Wild Ride

Wild Ride: Reviewing US Open Week One

By Richard Pagliaro

Legacy lives outside Arthur Ashe Stadium—game-changing spirit is alive and thriving inside. 

The 2019 US Open began with Hall of Famer Billie Jean King helping the USTA unveil a sculpture of tennis trail blazer and 1957 champion Althea Gibson. 

The most impressive moment of week one had nothing to do with forehands and backhands—it was all about character and compassion. 

Reigning US Open champion Naomi Osaka outclassed 15-year-old American phenom Coco Gauff, 6-3, 6-0, in a blockbuster Saturday nightmatch. After conquering the wild card, Osaka showed class consoling her. 

Wrapping her arm around a tearful Gauff, Osaka insisted they share the stage and conduct the post-match interview together, prompting emotional water works from fans and players. 

“She was crying, she won. I was crying,” said Gauff, who’s still alive in doubles with partner Caty McNally. “Everybody was crying. But I think it was a good moment for both of us.”

That emotional exchange highlighted the humanity and humility of our sport—and engaged viewers across the nation. Nielsen reports Osaka’s win over Gauff drew an overnight 1.9 rating, the peak viewership of the tournament to date. 

Vision and volatility marked week one.

Three years after Stan Wawrinka stunned Novak Djokovic in the 2016 final, the Swiss strongman held a 6-4, 7-5, 2-1 lead in the fourth round when the world No. 1 pulled the plug due to a left shoulder injury he said put him in “constant pain” for weeks. 

Adding insult to injury, the top-seeded Serbian could hear the jeers from some fans in his earliest exit from Flushing Meadows in 13 years that snapped his streak of 11 straight US Open semifinals or better. 

Seven of the Top 10 women’s seeds—Ashleigh Barty, Karolina Pliskova, Simona Halep, Petra Kvitova, Kiki Bertens, Aryna Sabalenka and 2017 finalist Madison Keys—failed to reach the second week. 

In a first-round clash of former champions, Serena Williams stomped Maria Sharapova for the 19th straight time launching her quest to capture her 24th Grand Slam crown.  Serena sent a hush through Arthur Ashe Stadium rolling her right ankle in a fourth-round win over Petra Martic, but said afterward "so far I'm good." 

That injury bears watching for week two as does the progress of 19-year-old Canadian sensation Bianca Andreescu who backed up her Toronto title run with a trip to her first US Open fourth round.

 Reigning Roland Garros champion Barty’s bid to reclaim the world No. 1 ranking was diminished when tenacious Wang Qiang denied all nine break points bouncing Barty out in the fourth round, 6-2, 6-4, for her best career victory and first Grand Slam quarterfinal.  

Engaging revival stories have moved players and fans.   

Former junior world No. 1 Taylor Townsend, playing the throwback brand of shrewd serve-and-volley tennis that would make Althea Gibson smile, attacked net an astounding 106 times stunning Wimbledon winner Halep. The left-handed qualifier, who was ranked No. 304 four years ago, was one of four American women into the last 16.

American wild card Kristie Ahn, who grew up in Flushing Meadows within walking distance of the National Tennis Center, made her Grand Slam main-draw debut at the 2008 US Open.  Eleven years later, Ahn knocked off two-time Grand Slam champion Svetlana Kuznetsova en route to her first major fourth round and made Open Era history for the largest gap between Grand Slam main draw debut and first Grand Slam main draw match victory.

Initially, Roger Federer made ignominious history—the five-time champion dropped the opening set in his first two matches for the first time in his Grand Slam career—then the third-seeded Swiss downshifted into Darth Federer mode. 

A dynamic Federer permitted just nine games slashing through Dan Evans and David Goffin in succession soaring into his 56thcareer Grand Slam quarterfinal and a reunion with a resurgent Grigor Dimitrov, who charged into his first US Open quarterfinal in his ninth Flushing Meadows appearance.  

Second-seeded Rafael Nadal touched fans’ hearts rescuing a little boy who was overwhelmed and out of breath amid a sea of autograph seekers. 

When Rafa wasn’t busy rescuing fans, he was rousing them rampaging into the round of 16 for an 11th time where he’ll face 2014 champion Marin Cilic. It’s been an efficient effort for Nadal, who saved stress on his cranky knees playing just six sets thanks to a second-round walkover from Thanasi Kokkinakis.  

Nine years after claiming his first career US Open crown to complete the career Grand Slam, Nadal has a clear sightline to his fifth US Open final.

American men’s tennis was red, white and bruised by opening weekend. Only three U.S. men—14th-seeded John Isner, Tennys Sandgren and Denis Kudla—made it as far as round three and none of them went any further.  

 Djokovic’s departure paves the path for the first-ever Roger vs. Rafa US Open clash—if both can reach the final. 

If the blockbuster clash comes off, it would be the third successive Grand Slam meeting between the two iconic champions. 

And put legacy on the line as 18-time major champion Nadal aims to close the gap further on 20-time Grand Slam king Federer in the all-time major race.

Buckle up for what should be a thrill ride through an enthralling second week in New York.