The first big events of the US Open hard court series began today with Stanford, which is a WTA event, and Washington, which is an ATP and WTA event. My feature match was in Washington which saw American Lauren Davis come up against Belarusian Aryna Sabalenka.
In that feature match, the 19 year-old Sabalenka shocked the defending finalist Lauren Davis 7-5, 6-3 to win her first ever WTA main draw match on a hard court. Davis’s confidence has been going down recently and this loss will be a major blow to the guts considering Sabalenka is 87 ranks below her, even if the Belarusian was playing well. Davis wasn’t playing well at all throughout the match but it was a nervous start from Sabalenka early on so it wasn’t a very gripping beginning to the match. Davis got a break early on and had the opportunity to serve the set out but she let Sabalenka back into the match. She then won three games in a row to take the opener and from there on Davis just wasn’t enjoying herself out there and there wasn’t much of a fight in the second set. Sabalenka was playing great in the second set and her backhand was very impressive as she got the single break of the set to lead 4-2. There weren’t much nerves when the young, mainly unknown player went to serve out the match and she finished it off nicely. Sabalenka has either Sabine Lisicki or Valentini Grammatikopoulou in the next round, either of which is winnable if she plays like she did today.
The first match in Stanford saw Ukrainian Lesia Tsurenko get past Spaniard Lara Arruabarrena 6-3, 6-3 with quite a routine performance. Once Tsurenko had warmed into the match it was basically one-way traffic and there wasn’t much douby of who would win for the rest of the match. Both women were playing there first match since Wimbledon so there was some rust at the start. The two traded breaks of serve twice early in the match but at 3-3 in the opener Tsurenko started to get into a rhythm and she reeled off three straight games to take the first set. Tsurenko was very solid in the second set and she didn’t face a break point throughout it. Arruabarrena was able to keep the second set competitive but the Ukrainian eventually broke to lead 5-3, when she served out the match and ended it as a Arruabarrena backhand sailed long. Tsurenko now has a second round meeting booked with Maria Sharapova, which I suspect will be tough for as Sharapova is capable of hitting through Lesia. However, this was a good start to the hard court season for Tsurenko and I think she will be very happy with how she performed today.
In a battle between the big servers in Washington, Daniil Medvedev upset the home crowd as he took out hard hitting Reilly Opelka 6-7(8-10), 6-3, 7-6(8-6) in a match that lasted a little bit over 2 hours. The first set was the longest and toughest set as neither player was broken throughout and they both had set point opportunities in that tiebreaker but it was Opelka who just got that extra ball in. Opelka did deserve that opener because he was the stronger player throughout and probably should have broken at least once in that set. He put the foot on the brakes a little bit in the second set and Medvedev, who’s full of confidence at the moment, broke him twice to force a decider. Opelka went up an early break in the decider but nerves started to get to him and he was broken back before a tiebreaker was forced. Opelka had match point at 6-5 up in the breaker but it was saved by a Medvedev ace and he didn’t win another point after that. This is such a disappointing loss for Opelka considering it extends his losing streak to six matches, his last match one was in qualifying for a challenger in June.
The first night match in Stanford saw the return of Maria Sharapova as she won her first match in the US since March, 2015 with a 6-1, 4-6, 6-0 victory over Jennifer Brady. Sharapova was excellent in the return today and her backhand was firing like it did for her grand slam titles but she was uncharacteristically inconsistent on serve. The first set was very successful despite having a couple of deuce games to open she was up 5-1 in under half an hour and she broke to take the opener. These are normally the match that Sharapova sweeps through but that wasn’t the case today as she started to struggle on serve for the second set. She was only getting 54% of first serves in that set and her start was the worst part of the match as she went down a double break to 0-3. She managed to level it at 3-3 but she still conceded a break that set which gave Brady the second set and a decided was forced. Sharapova was impeccable in the decider and Brady stood no chance with her nerves making her hit a lot more errors. I would count this as a successful opener for Sharapova because she did only drop seven games but she will need to tighten up her serve for the next round.