US Open 2015: Djokovic and Nadal in, Nishikori and Monfils out in day of landmarks
World No1 Novak Djokovic was amongst the winners on a busy first day of action at the US Open
Since winning the Australian Open at the start of 2015, the world No1 by a distance, Novak Djokovic, has not once failed to reach a final.
And to give that achievement some context, every one of those tournaments has been at Grand Slam or Masters level apart from the ATP500 in Dubai—and that, too, featured three of the top four players in the world.
In the event, Djokovic lost the Dubai final to Roger Federer, as he did the Cincinnati final—but his losses have been rare indeed. He won Wimbledon, Indian Wells and Rome over Federer, won in Australia and Miami over Andy Murray, and Monte Carlo over first Rafael Nadal and then Tomas Berdych.
Little wonder, then, that Djokovic has arrived in New York as favourite to pick up his second US Open title in his 44th consecutive Grand Slam appearance. For even putting aside his extraordinary 56-5 run this year—which comes on the back of a seven-title, 61-8 run last year—his semi-final finish at Flushing Meadows last year was a blip after four straight final finishes.
There was, then, little expectation of an upset by an opening opponent who had yet to win a single Grand Slam match. True to form, in his first meeting with Djokovic, the 91-ranked Joao Souza barely had time to draw breath—well 73 minutes to be precise—in a devastating 6-1, 6-1, 6-1 trouncing by the Serb.
No wonder Djokovic afterwards sounded so confident: “With a dominant win like the one today, it adds to your confidence, your self-belief. But it’s also making a statement for everybody that is out there watching… It’s important you’re out on the court with the right intensity and you’re sending a good message, and I’ve done so.”
It will no doubt send shivers down the spine of his next hapless opponent, Andreas Haider-Maurer, ranked 52, who took almost three times as long to beat Vasek Pospisil, 6-4, 3-6, 6-7, 6-0, 6-1.
Djokovic’s confidence must have grown still more with the loss of the next highest seed in the top half, No4 Kei Nishikori, in one of the contests of the day. The unpredictable talent that is Benoit Paire saved two match points to beat Nishikori, 6-4, 3-6, 4-6, 7-6(6), 6-4 after three and a quarter hours, and affirmed that his return after multiple injury problems is no flash in the pan.
Paire, who won his first title in Bastad this summer, reached a career-high 24 two years ago but dropped to 149 this February. Now back to 41, he is scheduled to meet his next seed, Tommy Robredo, in the third round.
For Nishikori, who has also suffered his share of injuries—and missed Cincinnati a fortnight ago—it marked an unsought notch in the US Open’s record books. He was the first runner-up to lose his first match the following year since 1991.
More milestones came and went during an emotional opening day of tennis in New York.
The popular 33-year-old Mardy Fish announced that he would retire after the Open following a brief and brave return to the US hard courts this summer. It was here, in 2012, with Fish about to take on Federer in the fourth round, that the American withdrew with illness, later diagnosed as a heart condition and followed by a serious anxiety disorder. He has managed just eight tournaments since, all of them in North America, and yielding just five match-wins.
To that tally, however, he added a sixth by beating Marco Cecchinato 6-7(5), 6-3, 6-1, 6-3 in just under three hours—on the personally-requested “intimate” Grandstand court. But his task becomes harder now that he takes on his first seed, the age-defying No18 Feliciano Lopez, who arrived here with a win over Nadal to reach the Cincinnati quarters last week. Expect [probably] Grandstand to be packed out come Wednesday.
The winner might expect to find the formidable No10 seed Milos Raonic in the third round, who marked a milestone of his own in beating Tim Smyczek 6-4, 7-6(8), 6-1: It was his 200th tour-level win.
Also in this segment is Nadal, champion over Djokovic in 2010 and 2013, but unable to defend that second title in an injury-hit final six months of 2014.
He has suffered a bumpy ride back to the top this season, scoring wins over only two top-10 players, David Ferrer and Berdych, and losing not just to unexpected opponents but at formerly impregnable tournaments. Last week it was Lopez in the third round of Cincinnati, at Wimbledon a second-round loss to No102 Dustin Brown, at Queen’s a first-round exit to Alexandr Dolgopolov, in Barcelona’s third round to Fabio Fognini. Add in quarter-final losses in Rome and Roland Garros, and Nadal’s confidence was under pressure.
So his first match in New York against the 33-ranked fast-rising teenager Borna Coric, a junior champion here, was eagerly anticipated. The hugely-talented Serb beat a below-par Nadal in Basel last October—and to his great credit, he took a set off Nadal here, too. But this time, Nadal looked something like his old self in working a 6-3, 6-2, 4-6, 6-4 victory.
He even sounded more confident with this win under his belt: “I practised at a very high level of tennis during the previous weeks, and that gives me calm. That gives me confidence. I know if I’m able to keep having those feelings… I will have the success again.”
He next plays Diego Schwartzman, with first seed Fognini beyond. Come the fourth round, it could be Raonic.
The Canadian, for his part, next plays Fernando Verdasco, who beat another American favourite, veteran Tommy Haas 3-6, 6-1, 6-7(3), 6-3, 6-1. The 37-year-old Haas is the oldest man in the draw, and was returning to Flushing Meadows after missing the 2014 US Open with the latest injury in a career blighted by surgery, injury and more.
This was Haas’s 17th appearance at the US Open—his first was in 1996 as an 18 year old. Will he play here again? That may depend on whether his body ever allows him to regain the fitness he had as world No2—more than 13 years ago.
One more noteworthy appearance was under scrutiny in the Nishikori quarter. The next seed in line, No7 Ferrer, was playing his first match since Nottingham in June. Before injury struck, the 33-year-old Spaniard was enjoying another strong season to consolidate a place in the top-10 that he has held for five years.
To hit the ground running and bounce back from a set down after so long out of competition speaks volumes for the spirit of two-time semi-finalist Ferrer, and his 4-6, 7-5, 6-1, 6-0 win over Radu Albot has opened up his segment of the draw, nicely. Ferrer’s first seed is No27 Jeremy Chardy, and the fourth round should present either defending champion Marin Cilic or No17 seed Grigor Dimitrov, who both won their openers in straight sets.
Elsewhere, there were easy wins for No14 seed David Goffin and No19 seed, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, but after an impressive opening start from No16 seed Gael Monfils, the charismatic Frenchman picked up an injury from a fall, and was forced to retire in the third set.