Day 1 Storylines
— Kei Nishikori, last year’s runner-up and the No. 4 seed, crashed out in the opening hours of Day 1 to enigmatic Frenchman (though, in tennis, those terms are synonymous) Benoit Paire. The notable part of the match going in was Nishikori’s health, as his injury-prone body broke down after too much tennis this summer.
However, he looked fine and even had two match points in the fourth set tiebreaker before his textbook groundstroke form failed him as Paire survived the fourth and came all the way back to win in the fifth.
Nishikori should have noticed that his 2014 Cinderella run in New York was aided by feeling fresh from skipping the summer hardcourts due to injury. That had given him the energy to outlast a gauntlet of opponents (Milos Raonic, Stan Wawrinka, Novak Djokovic). Instead, he pushed himself too hard for lesser goals and paid the price.
— Women’s seeds were eliminated at a startling rate. Ana Ivanovic (No. 7), as feared in this space, wasted her dream draw with a loss to Dominika Cibulkova (admittedly a tough matchup). Karolina Pliskova (No. 8) and Carla Suarez Navarro (No. 10) followed her out the door.
The noteworthy part is that none were remotely surprising, nor that impactful in the big picture. The biggest challengers to Serena Williams weren’t going come from them, but from Belinda Bencic and Madison Keys, both of whom won in straight sets.
— Williams barely broke a sweat as she opened the night session against Vitalia Diatchenko, who was clearly injured and could hardly move or serve. It was a strange way for Serena’s fanfare-filled U.S. Open to begin, though one suspects she won’t mind what was a glorified walkover.
Don’t blame Diatchenko though, as the near-$40,000 in prize money was too important for a relative journeywoman to pass on by withdrawing. If the Grand Slams want to preserve entertainment quality, they simply have to swallow that money and incentivize players to withdraw.
— While Djokovic predictably demolished claycourter Joao Souza (not to be confused with Joao Sousa, who also lost), Rafael Nadal made a different kind of good impression in his opening round match last night. Facing Borna Coric, the top teenager with maturity beyond his years, Nadal quelled talk of an upset with his best hardcourt performance of the year.
He dominated the first two sets with a bigger serve and aggressive groundstrokes. After the 2015 version of Rafa showed up to cost him the third (two double faults helped hand Coric the break at 4-5), Nadal righted the ship and overcame a strong effort from Coric, who showed he was more than ready for primetime, to advance. His next round against diminutive Argentine Diego Schwartzman figures to be a much more straightforward affair.
— In the intriguing matchup of young Americans, Coco Vandeweghe scored a slight upset over Sloane Stephens. Critics will look and notice another early loss at a major for Stephens without knowing this was an excusable loss. When Vandeweghe plays first-strike tennis, her power can be hard to beat. Sloane didn’t play bad, she just got outgunned by a dangerous floater in the draw.
— Finally, Mardy Fish scored an emotional victory in his return to New York, defeating Marco Cecchinato in four sets. It could be his final win (he plays Feliciano Lopez next), but even if the run ends here, Fish’s brief comeback from crippling anxiety is one of the very best sports stories of 2015.
Day Two Marquee Matches
Andy Murray (3) vs Nick Kyrgios
The slate isn’t as tasty as yesterday, but this night match is made for primetime (at least for the adult language, if nothing else). Some will be surprised that Kyrgios is unseeded, except his game has not matched his mouth lately. The combination of less-than-stellar fitness (he’s hyper-athletic, but not prepared for the rigors of grinding, baseline tennis) and undisciplined play sets him up poorly in matchups like this.
Something of a mentor to Kyrgios, Murray has defended him in his latest controversy, but that won’t help the young Aussie on the court. Murray has won all three matches they’ve played, including all eight sets. This one figures to be less competitive than the casual fan might imagine. Pick: Murray in 3
Richard Gasquet (12) vs Thanasi Kokkinakis
These two just had a fun match, won by Gasquet, in Cincinnati. Kokkinakis was clearly frustrated at times that he hadn’t capitalized on chances to take control, and he’s quickly received a shot at learning from his mistakes. The 19-year-old has shown a lot of promise as he plays in the shadow of his countryman Kyrgios, as well as Coric, who has risen up the ranks faster than Kokkinakis (a bigger player still growing into his frame).
Gasquet has a strong chance at the quarterfinals in New York to back up his semifinal at Wimbledon. While expectations often cause Gasquet to underachieve, he should have enough tricks in the bag to tame the youngster again. Pick: Gasquet in 4
Also in action: the top women (Halep, Kvitova, Wozniacki, Safarova, Muguruza, Kerber, Azarenka) should fare better than Monday’s seeds. Roger Federer, Wawrinka, Tomas Berdych, Lleyton Hewitt in his final U.S. Open, Americans John Isner and Jack Sock. Finally, a trio of promising prospects (Alexander Zverev, Andrey Rublev and American Frances Tiafoe) all face seeded veterans (Philipp Kohlschreiber, Kevin Anderson and Viktor Troicki).