A Return to Sanity

US Open, First Round

Two days of the 2013 US Open are now complete, with the usual result that the first round remains incomplete and everyone is already anxious about the weather. To these outcomes I suppose we can add that Ernests Gulbis has contrived to disappoint everyone, Sam Stosur has once again provided an opportunity for someone else to achieve the finest win of their career, and the tournament has somehow managed to wrong Andy Murray, to the Scot’s apparent indifference and the vociferous outrage of the British tabloids. Nishikori USO 2013 -1It’s something to do with scheduling, I think. This would certainly make sense: scheduling is not a task at which the US Open excels.

The requirement to fit seven rounds of tennis into a fourteen day tournament has famously proved to be an insoluble mathematical problem for US Open organisers, who’ve now decided that the only realistic solution was to add an extra day at the end. The reasoning, apparently, is that it has been years since the men’s final wasn’t played on the third Monday anyway, so why not simply make it official? The reasonable response is that the inclement weather that wrecks an already rickety schedule each year can just as easily delay a Monday final as a Sunday one. If nothing else, it is further proof that anything can come to seem worthy of preservation once it has persisted for long enough. Some suggested that it would be a shame to see the US Open revert to a Sunday final. But Monday finals aren’t something to be protected. They’re ridiculous.

By providing the illusion of an extra day, this masterstroke really ensures that the tournament won’t be forced to abandon any of its cherished follies, most notably Super Saturday – alliterative titles are sacrosanct – and having the opening round conducted over three days. I cannot see the appeal in spreading the first round out this way, unless you simply cannot wait for the commencement of the doubles. The French Open works a similar trick, although it adds the extra day on the front of the schedule, and being clay isn’t undone by drizzle. Why is this so hard to get right? Is it really just television?

Wimbledon almost gets it right, and the Centre Court roof helps, but that anachronistic rest-day on the middle Sunday can cramp the second week if there’s any weather about. For all that Wimbledon’s second Monday is putatively the finest day of tennis on the annual calendar – all fourth round matches are played – it can prove commensurately disappointing if it’s rained out, as it mostly was last year. It certainly isn’t national pride that leads me to assert that the Australian Open is the only Major that actually gets its schedule right. To the contention that the presence of two coverable showcourts makes scheduling a breeze, one can only respond that the capacity to successfully divide fourteen by seven doesn’t hinge on being insulated from the elements.

Anyway, on to the actual tennis. I suggested a few days ago that David Ferrer’s quarter of the draw was, generously, a golden opportunity for any man fortunate enough to reside within it. I mentioned Dimitry Tursonov specifically, if somewhat whimsically, and was thus more than a little pleased when he won his opening match, finishing in style over Aljaz Bedene. On the other hand, I did not mention Andreas Haider-Maurer or Maximo Gonzalez at all, which was remiss of me, since they went on to beat Gulbis and Jerzy Janowicz respectively. Indeed, it was a bad day in general for Polish men’s tennis, which only recently learned what a good day feels like. In addition to Janowicz, who was clearly injured, both Lucasz Kubot and Michal Przysiezny lost. Fernando Verdasco, apparently in sympathy with Polish fortunes, has produced a similar arc, following up his magnificent Wimbledon performance with a first round exit in New York. It was a particularly painful five set loss to Ivan Dodig, though I didn’t find it especially surprising. The same went for Nicolas Almagro’s loss to Denis Istomin. One hesitates even to term these results upsets. Marinko Matosevic lost his eleventh straight first round at a Major. I’m not sure what to term that, either.

The youngsters in general have fared poorly, providing rocket fuel to those who derive satisfaction in forecasting imminent doom for the sport. Grigor Dimitrov fell before the noted hardcourt leviathan Joao Sousa, while the most startling upset came early when eleventh seed Kei Nishikori fell in very straight sets to Dan Evans, who, admittedly, is younger than his opponent. He was also excellent. Ryan Harrison lost to Rafael Nadal, as ever following up a sound thrashing by providing earnest and comprehensive analysis of a radically different match from the one we’d all just watched. World number one junior Nick Kyrgios acquitted himself reasonably well against Ferrer, although even in his reduced state the world number four remains an impenetrable barrier for newcomers. Still, it’s hard to imagine Kyrgios won’t become a significant figure in years to come, although it pains me to think that the cringe-inducing ‘#NKRising’ hashtag he insists on using will gain legitimacy from being correct.

Meanwhile the highest seeds proved utterly untroubled. Nadal, as mentioned, beat Harrison very soundly. Some of it was spectacular – especially that running forehand semi-overhead pass early on – but none of it was close. Ferrer ran around a lot, and dared Kyrgios to hit more winners than errors. Tomas Berdych looked ominous in seeing off Paolo Lorenzi, although Lorenzi’s assigned task seems to be to help top seeds look fearsome in early rounds. Grega Zemlja provided a similar service to Roger Federer. IBM’s ineffable Slamtracker suggested that Zmelja’s ace count would be a decisive factor, but failed to mention double-faults or passing shots, of which he executed too many and too few. Federer was rampant in the forecourt.

As ever at Grand Slam level, the commentary is a smorgasbord, although thus far it was one I’ve partaken of only sparingly. Where possible I’ve stayed with British Eurosport, who’ve done themselves a great service by hiring Jason Goodall. They were as ever fine during play, but really surpassed themselves when at one point they cut to Mats Wilander and Barbara Schett but apparently failed to supply the hosts with working microphones. I briefly flirted with American commentary, incarnated by Al Trautwig – accomplished as the network guy with the deep voice and limited insight – and Luke Jensen, who was frankly painful. When Jensen wasn’t rehearsing platitudes (‘I’ve always thought of Djokovic’s backhand as a dangerous shot’), he was compounding inaccuracies by delivering them with wearying assertiveness. A return to Eurosport ensured a welcome return to sanity. ‘I have a feeling we’re going to see a massacre here,’ conceded Chris Wilkinson, as Novak Djokovic broke Ricardas Berankis for a second time. So it proved.

Edited to fix some errors regarding Wimbledon’s second Monday. Thanks to those who pointed them out!

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