Rafa Nadal, Roger Federer and Serena Williams all get A's. Simona Halep and Alex Zverev? Not so much.
We're a bit past the halfway point of the U.S. Open, but now still feels like as good a time as ever to dish out some midterm grades. Without further ado:
Defending champions: Sloane Stephens and Rafa Nadal continue apace. Both are into the quarterfinals and look very much like threats to repeat.
Parents born in 1981: Serena Williams still has a long way to go to win, but she’s rounding into form and her movement looks as good as it has P.O. (post-Olympia). Same for Roger Federer, who’s in the fourth round without dropping a set, something neither Novak Djokovic nor Nadal can say.
2008 Australian Open champions: Novak Djokovic and Maria Sharapova are both into round four.
Dominika Cibulkova: David Ferrer may be done with Grand Slam tennis, but if you’re in the market for another undersized talent maximizer, look no further.
Highlights: Never mind the hair of Benoit Paire and Richard Gasquet. Check out this from Federer and this from Ashleigh Barty.
Naomi Osaka: The Japanese/Haitian/American is barely surrendering games, much less sets. And so far, she has given us the best press room exchange of the tournament.
Q: Do you remember the last time you double-bageled an opponent?
Naomi Osaka: Yeah
Q: Can you talk about it?
Osaka: It was you, in my dreams.
Aryna Sabalenka: Bursting into the future.
The new Louis Armstrong court: Might be problematic for television—more on this later—but a winning venue for spectators (if not seeded players).
Denis Shapovalov: A five-set loss to Kevin Anderson in the third round will sting, but still an encouraging tournament after disappointments in previous majors. And between his empathy in round one and his outlasting veteran Andreas Seppi in a five-setter in round two, he passed two very different tests.
Karen Khachanov: If there is such a thing, the Russian had a breakthrough defeat against Nadal. He lost in four sets, but the consensus was this: “We’re watching a future Grand Slam champ.” Power, poise and surprisingly graceful movement for a big guy.
Australia: Ash Barty remains on the women’s side, John Millman made the fourth round; Alex di Minaur lost a five-setter to Marin Cilic, but is a star on the make. (And Bernard Tomic, age 25, just won a challenger event in Mallorca.)
Felix Auger Aliassime: A rough first main-draw major match, forced to retire with a racing heart against friend/rival/countryman Shapovalov. But what a strong run in qualifying, winning three matches—including 18 straight points—and what a bright future this 18-year-old has.
USTA: More winners than errors and good for the tournament for allowing common sense to trump rules, unilaterally implementing the heat rule and quickly dousing the Alize Cornet situation. The hair-trigger press release on Mo Lahyani—incomplete to the point of dishonest— was an unforced error.
Pierre-Hugues Hebert: Should be kicking himself for letting a down-and-out Nick Kyrgios back into the match, circumstances be damned. But he distinguished himself afterwards, threading the needle between taking the high road while voicing his understandable displeasure.
Patty Schnyder: Came up short in a comeback against Maria Sharapova. But credit her—age 39, two decades removed from reaching the quarterfinal; a mother; and a hell of a lot of twists and turns along the way—for getting back to Grand Slam main draws.
Andy Murray: Falls in the second round to Fernando Verdasco, ending his streak of 10 straight years of reaching a Grand Slam semi. Still, given the state of affairs earlier this year, he has to be guardedly encouraged that he’s still capable of playing long matches.
Revamped Davis Cup: Lots of chatter and lots of fallout and lots of behind-the-scenes intrigue. Also lots of lingering questions about the legitimacy of the $3 billion on the table.
Nick Kyrgios: Credit him for reaching round three with a hip that will likely require surgery. But time keeps elapsing and we’re left with the same old conclusion. To borrow a phrase: Fun to watch, fun to have in the cast, halfhearted commitment that’s insufficient by a factor of two. Which leads naturally to…
Mo Lahyani: Here’s the cut-and-paste from our midterm conversation: The outrage meter was triggered, but only slightly. In criminal law, intent matters. In the sentencing phase, character and past record matters. Same goes here. Mo Lahyani's "pep talk" was inappropriate and well beyond the bounds; the professional veered into the personal and that can't happen in a position predicated on neutrality. But the intentions were sound. ("It came from a good place," as the daytime talk show host would put it.) And his track record and professionalism and sound judgment counts. So, unquestionably, he was out of line. But anything more than a scolding, a don't-do-it-again and a round through the Internet spanking machine (all of which he's gotten already) seems draconian.
Women’s seeds: It wasn’t quite the Wimbledon draw, which saw more devastation than a Michael Bay movie. But none of the three 2018 Grand Slam champs—Simona Halep, Caroline Wozniacki, and Angelique Kerber—survive the first week, nor so Muguruza.
Climate change: Four out of five dentists—and 99 out of 100 climate scientists agree—the planet is heating up. Among lesser consequences: tennis asking players to compete in triple-digit temperatures and 100% humidity. Tennis had better get some policies in order because this trend ain’t reversing soon.
Halep: A real regression for the world No. 1, losing her first match in straight sets to Kaia Kanepi, a 33-year-old Estonian. In the process, she became the first top-seeded woman to lose in the first round of the U.S. Open in the Open Era. If there’s some consolation for Halep, she lost in round one last year (to Maria Sharapova) so she’s unlikely to lose her top ranking. But it’s distressing, this inability to prevail when her A game takes the day off.
Sascha Zverev: A current top-five player. A future Slam winner. An undeniable star. But we're now up to 14 majors played and only one quarterfinal appearance, this after he gets bounced by countyrman Philipp Kohlschrieber here... Ivan Lendl, you've got your work cut out for you.
Camera angle on Louis Armstrong: That sloped camera angle—which dozens of you noticed immediately—is a serious design flaw. Credit the USTA for the quick fix, but it should have never come to this.
Jack Sock: Lost in round two, continuing his descent down the elevator shaft, a year in which he’s failed to string together back-to-back wins. If Sock doesn’t defend his fall points, his ranking will drop deep into triple digits. (Imagine going to the 2018 Australian Open as a top 8 seed and the 2019 Australian Open as a qualifier.)