Wednesday August 31st, 2011

Rafael Nadal got off to a shaky start in defense of his U.S. Open title. (

Observations from the second day of the U.S. Open, where the defending men's champion received an unexpected test and the women's No. 1 added to the confusion surrounding her mystery coach:

Rafael Nadal isn't going to win this thing.

I know. That's crazy dumb to say after one match. But I really thought that Nadal would have sorted himself during his week off and wiped the floor with the 98th-ranked Andrey Golubev, who snapped a 17-match losing streak two weeks ago and is 3-13 all time in Grand Slam tournaments.

Things looked promising at first for the 10-time major winner. That improved serve that carried him to the title last year, when he was broken only five times in seven matches, seemed to be firing. But as Golubev kept blasting blistering winner after blistering winner (he finished with 41), Nadal's groundstrokes grew shorter and shorter, and holding serve became a chore. He was broken six times for the match and had to claw back from a break down in all three sets (including two in the third, when the 24-year-old from Kazakhstan served for the set at 5-2 and 5-4). If Golubev hadn't gotten tight (and "tight" is an understatement), he surely would have taken at least a set or two.

Nadal acknowledged that he was "a little lucky" to escape in straight sets against an aggressive opponent who robbed the Spaniard of his rhythm. While Nadal is through to the second round with the 6-3, 7-6 (1), 7-5 victory, he didn't do much to inspire confidence on the heels of his less-than-satisfying Open prep that included a finger injury and an opening-match loss in Toronto.

"The mental part was positive," Nadal said after winning in 2 hours, 49 minutes. "The tennis for sure can improve. ... I am confident I can do it."

What is Caroline Wozniacki thinking?

Wozniacki's coaching situation is a complete mess. She's hired a coach whose identity she won't disclose, she's been sending him (we know it's a "him") tapes of her practices and he's been giving her feedback. She says she can't reveal his name because he isn't ready to go public. How does this make sense to anyone?

Who wouldn't want to be the guy who helps the top-ranked player in the world win her first Slam? It's probably the most coveted coaching position now that Ana Ivanovic has hired Nigel Sears away from the LTA (there's nowhere to go but up for Ivanovic, a former No. 1 who is ranked 19th). Is it the fact that he's under contract with someone else? If that's the case, then you need to hire new counsel, Caro, because you've already made it known that he's helping you now and should he "come out" after his contract is up, I'm guessing there's still some sort of breach there. And what happens when regular tour events resume and you call down your coach on a changeover (on-court coaching is not allowed at the U.S. Open)? Will this guy emerge with a bag over his head and speak through some voice modulation system like he's under witness protection?

If it's true that he doesn't want to go public, then I throw up my hands. A coach who isn't willing to stand by my side and call me his charge is not exactly the guy I'd want in my corner.

Charge it.

When will tournaments start installing mobile phone charging stations on the grounds? Here you are, asking fans to spend upwards of 12 hours on site, and yet you provide no spot for people to juice up their phones? OK, maybe I'm being a whiny tech geek here, but as someone who has attended 19 tournaments this year, I find it such a simple solution to a very common problem. On Tuesday, I saw a man standing in the middle of a flower bed, only to find that he had discovered a single outlet sticking up and was charging his iPhone. The one tournament that had charging stations was the French Open, and the need was evident from the huddled masses standing around waiting for the privilege. Get on it, tournaments! Give us the juice!

Want to get away? Hit the outer practice courts.

The U.S. Open can be crowded, it can be loud and it can be overwhelming. We've lucked out with fantastic weather so far (jinxed it), but the heat that I'm sure will come can sap you dry and make you think crazy things like, "Oh, I think I'll pass on watching Tsonga vs. Gulbis. It's just too hot." If you think that then, well, it's too late and I can't help you. You're too far gone. But if you can catch your fatigue before it reaches that critical level, head outside the East Gate and chill out on a bench under the shade by the East Practice Courts. It's quiet, it's cool and you're still watching world-class athletes practice. Spotted Tuesday: John Isner, Laura Robson, Heather Watson and Guillermo Garcia Lopez. Just don't be one of the super-creepy weirdos who press up against the fence as the players practice. Yes, they exist.

Overheard in New York.

I'm one of those weirdos (read: 21st-century human beings under the age of 40) who never walks around a crowded area without headphones. OK, that's a lie. I never walk around anywhere, crowded or not, without my headphones. I've just found that 10 times out of 10, I'm probably going to be more interested in enjoying some tunes than listening to the inane conversations that surround me. But this week I've decided to leave the headphones in the media center and actually walk around the busy grounds and actively listen. Here's what I overheard Tuesday morning:

• "She's cute, she's blonde, she's ... number one?"

-- A mom trying to get her kids excited as they were entering Arthur Ashe Stadium, where Wozniacki won her opening match.

• "English! English!"

-- A male spectator yelling at Belgium's Yanina Wickmayer as she began muttering to herself in her native tongue.

• "I once paid a guy $20 to eat a pack of cigarettes."-- A woman ... OK, I don't know what she was getting at and, really, I do not want to know.

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