- Novak Djokovic, Angie Kerber and youngsters Aryna Sabalenka and Frances Tiafoe all survived their opponents and the overwhelming heat at U.S. Open Day 2.
It was Sun Tzu who said, “Every battle is won or lost before it is ever fought.” Played in sweltering heat, Tuesday’s matches were as much about conditioning as they were about forehands and backhands. (Even as the U.S. Open wisely allowed men a well to take a 10-minute break after the third and fourth sets.)
• As I write this sentence—and it’s only 3:00 p.m.—four matches ended early on account of retirement. Part of succeeding in sport is bringing to bear fitness as well as talent and athleticism; legs and lungs as well as arms. But asking players to toil for hours in extreme heat borders on sadistic. It also heavily advantages those who avoid it. Which leads us to …
• Novak Djokovic passed a Major test and a major test Tuesday. The two-time USO champ kicked off his 2018 campaign in the kiln that doubled as Arthur Ashe Stadium. He split the first two sets against Hungary’s Marton Fucsovics and was down a break in the third set. Before the upset meter could beep too audibly, Djokovic steadied and benefitted from superior fitness and reeled off the last 10 games to advance 6-3, 3-6, 6-4, 6-0. The key stat: a match time of 3:00. While Federer and Nadal benefitted from night matches, Djokovic didn’t play tennis Tuesday. He worked it.
• The 2016 men’s champ showed terrific form yesterday in this, his bounce-back season. We speak of Stan Wawrinka, who beat Grigor Dimitrov in straight sets. Tuesday the 2016 U.S. Open women’s champ—herself in the throes of a comeback season—did her part. Angie Kerber survived the heat and survived a blazing one-handed backhanding opponent, Margarita Gasparyan of Russia to advance. “Surviving,” she called it. But Kerber has now won more than 40 matches this year—seven of them came in July when she took Wimbledon. And suddenly one must wonder: might she win back-to-back Majors?
• The two oldest players in the men’s and women’s draw—Roger Federer (37) and Patty Schnyder (39) who, remarkably, share a hometown, Basel, Switzerland—were in action tonight. But let’s spend a second talking about youth. Stefanos Tsitsipas, who turned 20 earlier this month, was the men’s revelation of the summer. Aryna Sabalenka, also, 20, was the women’s summer revelation—and won Tuesday in three sets. Frances Tiafoe, age 20, beat Adrian Mannarino for his first career U.S. Open victory. Stop wringing your hands about tennis after Federer-Serena-Nadal. The kids will be alright. Speaking of …
• It was 24 hours ago, but, again, I remain struck by Denis Shapovalov’s impromptu, spontaneous gesture of empathy and decency on Monday. Athletes can prepare for all sorts of scenarios. They can go through media training and anticipate questions at press conferences. There’s no dress rehearsal, though, for looking across the net and seeing your friend/rival/countryman lying on the ground as concerned medical personnel talk of slowing down his racing heart. Scary stuff. Yet that’s the fate that befell Shapovalov, as he watched Felix Auger-Aliassime in the third set of their much-anticipated, first-round intra-Canada match. Shapovalov realized, immediately, that tennis was instantly of minimal importance. He encouraged his opponent to continue playing. Then he consoled him, telling him that there would more opportunities to come and, predicting (not unreasonably) that the two would be playing in the finals one day. Shapovalov is in the second round. And Shapovalov has already revealed himself a winner at this event.