First Ball In, 8/18: Back to School
Players convene on college campuses at Yale and Wake Forest this week to cram for the final major test of the season at Flushing Meadows. Gaining match play while remaining injury-free are priorities.
Reigning New Haven champion Halep is winless in three meetings with potential quarterfinal opponent Flavia Pennetta, who beat the Romanian in the fourth round of last year's U.S. Open. Halep has reached the semifinals or better in five of her last nine tournaments. The world No. 2 is moving fluidly, striking down the line with accuracy, and should carry confidence from defeating former champs Wozniacki and Kvitova in succession to claim the title last August.
Wozniacki is training for the New York City marathon in her spare time and could run into Camila Giorgi in the round of 16—if the Dane rallies to defeat Timea Bacsinszky tonight. Giorgi's willingness to play near the edge makes her both dangerous and self-destructive. As a 136th-ranked qualifier, she upset Wozniacki at the U.S. Open last year. Four-time New Haven champion Wozniacki is trying to hit her first serve and forehand with more vigor these days and is pushing for a Top 10 return.
In already completed matches, Garbine Muguruza dictated play throughout the final set to defeat No. 7 seed Sara Errani, 6-2, 3-6, 6-1. The Roland Garros quarterfinalist should be eager to make inroads after a disappointing start to the U.S. Open Series.
Wimbledon champion Kvitova faces an immediate test from fellow lefty Ekaterina Makarova, who beat the Czech in Montreal earlier this month. Kvitova's asthma can be exacerbated playing in North American heat and humidity, and her results can suffer—she's reached at least the semifinals at every major except the U.S. Open—but relatively mild conditions this week should suit her.
Genie Bouchard showed plenty of hunger ravaging Bojana Jovanovski's second serve today to earn her first win since Wimbledon. The third-seeded Canadian won 20 of 22 points played on the Serb's second serve in a 6-1, 6-1 thrashing that lasted just 52 minutes. Bouchard's return game will be put to the test when she faces Samantha Stosur in a rematch of the 2013 Osaka final, which Stosur won in three sets. Wild cards Dominika Cibulkova and Andrea Petkovic face off for the third time tonight in what could be one of the most competitive opening-round matches.
Greensboro, North Carolina native John Isner has transformed Winston-Salem into the Isner Invitational in recent years. He is 10-0 lifetime at his home tournament and opens against compatriot Bradley Klahn. Isner, who once cited former Carolina Panthers quarterback Jake Delhomme as his favorite player, threw passes to Wake Forest wide-outs on Sunday and should go deep in the draw again. Long John has lost two of his last three matches in third-set tie breakers—to Andy Murray in Cincinnati and Steve Johnson in Washington, DC—and given his struggles breaking serve (he's won just nine percent of his return games this year), he'll need to be tiebreak tough here.
Tommy Robredo defused big servers Jack Sock and Sam Querrey before surprising world No. 1 Novak Djokovic in Cincinnati last week. The third-seeded Spaniard opens against Nicolas Mahut and could challenge in the top half of the draw. Seventh seed Lukas Rosol plays his first hard-court tournament match since losing to Dominic Thiem in Miami when he takes on American wild card Ryan Harrison in the second round. Marcel Granollers, the No. 8 seed, has not won a hard-court match since Chennai last January.
Kevin Anderson anchors the bottom half of the draw that features several dangerous players. Anderson has played his most assertive tennis on North American hard courts, reaching two finals (Delray Beach and Acapulco) and three quarterfinals (Indian Wells, Washington, DC and Toronto) this year.
Creative Belgian baseliner David Goffin continued the finest run of his career, dispatching defending champion Jurgen Melzer, 6-3, 6-4, to extend his unbeaten streak to 23 matches. The 62nd-ranked Goffin won three Challenger titles and his first career ATP crown in Kitzbühel during his surge. Goffin is defending his second serve more effectively these days: He saved all six break points he faced against Melzer. Next up is No. 4 seed Leonardo Mayer, playing his first match since collecting his maiden ATP title in Hamburg.
Booming server Jerzy Janowicz did not drop serve beating Carlos Berlocq in round one. The former Wimbledon semifinalist has posted back-to-back wins just three times since March, but has the game to trouble No. 6 seed Joao Sousa in round two. Donald Young, who beat Anderson to reach the Washington semifinals, could face No. 5 seed Guillermo Garcia-Lopez in the round of 16 in what would be a rematch of their five-set clash at Roland Garros.
(6) Flavia Pennetta vs. Alison Riske: The flat-hitting Riske snapped a four-match losing streak beating Casey Dellacqua in her opener. Pennetta, who hits with more spin and can create sharper angles, will try to use her backhand down the line to stretch the Pittsburgh native.
(2) Petra Kvitova vs. Ekaterina Makarova: Aggressive lefties meet for the second time in the last three weeks in a match that should hinge on the first serve, first strike, and Kvitova's concentration level.
(16) Steve Johnson vs. Sam Querrey: Surprises and service breaks are minimal when the friends and doubles partners meet in a match where both will try to impose the serve-forehand combination. Querrey hit 20 aces and eked out the only break in a 7-6 (3), 7-5 win over Johnson in Atlanta last month.
(2) Kevin Anderson vs. Adrian Mannarino: The left-handed Frenchman had some success playing Anderson's forehand. winning their last encounter in Auckland two years ago. The 6'8" Anderson has more sting on his shots and is 21-3 when winning the first set this year, though he failed to close out his last two quarterfinals—against Young in DC and Grigor Dimitrov in Toronto—after winning opening sets in both matches.