Maria Sharapova claimed arguably one of the greatest wins of her career by beating World #2 Simona Halep 6-4 4-6 6-3 in an enthralling first round match at Arthur Ashe stadium, lasting two hours forty-two minutes. Sharapova was in inspiring form, with her return of serve putting Halep under pressure at every opportunity, and her gutsy groundstrokes forced Halep around the court, preventing her from really getting into a rhythm throughout large parts of the match. Sharapova’s often-inconsistent serve showed signs of being an achilles heel at times, but it delivered at key moments throughout the match. Halep, by contrast, waited until late until the second set to hit her first ace of the match. Nonetheless, Halep showed great character herself. At a set and 4-1 down, many wrote her off, but the Romanian showed what progress she has made in terms of her temperament, as well as her playing style, over this past year. She won five straight subsequent games to claim the set, and she showed signs of mounting another comeback in the third set at 2-4, but Sharapova was simply too strong on the night. The Russian was visibly emotional–almost as emotional as when she won this tournament 11 years ago–when she converted her match point, stating that both players had enormous amounts of respect for each other, and that the match felt like a quarter- or semi-final, as opposed to a first round match. For Sharapova and her fans, it was a night where she announced that she is once again a contender for Grand Slams, even after her 15-month ban.
Elsewhere at Flushing Meadows, the greatest shock came in the women’s draw where world #7 Johanna Konta lost in three sets to Serbia’s Aleksandra Krunić 6-4 3-6 6-4. Konta looked in good form initially, taking the first set and breaking Krunić early in the second. The Serbian then rallied, and displayed the sort of form that saw her go all the way to the quarterfinals at the US Open in 2014. With the lower half of the draw now wide open, Krunić has a great chance to match, or even improve on, her 2014 performance this year.
There were no further upsets in the women’s draw, with Donna Vekic, Petra Kvitova, Caroline Wozniacki, and Alize Cornet all winning their matches in straight sets.
In the men’s draw, the greatest surprise came with world #21 David Ferrer crashing out to Kazakhstan’s Mikhail Kukushkin in four sets 4-6 6-3 6-2 6-1. Ferrer had not lost a first round match at a Grand Slam for 12 years, and this latest defeat suggests that he might need to change things up a little bit, if he wants to avoid slumping further down in the rankings.
We were also treated to some marathon five-setters, the best of which were the Janko Tipsarevic vs Thanasi Kokkinakis match, the Mischa Zverev vs Thai-Son Kwiatkowski match, and the Jordan Thompson vs Jack Sock match. Tipsarevic showed incredible endurance and mental strength to battle back from two sets-to-love down to beat young star Kokkinakis, who appeared to tire and lose his focus as the match went on. The score line there stood at 6-7 3-6 6-1 7-6 6-3. Australia’s Jordan Thompson is also a player renowned for his physical prowess and speed, and he built further on his remarkable year so far by beating home favorite Jack Sock 6-2 7-6 1-6 5-7 6-4. Sock showed glimpses of what many would consider to be his true potential. He interspersed lovely drop shots with powerful groundstrokes, bringing the match back level after Thompson claimed the first two sets. Sadly, not even the watchful eye of four-time Grand Slam champion Jim Courier could prevent Sock from succumbing to Thompson in the fifth. One player who probably would have caught Courier’s eye, however, was Thai-Son Kwiatkowski. The American, who began his professional career this year, showed maturity beyond his years to fight back from a set down to go two sets-to-one up against the vastly more experienced Mischa Zverev. In the end, experience took its toll, as Zverev emerged the winner by a score of 7-6 4-6 4-6 7-5 6-3. Nevertheless, if this performance is anything to go by, then we can expect to see a lot more of Thai-Son Kwiatkowski in the near future.
Elsewhere on the men’s circuit, there were wins for Canadian starlet Denis Shapovalov, fan’s favourite Steve Johnson, Jo-Wilfired Tsonga, Benoit Paire, Borna Coric, and 2014 US Open champion Marin Cilic.
Overall, it was a mixture of upsets and convincing performances, a day of highs and lows, of certainty and unpredictability. With Federer and Nadal both due to begin their campaigns tomorrow, let’s hope we are treated to more of the same.
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