I learned on NPR today that scientists are great at predicting the paths of hurricanes, but still have problems gauging how intense they’ll be when they hit. Which helps explain how, despite some scary pre-Irene predictions, the US Open was basically business-as-usual on opening day. The news story also made me think of Roger Federer, and the way his on-court intensity can fluctuate from gale force to spring breeze, as unpredictable as any anthropomorphized storm.
So was Monday night’s weather report from Arthur Ashe Stadium, where Roger experienced some turbulence along the way to an easy, breezy 6-4, 6-3, 6-2 first round win over Santiago Giraldo. He let a 5-1, double break lead blow away like so much dandelion fuzz in the first set and struggled to maintain a lead in the second, as well. Fed was 39% for break point conversions (7 or 18) while his sometime practice patner, Giraldo, went 3 for 4. That’s all fine and dandy vs. first round fodder like Giraldo, but what happens when he puts up these kind of numbers against, say, Novak Djokovic?
Phew. Let’s take a deep breath and count our blessings, Roger style (via USOpen.org):
“I enjoyed it a lot. I’m happy the US Open is up and running,” Federer said in an on court interview afterwards. “I don’t think I’ve ever played my best in the first round but it’s important to come through them and come up with a good feeling.”
Another thing to feel good about: Roger’s victory on Monday night ties him with Andre Agassi for second-most match wins at the Majors. He and Andre have won 224 matches, second only to Jimmy Connors who has 233 to his name. I think we’ve found yet another all-time record Roger’s destined to break. Not even a weather man could mess up that prediction.
Photo: Getty Images via Daylife
The biggest upset of Day One must be Wimbledon champ Petra Kvitova’s straight-set upset to unseeded Alexandra Dulgheru, 6-7 (3), 6-3. Some are already lumping her with the likes of slamless No. 1s Caroline Wozniacki, Jelena Jankovic and Dinara Safina, but I think that’s patently unfair to all involved. But like those quote-unquote “disappointments”, Petra does admit that tennis’s biggest accomplishment ends with a killer hangover:
“When I won Wimbledon I felt a sort of pressure, of course,” Kvitova said on Monday (via ESPN). “Yeah, maybe it’s a little bit of this.”
“Everything [is in] the head. If you are thinking on the court negatively, it’s bad.”
I really hope someone – her coach, a parent, a friend – gives her a hug and says “Relax! You won Wimbledon this summer!”
Venus Williams just can’t relax, and it’s apparently this anxiety we have to thank for seeing her back on court on Monday night. After her straight sets win over Dolonts, she told reporters that she’s spent most of the summer recovering from an unnamed, “energy sucking” virus and playing mind games with herself during half-assed practice sessions:.
“I was able to stay on the court only because my anxiety was high if I didn’t play,” she said (via Tennis.com). “I was able to hit balls, but it wasn’t like a real practice. In fact, my mind wasn’t there. Let me try to make it to X number of times. I had to get ready fast. I couldn’t do a lot, but I stayed on the court. I would bargain with say, and myself Okay, you’ll be happy when your serve is great. So I had a basket of serves. I would be like, Okay, this is going to pay off for you, and so it has.”
16-year-old American Madison Keys, who says she started playing tennis after coveting a dress she saw Venus wearing on TV, won the first Major match of her young career today over veteran Jill Craybas. (Reporters actually asked Madison who was older, Jill or her mother.) Countrywoman Christina McHale, 19-years-old, took out Canadian Aleksandra Wozniak in three sets. No. 1 American Mardy Fish looked sharp in his first round, beating Tobias Kamke 6-2, 6-2, 6-1.
Here’s Fish on being top dog (sorry, can’t help it!):
Q. Have you ever felt expectations were higher of you in your career?
MARDY FISH: No. Yeah, I think it’s probably pretty easy to say this is one of the biggest tournaments I’ve ever played, you know, just coming in where I’ve come into it. I’ve never come into a Grand Slam ranked higher. I think I was 9 at the French and Wimbledon, so, you know, this is the best position I’ve ever come in. This is the biggest tournament in that regard. I think it’s fair to say. I know that for a fact. It’s not adding pressure or anything like that. It’s just this was always gonna be a big tournament for me. I think it’s fair to say it’s probably the biggest tournament I’ve ever played to this point, for sure, minus, you know, Davis Cup and things like that, just a regular tournament.
Q. It’s a challenge for you then to channel that into…
MARDY FISH: I don’t think so, no. I don’t think so. I’m well aware of the situation. You know, I’m gonna enjoy it for sure, no doubt.
Serena Williams, who plays her first round match on Tuesday vs. Serb Bojana Jovanovski, but she’ll probably suffer more heat off the court after this doozy of a pre-tournament quote (via USOpen.org):
Q. What do you remember most from the way your last US Open ended? What carried forward for you, do you think, in the public perception from that controversial episode?
SERENA WILLIAMS: You mean in the singles or doubles?
SERENA WILLIAMS: Okay, because I don’t know. I just remember I lost, and that was that. I got really popular. A lot of people were telling me they thought I was super cool, that they’d never saw me so intense.
So, yeah, it was awesome.
Q. Did you learn anything from that episode? If so, what did you learn?
SERENA WILLIAMS: Um, I don’t know. I don’t think about it. Are you still thinking about it? Oh, my God, that was like two years ago. This is like two years later.
Fine, go ahead and crucify her if you wish. But I’d rather take this quote to heart(via USA Today, in a great article on the Serena Subject):
“My thing is, I’m never going to cheat,” she says. “I’m never going to be unsportsmanlike. I’m gonna beat you — straight, fair, in your face. I don’t have to go around the block. I don’t have to, like, go underhand. I’m gonna beat you, I’m gonna beat you. That’s it, and there’s no way around it.”
Tuesday also sees tournament favorite and world No. 1 Novak Djokovic in action. He told reporters on Monday that the “trivaly” isn’t over (via USOpen.org):
Q. You have the sensation that what happened this year, Roger and Rafa fighting for No. 1 and 2 are definitely over, or do you see a situation maybe in 2012 where they can fight again for 1 and 2 and you be the No. 3 in the world?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: I don’t think it’s over. Look, you know, both of them, they’re playing incredible tennis still. You know, even though maybe Roger didn’t have the year as successful as he had in last five, six years, I still think he’s playing really well. He’s I’m sure very much motivated to come back to the No. 1 of the world. From all of us, he knows the best how it is to win the major events because he’s record holder. He has 16 Grand Slams, has a fantastic career, and so I’m sure he wants to come back there. And Rafa is he’s, you know, unbelievable player that is very complete that can perform equally well on all surfaces. He has proven that. We have played in five finals this year. I mean, I got the edge on all these matches, but, you know, that doesn’t mean that I will win every single next match that we play in. The fact is that they have been the two most dominant players in the world. Even though I’m still No. 1, they are most the best two most successful players that there are active in today’s tennis.
Novak gets Conor Niland of Ireland on Tuesday afternoon, Nadal has Andrey Golubev in the first night session match. Serena will be the finale.