be awesome, but we’re probably a round or two away from having it accompanied by the fireworks associated with upset.