The fortnight of celebrations in New York got off to a poignant start when James Blake sprang a surprise by declaring his intent to hang up his racket at the end of his run at the tournament. “The secret to humour,” said Aristotle, “is surprise.” Well you can be certain that the great philosopher wasn’t thinking of the men and women at the receiving end of some surprising results this past week at the 133rd US Open.
There isn’t a dearth of shocking results in a year when 10 women and 14 men, belied their seeding by dropping out before the round of 32. In this feature, we look at some of the exclamatory moments during the first week at Flushing Meadows.
1. Hewitt topples Del Potro
We live in strange times. It is no longer a real surprise that 31-year-old Tommy Robredo ousted a sluggish Roger Federer in straight sets. But when Lleyton Hewitt, six months older than the Swiss maestro, fought like a bloodhound to overcome Juan Martin Del Potro in a marquee second round match, the Arthur Ashe crowd leapt out of their seats time and again to applaud the heroics of the Aussie.
The injury torn veteran was down two sets to one before scripting his way back into the match to upset the 6th seeded Argentine. Well past 32, Hewitt is probably one of the reasons why Federer still believes he can string together the seven matches he needs to earn an 18th Grand Slam title. Of course, Tommy Haas would be the other man inspiring the embattled Swiss star. The 66th ranked Australian showed remarkable poise and determination to slug it past the powerful Del Potro 6-4, 5-7, 3-6, 7-6(2), 6-1 to pave the path for a run into the second week.
2. Duval stuns Stosur
Victoria Duval caused a sensational upset when she shocked Samantha Stosur 5-7, 6-4, 6-4 in a first round match last week. The 17-year-old migrant from Haiti reminded the Americans of another teenager who stole their hearts in 2009. Melanie Oudin was also the same age when she put together that rousing run to the quarterfinals, beating Elena Dementieva, Maria Sharapova and Nadia Petrova. Oudin was brought back to reality by a straight sets loss to Caroline Wozniacki.
Duval though was just not as successful or lucky. The 296th ranked American played a spirited match in the first round to overturn a one set deficit before turning the screws on for Stosur, a former US Open champion. Unfortunately, Duval could not match the guile and experience of Daniela Hantuchova in the second round.
3. Evans shocks Nishikori
Kei Nishikori has been making steady progress, consolidating his position in the top twenty and constantly knocking the doors at the top 10 of the world. The Japanese though ran into a red hot qualifier who forgot his own stature and the gravitas of the stage on which he was performing.
The 179th-ranked Brit outshone himself to score a sensational 6-4, 6-4, 6-2 upset over the 11th seeded Nishikori to register the first big shock of this edition of the US Open. Evans extended his unlikely run of success when he came away winner against the talented Aussie, Bernard Tomic in the next round. Evans defeated the 52nd ranked Aussie 1-6, 6-3, 7-6(4), 6-3 to reach the third round. Incidentally, Tomic lost in the second round for the third straight year.
Eventually, it took a four set effort from Tommy Robredo to defeat the resurgent Englishman. The 19th-seeded Spaniard scored a hard fought 7-6(6), 6-1, 4-6, 7-5 to set up a clash with Federer in the fourth round. Robredo surprised himself when he ousted the five time champion in straight sets on Monday.
4. Riske thrashes Kvitova
Alison Riske is not a name likely to cause any concerns, when her name appears across the draw sheet. After all she was mostly outside the top 100 and had never won a tour level match on a hard court. The 23-year-old American, who jumped to 81st in the rankings behind a 5-1 record since Wimbledon shocked everyone including herself by stringing it all the way into the Round of 16.
To be fair, Kvitova was down with fever just the day before the match. But even then, for Riske to win eight games in a row from 4-3 in the first set was indeed an incredulous result. Riske had won her first two matches – against Tsvetana Pironkova and Mona Barthel – in straight sets too. But the party ended when Daniela Hantuchova took down the fighting woman from Pittsburgh 6-3, 5-7, 6-2 to advance to the quarters.
5. Young guns misfire, suffer an early exit
Grigor Dimitrov, baby Federer for many, was expected to finally break out and forage deep into the second week. Instead the 25th-ranked Bulgarian suffered his third first round exit at the Open against the relatively unknown Joao Sousa 6-3, 3-6, 4-6, 7-5, 2-6.
Another talented but erratic young man, Ernests Gulbis emulated Dimitrov when he too succumbed in the first round. Andreas Haider-Maurer defeated the Latvian 3-6, 6-3, 1-6, 7-6(4), 6-4 to reach the second round. The 96th-ranked Austrian matched his best Grand Slam performances (Wimbledon & French Open) by reaching the second round of the US Open.
6. Italian running riot in New York
Camila Giorgi sprung into the limelight by defeating the former world No.1 Caroline Wozniacki. In the third round match against the Dane, the 136th-ranked Italian from Macerata produced a sensational come from behind performance to defeat Wozniacki. Giorgi scored a hard fought 4-6, 6-4, 6-3 victory to advance to the round of 16.
The qualifier was eventually dismissed by fellow Italian Roberta Vinci. The 10th-seeded woman was just too good on the day as she ran away to a one-sided 6-4, 6-2 victory to end the fairy tale run of Giorgi.
She ain’t Italian, but another qualifier who impressed was Julia Glushko. The Israeli won a couple of matches before going down to Hantuchova in a tight as nails third round match. The Slovakian had to battle hard and rally for a 3-6, 7-5, 7-6(4) victory over the spirited 128th-ranked player.
Incidentally, Hantuchova defeated three of the women featured here – Duval, Riske and Glushko to leave the quarter-final lineup with slightly more recognisable names. Now that the eager outsiders have made a mark in the first week, we can get back to enjoying some great tennis from the usual suspects.