This is the first of the review posts from my trip to New York with my brother and work pal to watch the 2016 US Open. I’ll be recapping my three days at the tennis with some of my best photos before rounding out with a comprehensive guide which will hopefully be useful for anyone planning to attend the US Open in the future. Read on for my experiences of day 1…
Not much beats the buzz of attending a Slam for the first time and it’s safe to say excitement levels were sky high on day 1. We’d actually visited the grounds on Sunday which was great because it gave us the lie of the land so we roughly knew where everything was. It was also free on Sunday and not very busy so ideal to get a feel for the place. The first half of my first day at the French Open was spent wandering around like a headless chicken trying to work out where everything was! This time I knew exactly where the practice courts were and that is where we headed after a five minute queue to get through security.
The main practice courts – of which there are five and seating platforms behind for fans to sit – were a hive of activity on day 1 with the likes of Serena Williams, Venus Williams, Rafael Nadal, Stan Wawrinka, Bernard Tomic and Viktor Troicki all present. Serena was on practice court number one which had a packed crowd so it was very tricky to get any pictures. We managed to get seats directly behind the middle practice court where Venus was practising – I was marvelling at her hair! Rafa soon came along and acknowledged the fans with a wave. Tomic and Troicki were going full on with a practice set.
The first day was set to be a scorcher and since I am a lightweight when it comes to the heat and humidity, we had already planned to start on a court with shade. The new Grandstand court was in operation for the first year so it seemed a fitting place to start. One half of the court was in shade and it was no surprise that these areas of the court were filling up fast. The first match, while an all unseeded affair, was enticing with two time US Open finalist, Caroline Wozniacki up against the American qualifier, Taylor Townsend.
Wozniacki made a typically solid start as she gained the first break to lead 3-1 with Townsend wasting a *0-40 lead on serve; the American was mistiming many of her strokes. Wozniacki had a game point to lead 4-1 but failed to take it as Townsend began to settle down. The 20-year-old has a wonderful game WHEN she’s keeping the ball in court. Her powerful forehand coupled with slices and an eagerness to come forward are a joy to watch.
Townsend reeled off four straight games as she took control in the first set to lead 5-3. While serving for the set at *5-4, Townsend botched an overhead on the first set point (see pics below)
Eventually some smart serving helped Townsend seal the set, 6-4. It was yet another example of where Wozniacki had failed to convert on a winning position in a set, a worryingly common occurrence in the last year or so. To her credit, the Dane came out firing at the start of the second set. She was much more aggressive and was able to close out the points as she raced into a 3-0 lead. Townsend was unable to recover the break after a brief lull at the start of the second set. Wozniacki won the second set, 6-3.
The crowd were really getting behind Townsend and there was one guy behind us who was yelling for Taylor. He was even cheering good shots in the middle of rallies! Townsend had a couple of gutsy holds; in particular, she won a huge point up at the net at *2-2 *30-15 where she held her ground remarkably well. However tactically, Townsend’s game is still a work in progress and that is probably being kind. She persisted with the drop shot which failed on multiple occasions. The American remained in contention though as Wozniacki repeatedly let her off the hook, missing returns on key points.
At 4-4 in the third set, Wozniacki finally made her move. After another killer pass, Wozniacki finally got a return in play on a break point and Townsend hit into the net again. Wozniacki became a little passive serving out the match but clawed herself across the finish line for a noteworthy win. The Dane didn’t drop her serve from 1-3 down in the first set, holding 11 consecutive service games. It was a fun match to open our US Open experience and we were on the big screen in the first set. I couldn’t get my camera out fast enough to snap it!
After a bite to eat, we headed over to Arthur Ashe stadium via a quick detour to court 13 where Naomi Osaka was playing CoCo Vandeweghe. I was gutted to miss Osaka during the grass court season (she was injured) so the Japanese player was near the top of my list of WTA players to watch at the US Open.
We stayed for a couple of games at the end of the second set and I can already tell I’m going to love watching Osaka for many years to come. Her game is thrilling to watch live with a calm, effortless power. Her facial expressions were hilarious! Vandeweghe was livid with the umpire for a call and this frustration seemed to stay with her as she double faulted away the set. Osaka would go onto win, 6-7(4) 6-3 6-4 in two hours and 25 minutes.
Now it was time to venture onto Arthur Ashe stadium for the first time. All four sessions that we bought were in the upper tier (cheap and cheerful!) so it took quite a number of escalators and stairs to get up there. Walking into the stadium for the first time is something that I will always remember – it was a breathtaking sight.
I was disappointed to miss Angelique Kerber’s match against Polona Hercog as the Slovenian player was forced to retire after just seven games. Therefore, our first Ashe match was Rafael Nadal v Denis Istomin. Nadal stormed through the opener but Istomin did mount a comeback in the second set, hitting some huge forehands. It took him a while to get going and it’s hardly a surprise because Ashe has to be the most intimidating tennis court to play on in the world.
