Two Must-see Matches Monday at U. S. Open

By Jane Voigt

August 28, 2016 — It’ll be a wonder if even the best of the best get past the first round of this U. S. Open. The quality of players is higher than ever and they’re all prepped to begin their fierce offensives at the final Grand Slam of the year. 

Here are the two must-see matches for Monday, August 29, day one at The Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. 

Men’s Singles

Novak Djokovic (No. 1 seed) versus Jerzy Janowicz — Top-seeded Djokovic begins his title defense against six-foot-eight Janowicz immediately following the opening ceremonies on Arthur Ashe Stadium, which begins at 7 p.m. The opening-night celebration will focus heavily on the newly completed roof, although it will remain closed even if the heavens sparkle with stars. The U.S.T.A. wants the eyes of world gazing upward to its $150 million accomplishment.

While fans settle down from the pageant, Djokovic and Janowicz will settle into their first meeting on any court. They both are in unique positions. Djokovic’s loss in the third round of Wimbledon coupled with his opening round loss to Juan Martin del Potro at the Rio Olympics and an injured left wrist might cause nervous play, at least initially. 

“At the moment I know there is a little room still for me to get better physically,” Djokovic said after the draw ceremony on Friday, tennisnow.com reported. “Hopefully that’s going to be the case next couple days. Then when the tournament starts, all the doors are open.”

If Janowicz’s name seems unfamiliar think back to the 2012 Paris Masters in late October. As a qualifier he beat three top 20 and two top 10 players on his way to his first ATP tour final, where he eventually lost to David Ferrer. Janowicz was 21 and had become the first qualifier to reach a Masters 1000 final since 2007 and the first player to reach a Masters 1000 final in his debut at this level, just a step away from Grand Slam status. 

Janowicz’s career since has seen more downward movement than progress. He’s ranked No. 228 now and entered in the draw on a protected ranking. Although he played in Rio, losing in the first round against Gilles Muller, left knee and lower back problems kept him off court from January to July, 2016. 

One weapon Sam Querrey, Djokovic’s slayer in Wimbledon, and Janowicz have in common is a giant serve. Djokovic could not read Querrey’s serve and, thus, threw off his timing and rhythm. Janowicz will attempt to do the same. In 2013, he reached his first Grand Slam semifinal at Wimbledon, losing in the third round to eventual champion Andy Murray. However the Pole wracked up 103 aces before his exit. 

This opener is Djokovic’s to lose. It is a test of his physical and mental recovery from crushing loses when all prospects for the year pointed to otherworldly results. No one would have bet against him first at Wimbledon and second in Rio, either. And there’s not enough reason to bet against him in his match against Janowicz. Djokovic has been in the number one spot for three years because he can put aside the past and step confidently to the future. 

Janowicz will throw the kitchen sink at Novak, but the occasion and Jerzey's inconsistent execution will be his downfall. Djokovic’s victory will only propel him to another nightmare match in the second round against Jiri Vesely of the Czech Republic. The six-foot-six lefty defeated Djokovic in their only meeting this year at the Monte Carlo Masters.  

Women’s Singles

Several intriguing match-ups dot the schedule on the women’s side for day one. Gold medalist Monica Puig — seeded for the first time at a Grand Slam at No. 32 — will meet Saisai Zheng. Puig’s gold-medal Olympic glory will have given her confidence, but with more attention on the Puerto Rican her concentration will be tested. American Qualifier Taylor Townsend meets former number-one Caroline Wozniacki, entering the Open unseeded for the first time since 2007. Currently ranked No. 51, but with a closet full of 23 career titles, the Dane has suffered multiple injuries over 18 months stalling any well-intentioned recovery. In comparison, she made the 2014 Open final where she lost to her friend Serena Williams. 

And speaking of Serena, she, too, will face a tough opener against gold-medal doubles winner, Ekaterina Makarova. Like Wozniacki, the Russian enters the Open unseeded, the first time since 2013. She defeated Serena in the fourth round of the Australian Open in 2012, but lost to the number-one American in the 2014 semifinal in New York. 

Makarova’s year, aside from the gold glory in Rio, has been a series of first-round fumbles and a two sprints to quarterfinals in Sydney and Miami. The slump began in 2015, following a year where she won the title in Pattaya City, Thailand, made the quarterfinals at Wimbledon and Eastbourne, and the semifinal in Washington D.C. 

Makarova’s asset is tied to her left handed play and the fact that she has defeated Williams. At 28, Makarova will have to be willing to move better than ever and spin serves in directions that throw-off right-handed players, like Williams. 

Serena, in her sixth year as the number one player in the world, will fight her opening-round jitters as usual. But she will also be testing her health after losing in Rio for the first time at any Olympics due, in part, to a bad right shoulder. She initially had agreed to play Cincinnati, but pulled out a day before it started citing the same injury. 

Her U. S. Open will be about breaking the tie of 22 Grand Slam singles titles held alongside Steffi Graf. It was a year ago that Serena was on course to win her 22nd, when she was derailed by Roberta Vinci in the semifinal. Williams never captured her confidence until Wimbledon, this summer, when she defeated Angelique Kerber to tie Graf. That victory cleared the air and her mind about her ability to raise her career to the heights tennis expected. Mentally, she’s tougher than any other player in the field. 

Other popcorn matches for Monday, August 29:

  • American Jack Sock (No. 26) versus the highest ranking teen and American in top 100: Taylor Fritz
  • Milos Raonic (No. 5) versus Dustin Brown
  • Johanna Konta (No. 31) versus Wildcard American Bethanie Mattek-Sands
  • American Samantha Crawford in her first Open main draw versus Belinda Bencic (No.  24)
© Jane Voigt Tennis 2013