Open Book: Welcome To Week Two
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—The funny thing about clichés is that every one I can think of grows out of some undeniable truth. Every player worth their name wants to give “110 percent”—it’s the epitome of professionalism. Great players really do take it “one match at a time”—although I admired Roger Federer’s honesty the other night when he said that he is fully aware of the draw and just where and how everyone is positioned; that’s the difference between a CEO and an outside consultant.
It’s true that no match can be taken for granted and, of immediate import to us, that a Grand Slam really does consist of two different tournaments divided by the middle Sunday. Or, if you prefer, separated by the end of the third round. In fact, the bracketology in which so many of us engaged with such relish last Friday now seems an exercise in target practice in the dead of night.
Now that we’re into the second week, the draw doesn’t bear very much resemblance to the original. To wit, who would have thought daybreak on Monday would leave us pondering the ongoing chances of Camila Giorgi or Alison Riske, Marcel Granollers or Denis Istomin, or even Lleyton Hewitt?
So let’s change this format of this daily exercise a bit, and take a quick look at some of the usual—and unusual—suspects and evaluate their chances as we move into the second week. We can’t cover everyone; if I neglect your favorite player, it’s less because he or she doesn’t merit consideration than because I have nothing much to say about him or her—for now.
Rafael Nadal: It may sound unfair to this great champion, but in a way Nadal had something to prove this summer. Everyone conceded that he would be a major factor during the clay season, but the big question was how he—and his knees—would fare over the summer. Would he even make a serious effort to contend, given his recent history?
We have our answer. He’s the odds-on favorite to win, and if he gets out of his quarter, watch out. Suddenly, this U.S. Open is looking a lot like a career watershed moment for Nadal and a potential Waterloo for his longstanding rival, Roger Federer. You can bet that a Nadal triumph reboots the Greatest-of-All-Time debate.
Carla Suarez Navarro: She’s had a great run, topped yesterday by her win over No. 8 Angelique Kerber. But she has top-seeded Serena Williams next. You may want to avert your eyes.
Lleyton Hewitt: He’s emerged as the sentimental darling and star of the first week, what with his rousing upset win of No. 6 seed Juan Martin del Potro. He also made one of the most poignant remarks of the tournament yesterday when he was asked if he was glad to know he’s playing a familiar, veteran face in the next round (Mikhail Youzhny): “At least I know who I’m playing. Half the draw I don’t know anymore.”
Simona Halep: After she struggled through a three-setter in the first round, Halep caught fire and crushed her next two opponents, most recently Maria Kirilenko, 6-1, 6-0. Given that Kirilenko, the No. 14 seed, gets a lot of balls back, that beatdown was a stunner. This 21-year-old, dogged Romanian is as tough as old leather and is a reasonable pick for the semis; the biggest obstacle in her way appears to be No. 10 seed Roberta Vinci.
Roger Federer: Given how he had been playing, it’s a victory albeit not a surprise that he’s in the second week. He has No. 19 seed Tommy Robredo in his way before that projected “dream quarterfinal” with Nadal (who must get by Philipp Kohlschreiber) takes place, but can you think of a better time and place for Federer to strike a much-needed blow in defense of his reputation than here and now—“now” being Wednesday night?
Ekaterina Makarova: Her back-to-back wins over No. 16 seed Sabine Lisicki, the recent Wimbledon finalist, and No. 3 seed Agneiszka Radwanska were unexpected. In all honesty, did anyone even mention her name when the draws first came out?
Stanislas Wawrinka: Federer’s Swiss wingman has progressed very quietly through a deceptively tough draw, culminating yesterday with his win over the dangerous and volatile ball striker Marcos Baghdatis.
Alison Riske: As far as young U.S. players go, this tournament was supposed to be all about Sloane Stephens, Madison Keys, Jamie Hampton, and Christina McHale. All but Keys had decent to excellent results, but this steely Pittsburgh native is the only American to stand alongside Serena as a survivor as the second week begins.
Tomas Berdych: Let’s remember that Berdych eliminated Federer here last year, and his scores thus far have been extremely impressive. Just yesterday, he eliminated heavy-hitting, aggressive Julien Benneteau with the loss of just five games. If he gets by Wawrinka, he could face defending champion and No. 3 seed Andy Murray (who gets Denis Istomin next).
Berdych is 6-4 against Murray, and won their two most recent meetings—the last in Cincinnati on a hard court similar to the ones at the National Tennis Center. The tall Czech has been in the hunt at numerous Grand Slams now, and has trembled at brink of breakthrough without actually pulling it off—or, as is so often the case, slipping back. One of these days, something may give and Berdych may find himself hoisting a Grand Slam trophy.
Camilia Giorgi: All that stands between her and the quarterfinals is fellow Italian countrywoman Vinci. This is a big chance for Giorgi, and if she plays as aggressively as she did in knocking off Caroline Wozniacki, nobody in her half in the draw is safe—and that includes No. 2 seed Victoria Azarenka. As Giorgi said, when asked what tactics she employed to overcome the steady Wozniacki: “Just when the ball come to just hit the ball in the corners.” Good advice, remember it, kids.
Janko Tipsarevic: Sure, he’s been in a slump that has dropped him from the Top 10 to outside the Top 20 this year. But Tipsarevic has looked very sharp at this tournament and he’s in what appears to be the softest quarter—should he beat No. 4 seed David Ferrer, he would meet either Richard Gasquet or Milos Raonic for a place in the semis.
Li Na: The former French Open champ seems to have really taken to her new coach, Carlos Rodriguez. They’ve been working together since January and now seem in a comfort zone. By her own admission, he’s done a lot to make her more relaxed, and he’s helped her get over the burdensome habit of internalizing all the stress that comes with her occupation. Rodriguez is an excellent coach, but even more than that he’s a genuine mentor and teacher—a valuable asset for a quiet, undemonstrative 31-year old who has had to navigate a strange and unfamiliar world through her entire professional life.
Li hasn’t lost a set in Queens, and only one player worked her for more than three games in a set—that was Laura Robson in the third round. With Radwanska out of the way now, Li seems a shoo-in to meet Serena Williams in the semifinals. Suddenly, the women’s tournament seems a three-woman race, while the men are also thick with intriguing contenders.
So here we go, week two gets underway today. Enjoy every minute of it—if you can.
If you enjoy reading Pete Bodo at TENNIS.com, you might also be interested in his latest novel, The Reckoning. A revised version of this father-son story set in the Rocky Mountains has just been issued by e-publisher Diversion Books. Click here for more on this grand adventure tale, or to download the book.