No fewer than eight former US Open champions featured on what would become a record-breaking opening day at Flushing Meadows, as more than 68,000 fans packed the grounds.
The star power began with six-time champion Serena Williams, three-time and defending champion Novak Djokovic, and five-time champion Roger Federer. But also packed into the schedule were, among others, Stan Wawrinka, Venus Williams, Maria Sharapova, and Angelique Kerber, plus French Open champion and former No1 Ashleigh Barty, three US Open runners-up in Kei Nishikori, Karolina Pliskova and Madison Keys, plus the form man of the US Open Series, No5 seed Daniil Medvedev.
Little wonder the fans came in droves. And by the end of play on Monday night, almost all of them were still in the race. So who were the winners and losers on opening Monday in New York?
Before play got underway, two men’s seeds pulled out with injury: No16 Kevin Anderson—a former finalist—and No21 Milos Raonic. The former was replaced by one of the four oldest men in the draw, 37-year-old Paolo Lorenzi, ranked 135, but the winner over American teenager wild card, Sachary Svajda after four hours 20 minutes and five sets. The other ‘lucky loser’, Kamil Majchrzak, ranked 94, also won, also in five sets, over Nicolas Jarry.
Some seeds simply did not make it past the first round, including No11 Fabio Fognini—the highest-ranked man to go out—and No19 Guido Pella. But Feliciano Lopez featured in one of the battles between the generations; The veteran Spaniard, who turns 38 next month, beat No26 seed, the 21-year-old Taylor Fritz, in four sets.
For No3 seed Federer, several records were on the line when he took on, in qualifier Sumit Nagal, a man who had never won a tour-level match and was playing in the main draw of a Major for the first time. And it took the Swiss two and a half hours and four sets to advance in an error-strewn match. Federer made 57 unforced errors, including seven double faults, before asserting himself over the enthusiastic tennis of the young Indian player.
The win assured Federer of qualifying for a 17th ATP Finals, and took him to 62-0 in Major Round-1 matches—dating back to the French Open 2003. He is 19-0 at the US Open.
In a loaded bottom segment of the top-half draw, quality won through among seeds and non-seeds, as Nishikori, Borna Coric, Grigor Dimitrov and Alex de Minaur advanced.
Former world No3 Dimitrov, ranked just 78 after shoulder and confidence problems hit his form, beat Andreas Seppi to set a first-time meeting with No12 seed Coric.
Djokovic’s outstanding form at the US Open continued in a clinical display over Roberto Carballes Baena. The defending champion dropped just nine games in under two hours to record his 70th match-win in New York. He has not lost before the semi-finals since 2006, winning three titles from eight finals in that run, and is now 54-0 in Majors since 2006, and is 34-1 in his last 35 Major matches
Stand-outs from Djokovic’s performance were that he did not face a single break point, and made 23 points at the net.
There were mixed fortunes for British players. No16 seed Johanna Konta had to play well to beat the dangerous Daria Kasatkina, and she did so, winning in three sets. She is now the only British woman left in the singles draw after Harriet Dart’s campaign ended in defeat, 6-3, 6-1 to Ana Bogdan.
Konta reached the fourth round in New York in 2015 and 2016, but has not won a match there since. She is, though, aiming to complete her set of Major semi-finals after a strong season took her to the semis of the French Open.
Dan Evans showed once again that he has talent in spades, and is now looking fitter and more focused than in many a season. He needed to hit the ground running against the similarly talented Frenchman Adrian Mannarino, who can turn on the flair at the drop of a hat, and the two men on this occasion met at just one ranking place apart, 57-58.
It was a thoroughly entertaining encounter, too, dominated by Evans except in the third set, when his concentration went walkabout, but the Briton came back in the fourth to win in three hours. Between them, the two men won more than 50 points at the net, but it is Evans who moves on to meet No25 seed Lucas Pouille for the first time, in what promises to be another stylish contest. Beyond that, it could be Federer.
Cameron Norrie battled back from a two-set deficit to level his match against French qualifier Gregoire Barrere, but was finally edged out in a fifth-set tie-break after more than four hours.
…such was the dominance of two of the US Open’s favourite daughters. For two decades, they have proven their credentials at their home Major: Serena with seven titles from 10 finals, Venus with two titles from four finals in a span of 21 years. And while both have faced and overcome many physical challenges, they showed once again what forces they are at the ages of almost 38 and 39 respectively.
That Serena was drawn in her opener against fellow Major champion Maria Sharapova, who made her presence felt as a teenager by beating Williams in the final of Wimbledon in 2004—and again at the WTA Finals the same year—only added to the night-session buzz. In truth, however, the much-touted rivalry has been as one-sided as it could be: Williams has gone on to win every match since, 18 in a row, and she pounded past Sharapova to make it 19 in just 59 minutes.
It was perhaps no surprise: Sharapova is currently ranked 87 after persistent shoulder problems kept her away for much of this season and for the last three months of 2018. And the stats this time spoke volumes: 16 winners to Williams, six from Sharapova; 12 errors from Williams, 20 from the Russian; and Sharapova did not win a single point on her 10 second serves.
But if the younger Williams’ stats were impressive, those of Venus were even more so, and against an opponent who only just missed out on a seeding in New York, Saisai Zheng. The 6-1, 6-0 scoreline produced 25 winners to 11 errors from Williams, 22 points won at the net, finished in an hour. And that despite Venus being unseeded at the Open for the first time since 2013.
World No5 Svitolina and No3 Pliskova boast strong hard-court credentials and each came through their openers in the same quarter of the draw. Svitolina now faces Venus Williams for a fourth time, having beaten the American at Roland Garros in June. Meanwhile, Pliskova saw the first seed in her section fall: Caroline Garcia lost to Ons Jabeur.
However former No1 and US champion Kerber lost a highly-anticipated match against Kristina Mladenovic, the German’s third first-round loss since making a second-round exit at Wimbledon. She has now won just four Major matches this year, and has won only two matches at the US Open since winning the title in 2016.
Kerber’s loss opens up the bottom section of draw for No2 seed Barty, who overcame a slow start to win in three sets. The popular Australian is the prime contender to reclaim the No1 ranking should Naomi Osaka fail to defend her title—Barty is just 105 points behind with 2,000 points available for the champion. Simona Halep also needs to win the title if she is to return to No1, while Pliskova needs to target at least the quarter-finals.
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BIOGRAPHY: Ethan Hazard
BIOGRAPHY: Daniel Sturridge