In the first week of the U.S. Open, many names have made highlights for some reason or other. It is impossible to talk about the first week without thinking and mentioning Andy Roddick’s retirement, obviously, as he has marked tennis in his own unique way for a little over a decade.
Of course, there was also Novak Djokovic making his way through week two losing only 14 games, Roger Federer cruising as well on his way to the round-of-16, and Andy Murray’s struggles with the heat.
However, it is the performance of the younger players that has impressed me the most during the first week, starting with the Cinderella doubles team of Ryan Harrison and his younger brother Christian.
Rocking the doubles field
In as Wild Cards for the doubles event, the Harrison brothers, 20 and 18 respectively, have surprised everyone when they defeated the n° 4 seeds, Mariusz Fyrstenberg and Marcin Matkowski, in three sets, and then went on to defeat Israeli veteran team of Jonathan Erlich and Andy Ram in straight sets.
Today, Ryan and Christian Harrison continued their march by defeating Colin Fleming and Ross Hutchins, the n° 14 seeds, 6-3 6-4, to book their place in the quarter-finals, where they will face n° 9 seeds, Aisam-Ul-Haq Qureshi and Jean-Julien Rojer.
As singles players, the Harrison brothers have a lot of potential. Both are very talented, with a great game and lots of variety in their strokes. If Ryan is perceived as one of the best among the next generation of American players, it has been said that Christian, who has a game similar to his brother’s, is even more talented.
However, he has struggled with some injuries last season, which have slowed down his progress a little. We can expect to see even more of him in the future, of this I have no doubt.
The powerful Mr. Sock
Another youngster who has impressed a lot in Week 1 of the U.S. Open is another young American: 2011 mixed doubles champ Jack Sock.
The 19-year-old has been doing a lot of work with the Adidas team over the last few months, after having been sidelined due to an abdominal tear that required surgery just after Indian Wells.
In the first round, he benefitted from the retirement of Florian Mayer, although the Nebraska native was up two sets. Afterwards, he went on to defeat Italy’s Flavio Cipolla in straight sets, before taking on n° 11 seed Nicolás Almagro.
For three sets, Sock played toe to toe with the Spaniard, even taking a set from him, before the heat and his lack of fitness took their toll on his game, enabling Almagro to go through, 7-6(3) 6-7(4) 7-6(2) 6-1.
However, if he still needs to work on his backhand and court movement, Jack Sock’s powerful strokes and crafty play, especially at the net, impressed more than one during this match.
Although many worry that such powerful serve and forehand will, in the long run, cause damage to his shoulder and/or back, we have to keep in mind that he is only 19 years old and that he will learn to pace himself and to use his power and skill as time goes, as well as improve the lethargic aspects of his game.
Another one to follow.
The College star come pro
At 22, Steve Johnson made sure to complete his College education before turning pro, which he did this summer, after winning his second NCAA championship, when the USC student defeated Rhyne Williams in the singles finals.
Into the U.S. Open as with a wild card, which he won by accumulating the most points during Challenger events this summer, Johnson, a native of Orange, California, defeated countryman Rajeev Ram in the first round, before causing a semi-surprise when he had the better of Ernests Gulbis, 6-7(3) 7-6(5) 6-3 6-4.
Semi-surprise, as we know that Gulbis, of late, excels on the big stage against top names (for instance, Tomas Berdych in Wimbledon, Tommy Haas in New York), but has a history to fold when facing an opponent outside the top 100, usually in the following round (Jerzy Janowicz in Wimbledon, Johnson in New York).
This doesn’t take the merit away from Johnson, who played a great match, at the height of his talent.
In the third round, Johnson gave a nice battle, but lost in straight sets to Richard Gasquet, 6-7(4) 2-6 3-6.
However, we can be sure to see the Californian walk in the footsteps of former college players like John Isner. He sure has the potential to do it.
Return on the qualifiers
Last week, I dedicated a series of posts to the qualifications, focusing on the youngsters. Five of them made it to their first ever Grand Slam main draw, and one of them qualified for the first time, although he had played a main draw match at the U.S. Open as a Wild Card a couple of years ago.
Of those six players, of course, it’s Bradley Klahn who has impressed the most, taking out Jürgen Melzer in the first round, in a 3:34 marathon which ended 4-6 6-3 7-5 5-7 6-4 in favour of the American. In the second round, just like Steve Johnson did today, Klahn fought well but ended up defeated by Richard Gasquet, 6-3 6-3 6-1.
If most of the other youngsters, namely the five who qualified for a Grand Slam for the first time, ended up losing in a more or less expeditive fashion, two of them gave a good fight and made their first round quite competitive.
First of all, 25-year-old Maxime Authom lost a tight four-setter to Bjorn Phau, who ended up winning 6-2 4-6 6-4 7-6(5) to meet (and lose to) World n° 1 Roger Federer in the next round.
However, my beginner highlight goes to Argentine Guido Pella, who came really close against Nikolay Davydenko, being a double break up in the first set, ended up losing it, won the second, but still lost 5-7 6-3 4-6 2-6 to the Russian veteran. A very good fight from the 22-year-old nonetheless.
It will be interesting to follow all those young players next year and in the years to come, and see how they will evolve.