Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Top 10 Takeaways: 2015 US Open 1st Round

(Purely from an American tennis perspective.)

1. Serena Williams. She's the first ... the last ... the almost everything for as long as she's in the tournament. Serena Williams made quick work of her opponent, Vitalia Diatchenko, who stole just a bit of the spotlight by posing the question - is it wrong to play a match when you know you won't be able to compete, just for the nearly-$40,000 paycheck? In the Russian's case, she claimed to have suffered the injury in warm-up. But given the number of retirements (10 men in the first round alone), it's a very fair question. I like the solution proposed by Nicole Gibbs:


Or something along those lines.  But back to Serena. She gets #110-ranked Kiki Bertens, a qualifier once ranked as high as 41, in the second round. She could face CoCo Vandeweghe after that, and if CoCo is as solid as reports say she was, she could possibly make things a bit tricky for Serena.

2. 12 other American women won first-round matches. 13-9 isn't bad at all, particularly considering 3 of the losses were pre-ordained due to all-American matches. Already they are guaranteed to surpass their win total from Roland Garros (a mere 14, including Serena's 7), as 3 of the second-round matches are again all-American affairs. Yes, there were some real disappointments in there (Christina McHale falling in 3 sets to Petra Cetkovska, who had not won a WTA-level match since last year's Open; Alison Riske falling 6-4 6-4 to very-beatable-lately Genie Bouchard) but mostly it was rainbows and lollipops. I'll mention some of the highlights below.

3. Mardy Fish wins. How great is it always to see Mardy Fish on court and how great was it that he won his first round match, against the yet-to-win-an-ATP-match Italian Marco Cecchinato? Real great. Next up on Wednesday is Feliciano Lopez ... which, let's face it, is not the worst possible draw. Fish is 5-3 lifetime against the Spaniard, including 5-1 since 2009 (their first meeting was in 2002!). Lopez has made the 4th round each of the last 4 years, but hasn't progressed beyond that since 2010. Fish will have the full support of the morning crowd on Armstrong. But given his lack of match play, will it be enough?

4. Only 5 other American men did, however. The worst losses were by Sam Querrey, who lost in three tight sets to Nicolas Mahut; Denis Kudla, who may not have been 100% in his three-set loss to qualifier Jurgen Melzer; and Steve Johnson, who ...

... oh, Steve.

He won the first set 6-2 against can't-win-on-hard-courts Fabio Fognini and had early break leads in the second, third (twice), and fourth sets -- including serving for the 4th set -- but lost 6-3 6-4 7-6(2) in those sets. A frustrating loss, particularly coupled with his lose-from-ahead loss in his previous match, the Winston-Salem semifinal.

5. Donald Young tho.


Along with fellow lefty Austin Krajicek (see below), Donald Young saved the men's opening round from true ignominy. Down 2 sets and 0*-3 to Gilles Simon, a pain in the rear for Americans, Donald showed exceptional fight, and stuck with his game plan - rally with the backhand, go for it with the forehand. He won 5 straight games and eventually the 3rd set (6-4). The key game was when he was trying to consolidate his break lead at 4*-3. He went down 0-40, but got it back to deuce. Three more times he faced break points, but held his ground. Perhaps as impressively, he didn't get down on himself after failing to convert his first 4 game points. Finally, on the 22nd point of the game, he consolidated. Young also saved 2 break points when serving for the 4th set, coming thisclose to having blown a 2-break, 5*-2 lead.

Young never trailed in the 5th set, but did face a final moment of truth after losing his break lead at 4*-3. But he casually broke back and then served out the match for a signature win. The crowd on the intimate Court 17 lapped it up, and now Young has a winnable, if tricky, match against Britain's Aljaz Bedene. If Young can match the enthusiasm and focus he showed in the last half of today's match, we'll see him in the 3rd round again.

6. Austin Krajicek for real, tho. He barely missed out on getting the USTA Pro Circuit wild card, but got a wild card anyway, and boy howdy did he make good on it. Down a set to Santiago Giraldo, the Texas A&M alum twice saved break points en route to the 2nd set tiebreak. There, he went down 4-6* but saved 2 set points, won 4 straight points, and took the tiebreak 8-6. In the third set, he saved the one break point he faced at 5*-6 and again took the set to a tiebreak. There yet again he went down, this time 3*-6, won FIVE straight points, and again took the tiebreak 8-6.

Finally in the 4th set, Krajicek got a break ... in this case, to even the set up at 2-2. Eight games later another tiebreak ensued, and this time Austin didn't bother going down set points. Instead he dominated the proceedings, to win 7-6(2) and notch his first Grand Slam victory. Already with the wild card it was more than double the single biggest payday of his career (previous high: $18,500, 2008 US Open*). Now he's up to $68,600, which is a lot of cheddar for a guy trying to make a living as a pro. Next up is Kevin Anderson, who will be tough to break. Big test, but big reward if he can somehow pass it.

* Edited to add: Per Colette Lewis, Krajicek was unable to accept that 2008 prize money as he was still in college. That would make his actual previous high the $17,320 he won by reaching the Memphis quarters earlier this year.

7. Huge upset for Anna Tatishvili. Upsets were the rule of the day for the women on Day 1 and none was bigger than qualifier Anna Tatishvili's 6-2 6-1 dismantling of #8 seed Karolina Pliskova. Returning like a beast and never wavering in big moments, it was huge for the still-new American. Pliskova, as has been noted, has never shined at the majors. But huge ups to Tati for putting herself in a position to win.

8. And also Jessica Pegula. Another qualifier with a big result! The 21-year-old who is clawing her way back from a long injury layoff hit her backhand with authority and served well enough to upset French Open quarterfinalist Alisan Van Uytvanck 7-5 6-3. Like with Krajicek, it was her first grand slam win. She'll be back in the Top 200 regardless of her result against Dominika Cibulkova (although a win would put her back in the Top 150 ... no pressure).


9. Madison Brengle & Nicole Gibbs with massive comebacks. Two young women who notched their first-ever grand slam match wins at the 2014 US Open were in dire straits, facing opponents who were giving them no pace and who put them on the verge of ignominious defeat.

Each won her first set handily (6-2 for Madison Brengle, 6-3 for Nicole Gibbs). Each fell in a close second set (5-7 for Brengle, 3-6 for Gibbs). Each went down 2 breaks in the 3rd set but won the last 4 games of the match to prevail.

Brengle's match was a bit more dramatic, as she went down 2-5* and had her opponent serve for the match twice. She also had an incredible last game of the match, in which Zheng Saisai saved 5 match points before finally succumbing 7-5. Gibbs, an exasperated figure who was erroring her way out of the tournament, went down 1-4* but got it back to 3-4*, saving 2 huge break points along the way. From there, she lost only 2 more points the rest of the match and is now back in the 2nd round. Next for her is Petra Kvitova. Tough. But that's tennis for you!

10. Gold stars for the American seeds. While plenty of seeds lost in the first round, only one of the 6 seeded Americans did (Sloane Stephens, to CoCo Vandeweghe). Serena, Venus Williams, Madison Keys, Jack Sock, and John Isner lost a combined 1 set (Venus, a 7-9 tiebreak to the feisty Monica Puig) in sailing into the 2nd round.

10a. And for a few more non-seeds. Just want to give a big round of applause to Rajeev RamIrina Falconi, Shelby Rogers, Varvara Lepchenko, Lauren Davis, and Bethanie Mattek-Sands. Six straight-set wins that didn't get a lot of attention (perhaps excepting Davis', since it was over Brit #1 Heather Watson) but that were great nonetheless.

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