NEW YORK, August 28, 2019 (by Sharada Rajagopalan)
Upsets dotted the first-round play in the men’s singles second half at the 2019 US Open on Tuesday. The highest seed in that section, World No. 2 Rafael Nadal had no problems in bucking the trend but others – including World No. 4 and fourth seed Dominic Thiem – were part of the exodus.
Three-time Champion defeats 2018 Giant Killer
Australian John Millman was returning to Flushing Meadows after reaching the quarter-finalist last year. In 2018, he had upset the five-time champion Roger Federer in the fourth round in what still has been one of the most surreal matches of the Swiss’ careers. Eighteen-time Grand Slam champion Rafael Nadal of Spain, however, had Millman’s full measure in their night-session match at the Arthur Ashe Stadium.
Nadal defeated the 30-year-old 6-3, 6-2, 6-2 in two hours and eight minutes.
The 33-year-old Mallorca native won 80 per cent first serve points and 58 per cent second serve points. He was also steady on his returns, winning 64 per cent points off his opponent’s second serves. Millman did have his chances. But the three-time US Open titlist saved each of the three break points he faced, while converting five break points himself. This was Nadal’s 42nd match win for 2019. The win also helped the second seed improve to 15-0 in his opening-round matches at the Billie Jean National Tennis Center.
The former World No. 1 will play another Aussie, Thanasi Kokkinakis, in the second round. Kokkinakis, who had received a reciprocal wild card to play the event here, defeated Belarusian qualifier Ilya Ivashka 6-3, 7-6(8), 6-7(4), 6-2.
Speaking of his opponent, in his post-match press conference, Nadal said, “He has a big forehand, big serve. He’s a dangerous opponent, of course. I need to go on court and play well.”
Draw opens up wider for Nadal
Earlier, in the initial matches of the day session, Russia’s Andrey Rublev upset eighth seed Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece. The 21-year-old Rublev came through 6-4, 6-7(5), 7-6(7), 7-5 in three hours and 54 minutes.
The match was on the list the to-be-watched first-round matches, and it did not disappoint. Both players belted the ball furiously interspersing it with some guile and angles. Rublev was the steadier player of the two and Tsitsipas’ tantrums did not help his case as the match progressed. In his post-match press conference, Tsitsipas’ take seemed world weary as he said, “I feel like I’m doing the same thing over and over again, and my brain can’t really take it anymore… I don’t feel inspired.”
Rublev will play France’s Gilles Simon in the second round. Simon came from a set down to defeat the United States’ Bjorn Fratangelo 5-7, 7-5, 7-5, 7-5.
Inspiration, meanwhile was not a problem for Canada’s Vasek Pospisil who took down Rublev’s Russian compatriot and the ninth seed Karen Khachanov. In a five-set marathon that stopped only nine minutes short of the four-hour-mark, the World No. 216 won 4-6, 7-5, 7-5, 4-6, 6-3.
Pospisil will face Tennys Sandgren in the round-of-64. The American staged a two-sets-two-love comeback against France’s Jo-Wilfried Tsonga 1-6, 6-7(2), 6-4, 7-6(5), 7-5.
The biggest shocker of the day was Thiem’s four-set loss to Italy’s Thomas Fabbiano. Fabbiano defeated the Austrian 6-4, 3-6, 6-3, 6-2 in two hours and 23 minutes. In his press conference after the match, Fabbiano said, “It was a great match, a big show. For me to play in front of so many people on a big stadium was something new for me. I gave my best.”
Fabbiano will play Alexander Bublik of Kazakhstan. Bublik won against Colombia’s Santiago Giraldo 2-6, 6-0, 7-5, 3-6, 6-4.
Not discounting the World No. 87’s efforts, it also became clear that all was not well with the two-time French Open finalist. Thiem looked to be struggling with illness. In his press conference, the 25-year-old noted, “I’m far away from 100 per cent. Like this, it’s very tough to win. I went on court because in tennis, especially in such long two-week tournaments, anything can happen. But it is what it is.”
Nadal’s words – when told about these upsets – offered quite a bit of pragmatism, although he would not mind how easier his draw has become. “That’s tennis. When you start the tournament, you have difficult opponents in front. You need to go on court and respect every single opponent,” Nadal opined.
Kyrgios provides late-night entertainment
Australia’s Nick Kyrgios and the US-American Steve Johnson were the last two players to take to the court on Tuesday. On Wednesday morning at 1.12 AM local time, the 28th seed was the last player on the Louis Armstrong Stadium. Kyrgios won 6-3, 7-6(1), 6-4 in two hours and two minutes.
It was a Kyrgios show all throughout, from his serves to his shot-making. There was also a brief moment when a meltdown seemed imminent, prompting a retort from the American. But the 24-year-old reined himself in to get the win in straight sets.
Up next for Kyrgios is French wild card Antoine Hoang. Hoang defeated Argentina’s Leonardo Mayer 3-6, 6-2, 6-7(6), 6-1, 6-2.