Americans Win in U.S. Open Opening Round
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Althea Gibson statue unveiled at U.S. Open opening day (YouTube screenshot)

Americans were fresh and happy as a sunny day at Flushing Meadows, and a sunny day it was for the U.S. Open’s first day. They earned places into the second round of the last Grand Slam of the year, with a record opening day crowd of 68,000, and a well-behaved one, too.

Reilly Opelka, who turns 22 today and moves faster than many men a foot shorter than his 6 feet 11 inches, responded to the shrewd and explosive game of Italy’s famously erratic Fabio Fognini, 10 years his senior, with nerve and power, coming through in four dominant sets to set up a match with German veteran Dominik Koepfer.

Teenager Jenson Brooksby impressed in his first-ever Open main draw match, beating the mighty Tomáš Berdych in what could be the beginning of a Cinderella run, though his next opponent will be the hard-hitting Georgian, Nikoloz Basilashvili, who with little Hungary’s Márton Fucsovics treated a capacity audience on Court 6 to a five-set nail-biter. Brooksby, a Californian who plays for Baylor, must decide on whether to turn pro or finish college, and as of now is not earning money on the Tour. For making the second round he would get a hundred thousand dollars.

There were disappointments, as Sam Querrey, Jack Sock, and Taylor Fritz fell short against foreign guests, always welcome in Queens, childhood home of our president and the most multilingual borough in the greatest, immigrant-built city in America, where every man and woman from anywhere in the world can strive to make a better life, so long as the mayor and the Bronx politicians desist from policies that undercut job and small-enterprise creation.

Indeed, new American Dennis Kudla, born in Kiev, Ukraine, and raised in Arlington, Virginia, stopped the classy Serb Janko Tipsarević in four sets, and will meet another one, Dušan Lajović, today, evidence that Slavic roots produce strong tennis fruit — which anyway defending champ Novak Djokovic demonstrated handily with a straight-set win over the attractive caballero from Granada, Roberto Carballés Baena.

On the subject of foreign guests to our shores, however, they are of course, a priori, no less welcome than striving, dreaming, freedom-seeking immigrants, and it has to be said the best match of the day was the one pitting a young man from Wroclaw whom Mr. Pleszczynski has been watching closely, Hubert Hurkacz, and the elegant musketeer Jérémy Chardy, who is from Pau and now lives in London, like many émigrés from French fiscal tyranny. They played a minor classic on Court 14 before a deeply appreciative audience that packed the bleachers and standing-room side spaces of this “backyard” court, always a place to find some of the fortnight’s best and least-reported matches.

Pole and Frenchman went the distance, trading baseline power plays and deft drop shots, gorgeously smooth volleys, notably Chardy, big beautifully placed serves. The match had it all, and it was a case of both men deserving the win.

The veteran, one of the cohort of “new musketeers” who at the turn of the century were expected to revive the glory days of the original cast headed by René Lacoste and Jean Borotra in the 1920s, is a perennial crowd favorite here for his good nature and handsome looks, and this time he may have drawn strength from the cheering section as he endured the lengthy match. The wisdom and experience of years, of which, at 32, he has 10 more than the rising star, may have played a part too, as he steadied himself after dropping the first set and losing a dramatic tiebreak in the third.

There were deserved cheers for Hurkacz as well, who has time ahead to make up the disappointment. His compatriot from Warsaw, Kamil Majchrzak, got past Chile’s main hope for the future, Nicolás Jarry, also in a lengthy match played on a court far away, which is the story of central Europe.

It is a fine start to a grand old tournament, greatest in the world when you think about it, and American girls — women is the term of choice now — kept their form and their cool, with the high-powered Madison Keys, fresh from a triumph at the Cincinnati Open, outhitting the popular past champion Svetlana Kuznetsova, whose reported visa problems — she is Russian — that kept her from the Washington Open a few weeks ago evidently were solved in time for this event, which she won in 2004.

Sofia Kenin, like Kudla an infant immigrant to our shores from the ex-Bloc, and thus like him a hunnert percent American, is off to a good start, as well, albeit at the expense of the well-beloved CoCo Vandeweghe, who will be competing in doubles alongside Bethanie Mattek-Sands. They open today against a team that includes Magda Linette, another player Mr. Pleszczynski has his eye on due to her being from Poznań, possibly a distant product of the Napoleonic wars. Only a few days ago she won the Bronx Open in a nerve-wracking third set tiebreak against the fierce Camila Giorgi, who as a matter of fact bombed out Monday, possibly still suffering from the frustration of that match. In tennis you have to learn to let it go and move on. The important thing, though, is that there is now big tennis in the Bronx, thanks to the new WTA-built and owned facility at the Cary Leeds Center for Tennis & Learning on Crotona Avenue.

The fabulous Williams sisters, Venus and Serena, outclassed their opponents, which admittedly is not news. Serena’s match, first up in the evening session, which is by tradition the kickoff of the tournament, complete with color guard including New York’s Finest and rendition of the national anthem, was frankly an embarrassment for her opponent, whom it would be unkind to name because you should not rub it in. Venus’s demolition was so one-sided you do not want to hear about it, except to know it shows that when you are good, you are good forever.

The USTA rather belatedly unveiled a statue to Althea Gibson, and it is perhaps a sign of our times they are so late in doing this, just as the big press has been extraordinarily late running any sort of material on one of America’s greatest athletes, while some small presses not named out of sheer decency have been remembering Miss Gibson and her extraordinary story for years.

Reporting must be fair and accurate but not nasty or mean, and until the next round, this is TAS Sports signing off and warning all to stay off the roads and out of the malls next weekend. Go watch a ball game, as I plan to do — the Mets play next door, except it looks like they will be in Washington, of all places. The Yankees, who look good to go all the way this year, will be opening a series against the Texas Rangers that might do it. I’ve been missing the Bronx.

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