Madison Keys Stuns Naomi Osaka in U.S. Open Comeback Classic

NEW YORK CITY — The old can-do-fight-back-never-surrender that makes America great was on display as the U.S. Open ended its first week. And going into Labor Day weekend the last great major tennis tournament of the year could boast of record attendance, no doubt due to the publicity the renovations receive (notably the retractable roof over Arthur Ashe Stadium), but also because it’s Queens and in Queens, as in America, everything is possible.

Madison Keys stunned Naomi Osaka despite a third set 1-5 deficit, winning points at desperate moments when the Japanese prodigy (her father is Hawaiian, in case it matters) served for the match.  The child stars — Osaka is 18, Keys 21 — are clearly two of the women’s tour’s future leaders. Miss Keys, in fact, already is ranked in the top 10 and often mentioned as a successor to Serena and Venus Williams, not that the two greats are showing signs of slowing down. Serena Williams, who beat Madison Keys in last year’s fourth round rather decisively, plays in top form, and Venus looks fine too.

Miss Keys next meets former number one but currently low-ranked and unseeded Caroline Wozniacki who, though Danish, has been having a remarkable comeback of her own. Well-liked among Big Apple audiences who appreciate the blonde bombshell’s participation in the New York City marathon, her close friendship with leading lady Serena Williams, and her well-spoken support for the city’s restaurant industry, she held off the treacherous slices of Romania’s Monica Niculescu.

On the men’s side, stunners cut both ways. Jack Sock overwhelmed the 2014 U.S. Open champion Marin Cilic in straight sets and scarcely ninety minutes. Playing to a vociferously partisan — and patriotic — crowd, Sock gave some payback to the Croatian victory over the U.S. in Davis Cup play a few weeks ago. Sock, who at 23 is seeded 26th, had no trouble with the Zagrebian’s big serves and powerful forehand, and can go into the next match, against France’s ninth-seeded Jo-Wilfred Tsonga, with confidence.

As it happens, it has been a bad couple days for Balkan power tennis. Teenager Jared Donaldson out slugged Serbia’s Viktor Troicki in a ferocious five-set baseline battle, good preparation for the serve machine Ivo Karlovic, who stopped Donald Young in straight sets in the second round.

Young and his partner Nicholas Monroe played a great match against Troicki and Dusan Lajovic in the second-round doubles.  American women did well in doubles too, notably Young’s young partner in the mixed draw, Taylor Townsend, who, teamed with Californian Asia Muhammad, crushed the more experienced favorites, Johanna Larsson and Kiki Bertens, who are from Denmark and Sweden and look rather alike, very blond, very pretty, very athletic.

However, Young and Townsend could not deal with the power of Croatian star Ivan Dodig and the Indian beauty Sania Mirza. There were superb points in the match, the last of the day on the Old Grandstand, which had been hosting doubles play all day Friday, but Miss Mirza’s steady baseline power and Dodig’s incomparable skill at the net prevented the Americans from getting a winning dynamic for more than a game or two at a time. They actually came back in the second set from 2-5 to 4-5 and for a moment seemed to have the other side on the defensive, but Dodig stepped on the pedal on his serve in the tenth game and closed out the match with a shot to Young’s backhand.

Advance consolation had been obtained by the from-behind win of Rajeev Ram (America’s silver medalist at the Rio Olympics in this event alongside Venus Williams) and Coco Vandeweghe, who fought back in the “super-tiebreak” (the ten-point tiebreak that now replaces the third set in mixed doubles) to overtake Anastasia Rodionova and Juan Sebastian Cabal. They meet next the formidable team of Leander Paes and Martina Hingis, last year’s winners.

On the other side, America’s leading men put up honorable but losing fights on Arthur Ashe Stadium. Steve Johnson was knocked out in straight sets by a formidable Juan-Martin Del Potro, the 2009 winner who is one of the most admired players on the Tour, coming back from years of what could have been career-ending surgeries and having a magnificent season, with a silver medal in singles at the Rio Olympics that required beating Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal before succumbing to Andy Murray.

Johnson could not do anything against the sweeping deep power of Del Potro’s forehand and his steady big serves.

John Isner did rather better against Kyle Edmund, but finally was broken down by Englishman’s steel and grit. Disappointing, too, but deserved, was the end of Ryan Harrison’s fine week in the men’s draw, with a four-set loss to another great come-back artist, Marcos Baghdatis. The Cypriot’s breathtaking running down of impossible balls that he fires back down the line won the gasps and applause of the packed crowd on Court 17, despite a strong bias for the Louisianan.

It’s a wide-open Open. It always is, but this one has the added wild cards of a missing Roger Federer, who dropped out of the Tour for the year to rehabilitate a knee. Wimbledon and Olympic champ Andy Murray is playing as well as ever. Rafa Nada had a great week, appeared completely fit, but has yet to meet top-ten players. Top seed Novak Djokovic, for his part, has yet to meet practically any players, as his last two opponents dropped out, one before the match and the other three games into it. Fear? Fatigue? We probably will never know, but since the world number one is himself reported to be less than 100 percent (with a wrist injury in particular), there is some speculation about the coming week.

It is as pointless as the speculation about Serena Williams, who reported a sore shoulder a few weeks ago. At the moment, it’s working, and as tennis players say, the moment is where you focus. With attendance yesterday at 65,286, a record, the fans and managers of the U.S. Open, too, seem to know what they want to look at.


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