Survival mode’ sees Djokovic through at steamy US Open
NEW YORK: Maria Sharapova shattered the fairytale return of 39-year-old Patty Schnyder at the US Open on Tuesday, winning a roller-coaster first round clash 6-2, 7-6 (8/6). Schnyder, the oldest ever player to make the main draw of a Grand Slam via qualifying, was outgunned by the five-time major champion in the first set and for the majority of the second.
However, she bravely battled back from 1-5 down to 6-6, showing the sort of ability and court-craft which won her 11 titles and once took her to seven in the world rankings. She even saved three match points in the tiebreaker before Sharapova’s 23rd winner of the night sealed victory shortly before midnight.
“My average match against her is like two hours and 20 minutes so I knew I was in for a battle no matter what my story is or hers,” said Sharapova who is now 21-0 in US Open night sessions.
“I knew we’d go out and relive the battles against each other. “I know what a competitor she is and to come back on the tour is very admirable.” Left-hander Schnyder made her US Open bow in 1997 — the year of the deaths of Princess Diana in Paris and Mother Teresa in Kolkata.
It was the year that Mike Tyson infamously nibbled on Evander Holyfield’s ear while Twitter was still nine years away. Schnyder made the quarter-finals in New York in 1998 and 2008 before retiring in 2011.
Tuesday’s match was her first main draw appearance at the US Open since 2010 and her first against Sharapova in a decade. “It doesn’t really feel that special,” said Schnyder. “It doesn’t feel like I have been gone for a while as tennis is a passion of my life.”
“Times passes really quickly and it doesn’t seem it’s eight years since I last played Maria.” Schnyder was watched on Tuesday by three-year-old daughter Kim. “She enjoyed it. She saw herself up on the big screen,” added Schnyder who does not know if her return to the tour will be permanent.
Her focus, she said, will be on her daughter. “It’s more fun for me to get to know her world rather than her having to get to know my world of tennis.” Understandably there were a few nerves on both sides.
Sharapova, the 2006 US Open champion, served up three double faults in the first game with the opening four games of the contest all breaks of serve.
The Russian 22nd seed steadied the ship with two more breaks, pocketing the first set with Schnyder losing all four of her service games and failing to hit a single winner.
Schnyder finally held serve for 1-1 in the second set before retrieving the breaks to get to 5-5. “She still has incredible hands and moves incredibly well for being out of the game for so long,” added Sharapova.
Meanwhile, Wimbledon champion Novak Djokovic suffered in sweltering US Open conditions Tuesday but battled through to the second round with a 6-3, 3-6, 6-4, 6-0 victory over Hungarian Marton Fucsovics. Djokovic, playing his first match on Arthur Ashe Stadium since falling to Stan Wawrinka in the 2016 final, received a brutal welcome back to Flushing Meadows as soaring temperatures and high humidity prompted organizers to offer the men a 10-minute mid-match heat break for the first time ever.
“We both struggled. We were not the only ones today. Brutal conditions,” said Djokovic, who called for trainers who enveloped him in ice packed towels late in the second set. “I had to find a way to dig myself out of the trouble.”
Until late in the third it was “survival mode” said Djokovic, who endured a rocky start to the season after elbow surgery before breaking through for a 13th Grand Slam title at Wimbledon. His Cincinnati Masters victory over Roger Federer stamped him a US Open favorite along with defending champion Rafael Nadal, despite his modest sixth seeding.
He certainly looked a contender as he reeled off the last 10 games against Fucsovics, showing signs of sharper focus even before the 10-minute heat break between the third and fourth sets. Federer, the second seed, escaped the worst of the conditions as he headlined the night session on Ashe. Nor did he meet much resistance from Japan’s Yoshihito Nishioka in a 6-2, 6-2, 6-4 victory.
Up 5-1 in the final set, Federer was unable to close out the match against Nishioka’s serve, and then was broken on his first attempt to serve it out. Federer, who claimed his 20th Grand slam title at the Australian Open in January, put the match away two games later, sealing it with a service winner.
“I didn’t know how really good Nishioka was,” Federer admitted of the 22-year-old, who was ranked 58th in the world last March before tearing a left knee ligament and sliding out of the top 150.
“I wanted to play well at the beginning of each set. I was able to break the beginning of each set, cruise after that. I was very happy.” Fourth-seeded German Alexander Zverev kept his time in the sun to a minimum with a 6-2, 6-1, 6-2 victory over Canadian lucky loser Peter Polansky.
And Australian Nick Kyrgios, opening the evening action on Louis Armstrong stadium, fired 25 aces and 48 total winners in a 7-5, 2-6, 6-4, 6-2 victory over Moldova’s Radu Albot. – AFP