By Jane Voigt
Day one of the 2014 U.S. Open and nerves are at attention.
Simona Halep, the second seed and Roland Garros finalist, struggled in her 3-set win over NCAA champion and University of Virginia graduate, Danielle Rose Collins, 67(2) 61 62.
“Today was, you know, a big challenge for me because I played the first match of this tournament on center court,” Halep told the press. “I started a little bit nervous, but it’s normal.”
Mikhail Youzhny (No. 21) wasn’t as lucky as Halep. He didn’t make his way to the second round. The Russian lost 75 76(4) 26 76(1) to Nick Kyrgios, the Australian teen that ended Rafael Nadal’s run in the fourth round of Wimbledon last month.
Kyrgios’ victory today wasn’t a huge upset, but nonetheless demonstrates a brutal aspect of a draw this size. Luck is not always with you. And danger lurks at every round.
Here are a few of those lurking unseeded and dangerous in the men’s singles draw this year:
Gilles Muller — The six-feet-four-inch Luxembourg native wrecked havoc on Andy Roddick in the first night session of the 2005 U. S. Open. Roddick was riding a wave of promotional magic with American Express … “Have you seen Andy’s Mojo?” The credit card company backed Roddick because he’d made the quarterfinals for four consecutive years. Muller, though, didn’t give a hoot about mojo, or an American playing on Arthur Ashe at night on opening day. Out went Andy and the money American Express had riding on their guy.
In 2008, and ranked No. 131, Muller played three rounds of qualification then went on to defeat Tommy Haas, Nicolas Almagro and Nikolay Davydenko — then number five in the world — in the main draw before Roger Federer stopped the big server in the quarterfinals.
Muller hasn’t stepped foot on the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center since 2012. Still ranked outside the top fifty at No. 68, Muller plays Paul-Henri Mathieu this afternoon. If Muller wins, he will probably see Novak Djokovic across the net in a couple days.
Jack Sock — The American has had a hot year plus a hot summer on the American hard-courts. It would have been better if Canadian Milos Raonic (No. 5) didn’t show up so often across the net from the Nebraska native. Sock has lost to Raonic four times this year, and back-to-back first at Citi Open in Washington D.C. then at Rogers Cup in Toronto. Any other time Sock has lost, he’s also faced tall, big-serving opponents: John Isner, Ivo Karlovic, and Nick Kyrgios. Unfortunately for Jack, Raonic lurks in his quarter again. If they both advance, they would meet in the fourth round. Sock has never gone beyond the third round in New York, but one can never eliminate the home-crowd advantage. Plus, the incentive to knock out Raonic would carry some weight.
Jerzy Janowicz and Bernard Tomic — Seeded No. 15 in 2013, Janowicz blew out in the first round of that Open. He has tumbled in the rankings since and currently sits at No. 43. He was the runner-up at the Winston-Salem Open last week, and is an explosive, unpredictable player. His commitment to effort on court depends on mood and willingness, not a formula for consistency. If he gets on a roll, though, the Pole could damage lots of dreams.
Bernard Tomic, one of this year’s wildcard entries, cruised to the 4th round Wimbledon in 2013, the 3rd round of the Australian Open in 2013, the 4th round of the Australian Open in 2012, plus the quarterfinals of Wimbledon in 2011. He has been labeled the next big player to come out of a country rich in tennis tradition, Australia. However, the air came out of his tires last fall when problems with his hips forced him to undergo surgery. Since his return early this year, Tomic lost to Juan Martin del Potro in the finals of Sydney in January, and won his only title of the year in Bogota, Columbia, on a hard court against six-foot-ten Ivo Karlovic.
Tomic, like all the players here, has the skills to upset top seeded players. If he can get past the first round, he will probably face No. 4 seed David Ferrer, a challenge for any man and a steep mountain to climb for someone like Tomic. However, it is not impossible.