US Open: Come Monday It’s Ready, Steady, Play

Emma Raducanu (photo: Pete Staples/USTA)

NEW YORK/WASHINGTON, August 28, 2022 (by Michael Dickens)

The US Open, the year’s final Grand Slam event, begins today at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows, N.Y. without Novak Djokovic in the men’s draw but with 23-time major titlist Serena Williams set to headline Monday evening on Arthur Ashe Stadium.

Djokovic, who is barred from entering the United States due to not being vaccinated against COVID-19, formally withdrew from the US Open shortly before Thursday’s main draw was revealed. Meanwhile, the US Open is likely the last tournament Williams will play before she retires.

Regardless, there are plenty of interesting storylines that developed leading up to this year’s US Open. On Friday, many of the principal competitors met the international media, when they weren’t out hitting the practice courts, signing autographs or posing for selfies with fans.

Here’s a sampling of what some of the key players said during US Open Media Day:

• Women’s World No. 1 and top seed Iga Swiatek: “I feel like the last couple of weeks in Toronto and in Cincinnati, have been pretty hectic for me. I felt really nervous. When I came here, it was easier for me to kind of chill out maybe because I already lost two matches, and now I can really lower my expectations and just focus on improving and on tennis.

“It’s easier for me to kind of chill out here. I’m reading I don’t know if it’s a good example for the younger generation, but ‘Memoirs of a Geisha’ and ‘Atlas of the Heart’ by Brené Brown.”

• Men’s World No. 1 and top seed Daniil Medvedev on his love-hate relationship with US Open fans: “I do think if you look at Daniil Medvedev only on the tennis court, only as a tennis player, maybe it’s not that easy to like him or me as much because, I mean, my technique is a little bit odd.

“My game style is probably not the flashiest, but that’s because I want to win. When I was young, when I was 18, I was hitting the ball as hard as I can. Maybe people would love it more, but I probably would not win a Grand Slam.”

• Defending women’s champion Emma Raducanu, who went from qualifier to Grand Slam champion and has won 10 straight matches at the US Open, on the pressure of defending her first major title: “I think you guys are thinking probably more about pressure and ranking than me. I think defending a title is just something that the press makes up. I’m just taking it one match at a time. Every single player is very capable in this draw. I just focus on what I’m doing, my own trajectory.

“As I said last year, I’m just going to do things my way.”

• World No. 4 Carlos Alcaraz on still trying to be the same player as last year, when he was ranked outside the Top 50: “I [do not] feel at all the difference between last year, for example, and now. I’m just trying to be the same kid as always.

“It’s difficult, but that’s how I am. The same kid as always. [It is important] to be humble, and I always will be the same.

“My pressure here is to enjoy every match, show my best game. Obviously, I want to do a good result here. It’s a really important tournament for me. But I know that if I don’t feel the pressure as a bad part, I will forward.

“Obviously, my goal here is to enjoy. I think if I do that, I will do a good result.”

Coco Gauff on how Serena Williams inspired her own path to stardom: “Growing up I never thought that I was different because the No. 1 player in the world was somebody who looked like me. I think that’s the biggest thing that I can take from what I’ve learned from Serena.

“Then also on a more personal level, I got to have a couple conversations with her late on in life. I think it’s just the way she handles herself. She never puts herself down. I love that she always elevates herself.

“Sometimes being a woman, a black woman in the world, you kind of settle for less. I feel like Serena taught me that, from watching her, she never settled for less. I can’t remember for a moment in her career or life that she settles for less.

“I think that’s something I took from her. As a person, I ‘m growing into being an adult and learning how to handle things now with the media and tennis and everything. I’m trying to learn to not settle for less.”

Williams sisters receive US Open doubles wild card

Serena Williams and Venus Williams, who have won 14 Grand Slam women’s doubles titles, received a wild card into the US Open on Saturday. Serena and Venus have won the US Open twice and their pairing is a first since the 2018 French Open.

The last of the Williams sisters’ 14 major titles came in 2016 at Wimbledon. They’ve teamed to win three Olympic gold medals in women’s doubles, in 2000, 2008 and 2012. They are also the last doubles team to hold all four major titles at one time after winning the 2009 Wimbledon and US Open titles and adding to it the 2010 Australian Open and 2010 French Open titles.

The doubles competition begins on Wednesday.

Wu, Zhang become first Chinese men to qualify for US Open main draw

Wu Yibing and Zhang Zhizhen have become the first two Chinese men to qualify for the men’s main draw of the US Open. Both earned their way into the 128-player main draw by winning three qualifying draw matches.

Wu, who won the 2017 US Open boys’ singles title, was the first to advance when he defeated Corentin Moutet of France, 7-6 (5), 6-2. This was the first time that the 22-year-old Wu had attempted to qualify for a major.

“It’s pretty special for me, but I’m just trying to play my tennis, show the people or myself that I can still play,” Wu said Friday, quoted by the ATP Tour website. “It’s been a tough few years for me. I really suffered from injuries and Covid in China. It seems like I can still play a little bit of tennis.

“I’m happy about what I did here. I love the people here, the crowd. Many Chinese people came to support, I love it.”

Zhang outlasted Zizou Bergs of Belgium, 6-2, 6-4.

“For him, it’s easy because he won the juniors here,” Zhang said, laughing. “Five years he didn’t lose at match at the US Open. For me, I was surprised I passed the qualies because it’s my first time here of course. I was playing quite good on clay courts after grass. I didn’t expect that I can pass here.”

This is the first time in the Open Era that two Chinese men will compete in the tournament’s main draw in the same year.

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By the numbers

• Germany’s Maximilian Marterer extended his US Open qualifying winning streak to nine matches on Friday after defeating Ricardo Bonadio, 6-4, 6-3, to earn a spot in the main draw. The 27-year-old Marterer from Nuremberg also qualified for the 2017 and 2021 US Open. However, he’s never advanced past the first round of the main draw. On Tuesday, Marterer will oppose No. 15 seed Marin Cilic of Croatia.

• Three Czech teenagers – Linda Noskova (age 17), Sara Bejlek (16) and Linda Fruhvirtova (17) – all qualified for the women’s singles draw and will be part of a contingent of 10 Czech women in the 128-player main draw.

• If Carlos Alcaraz, just 19, wins the US Open, he would become the youngest No. 1 in the history of the Pepperstone ATP Rankings (since 1973).

“Quotable …”

American Brandon Holt, 24, son of Hall of Famer Tracy Austin – twice a US Open champion, in 1979 and 1981 as a teenager – defeated Dimitar Kuzmanov of Bulgaria, 6-4, 3-6, 6-3, to qualify for his first major main draw. The 2020 University of Southern California graduate won on his fifth match point that came following a lengthy rain delay. On Monday, the 296th-ranked Holt will face American No. 1 and 10th seed Taylor Fritz.

“I’ve been coming here since I was a newborn baby, eating those Minute Maid lemonades watching the matches and thinking, ‘These guys are so good!'” Holt said on Friday, quoted by the ATP Tour website.