Round one continues on Day 2 of the 2011 US Open, as both the men’s and women’s top seeds, Novak Djokovic and Caroline Wozniacki, as well as men’s defending champion, Rafael Nadal and three-time US Open champ Serena Williams all see action. Those four headline a host of top talents, including Roland Garros champion Li Na, 2004 US Open champion Svetlana Kuznetsova, 2010 Roland Garros champion Francesca Schiavone, Aussie Open semifinalist David Ferrer, Wimbledon semifinalist Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and perennial Flushing fan favorite James Blake. It’s a lineup that promises a Day 2 that’s second-to-none.
Djokovic has been the game’s hottest player throughout 2011, posting a staggering 57-2 record coming into this event—a record that includes nine singles titles. The 24-year-old Serb won both the Australian Open and Wimbledon this year, and last year’s US Open runner-up seems in perfect position to complete a major hat trick here, which would make him just the sixth man in the Open era to win three Slams in the same year. The No. 1 player in the men’s game owns a 26-6 career record at the US Open and is playing here as the top seed for the first time in his career. Djokovic’s only Achilles heel might be in his achy shoulder, which forced him to retire in the final of Cincinnati two weeks ago. But he has proclaimed the joint “100 percent healthy,” which is 100 percent bad news for everyone else. The first recipient of said bad tidings figures to be Ireland ’s Conor Niland, a 29-year-old who qualified here for only his second career main-draw Slam appearance. So much for the luck of the Irish. In three, Djokovic moves on.
Women’s No. 1 seed Wozniacki has won six titles this year, including her fourth consecutive crown at the Olympus US Open Series stop in New Haven last week. That win sent the 21-year-old from Denmark into Flushing Meadows on a high note—which I’m pretty sure I’ve said in each of the last three years. Maintaining that lofty level of play over two weeks, however, has been a challenge for the Great Dane. Thirteen of Wozniacki’s 18 titles have come on cement, but her runner-up finish here in 2009 was her best US Open finish. This is the fifth consecutive Slam that Wozniacki has played as the No. 1 seed, but she’s not yet been able to capture a major title. She’ll open her quest for her first against Spain’s Nuria Llagostera Vives, who has been ranked as high as No. 5 in the world in doubles. Still, the 31-year-old Spaniard has never won a single singles match here in six tries, and her 2011 singles record of 3-7 would suggest that this probably won’t be her breakthrough year. In two, the top seed moves on.
No. 2 seed Nadal, who completed a career Grand Slam by winning here last year, won his 10th Slam title at Roland Garros in June and reached the final at Wimbledon a month later. But the 25-year-old Spaniard has had a less-than-sizzling summer after burning his hand on a hot plate, losing in the second round at Toronto and the quarters of Cincinnati. Nadal has won three tournament titles this year and is no longer a question mark on the cement of Flushing; the only question is whether he will have the stuff to string seven matches together after a spotty summer. The first figures to be relatively easy, as he takes on 24-year-old Andrey Golubev of Kazakhstan. Golubev was named the ATP’s Most Improved Player of 2010, winning his first and only career title on clay in Hamburg. But in four tries, Golubev has won one match here at the US Open. Even with a burnt hand, Nadal would figure to have the upper hand. The defending champ is through in three.
The last time we saw Williams here was in 2009, when her foot got her into trouble. After that, the three-time US Open champ had trouble with her foot, so she has played what might generously be called a limited schedule over the last couple of years. For most players, that would be a problem, but of course, the former No. 1 is not most players. In five events this year, Williams has won two titles, including the Olympus US Open Series events in Stanford and Toronto, making her the women’s winner of the Series Bonus Challenge. As Series champ, Williams will earn a cool $1 million bonus if she can take her fourth US Open title—and who would bet against her? When she’s on, she’s untouchable, especially on these hard courts, where she can punish her opponents with a lethal power game that none can match. Her opponent this evening is 19-year-old Serbian Bojana Jovanovski, who’s making just her second career US Open main-draw appearance. The Serb’s best 2011 showing was a semifinal finish at January’s Sydney event. After tonight, you’ll still be able to say that. It’s Williams in an easy two.