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—A great deal of U.S. Open tennis had been played at the National Tennis Center by the time the sun began to bleed pale orange into a lavender sky late Tuesday afternoon, but the tournament still lacked the kind of upset that invariably jumpstarts an event and drives it to the forefront of the public’s consciousness.
Oh, sure, an Ernests Gulbis lost here, a Kirsten Flipkens lost there. But before all that lovely light drained out of the New York sky, Flushing Meadows received the electric jolt that promised more wondrous and magical things to come. That it was a U.S. citizen, and an immigrant at that, who provided that surge of energy seemed all the more appropriate here at the American Grand Slam.
It’s not all about Sponge Bob
Tuesday was not just a great day for American tennis, it was also was one that strained credulity. It’s one thing for John Isner, Sam Querrey, Jack Sock, and Christina McHale to advance. It’s quite another to see two of the least likely suspects rock the venue with resounding upsets.
Often maligned and basically written off, Donald Young has slipped to No. 157, and the only main-draw match he’s won at a tour event all year was one in which his opponent retired. Shut out of the three earlier majors this year (he failed to qualify), Young fought through qualifying in Queens and in his first-round match sliced and diced world No. 46 Martin Klizan—who reached the fourth round here last year—in straight sets, losing all of two games (6-1, 6-0, 6-1).
Young’s match ended on Court 11 at just about the time another young American’s was starting on Louis Armstrong. That was 17-year-old Victoria Duval’s first-rounder with 2011 champ and No. 11 seed, Sam Stosur.
Two hours and 39 minutes later, Duval punched out a forehand winner on her fourth match point to complete one of the most remarkable one-two punches in the history of the U.S. Open, perhaps even of Grand Slam tennis, winning 5-7, 6-4, 6-4.
Have two prohibitive underdogs, one man and one woman, ever turned in so impressive a pair of first-round upsets in a major tournament? It’s impossible to imagine.
Most of you know the saga of the former prodigy, Young. He’s 24 now, and he’s made a living out of stimulating and then dashing hopes; the only word for him, or at least for his personal history, is “complicated.” Very complicated.
Duval, though, is—was?—an unknown. Born in Miami, Duval spent the first eight years of her life in Haiti, but returned to Florida and now lives and trains in Bradenton. She’s almost 5’10” and likes to crush her groundstrokes, but at heart she’s still a kid whose favorite character in the Sponge Bob cartoons is Gary the snail—“He’s cute,” she said, “But he doesn’t get enough credit. It’s all about Sponge Bob.”
Duval also proved herself a prematurely able competitor, which spelled trouble for Stosur from the get-go. After all, the former Open champ and Petra Kvitova are still running neck-and-neck in the competition to determine which Grand Slam champion remains the most prone to choking and running off the mental rails at key moments.
Stosur had second-set leads of 3-0 and 4-2, but the world No. 296 kept firing aggressive, flat groundstrokes—her cross-court forehand was particularly effective. Stosur also wriggled out of three match points and forced Duval to commit that act dreaded by so many: End a match with a service hold. The assignment that didn’t rattle Duval at all. She won it because she took the game to Stosur with confidence and courage.
As Stosur said after the match, “I’m sure she was nervous. I mean, if I was in that position, I’d definitely be nervous, trying to serve out a match, or even when I was serving, she had those match points. But she held it together. She kept going for it. When she got the chance to step up and hit a winner, she did it, just like on match point.”
Echoing her vanquished opponent, Duval said: “I definitely think that getting to the next level in tennis is being able to go after your shots. These girls hit really hard. I wouldn’t have pulled it off today if I wasn’t confident in my shots. I was willing to take that risk and it paid off.”
Duval’s personal story is remarkable, but that’s best left for another time.
Put a Sock in it!
Ironically, Young and Duval knocked a whole passel of their fellow Americans off the mental front page, but let’s acknowledge the winners. Isner looked very strong in his opening match, as did Querrey. Can it be that this pair, who once seemed to be in a hurry to take over leadership of the American contingent of players, is taking another shot at that mission?
Both men are feeling good at this tournament. Isner has looked like a new man ever since he returned from the freak, passing knee injury that forced him to retire during his second-round match at Wimbledon. He knocked off Filippo Volandri on Tuesday, then later said: “If I can get a lot of wins under my belt, you know, I become very confident. When I’m confident I feel like I’m very tough to beat, and I think that showed today. I played the big points well today and I was really going for my shots and I felt great out there.”
The other American winners included Sock, who wore down Philipp Petzschner before the German retired when trailing 7-6, 3-6, 5-2. McHale also won, as did Alison Riske and Sachia Vickery. All in all, a wonderful day for U.S. tennis.
Now, let’s look ahead to Wednesday:
I’m Andy Murray. . . Remember Me?
I’ve always been fan of having the defending singles champion play the opening match at a Grand Slam event, and not for the most noble of reasons. A tradition like that doesn’t just open a tournament in classy fashion, it creates drama and also puts a little more pressure on the holders. Why not make them squirm a little, given how lucky they were just a year earlier?
So you can see why I don’t like that Andy Murray, the defending U.S. Open champ, is playing what probably is the penultimate match of what is the third full day of play at Flushing Meadows. That’s just wrong. Why not just bring back the Challenge Round format, in which the champ sits out until a challenger emerges from the rest of the field?
Besides, playing as if it were the closing ceremonies also brings its own kind of pressure—being the last to try to vault a hurdle is right behind being the first as a daunting assignment. In any event, Murray will have had almost three full days to champ at the bit and obsess about the tournament and some of the early results and stories. That’s easily two days too many.
You don’t have to be a fatalistic or excessively self-effacing Brit to fear for the No. 3 seed as he goes up against Michael Llodra; you know the old saying, “Even paranoids have real enemies.” Southpaws who tote heavy artillery, like Llodra, have a history of doing significant damage under the lights on Louis Armstrong as well as Arthur Ashe Stadium—does the name Roscoe Tanner ring a bell?
I expect there will be much weeping and gnashing of teeth among Murray fans before he gets over his opening-night jitters.
A Name Too Far
Pity yours truly, a poor ink-stained wretch just trying to avoid having to bury his nose in some website every five minutes, figuring out how to spell “Pavlyuchenkova” or “Schmiedlova.” Nothing derails what be an interesting if still hidden-in-the-mist train of thought than having to stop to fact-check a spelling—especially when it’s a name you’ve written, oh, 500 times before (of course, the other way to look at this is that I’m just stupid).
But anyway, how’s this for a mouthful? Day 3’s matches include a meeting of No. 3 seed Agnieszka Radwanska and—ready?—Maria-Teresa Torro-Flor. Inside that name is an acronym dying to get out.
This will be the 21-year old MTTF’s seventh Grand Slam match (she’s 3-3), and she’s ranked No. 103 in the world. I’m not touting this as “must see” tennis; in fact, I’m counting on Radwanska to save me a lot of trouble over the coming days by winning it.
That’s okay, the WTA draw has kicked out plenty of compelling matches for tomorrow, starting with Venus Williams’ with Zie Zheng. Among the seeds, Jamie Hampton will pit her creativity and welterweight game against the statuesque service bombardier, Kristina Mladenovic.
The most enthralling of these match-ups for me will throw together No. 32 Laura Robson and France’s Caroline Garcia. Both women are just 19 years old, and both of them like to punish the ball. Robson has leaped ahead of Garcia developmentally, but that doesn’t mean much at this stage of their careers. It ought to be a good one in any event.
And yes, I know what you self-effacing British Cassandras are thinking. Don’t go there.