US OPEN FIRST ROUND TALKING POINTS
The fourth and final Grand Slam event of the year is in full swing with first-round matches played on the first two days. The opening round has had its fair share of drama, surprises, nail-biting moments, comebacks and downright shocking results.
Here are my talking points.
- THE SUPPOSED BIGGEST BLOCKBUSTER OF THE FIRST ROUND WASN’T….WELL, A BLOCKBUSTER
When Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova were drawn to face each other in the first round at Flushing Meadows, the world went wild! There were quite a number of mouth-watering first-round clashes but this matchup looked like it would be THE blockbuster. Even with Serena Williams taking a 19-2 head-to-head lead into their 22nd meeting, one would have expected a more keenly contested match. That was not the case. It was a blowout for Serena Williams, with the American winning 6-1, 6-1 in 59 minutes. Maria Sharapova failed to convert any of her five break points and did not win a single point on her second serve. It was definitely a match to forget for the Russian. Serena Williams has now won 20 of their 22 meetings, coming out on top 19 consecutive times with Maria Sharapova’s last victory coming back in 2004 – 15 years ago.
If it was not evident before, this win for Serena Williams makes it even more glaring that the two players are miles apart. A victory for Sharapova would not have changed that either.
Should a one-sided rivalry be termed a rivalry at all?
- MEN’S HOPEFULS CLEARING THE PATH FOR THE ‘BIG THREE’
In more shocking events (or maybe not so shocking), the men’s draw produced some eyebrow-raising results. Four of the top 10 men’s seeds came tumbling down. Unseeded Italian Thomas Fabbiano defeated fourth seed Dominic Thiem 6-4, 3-6, 6-3, 6-2. Eighth seed Stefanos Tsitsipas for almost four hours but fell to rejuvenated Andrey Rublev 4-6, 6-7(5), 7-6(7), 7-5. World number 216 Vasek Pospisil defeated ninth seed Karen Khachanov 4-6, 7-5, 7-5, 4-6, 6-3 and tenth seed Roberto Bautista Agut lost in five sets to unseeded Mikhail Kukushkin.
Sixth seed Alexander Zverev survived in five sets over Radu Albot but the coast looks almost clear for the top three players Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer. Fifth seed Daniil Medvedev has won more matches than any other man this season and appears to be the shining light in the men’s draw, but the Russian required treatment on his left hamstring during his first-round win over Prajnesh Gunneswaran. The 23-year-old is undeniably a dark horse but his intense summer schedule might be taking a toll on him. Reaching the finals in Washington and Montreal before going on to clinch his first Masters 1000 title in Cincinnati, Medvedev losing steam after playing so many matches would be no surprise, really. Again, another Grand Slam title for one of the ‘Big Three’ looks likely.
- UNDERWHELMING SEASON FOR KERBER, STEPHENS, MUGURUZA
2016 Champion Angelique Kerber won last year’s Wimbledon and was one of the most in-form players of 2018, but she has been a shadow of herself in 2019. The German’s best result at a Grand Slam this year came at the Australian Open where she reached the round of 16. Her French Open campaign ended in the first round and her Wimbledon title defence failed after a second loss to Lauren Davis. Losing 7-5, 0-6, 6-4 to unseeded Kristina Mladenovic ends a dreadful season in majors for the 31-year-old.
Just before the start of the tournament, Sloane Stephens reunited with coach Kamau Murray, who was on her team when she won the title in 2017. In spite of that, Russian qualifier Anna Kalinskaya who had never won a Grand Slam match defeated the 11th seed 6-3, 6-4. Stephens has won just one match in four tournaments.
Garbine Muguruza’s inconsistency continued as she lost a second consecutive Grand Slam match. Alison Riske won her first match at Flushing Meadows since 2013, beating the Spaniard 2-6, 6-1, 6-3. After Wimbledon, the former world number one announced her split with longtime coach Sam Sumyk, with whom she won her two Grand Slam titles. Her fortunes have however not changed.
- CORI GAUFF’S BREAKTHROUGH YEAR CONTINUES
Playing in her second Grand Slam 15-year-old Cori ‘Coco’ Gauff began on a positive note, winning an all-teenage affair by coming from a set down to defeat 18-year-old Anastasia Potapova 3-6, 6-2, 6-4. The young American has shown her incredible Wimbledon run, which included a win over veteran Venus Williams, was no fluke. Next, she faces former top 30 player Timea Babos. Interestingly, Gauff, who is the youngest player in the draw, could face World number one, Naomi Osaka in the third round if they both win their second-round matches.
With the first round done and dusted, the competition intensifies and definitely holds more surprises, drama and more.