By Mike McIntyre
No major surprises on day one at the U.S. Open but a few of the top players did unexpectedly get pushed to the limit in the sweltering late August heat in New York.
Despite my mounting frustrations with ESPN's choice of featured matches during the day session it was nice to see the McEnroe brothers combination seeming more comfortable commentating together then they did a year ago.
In women's action, Kim Clijsters defeated a nervous Greta Arn, 6-0, 7-5. Why ESPN chose to stay with that sleeper of a first set is beyond me, but at least Arn showed up in the second by taking the early break and forcing Clijsters to actually play some tennis to close it out.
That was followed by birthday boy Andy Roddick's routine demolition of late-bloomer Stephane Robert of France by a score of 6-3, 6-2, 6-2.The 28 year old Roddick has bounced back nicely from a mild case of mono with recent wins over Robin Soderling and Novak Djokovic in Cincinnati.
The match I really would have liked to have watched in its entirety was the battle between Daniela Hantuchova the 24th seed and former world number one Dinara Safina. Despite the fact that Safina had defeated the leggy-blonde in their last four matches, including a week ago in New Haven, Hantuchova was the more poised player on this day. She marched to a straight set victory 6-3, 6-4.
Safina is still fighting her way back into form following a back injury that forced her to miss most of the 2010 season. She has struggled since her return and is currently ranked 59th in the world. While the match against Hantuchova was a great first rounder from a fans perspective, it was a shame that Safina could not have started off against a more manageable opponent.
It was a good win for Hantuchova meanwhile as she is a player who could have a decent run here in New York in a year where the women's title is very much up for grabs.
In terms of American women, both Melanie Oudin and Venus Williams were successful on day one. I really enjoyed watching the highlights of a confident Oudin rolling over Olga Savchuck 6-3, 6-0. Oudin rose to such premature fame a year ago with her quarter-final appearance and has been burdened with unrealistic expectations ever since.
Those expectations were clearly defined for me in a recent article by Matthew Cronin where he felt that Oudin's issues stemmed from, "her lack of maturity and her inability to toughen up in the face of expectations."
I realize journalists are not supposed to be on the bandwagon for up-and-coming players, but to offer such a harsh and negative assessment of the youngest player in the top one hundred seems like overkill to me.
Give this eighteen year old a chance to deal with her first year of full-time play on the WTA Tour and allow her the time to blossom into the great player she could certainly become.
A real test awaits Oudin in the second round where she will face 29th seeded Alona Bondarenko.
Williams held on in her match after blowing an early first set lead to defeat Roberta Vinci 6-4, 6-1. It was the third seed's first competition since Wimbledon as she seeks her first U.S. Open title since 2001. If Venus had more match play under her belt this summer I'd have considered her the true favorite to win in New York, but I just don't feel like she is confident enough right now to challenge some of the top players.
On the men's side there were a couple of dandy five set matches on day one. Contender Robin Soderling blew a two-sets-to-none lead against qualifier Andreas Haider-Maurer before regrouping to win 7-5, 6-3, 6-7, 5-7, 6-4. The previously unknown Haider-Maurer brought a lethal serve with him and revealed the danger of playing a guy who had already endured three qualifying matches prior to the start of the main draw.
Exciting Frenchman Gael Monfils also had to overcome stiff competition in order to advance to the second round. He barely got by American Robby Kendrick by a score of 3-6, 6-3, 6-4, 6-7, 6-4. At 4-4, deuce, in the final set, Monfils had a controversial moment where he appeared to potentially make contact with the ball before it bounced just long of the baseline. Replays proved inconclusive but the chair umpire gave the key point to Monfils which for obvious reasons angered Kendrick. After the match Monfils admitted he was not sure whether he made contact with the ball or not before it bounced but that these things were a part of sports.
Roger Federer made his debut at night and easily dispatched of Argentina's Brian Dabul 6-1, 6-4, 6-2. Federer's performance was highlighted by a beautiful between the legs shot that landed in for a clear winner against a stunned Dabul. The world number two player lifted a finger to salute the appreciative crowd and brought back memories from his similar shot a year ago against Novak Djokovic. Regardless of which of those two shots were more impressive, the fact that Federer can seemingly concoct these shots at will is really something else.
Stay tuned on day two as Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, Maria Sharapova and number one seed Caroline Wozniacki all make their U.S. Open debuts.
If you're looking for potential upsets, I feel that fellow Serb, Victor Troicki could test Djokovic. Troicki is ranked inside the top-fifty and we all know how Djokovic feels about playing in the heat.
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