Nate Chura is senior tennis pro at the Heights Casino in Brooklyn and covers the U.S. Open for WNYC.
At 5-1, 40-15 in the third set, Aussie Samantha Stosur miss-hit a windy forehand return, but followed it up with a backhand winner down the line to punctuate her first-round win over Ukrainian Elena Vesnina. After dropping the first set, Stosur managed to take the second in a tie-breaker and turn the tables on the #64th ranked player in the world. In the end, Stosur—this year’s French Open runner-up—advanced to the second-round of the U.S. Open, 3-6, 7-6, 6-1.
“To get through a first round at a tournament where you've never done that great is always a bit of a relief,” she confessed in her post-match press conference.
Throughout the first set and a half, Stosur was overwhelmed by the powerful serve of Vesnina, who was averaging speeds 10-15 mph faster than Stosur—even second serves. Another telling stat, as always, is the number of break points won. Stosur was struggling in this department, but, just in the knick of time, the Aussie upped her game.
“I think I got better as the match went on,” she said. “It's so lively out there and the balls fly through the air. So if you don't get a good hit on it, you're a little bit late, it's almost impossible to get it back.
“For a little bit there it was whoever could get the first strike in during the rally, they were probably going to win it. It was only a couple of points that I think I didn't do that on serve and then I lost serve. So definitely had to try to turn it around.”
Stosur is seeded-5th in the quarter of the draw that includes Elena Dementieva, Daniela Hantuchova, and last year’s Open champ, Kim Clijsters. In her next round, Stosur will face Russian Arina Rodionova, the #191st ranked player in the world.
“It's going to be tricky,” said Stosur about the upcoming match. “We haven't played for many years. She's been playing quite well recently and is never an easy opponent. Definitely going to have to be on my game, yeah, and go out there and play well.”
On the men’s side, just when it looked like fellow countryman and former world No. 1 Lleyton Hewitt was about to get ousted, trailing Paul-Henri Mathieu of France two sets to one and down 2-4 in the fourth, the Aussie broke back and leveled the score. This is the type of comeback Hewitt fans have taken for granted for nearly a decade. He’s won two grand slam titles, including the U.S. Open in 2001. Unfortunately for Hewitt, his luck ran out Monday night.
After 3 hours and 39 minutes of scratching and clawing, the Australian from Adelaide threw in the towel. A double-fault minted the score, 3-6, 4-6, 7-5, 6-4, 1-6. The loss marks the first time Hewitt has failed to reach the second round at the U.S. Open. In his post-match interview, Hewitt admitted the loss stung a bit.
“I didn’t think that my preparation was ideal this year,” he said. “I wasn’t expecting a hell of a lot coming in here—realistically. It’s disappointing. I feel like things haven’t quite gone my way the last five or six weeks. Coming into the tournament, I hadn’t had the matches under my belt and my ball striking wasn’t as good as I would have liked coming in. So that was always gonna make it tough.”
This coming February, Hewitt will turn 30, although he says, “I still feel a bit younger than that.” Whether it’s age or the week-in, week-out grind of the tour derailing his ambition remains unclear. One thing is certain: He’s not ready to quit. He still has a burning desire to continue his pursuit for tennis excellence.
“I still feel like I can improve as a player,” says Hewitt. “When I play my best tennis, at L.A. this year, and Wimbledon…I can match with anyone. It’s a matter of being able to do that, and this year has been tough. Coming after two surgeries, I could really expect anything through the clay-court season and then by the grass I started playing well, then I was interrupted by this.”
Hewitt is currently signed up to play Davis Cup. “At the moment,” Hewitt said, “I like to think I’ll be playing.”
As for the victor, Mathieu is no spring chicken either. He turns 29 this January. Meanwhile, he’ll have his hands full with a much younger opponent in the second round, wild-card and fellow Frenchman Guillaume Rufin.