By Jane Voigt
There’s something in the air, at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. It’s hard to pinpoint, yet we’ve seen carnage on both sides of the draw that could lead us to believe that this U.S. Open will be remembered as a turning point in the Golden Age of tennis.
First, Defending Champions Angelique Kerber and Stan Wawrinka are gone. Kerber lost in her opening round to teen Naomi Osaka. Wawrinka put himself on the disabled list weeks ago due to a pesky knee injury. The absence of both defending champions hasn’t been an issue for well over 10 years.
Second, by the end of day one the number-two seed, Simona Halep, was ousted by wildcard Maria Sharapova. The Russian hadn’t played a Grand Slam match in 18 months.
Third, one day after competition began, only Jamie Murray and Bruno Soares were poised to defend their 2016 men’s doubles title when considering the top five main events at this major: men’s and women’s singles; men’s and women’s doubles; and mixed doubles.
Fourth … With Andy Murray’s withdrawal on Saturday, 3 of the top 5 players were no where to be seen. His absence along with Novak Djokovic’s created a vacuum. And, so far, it’s sucked up and spit out a few we thought would’ve last at least until the second week.
But, day one proved differently. Out was David Ferrer, the 21st seed. The iconic Spaniard had been on a roll this summer, raising his profile. Some even thought he had a good chance to make the quarterfinals in New York. But the 35-year-old lost in his opening round against Qualifier Mikhail Kukushkin.
Other stalwarts who have lost are: Albert Ramos-Vinolas (No. 20); Robin Haase (No. 32); Jack Sock (No. 13); and #NextGen Russian, Karen Khachanov (No. 25).
Yesterday, Gilles Muller (No. 19), who slayed Rafael Nadal at Wimbledon lost in 4 sets to 33-year-old journeyman Paolo Lorenzi of Italy. Muller promptly obliterated a racquet. And after the sun set the fourth-seed, Alexander Zverev, the bright-light for teens-turned-twenty, lost to his former junior rival Borna Coric. The Croatian native had been nipping at the heels of his fellow competitors, but had been sidelined with a nagging neck injury. Interesting to know, though, Zverev had never beaten Coric. Yet, Zverev came into the Open with 5 titles, the same number as Roger Federer. The obvious projections applied, but didn’t pan out.
To top off the day, Jo-Wilfred Tsonga (No. 8) lost in straight sets to Canadian Denis Shapovalov. The 18-year-old exploded on the men’s tour in Montreal, where he roundly defeated Nadal. But last night on tennis’s biggest stage — Arthur Ashe Stadium — the lefty mega-phoned his arrival to over 20,000 fans inside the vast arena. This is his first U.S. Open.
The top half of the draw has suffered its losses of seeds, too. Interesting to note, two Americans — Taylor Fritz and Bjorn Fratangelo — will play their second-round matches today. Fritz, at 19, and Fratangelo have never progressed past the first round in New York. Today, they meet Dominic Thiem (No. 6) and Adrian Mannarino (No. 30), respectively.
The women have not been spared, either. With 2 rounds barely cooked, these seeds are also out: Caroline Wozniacki (No. 5 and 2-time finalist); Kerber (No. 6); Johanna Konta (No. 7); plus seeds 11, 14, 19, 21, 22, 24, 26, 28, 29, and 32. Eight women were poised to compete for the number-one ranking, on day one. Now … 4 remain: Karolina Pliskova (No. 1); Garbine Muguruza (No. 3); Elina Svitolina (No. 4); and Venus Williams (No. 9).
To conclude this Open is open is obvious. But that all these twists and turns have happened this year is more than noteworthy, especially with no Serena Williams, no Murray, no Djokovic, no Wawrinka in action.
With Federer and Nadal on one side of the draw, only one of the Big Four can make the final, if that happens at all even while considering this quartet has won 45 of the last 50 men’s major singles title. Yet we have to be skeptical. The results demand that. There’s something in the air.
Perhaps that ‘something’ is time marching on. The Golden Age of Tennis cannot endure for decades. At some point those next-generation kids will take over. We’ll then lament the passing of Federer et al. But why live in the future? We can always hope that on September 10, the last day of this U.S. Open, Federer – at 36 – and Venus – at 37 – will be the champions and the number one players in the world.