Old Favorites Advance, New Favorites Upset

WASHINGTON, September 1, 2017 (by Michael Dickens)

French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko reached the third round of the U.S. Open with a 6-4, 6-4 victory over Sorana Cirstea of Romania at Louis Armstrong Stadium on Thursday. Despite her struggles during the summer hard court season – she lost in the first round at both Toronto and Cincinnati before the U.S. Open – the No. 12 seed from Latvia has now reached at least the third round in all four Grand Slams this season.

Ostapenko overcame eight double faults in the opening set, but Cirstea was unable to convert any of seven break-point chances. Sometimes, maybe it pays to struggle on court. Said Ostapenko: “Some games were 0-40 on my serve, so I was fighting to stay in it the whole way,” she said during her post-match press conference. “I think probably I was playing better on the big points even though I was not serving so well today, but I was fighting in the rallies.” 

Ostapenko’s next opponent will be No. 38 Daria Kasatkina of Russia, who advanced over No. 63 Christina McHale of the U.S., 7-5, 6-3.

Meanwhile, No. 1 seed and current World No. 1 Karolina Pliskova of the Czech Republic reached the third round, but not without a fight against No. 127 Nicolle Gibbs of the U.S., 2-6, 6-3, 6-4, on Arthur Ashe Stadium. Pliskova hit 29 winners – 27 of them with her forehand against the American qualifier. She will retain her No. 1 ranking provided she at least makes the finals next week. Other winners included: No. 4 Elina Slitovina, No. 15 Madison Keys and No. 20 CoCo Vandeweghe. A total of seven U.S. women have made it to the third round.

Also worth noting, No. 45 Naomi Osaka of Japan has become a crowd favorite thanks to her upset win earlier this week over defending U.S. Open champion Angelique Kerber. Playing on intimate Court 13 instead of in front of more than 22,000 on Arthur Ashe Stadium like she did against Kerber, Osaka beat Denisa Allertova of the Czech Republic, 6-3, 4-6, 7-5.

On the men’s side, the upsets continued as No. 7 seed Grigor Dimitrov of Bulgaria, who won the Masters 1000 in Cincinnati earlier this month, lost in straight sets to No. 53 Andrey Rublev of Russia, 7-5, 7-6 (3), 6-3, on Louis Armstrong Stadium. Earlier, No. 15 Tomas Berdych of the Czech Republic also went down, losing to Alexandr Dolgopolov of Ukraine, 3-6, 6-1, 7-6 (5), 6-2, in a Court 17 match.

• On Day 3, every court became a show court: There was no Roger Federer (he was off practicing in Central Park) or Rafael Nadal (he practiced early in the day) – and Serena Williams (who’s not anywhere near the U.S. Open) was away being a mother-in-waiting. Yet, Wednesday was a big night filled with big moments for some of the rising stars of men’s tennis. First, 20-year-old Borna Coric of Croatia knocked out the hottest star in tennis this summer, No. 4 seed Alexander Zverev of Germany, in four sets, 3-6, 7-5, 7-6 (1), 7-6 (4), on the Grandstand. Then, on Arthur Ashe Stadium, 18-year-old Canadian hopeful Denis Shapovalov of Canada bid adieu to France’s Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in straight sets, 6-4, 6-4, 7-6 (3), with a dash of panache mixed with solid, old-style tennis. There’s just something about watching a lefty who hits a one-handed backhand on the run, but I think he’s the real deal and is going to be around for a long time. … Meanwhile, No. 3 Garbiñe Muguruza of Spain, who is in the chase to become No. 1, was almost an after-thought because her second-round match against Ying-Ying Duan of China didn’t have a court assignment at the start of the jam-packed day. As it happened, Muguruza didn’t play until very late Wednesday evening. Her match with Duan wound up as the sixth – yes sixth! – match of the day on the Grandstand. Fortunately, she needed only 65 minutes to win, 6-4, 6-0, which moved her into the third round. … Finally, last match remaining on court, turn out the lights! Among the 87 matches that were on Wednesday’s very busy schedule was the second-round women’s singles encounter between No. 5 Caroline Wozniacki of Denmark and No. 40 Ekaterina Makarova of Russia, played on Court 17. Wozniacki came into the U.S. Open with a shot at No. 1 and, at times, she’s looked strong. Perhaps, on any other normal day, she might have played Makarova on one of the big show courts like Ashe or Armstrong. Whether the size of the venue made a difference or not, it was Makarova who came on strong in the final set – and won, 6-2, 6-7 (5), 6-1.

• What they’re writing:

From Ava Wallace of The Washington Post, in “No. 9 Venus Williams advances to third round at U.S. Open”:

Amid all the talk of injured men’s players and the hullabaloo over Maria Sharapova reappearing in a Grand Slam, you could be forgiven for having overlooked ninth-seeded Venus Williams lurking there in the U.S. Open draw.

