Publish date:

U.S. Open Midterm Grades: Mother Nature Wreaks Havoc As Youngsters Shine

No Federer. No Nadal. No Serena. No Venus. No worries. Week One of the U.S. Open came with the force of an Aryna Sabalenka forehand. The unstoppable energy of Carlos Alcaraz. The confidence of Novak Djokovic. And more drama than any streaming series. We’ve had seven matches go 7–6 in the fifth set. We’ve had spellbinding match after spellbinding match on the women’s side. We’ve had a pair of No. 3 seeds evicted from the draw by 18-year-olds. We’ve had 12-minute bathrooms breaks. Herewith your Sports Illustrated midterm grades as we head into Round Four of the 2021 U.S. Open.

CarlosAlcaraz

A

The tournament overall: So far it’s had everything. Week Two has Reilly Opelka-sized shoes to fill. 

Novak Djokovic: The quest for the Grand Slam continues. And he’s handled the occasion with such matter-of-fact grace and poise. Not overconfident but not downplaying the weight of the occasion. 

18-year-olds: Carlos Alcaraz and Leylah Fernandez go the distance and win the crowd as they beat Stefanos Tsitsipas and Naomi Osaka respectively. Not just upsets, but arrivals.

Frances Tiafoe: American showstopper asks for Andrey Rublev. And he delivers, scoring perhaps the biggest win of his career.

Canada: As we write this, Bianca Andreescu (still undefeated for her career in New York), Felix Auger Aliassime, Denis Shapovalov, and Fernandez remain in the draw.

Jenson Brooksby: 20-year-old American started the year outside the top 300. He's now in Week Two of the U.S. Open.

Shelby Rogers: In their fifth meeting in 2021, the South Carolinian took out top seed Ash Barty with a third-set comeback.

A-Minus 

Andy Murray: Didn’t take a winnable match against Tsitsipas. But ought to be thrilled that his body and game held up for 4:48 against a quality opponent. And he won the press conference.

Holger Rune: Stole a set from Djokovic and stole the crowd. A little concerning that he cramped (at night) after two sets. But lots of promise here. 

Americans: Serena, Venus, Sonya Kenin and Jennifer Brady were non-starters. John Isner and Seb Korda go out in round one. And, still, 21 Yanks and Yankettes make the second round—more men than women for a change.

B

Stefanos Tsitsipas: Credit him for outlasting Andy Murray, winning his next match and enduring a hostile crowd. It can’t be fun—especially for a sensitive type—to have your honor questioned by players you purport to admire…and have Tennis Nation follow suit.

SI Recommends

Brandon Nakashima: Young American scores a serious win, beating John Isner (for the second time in 2021) but then loses a highly winnable second rounder against qualifier Alex Molcan.

Alycia Parks: American wild card tied Venus Williams's U.S. Open serve speed record, clocking a 129-mph serve in her first-round loss to Olga Danilovic. The 20-year-old from Atlanta made her Grand Slam main draw debut Monday, losing to Danilovic of Serbia, 6-3, 7-5. A win would have meant a big court date with Osaka. 

Alexander Davidovich Fokina: In his first-round match against Marco Trungelliti, the Spaniard was in excruciating pain from a leg cramp. He lost the match but—to honor his opponent so he could savor winning outright—he declined to retire. 

Andrea Petkovic: Falls to Garbine Muguruza in round one. But what beautiful sentiment. “I always told myself as long as I have this tingling sensation when I walk out on court and as long as I lose a match like today and go out and still think it was the greatest thing ever to be out there on Louis Armstrong and play these matches, I still want to play.”

Bags: Only in tennis can authorities fine you $10,000 for an indecent accessory; but are powerless to require vaccinated athletes. On the other hand, Holger Rune's Ikea bag was the ultimate fashion statement.

C

The unvaccinated cohort: We saw a document stating that as of Aug. 10, only 48 of the ATP’s top 100—and 8.6 percent of the top 800!—had been vaccinated. Apart from the social irresponsibility, why would any player take on this professional risk? If an unvaccinated player came into close contact with someone COVID-19–positive, they would be out of the tournament. If vaccinated, that would not be the case.

Mother Nature: On Wednesday, the mother of all storms came through. As climate change accelerates, tennis would do well to consider some policy whereby players aren’t sleeping on-site. 

Illness and injury: Spare a thought for Seb Korda. You post a career-high ranking. You’re the ascending American. You forgo the Olympics to peak for this Major. You come down with a stomach issue and can’t get through the first round. Korda will have plenty more chances. But what a brutal sport …

Madison Keys: Whether it’s causation or correlation ... such a lovely person and such an ailing game. She has the power to win Majors. When will self-belief follow? A first-round loss to Sloane Stephens puts her out of the top 50.

Nick Kyrgios: Out in round one and out of the top 100. This parlor game—“When will his professionalism/investment catch up to his blazing talent?”—isn’t much fun any more.

Casper Ruud: Came in as the No. 8 seed after great success on clay this summer. Hoping to show his chops on hardcourts, he falls in Round Two to a qualifier.

Long lines: Great that full crowds have returned. And don’t discount the logistical challenges, compounded by the required proof of vaccination. But you can’t‚ just can’t—have this.

More Tennis Coverage:

Insider Tips for Attending the 2021 U.S. Open
Mailbag: What Is the Future of Mid-Match Coaching in Tennis?
Rafael Nadal Out of U.S. Open, Ends Season Due to Injured Foot
Naomi Osaka Following U.S. Open Defeat: 'Don't Know When I'm Going to Play' Again