We rewind the highs and lows of Friday at the US Open, when the third round began in the women’s draw and the second round ended in the men’s draw.
Defending champions: To the surprise of exactly nobody, Djokovic steamrolled another hapless opponent in unknown Brazilian Rogerio Dutra Silva. More than any of the other leading men, the defending champion can annihilate overmatched opponents on a hard court to an embarrassing extent, and he has lost just 17 games in 15 sets in the first week of the Australian and US Opens this year. Less resounding but equally encouraging was Stosur’s comfortable straight-sets victory over Lepchenko, her first seeded opponent of the tournament. The women’s defending champion rose to the occasion at 5-5 the first-set tiebreak with an aggressive forehand return, the type of shot that will discomfit more qualified opponents in the second week. So far, so good for a title defense that looked dubious at the outset, although an intriguing challenge awaits…
Robson: The only teenager to reach the second week, the former Wimbledon junior champion became the first British woman to survive until this stage at the US Open for more than two decades. And Robson has not glided through an upset-strewn section of the draw. Instead, she has carved her own path past two major champions in Clijsters and now Li, outplaying both on the most critical points in the type of tight match where one would expect experience to prevail. Those who saw Robson win that junior title at her home major four years ago likely sensed that this moment would arrive, but her breakthrough in an era when teenagers have struggled offers the WTA yet another fresh, charismatic face—and Great Britain another star on which to pin its desperate hopes, perhaps.
Sharapova: Like Djokovic, she has devastated first-week opponents at hard-court majors this year, losing no more than four games in any of those matches. Also like Djokovic, Sharapova did not surprise anyone in easily dispatching Stanford student Mallory Burdette, who had overachieved in reaching the third round. A few lulls crept into her game near the midpoint of the match, as they had in the first round, but in general she responded more sensibly to the difficult conditions than she did in years past. For just the second time since 2006, she reaches the second week at the US Open, strangely her least prolific major overall.
Bartoli: Considering the state in which her serve languished for most of the US Open Series, a second-week appearance at the year’s final major counts as a successful tournament. Bartoli also returned to the top 10 with her previous victory, benefiting from Wozniacki’s first-round loss.
Kvitova: Not a factor on North American hard courts until this summer, she now has compiled a 15-1 record on them during the month of August, including titles in Montreal and New Haven. Kvitova has reached the second week at every major this year, an uncharacteristic display of consistency, and she reached the second week here without dropping a set for the first time. To be sure, her route will grow much more complicated in the rounds ahead, but she lost just two games to fourth-round opponent Bartoli at the Rogers Cup. Momentum may mean more to her than it did to Cincinnati champion Li.
Steve Johnson: Among the most notable subplots of this week is the success of American college players of past and present. Joining Burdette in the third round is this current USC student, who manage to oust Gulbis in the wake of the latter’s impressive victory over Haas. While this result illustrates the mercurial tendencies of the Latvian, it also demonstrates the wildcard’s stamina in a best-of-five format, not used at the college level. If the United States will lack major singles champion on the men’s side after Roddick retires, it might not lack for entertaining or inspiring figures to follow.
Tipsarevic: An arduous five-setter in his opener behind him, the eighth seed eased past home hope Brian Baker in straight sets. Tipsarevic could wreak havoc in an especially soft draw around him if he can play his way into the tournament.
Roddick: A day after announcing his retirement, he provided his legions of New York fans with perhaps the final opportunity to celebrate him under the lights where he shone most brightly. One might have preferred a somewhat more convincing effort from his opponent, who failed to display all of his talents, but a victory for the former champion represented the appropriate and widely desired result for this particular evening.
Azarenka: Several hours before the match, we went on Twitter record as saying that the plucky Zheng would win at least three games from the world #1. Wrong. Azarenka surrendered just a solitary game to this creditable opponent, and she has reached the second week while dropping six games in all. In stark contrast to the Venus-Kerber epic from the previous night, the victory continued a pattern of staggeringly authoritative efforts by the top women on Ashe. While not scintillating to watch from a competitive perspective, these matches have demonstrated just how far the elite towers above the rest.
Del Potro: As he manages a concerning injury, a victory of any sort at the tournament that he won in such dramatic fashion three years ago should bolster his spirits. Not quite an elite contender from most perspectives, Del Potro looked highly convincing while surrendering just five games in an atmosphere of calm dominance during the first two sets against Harrison. Then he failed to deliver the coup de grace and temporarily allowed his overmatched opponent to claw his way into the match. Against a more capable foe, such a lapse could have proved more costly.
Harrison: Even though he departed in the second round of the US Open, sooner than this ambitious youngster would have preferred, he won a set from a top-10 player and Olympic medalist. After Del Potro had throttled him through the first two sets, Harrison resisted the impulse to surrender and battled back to turn the encounter from a rout into a respectable four-setter. He won’t win style points like these forever, but for now a creditable loss like this second-round encounter should content American fans.
Wawrinka: Although his turbulent five-set victory over Darcis featured plenty of unsightly moments and nervous shots from both players, the Swiss #2 will feel relieved to have advanced in such a tense thriller after losing a strikingly similar match to Donald Young here last year. At his best on clay, Wawrinka has reached the quarterfinals of the US Open before and found his best form of the year in Cincinnati this month, so he should fancy his chances of reaching the second week against an exhausted Dolgopolov.
Isner: Again losing a set to a virtually irrelevant veteran, he continues to make life in the first week of majors more difficult than necessary. Similarly extended affairs resulted in a premature exit from the Australian Open, and he may rue the loss of a second-set tiebreak in which he held three separate leads. But Isner did save break points boldly in the crucial third set and struck for the key break at the best possible moment, showing a keen sense of timing that recalled Sampras and other great servers.
Li: Despite her outstanding results over the summer, when she nearly completed a Canada-Cincinnati double, Li continues to underachieve at majors. She has not reached a quarterfinal at any of the six that she has played since winning Roland Garros last year, and her last three losses have come against players clearly below her level in Shvedova, Cirstea, and Robson. Rarely enjoying her previous visits to New York, Li may find the atmosphere there distracting or intimidating.
Baghdatis: Gifted chance after chance to force a fifth set against a player who looked as weary as he did, he twice failed to serve out the fourth set and then double-faulted away the match in a fourth-set tiebreak. In view of his evident talents on hard courts and widespread fan appeal, the fact that Baghdatis never has reached the third round of the US Open in eight appearances comes as a jolt but testifies to his inherent unreliability.