By Mark Preston
Round one concludes and round two commences Wednesday on Day 3 of the 2011 US Open, as a stellar cast of tennis’ top talents take to the courts of the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. Former US Open champs Venus Williams, Maria Sharapova, Andy Roddick and Juan Martin Del Potro headline the day’s play, which also features Andy Murray, Vera Zvonareva, John Isner and Christina McHale in starring roles.
Williams, unseeded here for the first time since her US Open debut in 1997, was efficient, if not electrifying, in her first-round win over Russia’s Vesna Dolonts. That’s hardly surprising, considering this is only her fourth tournament of the year, and that the 31-year-old missed the entire summer hard-court season. But in winning her 60th career US Open match, Williams showed she still can dig deep when need be, converting on three of five break opportunities to pull out the win. Even without a number next to her name, no opponent is anxious to see the two-time US Open champ on the other side of the net. Today, that view belongs to No. 22 seed Sabine Lisicki, who has won two titles this year and reached the semis of Wimbledon—her best-ever Grand Slam showing. This should be a good test for Williams, as the two women have split a pair of career meetings. This goes three; Williams goes on.
Sharapova, champion here in 2006, was less-than-spectacular in her first-round match, dropping the first set to Heather Watson before rallying for a three-set win. The No. 3 seed made 58 unforced errors and was broken five times in that match, so she’s going to have to sharpen up considerably if she’s considering slicing deep in this draw. Tonight, she can start honing her edge against 24-year-old Anastasia Yakimova of Belarus, whose appearance here in round two marks her best-ever US Open showing. Yakimova did take a set off Sharapova in their only career meeting—a first-round Sharapova win at the 2009 French Open—but on this surface and in this place, the former champ should be too tough to trump. It’s Sharapova in two.
Playing here this year as the No. 21 seed—his lowest seeding since his first US Open appearance in 2000—Roddick, who turned 29 yesterday, has had a decidedly indifferent 2011 campaign. The 2003 US Open champ has won just one title while compiling a 24-11 match record, including a fourth-round finish at the Aussie Open and a third-round loss at Wimbledon. He did, however, reach the semis of last week’s Winston-Salem event, which gave him some much-needed match play entering the Flushing fortnight. Roddick opens up against fellow American Michael Russell, a scrappy veteran who has ranked as high as No. 60 in the world, but who has yet to win a match here in six tries. This ought to be a good opportunity for Roddick to cement his hard-court feet and work his way into a Slam state of mind. Expect the first set to be tight, then expect Roddick to let loose. In three, Roddick advances.
No. 4 seed Murray seems forever on the verge of a major breakthrough, but despite remarkable talent, the 2008 US Open runner-up has remarkably never been able to string seven matches together at a Slam. Murray comes here fresh off a win at the Olympus US Open Series event in Cincinnati, where he beat both Mardy Fish and Novak Djokovic, and he’s absolutely at home on the hard floor of Ashe. But “potential greatness” is one of sport’s most obvious oxymorons, and Murray—one of tennis’ most tenacious competitors—has surely had his fill of runner-up trophies. He’ll get a good early test against India’s No. 1 player, 26-year-old Somdev Devvarman, who won back-to-back NCAA singles titles while at the University of Virginia, beating Isner in the collegiate final in 2007. Devvarman is not in Murray’s class, but he’ll hustle, get a lot of balls back and make the No. 4 seed work hard for points. In an entertaining three, Murray moves on.
The 19-year-old New Jersey native McHale is enjoying a career-high ranking of No. 55 on the heels of a career year in which she’s recorded victories over some of the game’s biggest names, including Daniela Hantuchova, Caroline Wozniacki and former US Open champ Svetlana Kuznetsova (twice). At just 5-foot-5, McHale plays a big game and has an equally large heart, and she’ll need both today against No. 8 seed Marion Bartoli of France. Bartoli, who this year reached the semis at Roland Garros and the quarters at Wimbledon—knocking out Serena Williams en route—is a major talent, but as McHale has shown, you need to bring more than your name when you’re facing her. I like McHale’s grit and I like her game, so I like her chances here. In three, the American plants a seed.