Friday, September 4, 2015

Top 10 Takeaways: 2015 US Open 2nd Round

Here are the most important things that happened in American tennis during Days 3 & 4 of the 2015 U.S. Open

1. Serena pulls through. Look, Kiki Bertens can hit a nice ball. And every misstep by Serena will be scrutinized, analyzed, and fretted about for the duration of this tournament. But did anyone really think that, when the Dutchwoman had a 5-3* lead in the first set, or even a 4*-0 lead in the first set tiebreak, that this was how the Quest for the Slam was going to end?

(No. Nobody thought that.)

Serena survived her first set scare and went on to win 7-6(5) 6-3. That's 30 consecutive wins at majors, and sets up the first of three increasingly intriguing contests. First up will be Bethanie Mattek-Sands, who is playing the best tennis of her life at 30, and whose game, when on, can rattle plenty of players. Then will be the winner of Madison Keys/Agnieszka Radwanska. Then likely the winner of Venus Williams/Belinda Bencic (who will be a massive favorite over the winner of Madison Brengle or Anett Kontaveit. It will be great to see the drama amped up as the tournament moves along.

2. Mardy Over-Fished. You didn't want to see it end, and you definitely didn't want to see it end like that. Just when you thought Mardy Fish's fairytale run at the 2015 U.S. Open was going to continue a while longer, a poor game and then a physical breakdown stopped everything. We were forced to watch, helplessly, as Mardy led Feliciano Lopez 2 sets to 1 and then served for the match at 5*-4 in the 4th. But he was broken (or, as they say, broke himself) at love, and then was broken again at 5*-6, and then the cramps got to him in the 5th and he was toast.

Perhaps the worst part was that his draw looked pretty damn decent. The next opponent would have been Milos Raonic, who is struggling with his back, and then Fabio Fognini or Rafael Nadal, who are both beatable this year, especially on hard courts. But we'll never know. Fortunately, Mardy prepared us all for this moment in his exquisitely written mini-memoir about his battle with anxiety. Man, what a guy. And really, what a career. Nice job, Mardy.

(Please note: had he won, this header was going to read, "It's a Mardy in the USA." Sorry.)

(Not sorry.)

3. DONALD AGAIN! On to happier things. Hey everyone, Donald Young won his second straight come-from-behind match on Court 17 to reach his 3rd career Round of 32 at the US Open. This time it was against Britain's Aljaz Bedene - from a set and 2-0 down - to a 3-6 6-4 6-4 6-2 win. At one point, 12 of 18 games were breaks of serve. Here's a good article about it.
Next up Viktor Troicki, who has already taken out 2 Americans in Frances Tiafoe and Rajeev Ram. It certainly seems winnable, right? After that would almost certainly be Stan Wawrinka, whom Young hasn't faced since 2011. Then he split their two meetings, with Donald winning an incredibly dramatic 5th set tiebreak at the US Open.  On Court 17.

It's interesting that his trips to the US Open 3rd round have come at 4 year intervals (2007, 2011, 2015) so let's hope we don't have to wait until 2019 for the next one but hey, if we do, note that he'll only be 30, which is still very much prime age for men's tennis players. And after that ... 2023 farewell run, anyone?

4. Seven American women into the Round of 32. That's the most since 2004. And I have to reiterate this - I really do think it should have been more.

I keep harping on this but let's face it: draws matter when looking at the big picture (beyond just who makes the finals). US women are 8-0 in the top quarter against non-Americans, but someone had to lose in the 5 head-to-heads and they were Sloane Stephens and Samantha Crawford in the first round, then Anna Tatishvili, CoCo Vandeweghe, and Irina Falconi in the 2nd round. And tomorrow, we'll lose at least one more in an all-American clash between Serena and Mattek-Sands. And it will likely be Bethanie, which sucks, because her level was so high in the first two rounds. Still, 7 is great, and definitely something for American tennis fans to be happy about.

5. Specifically, congrats to Shelby. You know who else looked really good out there? Qualifier Shelby Rogers, who blasted her way past Kurumi Nara 6-4 6-4. Shelby is a power player (her 2nd serves averaged 87 miles an hour to Nara's 86 mph average -- for first serves) and she had a balanced winner-to-error ratio of 25 to 29. She never really looked like she wasn't in control. And for a player who had pretty much zero mobility at Wimbledon, she was looking fit and ready to run. Next up is #2 seed Simona Halep, who will challenge her movement like few others. But if she serves well and stays positive, it could be a fun one.