But in a prime-time slot in Arthur Ashe Stadium on Wednesday night, Williams reminded everyone of her presence. She beat the French 20-year-old Oceane Dodin, 7-5, 6-4, to advance to the third round, where she will meet Maria Sakkari of Greece.

Performing in front of a sold-out crowd of 23,771, Williams was more businesslike in her second match of the tournament than the first.

From David Waldstein of The New York Times, in “Sharapova All Business, Mounts a Rally”:

This time, Maria Sharapova did not shed any tears or fall to her hands and knees as if she had won a championship. She merely smiled, waved and advanced.

Sharapova, who made an emotional return to Grand Slam tennis on Monday with a strikingly high-caliber performance at Arthur Ashe Stadium, settled into a modicum of normalcy in the second round of the United States Open on Wednesday.

She defeated Timea Babos of Hungary, 6-7 (4), 6-4, 6-1, at Ashe Stadium in more routine fashion than her thrilling first-round win over No. 2-seeded Simona Halep. 

From Australian Associated Press as printed in the United Kingdom’s Guardian in “‘I am not dedicated’: Nick Kyrgios questions commitment after first-round US Open exit”:

Nick Kyrgios has said he has no devotion to tennis and probably never would after completing a “diabolical” grand slam season with a drama-charged first-round defeat in the US Open.

Krygios complained of a “dead” shoulder during his 6-3, 1-6, 6-4, 6-1 loss to fellow Australian John Millman before revealing far deeper concerns during an extraordinary post-match media conference.

Shattered by his latest flop, he admitted his coached deserved better when asked if he would continue working with Frenchman Sébastien Grosjean beyond the Open. “I don’t know, honestly. I’m not good enough for him,” Krygios said.

• What they’re saying:

Tennis Channel analyst Jim Courier, appearing on TC Live at the U.S. Open on Thursday morning: “At the beginning of the tournament, I’m thinking: How open is the women’s draw? Eight women who can get to No. 1 at the end of the tournament, potentially. Well, how about the bottom section of the men’s draw? Now, all of a sudden, Andy Murray, the two seed, pulls out before the tournaments starts. The fourth seed, Sascha Zverev, he’s gone. Tsonga goes out last night, the eighth seed. Now, all of a sudden, Marin Cilic and John Isner are your top seeds in the bottom half of the draw. Someone’s getting to the final. Marin Cilic made the finals of Wimbledon. Obviously, he would be the heavy favorite, but what are his injuries like? … This is a real chance for people like John Isner, and Sam Querrey and Borna Coric. I mean, everyone’s got a shot. Right now, there’s no clear favorite.”

• What they’re tweeting:

A couple of tweets from Roger Federer with photos. Yes, the Roger Federer, who stayed away from the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center on Wednesday and, instead, practiced in iconic Central Park. Imagine everyone’s surprise!

@rogerfederer: “When in Central Park” and “Central Park hitting Extremely cool experience.”

By Thursday afternoon, both tweets had been liked a combined 56,000 times and retweeted nearly 9,300 times.

Following Federer’s tweets, many major media picked up on the story. “Hey, isn’t that Roger Federer playing tennis on a public court in the middle of Central Park?” a headline in The Washington Post readAfter all, as reporter Cindy Boren wrote: “It isn’t easy for Roger Federer to disappear in New York when he’s playing in the U.S. Open, but on Wednesday he was hiding in plain sight in one of the last places one would expect to find him: the public courts of the Central Park Tennis Center.”

In a pre-match TV interview just before going on court for his second-round match against Mikhail Youzhny of Russia on Thursday, Federer was asked by ESPN’s Tom Rinaldi to describe his reaction to practicing on the Central Park public tennis courts: “Yesterday was a lot of fun. There were a lot of kids, which was actually great to see. Then, at one point during the practice, I looked over and all 20 practice courts were empty – and everyone was watching my practice! I hope I didn’t ruin their practice. It was really a great experience for me.”

A postscript: For the first time in his long and storied career, Federer has begun a Grand Slam tournament with consecutive five-set matches. Thursday, he came from down two-sets-to-one to defeat No. 98 Youzhny 6-1, 6-7 (3), 4-6, 6-4, 6-2 to advance to the third round. The margin of victory was small as the 19-time Grand Slam champion had everyone on the edge of their seats, engaged and excited – certainly nervous – at Arthur Ashe Stadium, less than 48 hours after Federer went the distance against Frances Tiafoe.

Federer’s win over Youzhny was his 80th career U.S. Open match win (second most in the Open Era). Afterward, during an on-court interview, he said, “I feel quite warmed up by now.”

Now it can be told: Federer is now 63-1 in second-round matches at Grand Slams tournaments. His lone loss? It came in 2013 at Wimbledon against Sergiy Stakhovsky.

About the author

Michael Dickens is a Washington, D.C.-area freelance journalist who writes and blogs about tennis.