NEW YORK – Five thoughts from the Day session of Day 1 of the 2015 U.S. Open:
• The K-nish concession is closed. A year ago at the U.S. Open, Kei Nishikori broke through, defeating Novak Djokovic with a brilliant display of hardcourt tennis and reaching the finals. Today, he didn’t last until dinner on the first Monday, falling in five sets to Benoit Paire of France. Paire is a tricky, fun-to-watch player. And Nishikori was in suboptimal physical condition, visibly slow to get to balls. Still, this was a Grade A upset. And Nishikori’s ranking will get a lot lighter with all them ranking points falling off—1,190 to be exact.
• On Sunday night, the No. 3 player in the women’s draw exited the tournament, as Maria Sharapova pulled out with a leg injury. By 1:15 p.m. this afternoon, the women’s draw had lost its No. 7 player. Ana Ivanovic fell in three sets to Dominika Cibulkova. A former Australian Open finalist and top ten player, Cibulkova is far better than her No. 50 ranking suggests. Today she set the tempo of the match with her forehand and showed fine poise closing her biggest win in years. But Ivanovic showed no ability to fashion an escape hatch when her Plan A—hit hard and flat—failed her. When Carla Suarez Navarro, the tenth seed, lost as well, it meant that the highest remaining seed in that quarter was No. 13, Ekaterina Makarova. Who has an injured calf. Draws often yawn wide; but seldom after one afternoon.
• Mardy Fish, the veteran American, requested a match on the Grandstand. It was fitting—both the court and the player are enjoying a swan song at the 2015 U.S. Open. (The player will retire; the court will be demolished.) Fish made the most of the opportunity, gaining his nerve after a shaky first set and defeating Marco Cecchinato of Italy. Fish next draws Feliciano Lopez, one of the few older players in the draw. Also playing his last U.S. Open, Jarkko Nieminen, the Finnish lefty, fell to Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.
• There are 22 American women in the draw, most of any country. This includes the world’s dynastic player, Serena. It includes a raft of wild cards. But it also includes three qualifiers who had to grind through three matches just to make the main draw: Shelby Rogers, Anna Tatishvili and Jessica Pegula. A 21-year-old coached by Michael Joyce (he of David Foster Wallace fame), Pegula made the most of her main draw spot today, beating French Open quarterfinalist Alison Van Uytvanck. She gets Cibulkova next. As for Tatishvili, she beat No. 8-seeded Karolina Pliskova in still another upset.
• One unintended consequence of Serena Williams’s unrivalled run atop the women’s game: it has obscured her older sister, the only other surefire Hall of Famer in the women’s draw. At 35 years of age—14 years from her last U.S. Open title—Venus continues nobly on. Today, she played Monica Puig, a young Puerto Rican, on Arthur Ashe Stadium. Venus looked like a worldbeater at times. Other times, she looked her age. In the end, she steadied and won in three sets. The Williams sisters are famously close. Sadly this applies to their proximity in the draw as well. Even if Venus plays on to meet her sister, it beggars belief to think that SHE would be the one to stop Serena and thwart history. Still, she deserves admiration for the way she soldiers on, enjoying the competition and exercise of self-improvement. Even if her days atop the sport are behind her.