First Ball In, 8/24: Talking It Before They Walk It

Sunday, August 24, 2014 /by
The first day of the year's last Slam is upon us. (AP Photos)
The first day of the year's last Slam is upon us. (AP Photos)

Saturday was presser day at the U.S. Open. Ten of the tournament’s highest seeds and biggest stars were marched through the interview room underneath Arthur Ashe Stadium to talk about what they were thinking and how they were feeling before the year's last Slam. In theory, that may sound a little grim and repetitive, but in reality presser day is always one of high hopes and great expectations. Many of the players are so relaxed they’ll even flash the assembled media a smile—and yes, this includes Andy Murray. Below are five of the best lines from the weekend. (You can find the full transcripts here.)

*****

Simona Halep

Q: “Did people recognize you [in New York]?”

A: “Policeman. He told me, you are Simona Halep, no? Yes, I am. Only one.”

Halep, ranked No. 2, is recognized by a lone policeman; Eugenie Bouchard, ranked No. 8, is on the cover of this week's New York Times Magazine. Halep doesn’t seem to mind her relative obscurity; as she says, she just opened a Facebook account two weeks ago. Press darling or not, she’ll be making her debut in Arthur Ashe Stadium on Monday. “It’s huge,” she says of the place.

Otherwise, Halep said that she likes the fast courts at the Open, because “I play very fast.” And she admitted to getting bored when she has to hit too many crosscourts in a row in practice. She says loves to break the pattern and go down the line, and it shows; no one is better at it in matches than Halep.

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Eugenie Bouchard

On her less-than-ideal match preparation for the U.S. Open this summer:

“I’m not worried too much about my lead-up to the U.S. Open. I’ve looked back, and before all of the Slams I’ve had different lead-ups and done well in them. You know, not to say, you know—you never know what’s going to happen is my point.”

There’s still no one better at looking on the bright side than Genie. Though as a pre-tournament mindset, “you never know what’s going to happen” doesn’t have the most confident ring to it.

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Serena Williams

We want our athletes to be honest, right? If so, we have to respect the first words that came out of Serena’s mouth when she was asked what she thought of having to play 103rd-ranked U.S. Open rookie Taylor Townsend in the first round.

“Yeah," Serena said without hesitation, "it’s going to be a great match for me.”

*****

Andy Murray

Q: Obviously you spent a lot of time in Miami. How has the departure of LeBron James changed your status as a season ticket holder?”

I’d like to say I was surprised that this was the second question of Murray’s presser. But this is the United States, which means that every conversation, even one taking place three months before the NBA season begins, must include at least one LeBron James mention. As often happens with pointless questions, this one elicited one of the interview's sharpest answers:

“Status is the same," Murray said. "We don’t do that. In the U.K. you don’t change teams when someone leaves.”

*****

Novak Djokovic

Has there ever been a No. 1 player who has had to answer as many questions about another No. 1 player? It seems to be Djokovic’s fate to spend much of his career musing on the amazingness of Roger Federer. On Saturday, after answering a question about Rafael Nadal’s many injuries, Djokovic was asked this:

“How would describe Roger’s style and his durability by contrast?”

Djokovic duly noted that Federer “plays so effortless and so smooth," but apparently that wasn't good enough, because he received this as a follow-up:

“What do you make of [Federer's] streak of appearing in majors, 15 years straight, 60 straight majors?”

By then, Djokovic appeared to have had enough of the subject:

“What can I say? It’s an incredible achievement. Everything he does is remarkable.”

*****

OOP Analysis

See Monday’s Order of Play here. Even with the first round split among six sessions—Wimbledon does it in two—there’s a lot happening.

Venus Williams vs. Kimiko Date-Krumm

Something about this matchup works. Maybe it’s the contrast between Williams’ full-cut baseline belting and Date-Krumm’s quick-stroked, all-court touch, but these veterans have hooked up for two classics—one at Wimbledon in 2011, one in Miami last year—in their three matches. Venus won them both. Winner: Williams

Mikhail Youzhny vs. Nick Kyrgios

Court 17 was made for matches like this. Thirteen years separate the Russian from the Aussie: The generational divide doesn’t get any more stark. Kyrgios should thrive on this small court, and he’ll likely have a roaring fan base behind him. But he’s also been hurt, and Youzhny, who turned pro in 1999, has been winning three-out-of-five-setters since Kyrgios was 4 years old. Winner: Youzhny

Andy Murray vs. Robin Haase

At first glance, this looks like just another foregone first-round conclusion for a high seed, but it should make Murray nervous for two reasons: (1) He had to come back from two-sets-to-love down to beat Haase at the Open three years ago; and (2) He had to do it on the same court—Louis Armstrong, which he hates—where he’ll face the Dutchman on Monday. Winner: Murray

Stan Wawrinka vs. Jiri Vesely

Vesely is 21, ranked 75th, and has lost four of his last five matches. But he’s a highly touted lefty who beat Gael Monfils at Wimbledon and nearly beat Murray in Indian Wells this year. Wawrinka is defending semifinal points at the Open. As we’ve learned in 2014, Stan can win Grand Slams, and he can lose in the first round. These two have never played. Winner: Wawrinka

Caroline Wozniacki vs. Magdalena Rybarikova

Is this worthy of being put on Upset Alert? Yes, Wozaniacki beat Rybarikova two weeks ago in Cincinnati. Yes, she also beat her easily last year. And yes, Caroline has had a good summer. But she lost early last week in New Haven, the same place where Rybarilova made the final. Winner: Wozniacki

Maria Sharapova vs. Maria Kirilenko

Time flies, doesn’t it? It seems like yesterday that these two Russians—once doubles partners, now both 27 and a decade into their careers—were the WTA stars of the future. The future happened in a big way for Sharapova, and in a smaller way for Kirilenko. Sharapova has won their last three matches, but she hasn’t looked sharp since her French Open title run in June. Winner: Sharapova

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