The scene is set for a great tournament in New York – we’ll be here to guide you through our favorite moments from the action each day.
1. Maybe don’t underestimate Benoit Paire
Kei Nishikori, who had a whole host of points to defend as the 2014 runner-up, is OUT of the tournament after a 5 set loss to France’s Benoit Paire. The most surprising thing was the speed with which the fifth set went awry for Kei – his record in deciding sets is phenomenal, so to see him mentally capitulate was quite a shock.
That’s perhaps not giving enough credit to Paire, who is known for flashes of incredible talent but not particularly known for sticking out grueling matches or making a lot of effort. Even when he was leading by a set, I would never have thought he’d win:
If Nishikori loses to Paire I will eat a tennis ball. (Hello, U.S. Open!)
— Andrew Eccles (@BackSwings) August 31, 2015
I’d like to thank everyone who has sent in tennis ball recipes for me. I will keep you updated with my progress. That was my first tweet of the US Open this year. Good start, Eccles.
2. Mid-match interviews are a thing now
On her way to a straight sets victory over Sloane Stephens in the first round today, Coco Vandeweghe found herself with a celebrity visitor:
No, Pam Shriver is not Coco’s coach now. On court coaching is not allowed at a slam. MID MATCH INTERVIEWS THOUGH? Fine. This is new and scary and…well…we tennis fans have not exactly adapted to on court coaching calmly so I think this one will take some getting used to.
Apparently the interviews are only for the player who wins the set, and only by choice. I have no idea how that will be managed. Will Pam Shriver run court-to-court for every set won, standing breathlessly waiting for a symbol from the winning player? Will a Shriver lane be installed between courts so that nobody gets in her way?
I really do think we could enforce existing tennis rules (time between points, language on court etc.) before adding in new things but such is the cruel progression of time.
3. The Empresses’ no groove
Remember my success at picking that Nishikori – Paire match? Well it continued with my pick of Jelena Jankovic as a semi-finalist. Jelena Jankovic instead fell in three sets to young frenchwoman Oceane Dodin, who dominated the former number 1.
I’m a little heartbroken about this one, I must admit. Serena and Jankovic have played some really fun matches over the years – the latter not afraid to try and get in the world no. 1’s head during matches. It would have been a fun stop on Serena’s path to history.
This draw was also just a golden opportunity for JJ and is now a golden opportunity for…well….a lot of people. Sharapova is out with injury. And another Serb in this section of the draw quickly fell too…
4. Serbing up a storm
(I apologise for these titles, it’s day one. You have me for two weeks – lucky you!)
Ana Ivanovic fell at the first hurdle out on Arthur Ashe, dropping a see-saw match with Dominika Cibulkova, who was always going to be a threat here. It’s strange to think that Cibulkova was in the top 10 earlier in the year and came into this tournament unseeded. Such is the depth and strength of women’s tennis these days.
Domi loves a stage, and through her trademark grit and enthusiasm she battled her way to a 6-3 3-6 6-3 victory. With the quarter thrown wide open, she’ll have a very good chance of going deep into the US Open and pulling her ranking back up. She’d be another fun character for Serena to come up against, and it’s always good to hear the familiar screams of “Pome!” echoing on the biggest stages.
5. The Genie did not bottle it
Haha, these titles are getting good, right? I liked that one.
Eugenie Bouchard saw all the seeds in her section falling and thought “hey, I remember how to tennis!” This must have been fairly heartbreaking for Alison Riske, who is a quality player and would have seen this as quite the opportunity at her home slam. It’s good to see Bouchard winning a straightforward match though – much like Sloane Stephens last year, she’s been struggling with a major sophomore slump.
Just look how much it meant to win the first round:
Bouchard is a player of high calibre when she puts her game together. People forget this because of her disastrous 2015, but she was playing really good tennis in 2014. She didn’t reach that Wimbledon final for nothing…and I know she was eviscerated by Kvitova but, watch it back. She didn’t play badly.
Anyway, Bouchard survived! Maple syrup and teddy bears for everyone!
1. The road is rising to meet Serena’s feat (See, I’ve got puns too, Andrew!)
While there are still six matches left for her to win, the tennis gods are conspiring to make Serena’s road a lot easier than it initially looked. First of all, it is clear that New York has gotten behind Serena’s quest, as she was welcomed with loud cheers from the crowds, which will only intensify over the next two weeks. Second, in the past 36 hours, the seed-ectomy of her half of the draw resulted in the exits of Ana Ivanovic and Sloane Stephens, both of whom handed Serena defeats in Australia.
There are still formidable players potentially ahead, including the always fraught matches with Venus, as well as a rematch with Belinda Bencic looming. But Serena certainly wasn’t taxed tonight, during a difficult to watch match with a clearly injured Vitalia Diatchenko. Nevertheless, Serena showed her sharp form and her compassion for an opponent in a tough spot. Serena still needs to get it done, but as we all know, a little luck and a few breaks going your way make the road a lot easier.
2. The tennis 99% need injury protection
Much was made of Vitalia Diatchenko’s decision to compete on Monday night when she was clearly injured, but given the amount of prize money that simply showing up for the first round guarantees, it’s a no brainer for lower ranked players to give it a go, so to speak. While recent increases in prize money at the Slams have been welcome, seeing a bigger number on the champion’s check is less satisfying when we know that the journeymen and journeywomen of the sport can be forced to play hurt to sustain their careers. It would cost the Slams very little to pay guaranteed fees to players who make the cut but then withdraw with injury.
The fact of the matter is that the tour needs players fill a draw — you can’t have a full tournament only with the marquee players. Given the level of profit that the Slams, in particular, reap from early round play, they should find a way to assist the players who populate those early rounds, especially when injury occurs. It would also provide better matches for those who come to see tennis, not triage.
3. Rafa’s getting there
Rafael Nadal’s first round draw of Borna Coric seemed like a cruel hand for someone who has already struggled this year. But perhaps a tough early round is what he needed — Rafa came out looking good for the first two sets, but went on walkabout a bit at the end of the third set, and ended up in a fourth, which he closed out impressively. Rafa attributed his third set slide to the very hot and humid conditions, but Borna Coric deserves some praise for his tenacity throughout a match.
As if he didn’t understand that night matches are supposed to be blowouts, Coric hung tough with Rafa, despite losing the first two sets. While it became clear that Coric needs to shore up his forehand and to figure out how to avoid long rallies with Rafa, Coric showed not only his shotmaking ability but also his willingness to fight, which will serve him well going forward. As for Rafa, he showed glimmers of his old form, but there were still more loose points than we are used to seeing from him.
It’s hard to see him getting past Djokovic on tonight’s form, but he’s certainly looking closer to it than he has in months.
4. Does everyone love the roof?
It seems that the US Open roof has received a lot of praise from players and commentators alike. Neither of those groups actually have had so sit up high, as I did tonight.
The roof is attractive, and the shade over the press box area would likely be welcome during the sunny day sessions, but I felt it was harder to hear the ball or any of the activity on the court, and that there was little air circulation up high, whereas in the past there would be a little breeze, even on humid nights like tonight. I still welcome the idea of not ever being rained out of Ashe again, but it will take some getting used to.