The walkway arriving at the US Open from the New York Transit Authority (subway) and the Long Island Rail Road was overflowing with tennis fans at about 11 a.m. on Monday morning.
There was much excitement as the final Grand Slam of the season got underway with the retractable roof finally functioning on Arthur Ashe Stadium, a new 8,000 plus seat Grandstand arena opening and rearranged and enlarged passageways around the site adding to the enjoyment of visitors.
From the Canadian point of view there was good news later in the day as both Milos Raonic and Vasek Pospisil won their opening-round matches on a sunny, hot but not oppressive Monday.
Raonic overcame serving problems in the first set to outplay the whirling dervish tennis of Dustin “Dreddy” Brown 7-5, 6-3, 6-4 while Vasek Pospisil earned a more straightforward victory, downing lucky loser Jozef Kovalik of Slovakia 6-1, 6-3, 6-3.
Making just 36 per cent of first serves in the first set, Raonic looked out of sync and unable to find the rhythm that usually allows him to be so dominant on serve. That noted, he still managed to break first to lead 3-1 in the opening set but gave the break back immediately – not helped by a double fault when he led 40-30 and looked like he was about to take a 4-1 lead.
Brown got the break back with a typically innovative and unorthodox shot when he lifted a sort of flip, one-handed backhand lob over Raonic for a winner on game point.
But what goes around comes around and it did for Brown as he wound up losing the set trailing 6-5 when another lob try drifted wide and Raonic had the one-set lead after 38 minutes.
There wasn’t much chance the funky German in the long dreadlocks was about to come back against a solid Top 10 player like Raonic. That idea was reinforced when Raonic broke serve – on a Brown double fault – to lead 3-1 in the second set.
From that point on there were the expected flourishes from Brown – flat-out bullets from the baseline, crazy-cut drop shots (above), behind-the-back flails and casually hoisted lobs. They all delighted the crowd in Court 17 but by the end he was pretty well reduced to a Harlem Globetrotter-like performer against the superior, more solid tennis of Raonic.
While Raonic suggested it was unfair to call him a Harlem Globetrotter-type performer, he did say about facing the 31-year-old Brown, “from that aspect, you don’t know what you’re going to expect. The match is going through many different stages and you just sort of have to stay on top of it. I did that for certain bits, then I didn’t. The thing I always did was I rebounded quite well. So, I’m happy with that.”
He acknowledged the difficulty he had with the serve, noting, “it got better and better but it’s definitely something I’m going to put some time into tomorrow (Tuesday). I know it’s something I can get on track very quickly, but it’s definitely not where I would like it to be to start the match.”
Next for Raonic will be old rival Ryan Harrison, a man he has been playing since their last couple of years in the juniors. Harrison, who is 24 and now ranked No. 120, qualified – as did his 22-year-old old brother Christian – and on Monday defeated No. 54-ranked Adrian Mannarino 6-4, 7-6(5), 6-3 to reach the second round of the US Open for only the third time (2010 and 2012) in nine tries – he has never gone further.
He and Raonic have a head-to-head of 1-1 – Raonic winning in San Jose in 2012 and Harrison getting a win at Indian Wells the previous year when Raonic was a little burnt out after breaking through at the Australian Open and then playing three Davis Cup matches in Mexico the week before travelling to California.
“I know the things he liked to do back then,” Raonic said about Harrison. “Obviously things have changed on both sides of the court – mine and his. So I’ll definitely do some research and maybe try to watch the match he played yesterday, maybe have a few words with other players that have played him over a recent period of time.”
Raonic will not be discussing Harrison with John McEnroe, who helped him out during the grass-court season including Wimbledon and practiced with him just last week in New York.
It appears the objectivity of McEnroe’s television commentary would have been compromised if he had continued with Raonic. “At the end of the day,” Raonic said about the split, “it’s a decision we’re both okay with. We spoke about it, were up front and there’s no ill feelings over it.” He added that he was not precluding working with McEnroe again in the future.
Raonic’s girlfriend, model Danielle Knudson, originally from Red Deer, Alberta, wore a Superman type T-shirt with an “M” in the middle instead of the usual “S” courtside on Monday evening. She can be seen lower right in the picture above.
Asked about the T-shirt and where people might get it during his post-match on-court interview, Raonic replied, “you’ll have to ask over there in my box. They’ll have the answer.”
There was plenty for Pospisil to be pleased about after his match, beginning with the fact that it only took him an hour and 36 minutes to dispatch the No. 126-ranked Kovalik.
He broke in the 23-year-old’s first service game and then proceeded to break him four more times in the match while having to only defend one break point (successfully) on his own serve.
For a player who had lost in the first round at four of his last five tournaments dating back to Wimbledon, the victory was a huge boost.
“I felt like I played a great match,” Pospisil said. “More than the win it was like I found my identity and found myself again on the court – just playing with great energy and fighting for every point. I just had the right mentality.
“I was lacking that pretty much most of this year. I just kind of found myself on the court again today and I was most pleased with that. I think I would have been pleased with that even if I had lost. It was a very positive match for me from that standpoint.”
While the temperature was about 32 degrees, it didn’t bother Pospisil who had terrible cramping issues in a first-round loss to Andreas Haider-Maurer of Austria in last year’s first round. “I’ve never had issues with heat,” Pospisil said. It’s more the humidity that bothers him.
With there being some issues with the surface on Court 10, the old Grandstand – attached to Louis Armstrong Stadium – has been pressed into service and that’s where Pospisil and Kovalik played their match.
“I kind of owe a little bit of that positive energy on court to the crowd for sure – they gave me a little boost,” Pospisil said of the old Grandstand (now called P6/Old Grandstand) faithful. “But I came into the match focused and I knew from point one that what I wanted to do today is show that fight and be resilient and play point-by-point and I did it well.”
