The fourth and final major of the 2014 tennis season is set to begin. The players are in New York; the draw has been set; and the fans are getting prepared to stream into the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. Bad Man Bureau will be with you from first ball to the final trophy presentation, giving you a preview of tennis matches you might want to watch and recaps of some of the action from the prior day’s events.
Day 3 Recap
A Quadrant of the Women’s Draw Self-Destructs. It started early on Louis Armstrong. After keeping it a close affair, Peng Shuai broke fourth-seeded Agnieszka Radwanska to go up 5-3 and serve for the first set. Other ladies were encountering difficulty at the same time. Sloane Stephens was trading breaks in the first set with Johanna Larsson of Sweden. 31-seed Kurumi Nara was on pace to drop the first set to the Swiss youngster Belinda Bencic, and 28-seed Roberta Vinci was getting outclassed by Irina-Camelia Begu. A couple hours later, the damage had been done. Radwanska crashed out in straight sets to the two-handed Chinesewoman. Sloane Stephens sprayed the ball too many times in a 5-7, 6-4, 6-2 loss. Belinda Bencic won in three sets against Nara. At this point, only five of the eight seeds remain: Angelique Kerber (seeded 6th), Jelena Jankovic (9), Lucie Safarova (14), Alize Cornet (22), and Roberta Vinci, who rallied to beat Begu. The quadrant isn’t wide open yet—Kerber, Jankovic, and Safarova have all had big success in majors—but usually when one sizable upset occurs in a part of the draw, it’s followed by more.
A Tale of Two Cramps. The two Americans on the men’s side, Ryan Harrison and Steve Johnson, who played today both were in first round encounters. Both of them lost their matches, and cramps played a part in both instances. Steve Johnson fell first on Wednesday afternoon against qualifier Tatsuma Ito, but he should have won this match. And he could have very well if his body hadn’t betrayed him. Up two sets to one, Steve Johnson began feeling debilitating cramps, causing him to fall to the court unable to stand or to move and take a medical timeout for treatment. After sacrificing games to get the treatment, Johnson attempted to get back out onto the court, but he was unable to move and eventually retired down 4-1 in the fourth set. For Ryan Harrison, it was cramps of a different kind. As we’ve come to see with Harrison, who’s nearly slipped out of the Top 200 at this point, it was a mental cramp. His use of certain tactics in high pressure moments killed him again against Grigor Dimitrov. Running around to hit forehands that placed him outside the doubles alley. Overhitting routine forehands. Failing to punish his opponent when he had the advantage. If Ryan wishes to turn his career around, he’ll need to avoid these kinds of lapses and misplaced tactics to get back into the winning column.
5 Matches to Watch
(16) Victoria Azarenka versus Christina McHale
First on Arthur Ashe Stadium, Day Session
Head-to-Head: Azarenka 1-1 McHale
Last Meeting: 2013 Doha Second Round, Azarenka defeats McHale 6-0, 6-0.
Christina McHale enjoys the US Open: the tennis center is only a short distance from her home, and she’s reached the third round twice, more than any other major. Now she gets to play on the main court against the defending US Open finalist. Azarenka clearly isn’t the same player she was last year at this time, and she needed to rally to avoid an upset in her first round match versus Misaki Doi. If Azarenka can bring her A-game—or if McHale can’t bring hers—this could get ugly fairly quickly. Since I’m not sure either can play phenomenal tennis consistently during a whole match right now, I’d expect a tight encounter.
Result: Azarenka in two sets.
(7) Timea Babos/Kristina Mladenovic versus Serena Williams/Venus Williams
Fourth on Grandstand
Last Meeting: First Meeting
Serena and Venus return to doubles action for the first time since the bizarre incident involving Serena at Wimbledon. They’re unseeded here, but that’s only because they don’t play doubles enough to maintain a ranking; they are one of the best teams in the world. It’s unlucky for Babos and Mladenovic, who have played enough and consistently well to earn a top ten seed at the US Open. They’ll try their best to keep their hopes alive, but I think the Williams sisters are out for a doubles title.
Result: Williams/Williams in three sets.
(28) Guillermo Garcia-Lopez versus Sam Querrey
First on Court 17
Head-to-Head: Garcia-Lopez 0-3 Querrey
Last Meeting: 2014 Winston-Salem Quarterfinals, Querrey defeats Garcia-Lopez 6-7(3), 6-2, 6-4.
These two met just a week ago in North Carolina; there, Sam got the better of Guillermo, but it was a very tight match. In fact, these two generally do play tight matches: all three of their matches on the ATP World Tour have been three-set affairs. When the matches are this tight, it generally comes down to a few points and who is more mentally prepared to deal with them. In each of their encounters, the answer has been Querrey. Even with the pressure of a big crowd behind him, Querrey might be able to answer the call again.
Result: Querrey in five sets.
(24) Samantha Stosur versus Kaia Kanepi
Third on Court 5
Head-to-Head: Stosur 1-1 Kanepi
Last Meeting: 2013 First Round, Stosur defeats Kanepi 6-3, 6-1.
Stosur had a pretty poor start to the 2014 season, but in the last few weeks, she’s started to turn it around; she pushed Serena Williams further than any other player in Cincinnati, and she collected some nice wins in New Haven before losing to eventual champion Petra Kvitova. She isn’t dealing with an easy opponent though; Kanepi has a tendency to go on runs at majors and is usually a decent bet to pull off an upset with her power game. Still, she’s not coming into Flushing Meadows with a ton of confidence or match play, and that might be her downfall.
Result: Stosur in three sets.
(8) Vasek Pospisil/Jack Sock versus Henri Kontinen/Jarkko Nieminen
First on Court 6
Last Meeting: First Meeting
The hottest doubles team in the last month or so, “Pop Sock” has won the doubles titles at Wimbledon and in Atlanta and then reached the finals of the Cincinnati Masters before the duo lost their first match. The biggest question here is the health of Jack Sock, who had to retire from his first round match down two sets to one with a calf injury. He may not be able to play at all, which would certainly disappoint fans, but even if he does play, how fit will he be? Knowing he’s injured, the Finnish duo of Kontinen and Nieminen—who won their first title as a duo on the clay this summer in Kitzbuhel, Austria—will be sure to target the American.
Result: Pospisil/Sock in three sets.