NEW YORK – Wednesday is usually Mailbag day but with so many matches today, let’s do a top five….
• Barely 36 hours after a dazzling win—her most significant in years—Maria Sharapova returned to the scene of the sublime. Under much different conditions than Monday’s evening session against No. 2 Simona Halep, Sharapova faced a scrappy, erratic hitter in Timea Babos on Wednesday afternoon. After a slow start, Sharapova found her groove, brought her superior competitive instincts to bear, again showed off improved movement, and closed out another three-set win 6-7(4), 6-4, 6-1. For all the talk about her doping ban and its effect on her image and psyche, we overlook that Sharapova has been eligible since April but hamstrung by injury. That she can play an intense three setter and then recover psychically to play another three-setter must be immensely gratifying.
• We’ve said it before: the best rivalry in tennis (sports?) is Federer-Nadal. But the second best is Nick Kyrgios versus Nick Kyrgios, his talent versus his volatility. Today, it was the bad Kyrgios. At a set apiece against countryman John Millman, Kyrgios tweaked his right shoulder. And then decided he didn't want to fight. He lost in four sets, but really the match ended then. Which is to say that the player regarded as a future champ—fresh off a defeat of Nadal two weeks ago—flames out of yet another Slam.
"I have had a diabolical year at these Slams. It doesn't surprise me," he said after the match. "It's just the story of my career, really. I will have good weeks; I'll have bad weeks. It's just a rollercoaster."
We've seen this before. When Kyrgios’ body goes, his spirit goes with it. As usual, he gets points for candor. "I keep letting people down,” he said afterward. “I don't know." Meanwhile, the rivalry lives on.
• We talk—persistently—about the aging of the field. I had the good fortune of visiting with Aaron Krickstein today and chuckled as he told of winning his first ATP title shortly after turning 16. Then you scan the scores to see that Fernando Verdasco (almost 34) and Feliciano Lopez (almost 36) both won and will face each other next.
• It was ‘round midnight when Roger Federer sent off Frances Tiafoe in a terrifically entertaining five-setter. Rather than come back to the tennis center for a light hit today, Federer avoided the traffic (and, perhaps hyper-scrutiny of his back?) and practiced instead in Central Park. Imagine you’re the recreational player out for a Wednesday knockabout when the best player to draw breath stops by. Next up, Mikhail Youzhny.
• If you held a grounds pass today you were thrilled. (Check that: you are thrilled. Matches are surely still going on right now.) Apart from the sheer quantity of matches, on days like this, the sheer diversity of the sport is striking. French fathers (Jo-Wilfried Tsonga) face Canadian teens (Denis Shapovalov.) German mothers (Tatjana Maria) face American teens (Ashley Kratzer). A North Carolinian (John Isner) against a South Korean (Hyeon Chung.) Players meet foes half their age. There are giants and homunculi. We have sons of former players (the Zverevs) and, sadly, the daughter of an NFL player suffering from CTE. This richness—a real virtue of the sport—was thrown into sharp relief today.