Former champions Rafael Nadal and Serena Williams came into the 2011 US Open with limited preparation and a desire to reprise their previous successes in Flushing Meadows, but they went about their opening-round victories in vastly different fashion.
Rafael Nadal, the defending champion and No. 2 seed, entered the year’s final slam facing serious questions, after a season in which he’d surrendered the top ranking and almost all of his aura of invincibility.
Not among those questions, however, was whether the hard-nosed Spaniard contests every point in a match.
That we know all too well. And Nadal confirmed it in his first-round match on Arthur Ashe Stadium.
No matter how Nadal is playing, or in which round, or against whom, he seems to play every point as though it is the match’s most critical. Facing Andrey Golubev, a 98th-ranked Kazakhstani sputtering through a miserable year, Nadal uncharacteristically found himself with his back against the wall throughout the match. More predictably, Nadal continually dug in and fought his way out of deep holes to win a most improbable straight-sets, nearly three-hour match, 6-3, 7-6, 7-5.
“It's normal [to] start with doubts, with more nervous,” said Nadal. “You have to find your confidence.”
In the second set, Nadal survived seven set points, including five on Golubev’s serve (Nadal even came back from a 0-40 deficit when the Kazakhstani was serving for the set). As he had all match, Golubev continued to step into the court, cutting off Nadal’s sharp angles, and pound heavy balls deep to the corners. Although Golubev repeatedly was just a stroke from taking the set, Nadal refused to relent, fighting his way to a tiebreak and a two-sets-to-none advantage.
Though at one point earlier this year Golubev was riding an abysmal 17-match losing streak, he had a surfeit of chances against the 10-time Grand Slam winner. And not just those seven set points he surrendered in the middle set: Golubev was up a break in the first set, and incredibly he held a two-break lead in the third. Despite 59 winners and all those leads against a tentative Nadal, Golubev succeeded only in keeping the Mallorcan on court much longer than anticipated (and Serena Williams waiting in the locker room).
Said Nadal: “It's a positive start winning in straight sets, even if was unbelievable that I won straight sets.”
Serena is not accustomed to playing the late-night match on Ashe, and she seemed in no mood to emulate Nadal’s extended encounter. She raced to a 56-minute victory, soundly defeating a tight and inexperienced 19-year-old, Bojana Jovanovski of Serbia, 6-1, 6-1.
Serena hasn’t played much tennis in 2011, but in winning her two warm-up appearances leading up to the Open, she seemed to resoundingly answer any doubts about her preparation or ability to return and dominate a depleted WTA Tour. Though seeded just No. 28 after a lingering series of injuries and mishaps that kept her on the sidelines, she is the player to beat.
Playing on Arthur Ashe Stadium for the first time since her dismissal (and notorious foot-fault tirade) in a semifinal against Kim Clijsters in 2009, a stoic and serious Williams played a very clean match, striking 22 winners and just 10 unforced errors to move convincingly on to the second round.
- Serena is now 45-0 in first round matches at Grand Slams
- Nadal hit just 18 winners compared to 41 for Golubev.
- The Spainard made only 16 unforced errors while his opponent littered the court with 59.
|Andrey Golubev KAZ||3||61||5|
|Rafael Nadal ESP (2)||6||77||7|