Wasn’t this U. S. Open supposed to be special, considering the monumental goal in front of Serena Williams? Guess everyone didn’t get the memo.
If you want to blame someone, might as well point your finger at the 2006 U.S. Open Champion Maria Sharapova. Yesterday she withdrew, citing a leg injury sustained in practice weeks ago. After a routine hit on Sunday, she knew she couldn’t risk further damage. She vacated her third-place seeding, which opened the draw for Lucky Loser Daria Kasatkna.
Gone was one possible semifinal scenario against Serena, and a fan-favorite match-up, before opening day.
Today, though, the women’s draw was hit even harder. If Serena wanted the waters to part she couldn’t have asked for anything more than these results, as the top half of the draw got underway.
By the late afternoon three additional top-ten competitors were ousted: Ana Ivanovic (No. 7), Karolina Pliskova (No. 8), and Carla Suarez Navarro (No. 10). In addition to those heavy-hitters went Jelena Jankovic (No. 21), 2004 U.S. Open Champion Svetlana Kuznetsova, and Sloane Stephens (No. 29).
With Sharapova out, Ivanovic was an ideal pick to push through to week two. Yet Dominika Cibulkova had other ideas. The 2014 Australian Open runner-up and 2015 quarterfinalist pinned Ivanovic to the baseline and carved precious seconds off returns. The match was so tight, Ivanovic ended up winning one more points than Cibulkova — 86 to 85.
The loss allows Cibulkova to free-swing for the remainder of the tournament. She lost in the opening round last year and has no points to defend. But for Ivanovic, her hopes of bettering a 2012 quarterfinal have to be put aside until next year.
Yet the biggest shock from today has to be the departure of 2014 runner-up Kei Nishikori. He lost in five grueling sets to unseeded Frenchman Benoit Paire, 6-4 3-6 4-6 7-6(6) 6-4.
Paire, best known for a huge serve, unorthodox style and sometimes cranky antics, told fans after his victory, “I am going to go out and have a good time with my friends now.”
You can be sure Nishikori, one of the hardest working men on tour, would not have said that had he advanced to round two. But all he can do now is move on.
“It’s always very sad to lose in the first round,” Nishikori said, the ATP reported. “But, I think he was playing good tennis. I don’t think I played badly. Didn’t play great, but still it’s never easy first match. I will try to think about the next one; and, I hope I can come back strong next year.”
The No. 41 ranked Paire missed months on tour last year due to a back injury. He began his comeback at The Australian Open, where he had to qualify because his ranking had slipped outside anything acceptable for a direct entry. He lost in his first match to Elias Ymer, the 19-year-old Swedish up-and-comer ranked No. 212.
By the end of July, Paire had improved so much he won the Swedish Open. He then made the quarterfinals in Hamburg. In Cincinnati he played a gusty match, with plenty of drop shots, against Novak Djokovic but lost. And then last week in Winston-Salem, Paire lost in the first round to another teenager, Hyeon Chung. of Korea. He was ranked No. 71.
Given that track record, Paire’s accurate go-for-broke style in the fifth set of today’s upset was anything but predictable. Nishikori, too, had his chances. He was up a break in the fourth set, but lost that advantage. Then in the tiebreak, he held two match points.
“I had match point and I kind of lost a little bit of my forehand,” Nishikori told the ATP.
Paire struck a 133 m.p.h. ace — his 21st of the day — to end the match.