One round, three days, and 40 degrees: things hot up in NY
It has taken almost three days, but the first round of the men’s draw at the US Open is complete.
The New Yorkers have a unique approach to scheduling that is unlike any other Slam. It shares out the pleasures between the daytime crowd and the night-time shift -double the tickets, double the money -and that extends the first round into the second round, and will eventually butt half of the quarterfinals right up against the semi-finals. They, in turn, are played the day before the final.
Factor in the fast, unforgiving courts, temperatures that have already hit close to 45 degrees, and two back-to-back Masters in the preceding weeks, and this becomes one of the toughest tennis challenges of the year.
Flushing Meadows has, indeed, already taken a heavy toll. The biggest loss was No 7 seed Tomas Berdych, lately Wimbledon finalist and tipped to be 2010’s Juan Martin Del Potro at the Open. But he picked up a leg strain at the Cincinnati Masters and was clearly not at his sharpest against Michael Llodra.
The 30-year-old left-handed Frenchman has enjoyed some success already this season, picking up two ATP titles and his highest ranking in two years. His flowing all-court game, his serve and volley tactics, and his elegant single-handed backhand proved highly effective in breaking the solid baseline hitting of Berdych. It’s a style of play that is enjoying something of a Renaissance.
A quick look at Roger Federer confirms that the new attacking style he introduced in Toronto is here to stay and is improving with each match. He took barely an hour and a half to win his first match with a graceful attack reminiscent of a stiletto blade in the ribs. It’s so sharp and elegant, you barely notice the damage until it’s over.
Then there are Philipp Kohlschreiber, Feliciano Lopez, and Tommy Robredo: all-court players with a penchant for the serve and volley, and all first-round winners.
Andy Murray continued he excellent hard-court form with a straight-forward, straight-sets win over Lukas Lacko. His tennis is still uninhibited, still attacking and aggressive, and is still full of touch around the net and accurate cross-court winners. Murray will be pleased to see the Berdych result: the Czech was scheduled to meet him in the quarterfinals.
Murray’s next major hurdle, though, will be Stanislas Wawrinka, who sailed through his first match. Further into the draw, another all-courter of considerable flair, the No 12 seed Mikhail Youzhny, was also a straight-sets winner, while Nicolas Almagro and Sam Querrey each dropped a set on their way to the second round.
In the bottom half of the draw, the first-round news focused on major seeds who survived big scares.
Novak Djokovic looked for all the world as though he was going out at two sets and a break-of-serve down against fellow Serb Victor Triocki. He was scheduled for the heat of the afternoon -not Djokovic’s favourite conditions -and looked all in.
But he is a player who seems to draw on huge reserves of self-belief when things get tough, and he started to find some outstanding ground strokes and not a few devastating drop shots. That was enough to change the momentum of the game but it was a close run thing. The difference in points, after four hours, was just one.
It was a similar story for Robin Soderling, who squeaked past the little-known Austrian Andreas Haider-Maurer in five sets, but made fewer winners and more unforced errors. If Soderling makes it to the quarterfinals, he will have to find another gear against Federer.
Also in this half of the draw, the in-form American Mardy Fish survived a see-sawing five-setter with one of the more bizarre scorelines of the tournament so far: 6-0, 3-6, 4-6, 6-0, 6-1.
Arnaud Clement took five sets to get the better of No16 seed Marcos Baghdatis and Paul-Henri Mathieu also went the distance in beating former champion Lleyton Hewitt .
Thus far, then, some things have strained belief while some things have preserved the status quo. The top five seeds are intact, with Federer, Murray and Nadal apparently in cruise control. But are there any new sleepers who might disrupt proceedings come week two?
Well the form of Nikolay Davydenko took a turn for the better in a resounding straight sets win. Gael Monfils played superb tennis in beating Robert Kendrick. And another former champion, Juan Carlos Ferrero, showed similar panache, losing just four games in his straight sets victory.
Round two was already under way before the final results of round one were in. So Djokovic knows that one of his key challengers, home hero Andy Roddick, has fallen. With the revelation just weeks ago that Roddick was recovering from glandular fever, it may not have been a huge surprise, but with seeds Juan Monaco and Baghdatis already out of that quarter, it opens up the Djokovic draw nicely.
The temperatures are set to soar again as Federer and Nadal face the prospect of their first daytime matches. Will they, like Djokovic and Soderling, flag in the heat, or will they sizzle a la Murray?