6. Impeccable starts for Isner & Keys. Keys faced 0 break points in her 1&2 thrashing of fellow 20-year-old Tereza Smitkova (CZE). John Isner has yet to let either of his two opponents win as many as 5 games in a set. Both players are a match away from facing GOATs. Keys has a far tougher task - she'll have to beat Radwanska, against whom she's 0-4, before facing Serena. Whereas Isner just gets #48-ranked Jiri Vesely (CZE) for the first time in advance of a likely Roger Federer match. It's a welcome reprieve for Isner, who for the past 3 years has faced Philipp Kohlschreiber in the 3rd round (to whom he lost each time). If he is able to survive big-hitting Vesely, and for some reason Federer doesn't pull through his 3rd round match, Isner would face ..........

Philipp Kohlschreiber.

7. Jack Sock's no good very bad day. I didn't watch - and after seeing the photos I'm glad. But Jack Sock was up 2 sets to 0 against a game but surely overmatched Ruben Bemelmans when disaster struck. Having only lost 2 points on his serve in the 3rd set, Sock was broken at 15 and Bemelmans won the set. After that, it got ugly. Sock fainted, apparently overcome by the conditions (and perhaps a fitness deficit?) and what should have been a glamour match with the American and Wawrinka fizzled before our eyes. Hearing about it reminded us of Steve Johnson last year, who was primed for a big run and whose body gave out on him when leading his match.

One note: apparently Sock requested a later match, which likely would have helped his recovery after a late doubles match on Wednesday and for which the conditions would have been better. If accurate, I'm disappointed that his request wasn't acceded to. He's the 2nd highest ranked American man. He should be in the 3rd round. He's not. That stinks.

8. Bryans out. They're the greatest doubles team of all time but the Bryan Brothers still lack a huge record: the most major doubles titles of all time. That record, 17, is held by Aussie John Newcombe (who got 6 of his prior to the Open era). The Bryans have 16, tying them for second with Aussies Roy Emerson and Todd Woodbridge (the latter of whom they share the Open era record with). In fact, the Bryans are the only 2 players in the Top 10 list of all-time doubles majors winners who aren't Australian. And they've had a great year. But no major titles. So their wait will continue, and they're not getting younger, which is why their first round loss to Americans Johnson and Sam Querrey stung. By all accounts, it was a fantastic match and it's hard not to be happy for the Southern Californian pals, both of whom lost winnable first round matches in singles.

Also in men's doubles: Young helped extend Michael Russell's pro career another day by partnering him in a first-round victory over David Goffin and Dominic Thiem. Eric Butorac and Scott Lipsky upset 16th seeds Feliciano Lopez and Scott Lipsky. And Rajeev Ram still has his first-round match to play. And that's it for American men in doubles.

9. Women's Doubles Round-Up. Vania King is into the second round! So are Nicole Gibbs + Taylor Townsend! So are Asia Muhammad + Maria Sanchez! So are #6 seeds Raquel Kops-Jones + Abigail Spears. And Vandeweghe (with Anna-Lena Groenefeld). And most impressively, teens Ingrid Neel + Tornado Alicia Black, who won a brutal three-set match against Danka Kovinic and Yulia Putintseva, after which Black vomited and had to be wheeled off the court. Apparently Black is feeling better, and will have to be -- the two have an incredibly tough test against #7 seeds Andrea Hlavackova and Lucie Hradecka next. Falconi + Tatishvili will take on Italian 11th seeds Sara Errani & Flavia Pennetta in their first round match on Friday.

10. Mixed bag in mixed. Two very impressive mixed doubles wins - one by Sachia Vickery + Frances Tiafoe over Medina Garrigues/Lindstedt and the other by Mattek-Sands and OH HEY SAM QUERREY AGAIN, over #3 seeds Matkowski/Hradecka. And a couple of notable but not unexpected losses - by juniors Claire Liu + Taylor Fritz to Martina Hingis + Leander Paes and by Vicky Duval + Christian Harrison to Goerges/Zimonjic.

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