In the wake of that blundering performance by Andy Roddick on Wednesday night, the U.S. Open reawakened on Thursday with renewed purpose as those players still alive in the touranment got back to the business of playing tennis. I spoke my nickel’s worth earlier today in my weekly column about the aftermath of Roddick’s behavior and even offered a few links to other people’s writing on the subject there. So for those who didn’t bomb out of the last Grand Slam of 2010 yesterday, the fourth day of play at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center was all about whether or not more favorites would be dropping like so many flies swatted aside. For the underdogs, the sheer possibility that an upset was possible had been reawakened in the downfall of many a favorite over the past week; for those main contenders in the hunt for the second week of the tournament and ultimately the championship, the reality that defeat is just around the corner hovers over the grounds like a waft of doom.
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The cloud seemed to shift from Arthur Ashe Stadium over to the Grandstand Court today, where three out of the four seeded players contesting their second-round matches ended up losing to their unseeded opponents today. Beatrice Capra kept up American hopes of another pleasant surprise a la Melanie Oudin last year when she started the festivities with a 7-5 2-6 6-3 win over #18 Aravane Rezai. Roddick might’ve slashed some of that homecrowd pride last night with his deplorable display, and the fact that Serena isn’t even in the field mars the women’s side of things a little bit. But it is the unheralded stories like this 18-year-old rookie from Maryland, who earned a wild-card entry to her first Grand Slam and now finds herself in the third round up against former champion and #14 seed Maria Sharapova (with a probable date against #1 Caroline Wozniacki should she skirt past the Russian), that really make the tournament what it is. That was just the prologue to a day of upsets at the third show court of the Flushing Meadows grounds.
Richard Gasquet is a different story altogether from Capra. The Frenchman isn’t too distant from the era when he was receiving seeds to the Grand Slams. But after his suspension for testing positive for cocaine, Gasquet hasn’t seemed quite the same player. Only 24 years old, he was ranked as high as #7 in the world as recently as three years ago, when he followed a fourth-round showing at Roland Garros with a berth in the final four at Wimbledon. Nothing prior to this tournament indicated that Gasquet was back on a career track back into the top ten. But if he keeps playing as well as he did against #6 Nikolay Davydenko — who has also experienced an up-and-down career that has included a scandal of his own when he was accused of fixing matches a couple years back — he could very well have another deep Grand Slam run in him yet. Cruising to a 6-3 6-4 6-2 victory over the Russian, Gasquet caused the second great bracket bust of the Grandstand schedule for the day. He’ll face off against South Africa’s Kevin Anderson , who booked his own upset when he went the distance against #26 Thomaz Bellucci on Court 13 to prevail 6-7(4) 6-4 5-7 6-4 7-6(2), in the third round with dreams of reaching the fourth for the first time since doing it back-to-back in 2005 and 2006.
#11 Marin Cilic was another upset on Court 13, preceding Bellucci in the opening match of 13′s Day 4 program. The #11-seeded Croat was up against Japan’s resurgent Kei Nishikori. A still-rising 20-year-old who reached the fourth round in 2008, Nishikori pulled off the unlikely comeback against Cilic 5-7 7-6(6) 3-6 7-6(3) 6-1 in a five-set slogfest that went five hours long. #5 Robin Soderling, meanwhile, was over on the Grandstand as the only seed of the day to hold his own easily. He went through to the third round against American hopeful Taylor Dent, winning in straight sets 6-2 6-2 6-4 to book a duel with Thiemo de Bakker.
There were no other real upsets in the men’s bracket on the day. Both #2 Roger Federer and #3 Novak Djokovic breezed by German opponents: Federer against Andreas Beck 6-3 6-4 6-3, and Djokovic against Philipp Petzschner 7-5 6-3 7-6(6). America’s best remaining hope on the men’s side, #19 Mardy Fish, continued his enchanted summer against Pablo Cuevas 7-5 6-0 6-2; the country’s other main remaining wild-card, James Blake, advanced later at Louis Armstrong Stadium when he ousted Canada’s Peter Polansky 6-7(1) 6-3 6-2 6-4. #13 Jurgen Melzer, #21 Albert Montanes and #22 Juan Carlos Ferrero also made it through to play another match in Queens…
A lot of the fun on Day 4 was happening in the various doubles draws getting their play geared up around the grounds. The women set their second-round matchups with the conclusion of opening matches on Thursday. Both top seeds survived easily, the #1 team of Flavia Pennetta and Gisela Dulko and the #2 side of Nadia Petrova and Liezel Huber through to the next round. Huber, pairing with Bob Bryan on the top-ranked mixed doubles team, also advanced in that bracket with a 6-4 6-3 victory over Su-Wei Hsieh and Bruno Soares. Likewise on the men’s side, Bob Bryan and his twin brother Mike have proven their worth as top seeds so far in the tournament and are on a collision course to face #2 Daniel Nestor and Nenad Zimonjic in the final after the latter pulled through today with a 7-6(6) 6-3 squeaker against Eric Butorac and Jean-Julien Rojer. Nestor and Zimonjic stumbled at Wimbledon, so they’ll need to be monitored throughout to see if they can win a hard-court Grand Slam together (only Nestor has won at the U.S. Open, in 2004 when he was partnering with Mark Knowles) finally.
Vania King and Yaroslava Shvedova have shown no signs of slowing as the #6 seeds on the women’s side. They square off against Jarmila Groth and Klara Zakopalova in the next round, with a possible quarterfinals date against top dogs Dulko and Pennetta in their future. One team that doesn’t have a future anymore after a hell of a promising start? The tandem of Martin Damm and Filip Polasek, who slayed #3 Lukas Dlouhy and Leander Paes to open the touranment, found themselves overmatched against a hot pairing in Sergei Stakhovsky and Mikhail Youzhny. Watch out for the Russians going forward…
Back to the Grandstand Court in the last match of its program for the day, #9 Agnieszka Radwanska squared off against China’s Shuai Peng. We’ve already seen Li Na and Zheng Jie go deep into Grand Slam tournaments, and this might just be the 24-year-old Peng’s turn after ousting the Pole. Recovering well from dropping the first set 6-2, Peng recovered to take out Radwanska 2-6 6-1 6-4. (Younger sister Urszula would have represented the clan instead, but she dropped her second-round match to Lourdes Dominguez Lino 6-2 7-5 over on Court 7.)
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#22 Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez was the only other seeded player to fall on the day for the women, dropping her match to Patti Schnyder of Switzerland 7-6(2) 6-4. All the others, from #1 Caroline Wozniacki, #14 Maria Sharapova and #7 Vera Zvonareva at Arthur Ashe Stadium and #11 Svetlana Kuznetsova and #4 Jelena Jankovic at Louis Armstrong Stadium cleaned up on the show courts, relegating the curse to the Grandstand. On the outer courts, #15 Yanina Wickmayer, #25 Alexandra Dulgeru and #31 Kaia Kanepi booked their passage to the next round. The women’s field is all set for the third round now, and I’m looking a little hazy on my predictions at this point. There are a lot of surprises dotting the landscape, but hell… isn’t that what Grand Slam tennis is all about?