NEW YORK – Five thoughts from Day Four at the U.S. Open.
• There are classic Roger Federer matches. There are clinics. There are occasionally clunkers. But they are usually fairly straightforward and conventional affairs. Seldom are there bizarre matches. We got one on Thursday.
Against the veteran Mikhail Youzhny—against whom Federer brandished a career 16-0 record—Federer dominated the first set. The back issues that clouded his U.S. Open forecast looked fine. His decision to spend yesterday practicing amid the people in Central Park looked wise as well as populist. Then Federer played a pair of sets that were remarkable sloppy, a festival of unforced errors. He moved like, well, a 36-year-old man. (And his opponent played gamely.) A set from defeat, Federer rallied, benefitted from a Youzhny spill and survived.
Strange match; even without the 68 unforced errors, this was never in contention for the greatest hits album. But a win nonetheless. And now another 35-year-old opponent, Feliciano Lopez, awaits.
• It’s become axiomatic that forehands and backhands are only part of a player’s repertoire. It’s their rations of courage that can be just as important, We got a glimpse of this—actually far more than a glimpse—on Thursday in the women’s draw. In the longest women's match in U.S. Open history, Shelby Rogers of Charleston outlasted Daria Gavrilova, of Australia, 7-6(6), 4-6, 7-6(5) after three hours and 31 minutes. We say it again: there is nothing in sports like a pitched tennis battle. Rogers won this one. And she gets Ukrainian Elina Svitolina in the third round.
• We should all underachieve like Gael Monfils. The French performance artist treads that tightrope, Philippe Petit style, between entertainer and clown. For someone of his talent and native athleticism, he ought to have more than six titles. He also spent the better part of a decade-plus at the top of the sport, winning nearly $14 million in prize money and reaching the semis at multiple Slams (including here last year.)
On Thursday, Monfils simply outfought Donald Young, breaking the American at 5-5 in the decisive set and walking off a winner 6-3, 6-7, 6-4, 2-6, 7-5. With the draw yawning open, opportunities await the Monf. He may not win. But he won't be boring. And, as he turns 31 on Friday, he deserves acknowledgment for he’s done, not what he hasn’t.
• Grigor Dimitrov is an undeniably talented player, lovely to watch and lovely to deal with. But as a Grand Slam contender, too often he takes on the qualities of fool’s gold. After winning the Cincinnati Masters 1000—the biggest title of his career—earlier this month, Dimitrov rolled into town as a contender and hot pick. He is now neither. In a strangely lop-sided match, he lost to 19-year-old Andrey Rublev. Credit where it’s due: Rublev—one yoked with Sascha Zverev as a player brimming with potential—has ascended steadily if too slowly for the likes of the salon. Today, he scored the biggest win of his promising career. But we need to talk about Dimitrov…..
• More from the Curious Case of Nick Kyrgios. Or the Kyrgios case of Nick Curious. A day after a dismal singles loss in which he said his serving shoulder felt numb, the erratic Aussie was back on the courts today…playing doubles. O-kay.
Playing alongside his friend and countryman Matt Reid, Kyrgios spent two hours on the court and, while his shoulder looked fine, he appeared to struggle with his movement. And, Kyrgios being Kyrgios, he then dazzled in the end, helped earn a critical break of serve and prevailed over Joao Sousa and J-L Struff, 3-6, 7-6, 6-4. There is something maddening about Kyrgios and his on-again, off-again relationship with professionalism. There is also something endearing about a guy with such little regard for convention.