Nadal though was pretty much on point in this match and showcased his forehand, whipping a handful of them down-the-line. The third set was a formality with Nadal winning, 6-1 6-4 6-2. The Spaniard delivered a trademark celebration, perhaps more extravagant than a regulation first round Slam win since he was forced to miss last year’s US Open due to a wrist injury. I like it at the end when the players hit balls into the crowd. Nadal really went for it and managed to get the ball to the back of the middle Loge section. Apparently Monfils managed to get it into the upper section!
As the Ashe session had now concluded, it was over to Louis Armstrong for the first time. Garbiñe Muguruza was into a third set against the 20-year-old Belgian, Elise Mertens. We headed to the closest entrance and found seats in the upper stand (in the shade!) closest to Ashe. It was a disappointing turn-out and the atmosphere was muted but it was my aim to see as many WTA players as possible and get lots of photos for the blog. Most of my photos are on grass so to get photos on hard court was huge, plus I hadn’t seen Garbi for a few years.
There were plenty of lengthy rallies and for the most part, it was Mertens who was dictating them. Muguruza had called the doctor after losing the first set so this may have explained why she wasn’t as positive as she normally is, opting to stay back and battle from baseline.
Muguruza won the games that counted at the end of the third set; she saved a break point at 3-3 and finally made the breakthrough in the next game, converting on her fourth break point. Muguruza sealed the win, 2-6 6-0 6-3 in sweltering conditions. She bent over at the end, more in relief than happiness. I did enjoy the on-court interviewer calling Muguruza, “Gabrine” at the end!
We went off for a sweep around the outside courts and saw the likes of Lesia Tsurenko, Irina-Camelia Begu, Kevin Anderson, Evgeniya Rodina and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in a flashy outfit as he headed off to his match court.
The next stop was back to Louis Armstrong for the all-American first rounder between Jack Sock v Taylor Fritz, which I hoped would have a better atmosphere than the preceding match. Unfortunately I couldn’t really get into it although there was a more substantial crowd. It was pretty quiet once again and perhaps this was because it was two Americans (who to cheer for?!) although Sock did get the louder crowd reaction at the start. Sock looked the better player but Fritz was the more emotionally invested. Sock won the first set, 7-6(3) and eventually went onto win in five sets, 7-6(3) 7-5 3-6 1-6 6-4 in three hours and 24 minutes.
I’d spotted the WTA hipster match of the day had just started so my next move was obvious! There are a handful of players that instantly create what I’d define as a WTA popcorn match and two of them convened in the first round… step forward, Barbora Strycova and Monica Niculescu. Both players have wonderful variety, not simply resorting to power hitting, but they are also known for their outpouring of emotions! As the sun began to set, I felt it was only fitting this would be my first night match at the US Open. It wasn’t busy on court 5 and I managed to get a seat in the stands behind the court. I loved these seats as you really get a sense of tactics.
The first seven games went with serve – it was Niculescu who made the breakthrough at 4-3 and successfully served out the set, 6-3. Niculescu was so solid and committed just seven unforced errors to Strycova’s 17. Strycova was keeping up to start with but her focus began to wane and the errors began to flow.
At the start of the second set, Strycova earnt a code violation for lobbing a ball out of the court. She got quite some trajectory on the ball as it went over the stands I was in and onto the neighbouring practice courts! Strycova played a bit better after the release of frustration. Niculescu’s level though remained high and she was passing Strycova for fun, sealing the first break of the set to go up *3-2 in the second set.
There was one magnificent point midway through the set which Strycova won – I was taking a picture at the time and was following Strycova through the viewfinder as she came forward, retreated, came forward again, retreated and eventually won the point at the baseline, sealed with a HUGE roar… it was my favourite picture of the day :-).
Niculescu served for the match at *5-4 but Strycova pulled out a terrific return game, breaking to 15 with a fabulous volley. The Czech player’s intensity was on the rise and her level improved dramatically to force a tiebreak. Errors started to creep into Niculescu’s game as Strycova convincingly won the second set tiebreak – she hit 25 winners in the set.
I moved down court side during the third set as the drama unfolded. Niculescu’s frustration was all too clear to see as after one point, she began to flap her arms wildly. I couldn’t even describe what she was doing but it was certainly entertaining. Niculescu was actually back to her first set level as Strycova struggled to maintain her level from the end of the second set. The Czech player looked fed up as she not only lost grip of her racquet but also on the match.
Niculescu didn’t suffer the same fate as in the second set, serving out the match to win, 6-3 6-7(3) 6-1. I was hoping we’d get a topsy-turvy dramatic third set but it wasn’t to be! The handshake was interesting… in fact it was an actual handshake!
Niculescu was understandably delighted at the end and it was the highest seeded upset from either draw on day 1. I noticed a lot of Tennis Twitter were watching this match and quite a few journalists turned up during the final two sets. The umpire, Alison Hughes was also watching for the first set. It was lovely to meet Laura (@lauramekiou on Twitter) after the match!
A punchy slice of WTA goodness to end the day… and what a first day it had been! I left on a real high having experienced my first match under the lights. I was super pumped for another packed day on Tuesday…