NEW YORK — Tuesday’s day session is in the books here at the U.S. Open. Here are five thoughts on an entertaining day of action:
• We think of women’s tennis as more volatile, more unpredictable, more (altogether now) wide open than the men’s side. Tuesday ran counter to that narrative in a huge way. Four of the top 10 seeded men took the court during today’s day session—three of them lost and the other needed five sets to advance. The fallen: No. 4 Dominic Thiem (who lost to Thomas Fabbiano), who found energy hard to come by as he seems to still be dealing with a nagging illness; No. 10 Roberto Bautista Agut, who uncharacteristically lost to a player he should beat (Mikhail Kukushkin); and No. 8 Stefanos Tsitsipas, who now has lost in the first round of the last two Slams. More on him in just a bit. The survivor: sixth-seeded Alexander Zverev, who continues to expend far too much energy in the opening rounds of majors.
Those three upsets have produced in one of the more (altogether now) wide open quarters of a draw in recent memory. Who is the favorite to come through this? Andrey Rublev? Nick Kyrgios? Felix Auger-Aliassime?
• Last time Naomi Osaka played in Arthur Stadium, she won the 2018 U.S. Open final—and the most controversial match in recent memory. Today was a more subdued affair. But that’s not to say it was an uncomplicated affair. Osaka looked dazzling at times and mortal at others. Playing against a combative Russian, Anna Blinkova, Osaka stole the first set after being down a break, lost the second and outright won the third, beginning her title defense 6-4 6-7 (5) 6-2. Osaka needs to win the event to hold on to her top ranking. But note: she has won the last 15 (!) major hardcourt matches she’s played.
• As Osaka played the big house, Tsitsipas—another free-spirited 21-year-old—played in Louis Armstrong. It’s been an up-and-down year for the Greek, and right now the market is in a bit of decline. Dealt a brutal draw, Tsitsipas faced Russian Andrey Rublev—fresh off of beating Roger Federer in Cincinnati—in his opener. The critical juncture in the match came in the third-set tiebreaker when both players had chances. Rublev took his; Tsitsipas didn’t. The Russian prevailed in four sets. Tsitsipas beat Roger Federer in Australia en route to the semis and a crashing of the top 10. The Greek played well in Paris but lost an insta-classic to Stan Wawrinka. Whether it was coincidence or causation, he hasn’t been the same since. His loss here marks his third straight defeat at a major, having lost in the first round of Wimbledon as well.
As for Rublev, a quarterfinalist here in 2017, that was an inspired win for a player who has been sidelined for much of the last year with back problems. He may one day regret this; but today it is something to savor.
• Who’s had a better 2019 than Bianca Andreescu? We’ll wait. A year ago, the Canadian was ranked outside the top 100 and playing $25,000 events in places like Florence, S.C. Today, age at 19, she is up to No. 14 in the rankings, and in 2019, she is 39-4 and closing in on $2.5 million in prize money. And that’s despite missing significant chunks of the season with injury. Today, in her first -ver U.S. Open main draw match, she did what was necessary to beat the spectacularly named American wild card Katie Volynets. Never mind “one match at a time”; Andreescu has a potential round-of-16 match against Simona Halep that ought to reveal plenty.
• As fans, it can be a challenge apportioning credit and blame. Did Serena Williams play magnificent power tennis in her first match? Or did Maria Sharapova scan as a shell of her former self (failing to win a point on her second serve) in defeat? We say more the former than the latter. Here’s another. Did Alison Riske—newly married; still smiling—continue her strong summer, beating Garbine Muguruza in three sets? Or did Muguruza, now out of the top 25, play another mystifyingly empty match? Mugu has a Hall of Fame resume already compiled. Yet, in what should be the meatiest years of her career, she has become an erratic and sometimes indifferent player, who seems to lack trust in her game. Next for Riske: another former Grand Slam champ, Jelena Ostapenko.