By Julian Linden
THE contrasting fortunes of grand slam tennis were on full display at the U.S. Open on Thursday. Some dreams were made while others were shattered.
Victoria Duval, the teenaged American who had captured the hearts of New York with her feats both on and off the court, was knocked out in straight sets in a brutal reminder of how far she still has to go to reach the top.
For Sara Errani, the world’s fifth ranked woman, the pressure of playing in the Big Apple became too much and she crumbled under pressure, tearfully admitting she had choked.
The tournament’s biggest stars all survived unscathed, ruthlessly dispatching their opponents with a minimum of fuss in a sport where there is little room for sentiment if your ultimate aim is to collect grand slam titles.
Roger Federer, Rafa Nadal and Serena Williams have 45 major singles titles between them and the trio won their second round matches in straight sets, as they normally do. For them, the championship never really starts until the second week.
For the vast majority, the last grand slam of the year is a stringent test of character from start to finish, where every win is cherished.
There was no better example on Thursday than the Englishman Dan Evans, who is playing at the U.S. Open for the first time.
Ranked 179th in the world, he needed to come through the qualifying tournament just to get into the main draw and was not expected to go much further.
The formality of a first round exit was lost on the 23-year-old, however, as he tore up the script and carried his qualifying form onto the big stage.
In his opening match, the Briton pulled off the biggest win of his career when he upset Japan’s Kei Nishikori, ranked 12th in the world, with many observers expecting that performance to be the highlight of his campaign.
On Thursday, however, he won again, this time beating Bernard Tomic 1-6 6-3 7-6(4) 6-3, a win made all the more sweeter because the Australian’s father had snubbed him a year ago in Miami.
“It was quite funny, actually,” Evans recalled.
“I was there playing quallies. His dad sort of fobbed me off and said I wasn’t good enough to practise with him. I remembered that.”
Duval was thrust into the spotlight after she beat the 2011 U.S. Open champion Sam Stosur in the first round. She played well enough but it was her family’s tale of survival that captured the media’s attention.
When she was seven years old, Duval was taken hostage by robbers at her aunt’s house in Haiti, a terrifying incident that convinced her parents, both doctors, to move back to the United States.
In 2010, her father was buried alive in the Haiti earthquake. He survived by digging himself out but suffered serious injuries, including broken legs, broken ribs and a punctured lung.
But her run ended almost as soon as it began when she was beaten 6-2 6-3 by Daniela Hantuchova on an outside court. It was a quick lesson in the reality of professional tennis.
“It was overwhelming. But I think this is what it’s all about,” Duval said.
Errani, a semi-finalist in the Big Apple last year, crashed to a 6-3 6-1 loss to her Italian compatriot Flavia Pennetta then did something no-one expected. In a sport where players try to hide their smallest weaknesses, she revealed her darkest secret.
“I’m feeling too much pressure,” the 26-year-old confessed. “I don’t know why, but I’m not enjoying going on the courts, and that is the worst thing a player can have.”
Her mood was in stark contrast to Victoria Azarenka, last year’s runner-up, who joked that she was enjoying a love affair with New York’s unforgiving hardcourts.
“I would say it’s my husband, hardcourts,” she said after her 6-3 6-1 win over Canada’s Aleksandra Wozniak. “Because we have been together for a long time we got really comfortable with each other.”
Williams was also dancing to a different beat even though the wind was blowing hard when she strolled onto the Arthur Ashe Stadium center court.
Her match against Galina Voskoboeva of Kazakhstan had originally been scheduled for Wednesday but was held over because of rain.
Unfazed by the delay, she cruised to a 6-3 6-0 victory before teaming up with big sister Venus to win their first round doubles match.
“I’m just trying to do the best I can,” Williams said. “Just always trying to get a little better.”
Federer, unflappable even as he struggles to add to his record collection of 17 grand slam singles titles, hardly broke into a sweat on a baking hot day as he brushed aside Argentina’s Carlos Berlocq 6-3 6-2 6-1.
“For me, it was pretty straightforward, to be honest,” Federer said. “It’s one of those matches I expect myself to win if possible in straight sets and gain confidence in the process.
“All those things happened, so, yeah, I’m pleased about it.”
Nadal, who missed last year’s U.S. Open because of injury, brushed aside Rogerio Dutra Silva of Brazil 6-2 6-1 6-0.
It was as swift and easy as any match he has had at the U.S. Open but the Spaniard offered an insight into what it took to get back to the top.
“You need to be ready to suffer, to enjoy the suffering, and to be able to change the situation,” the second seed said.
By Julian Linden