He continued, “I was myself. I’m a competitor and I hate losing. I love trying to find ways to win – and that just hadn’t been the case the last few months.”
Asked if there had been outside influences influencing his reinvigorated form, Pospisil, who split with longtime coach Fred Fontang earlier this month, said, “there’s outside factors that help with that for sure. I’ve had my brothers (Petr and Tom) with me these last couple of weeks and they’ve helped a lot. But mainly it’s been internal – it has to come from inside.”
Next for Pospisil will be No. 23 seed Kevin Anderson. The 6-foot-8 South African won their only previous meeting in Rome on clay in 2014 by a 7-5, 7-6(4) score.
“I don’t expect that to be an incredibly physical match,” Pospisil said referencing the possibility of hot and maybe humid weather. “He’s a big server, even if it’s a five-set match it’s not going to be a gruelling baseline kind of match so that’s good and I’ll take it from there.”
There has been speculation on who might be his next coach. In the picture above from the old Grandstand on Monday, Claudio Pistolesi of Italy can be seen in the second row in the red and blue cap. He has experience coaching Simone Bolelli of Italy, Robin Soderling of Sweden and Takao Suzuki of Japan and might possibly be a candidate.
On the right in the second row in the red sweatshirt is Canadian Davis Cup captain Martin Laurendeau. The 52-year-old Montrealer recently married his long-time partner Marie-Noelle. They had only been together for 15 years.
Genie Bouchard returns to the US Open on Tuesday with a first-round match against Katerina Siniakova of Czech Republic. She will play second match after an 11 a.m. (ET) start on the new Grandstand stadium.
It has been almost a year since she had a fateful fall in the locker room after her inspired win over Dominka Cibulkova in the third round, ending her 2015 US Open.
Asked on Sunday if she felt a sense of unfinished business coming into this year’s event, Bouchard answered, “for me it’s not a sense of unfinished business, it’s more…I don’t know…trying to put the past behind me. Being excited to be at a Grand Slam – one of our biggest events and just focusing on that really.”
Bouchard, now ranked No. 39, will play No. 72 Siniakova in what will be a first meeting between the two. Siniakova has not played since late July when she won two qualifying matches and made it all the way (six more matches) to the final on clay at the WTA International Series event in Bastad, Sweden. She lost the final to Laura Siegemund of Germany but defeated No. 25 Sara Errani and No. 82 Johanna Larsson along the way. In her last four tournaments, the 20-year-old has compiled a 12-4 record.
“Not much,” was Bouchard’s answer when asked what she knew about Siniakova. “I know her a bit from juniors but my coach will find out some things on her. She should be a really tough player to play but I’m going to try to bring it.”
Many Bouchard fans are perplexed by the fact that she has played very well at times this year but then has also performed poorly. Asked about that, she said, “that’s why the great players are so consistent, it’s one of their greatest achievements. People like Novak or Roger having these amazing records, being so consistently there. It’s very, very difficult obviously to do and that’s why I think they’re regarded as some of the greats. For me, I feel like I’m working as hard as I can in practice, I’m trying to do all the right things – some times in the match it works out and sometimes it’s not quite there. I think it’s part of the process. I think if I keep pushing, keep pushing I feel I’ll break through and start the power to get that consistency – how to bring it out every match.”
Her coach Nick Saviano was asked the same question about her in-and-out play of late. “She’s put together some of the best tennis I’ve ever seen her play over the last three or four months,” Saviano said about Bouchard. “In particular matches – she played a great match against (Johanna) Konta, she played a great match against (Irina-Camelia) Begu in Eastbourne, Konta at Wimbledon – (Lucie) Safarova in Montreal and then (Dominika) Cibulkova…and she played a great match first round at the Olympics, beating Sloane Stephens 3 and 2. So her game is coming along and she just has to get everything together where she’s sustaining that more and more. But it’s a process and she’ll get there.”
Saviano spoke about Bouchard coming back to the US Open after the terrible accident that ended her 2015 tournament in singles, doubles and mixed doubles. “I wasn’t working with her at the time,” Saviano said, “but it certainly was a traumatic experience for her and it had some devastating effects, certainly in the shorter term. It took a long time for her to get over that. She’s looking to be real positive coming here. She’s hitting the ball well so our focus is on high-energy, positive thoughts.”
Canada will play Chile in Halifax from September 16-18 in the Davis Cup World Group Play-offs. The goal is to win and protect its place in the elite World Group for a sixth consecutive year.
Judging by the US Open – on a similar hard court surface to what will be used in Halifax at the Scotiabank Centre – the Chileans have not established much of a presence. The only player in the qualifying, No. 172-ranked Gonzalo Lama, was beaten 6-2, 6-1 in the first round by recent National Bank Challenger in Granby runner-up Sekou Bangoura of the U.S.
The 23-year-old Lama played singles in the Chile’s Americas Zone Group I second-round Davis Cup win over Colombia from July 15-17 at home in Iquique. The other singles player was Nicolas Jarry, 20 and ranked No. 498.
There are no Chileans in the men’s doubles draw at the US Open but Jarry and Hans Podipnik-Castillo had a good win in the July tie against Colombia – upsetting the well-established pair of Juan Sebastian Cabal and Robert Farah (seeded 13th at the US Open) by a 6-4, 2-6, 6-2, 6-7(4), 7-6(5) score. Two years ago, Cabal and Farah surprised many by beating Daniel Nestor and Vasek Pospisil in straight sets in the Davis Cup World Group Play-off also held in Halifax.
This is a slightly different twist in tournament T-shirts – but it does come at a price.