Novak Djokovic won his first round match at the U.S. Open with a four-set match against Jerzy Janowicz, a tall (six-eight), brash, hot-tempered, big-server from Lodz, 25 years old. The top seed and world No. 1 showed good form and the injuries and “personal issues” of the summer used to explain the summer’s failure — losses at Wimbledon to American Sam Querrey and at Rio to Argentine Juan Martin Del Potro — were forgotten. Janowicz’s (bad knee) were rather brushed aside too, perhaps in order to dispel any ambiguities about the world No. 1’s win.
In the second round, Jiri Vesely pulled out just before his meeting with Djokovic, whom he had upset last spring in the second round of the Monte Carlo Masters, claiming his arm was shot and needed rest. Vesely is a big, healthy-looking 23-year old fresh-faced farm boy type from the Czech Republic, a former juniors No. 1, but with arms you never know. At any rate, in the next round, Djokovic met the veteran Russian Mikhail Youzhny, a very tough number (Russians tend to be that, when they are not despairing intellectuals who drink tea in glasses). He quit after six games, saying his leg hurt.
Djokovic played a full match against the rising British star Kyle Edmund in the fourth round, winning. Edmund, who was coming off a big upset of American John Isner, won seven games over three sets.
Cat’s paw for the Russians, seeking revenge for the banning of their ice queen over doping? Not to mention the banning of practically all their athletes at Rio? And for the revelations of massive cheating at Soshi? The world’s mad. Serbs are not Russian pawns; but it is a mad year on practically every front, and you get dizzy with this stuff.
In the second men’s quarter-finals match last night, Djokovic and Jo-Wilfred Tsonga played two great sets at Arthur Ashe Stadium, whose retractable roof had gone up in the afternoon as the rain started. Djokovic was fantastic with running cross court forehands and breathtaking passing shots, but he was up against one of France’s renewed musketeers.
The mousquetaires were a team of greats who dominated tennis in the late 1920s and went on to careers in haberdashery and anti-Nazi resistance during the German occupation of France in the ’40s. The “nouveaux” (dixit the French sports press) musketeers emerged in the early oughts, but were beaten back by Spaniards and Serbs, as well as a masterful Swiss. Now they have a 22-year-old d’Artagnan to round up the aging veterans such as Tsonga and renew the quest for gloire.
Tsonga could not meet his opponent for audacity and skill, which was curious because normally he is one of the most athletic performers on the Tour, but he was defending well with long shots and for a while it looked like it might be a ball game. At the end of the second set, however, he visibly slowed, lumbered to the net in an attempt to close points quickly – inviting passing shots –, and with the score 5-2 called a trainer. The trainer came, did his thing, the set was soon over, and two or three points into the next one, with the Frenchman on serve, he shook his head, signaled the ump, and hobbled off the court.
Serbian’s luck? Or bad luck? It gets to a point when not playing can be more risky. But Djokovic looks fit and set. He meets another musketeer in the semis, Gael Monfils, who was Tuesday’s star. In a French quarter, he beat the young d’Artagnan from the North, near Dunkirk, Lucas Pouille. The latter, for sure, was worn out by his brilliant victory over Rafa Nadal in the previous round, which inspired the new-new musketeer buzz. But Monfils played three sets so dazzling one had to believe the immensely talented star from Guadeloupe, who for ten years has been falling short of his promise, is on the verge of the breakthrough to winning a major.
In tennis you cannot speculate, backward or forward. Anything can happen, and usually does. A single point and you are out, out of the game and out of the match, a single match and you are out of the tournament. Nadal’s loss to Pouille in the fourth round is a case in point. A single flub in a fifth set tiebreak, after a fearless comeback against three match points, sealed the doom of that match for the great caballero.
American men thought this was going to be the turnaround year, but several big hopes were dashed by the end of the first week. Notwithstanding our guys are doing better than they have in many years, the sting hurts. The great doubles team of Mike and Bob Bryan got broken on their last service game of the third set (doubles are best of three) by the Lopez & Lopez Spanish combo (pals, not brothers or cousins.)
The twins seemed to be surging, maybe they were flummoxed by the rain delay at Louis Armstrong Stadium. It was the last match played on that hallowed ground until it is rebuilt with a retractable roof. Maybe while waiting under the drizzle, Bob and Mike – who are accomplished rock’n’roll musicians – got nostalgic about a place that was built as a music venue at the time of the historic New York World Fair, circa 1964 (full disclosure: better not trust me on this, but it was around then).
The Bryans personify the all-business attitude of professional sports, but they are whimsical and funny, good talkers, and surely they felt a twinge… a little distraction… Marc Lopez, who won doubles gold with Rafa Nadal at Rio a few weeks ago, was on serve when play resumed; Feliciano Lopez stood at the net at the knock-out position. They eschewed music and nostalgia, gave no quarter.
There is still Rajeev Ram, a fine American doubles player, who into the semis in mixed with Coco Vandeveghe, she of the bombastic style and bouncing, slightly abrasive personality, and cute as a beach bunny (big and strong though) and heiress to a great basketball family. Rajeev at 31 has gone from being a fine singles player, with a classic serve and volley game, to a highly competitive doubles star (silver in the mixed, with Venus Williams, at the recent Olympics).
As to the women – but that can wait. It would be politically incorrect, after all, to treat them as an afterthought. Which they most assuredly are not. The blonde cutie, Caroline Wozniacki, is having a wonderful run and indeed may run all the way to the final for a rematch with her best friend Serena Williams. She beat a Russo-Latvian named Anastasija Sevastova, who has eccentricities of a woman’s kind: unlike the men who drop out with sore arms and knees, she gets emotional. But she hung in this for a nice tournament, until meeting Danish retriever, as, if memory serves, the legendary sportswriter Bud Collins called Miss Wozniacki. Whatever the surprises, at Flushing Meadows, the sun is always up.
Or just over the rainbow.