NEW YORK – It’s the first day of the last major. Five thoughts from the 2016 U.S. Open after the first day session.
1) We have yet to see the roof over Arthur Ashe Stadium activated; but what a day for the new Grandstand Court. In its maiden match, Caroline Wozniacki—a two-time finalist here—beat Taylor Townsend in three sets, 7-5 in the third. Then young American Frances Tiafoe served for the match against John Isner but capitulated and fell 7-6 in the fifth set.
2) Want to catch a rising star? Keep an eye on Naomi Osaka, an 18-year-old based in Florida who plays for Japan. She won two rounds at the Aussie and French Opens (and skipped Wimbledon because of injury) and kicked off her U.S. Open by beating CoCo Vandeweghe in three sets on Monday.
3) What’s up with France? Benoit Paire was kicked off the Olympic team in Rio. Kristina Mladenovic and Caroline Garcia are having contretemps with the French Federation, the same federation that declined a reciprocal U.S. Open wild card on the grounds that no male player was deserving. Today Richard Gasquet, the 13th-seed, lost before lunch. How did it come to be that Gael Monfils is the steading influence?
4) Spare a thought for Brian Baker, the 31-year-old American who played what might have been his last Grand Slam match on Monday, falling in five sets to Federico Delbonis. The tennis fates owe Baker, a former junior prodigy whose career was undone by injury. But his protected ranking now expires and he’ll have to return to challengers to get back inside the top 100.
5) Garbine Muguruza won the 2016 French Open, her purported star turn, and has done little since. She lost to player ranked outside the top 100 at Wimbledon. At the Olympics, she lost 6-1, 6-1 to Monica Puig. On Monday, she was down a set to Belgian qualifier Elise Mertens and complained that she was suffering in the heat. She recovered and avoided a horrific loss, prevailing 2-6, 6-0, 6-3.
What happened to Mirza/Hingis? I cannot remember any other duo falling so rapidly in results.
—Jerry White, The Villages, Fla.
• Agree. A few months ago, this was the women’s doubles equivalent to Novak Djokovic. A lousy summer and they’re splitsville. Going for a calendar Slam, I saw “Santina” fall at the French Open to a lightly regarded Czech team of Barbora Krejcikova and Katerina Siniakova. In addition to the result, I was surprised by how little two interacted and how they each seemed annoyed by the other’s errors. Small sample size, but still, it seemed like it didn't take much for the partnership to hit the expiration date.
Pity these two couldn’t make it work. For one, they were terrific when playing their best. Also, each is a doubles specialist so the pairing thrived on the fact that neither felt they were compromising their singles. (See: Jack Sock.) Trivia, so long as we’re here: Which WTA player has the biggest social media following after Serena Williams? Answer: Sania Mirza.
I’m looking forward to my annual First Friday trek to the U.S. Open. Today I caught a glimpse of the Taylor Townsend match and have to say I can’t believe she’s No. 146 in the world. Could it be that one of the reasons she’s ranked that low is because of an issue we can’t talk about publicly without getting hate mail? Or do you see her low ranking as an issue of something else in her game? Thanks, and by the way, I would love for her to be in the top 10 one day, but I have to wonder if she’s “dedicated” enough to get there.
• I’ll go here, albeit gingerly and uneasily and with intensely mixed feelings. This topic was much discussed among players, former players and media types today. It seems to me that conditioning is fair game as a topic, so long as it stays strictly in the context of sports. (Also, we’re talking about a 20-year-old pro, and not teenager junior as we were when this topic exploded in 2012.) And, yes, you could argue that Townsend’s conditioning is such that she is not giving herself the best chance to succeed as an athlete.
Devil’s advocacy: she qualified—ie. won three matches—and went deep in the third set today in blistering heat. So perhaps she’s in better shape than the casual observer might think.
I understand that Kerber blew her chance to overtake Serena as No. 1 in the rankings. But I do not understand why [some writers] say it’s because of Serena’s struggles in 2016. Fact: Serena is No. 1 in the Race to Singapore. Fact: Serena made it to five finals in 2016. Fact: Serena won Rome and Wimbledon in 2016; fact: Serena only has five losses in 2016. To say that she has not been consistent is to ignore her record. It is more accurate to say that her No. 1 ranking was “up for grabs” because of all the points she had to defend, owing to a tremendous 2015. Having made it to the last eight consecutive Grand Slam semis, seven of the last eight Grand Slam finals and having won five of the last eight Grand Slam titles, it is beyond inaccurate to say that she has struggled. I call that very consistent. And given that she has the best record in the Open era at the U.S. Open, barring injury, she’ll be the favorite to win the title and retain her No. 1 ranking.
—DayoH, Cordova, Tenn.
• Glad you brought this up. Serena’s reign hasn’t gotten the attention it deserves. Assuming she keeps her top ranking at the Open, she’ll finish the year ranked No. 1. (Remember: she didn’t play in 2015 after her disappointment in New York.) That will mean she’ll break Steffi Graf’s record of 186 consecutive weeks at the top. (Serena is now at 183.) It will also mean that for FOUR YEARS no one surpassed her.
Wondering WTHIGOW John Isner. Seems like the U.S. Open is really make or break for his year in which he's dumped winnable matches against a host of other Americans like Smyczek, Sock, Johnson and Harrison and is no longer the American No. 1. While no one is doubting his loyalty to the U.S. as a Davis Cup stalwart, I wonder what he thinks now about his decision to skip the Olympics after watching Sock, Johnson and even Rajeev Ram come home with hardware and confidence. Meanwhile he takes a cash grab appearance fee in Atlanta and can't even leverage the depleted U.S. Open Series fields in the swing of the season he usually thrives in to gain any points or momentum (and pulls out of Winston-Salem late). He has only two top 20 wins (over Tomic and Lopez) this year. Are you buying, selling, or holding? And, assuming he is on the downward trend in his career what's the obituary read like? Hard to fathom he has only one career Grand Slam quarterfinal with that serve. Did he overachieve or underachieve? Seems like you could make a good case for both.
• Ironically, I got this question just before Isner’s five-set win over Tiafoe today. Isner doesn’t want to go five sets with a teenager, any more than he wants to spend three hours and 27 minutes on court in hot conditions to start a Slam. But he desperately needed to win a close match. And he did so today.
Isner now has a new coach in David Macpherson. His draw opens a bit. (He now plays qualifier Steve Darcis, who also needed five sets to advance.) Maybe we table this discussion—valid as it is—until after the Open?
Snapshots from Day 1
• Last week’s Beyond the Baseline podcast was with in-studio guest Venus Williams.
• Four tennis reads:
The Electric, Infuriating Nick Kyrgios, by Michael Steinberger.
Even Roger Federer Gets Old, by Brian Phillips.
For Aaron Krickstein, and a Reporter, a Covered Open Brings Closure, by Harvey Araton
Larry Summers and John McEnroe, Birds of Feather, by Dan Weil