The first champions of the 2010 U.S. Open were officially crowned today, the mixed doubles final headlining the day’s showcase at Arthur Ashe Stadium. It was the top-seeded team of Liezel Huber and Bob Bryan against the unseeded Czech-Pakistani partnership of Kveta Peschke and Aisam-Ul-Haq Qureshi for the title. It was a warm-up for tomorrow’s final of the men’s doubles, which incidentally will feature both men involved in the championship today.
The top dogs prevailed, but it wasn’t as easy on the court as it seemed it would be on paper. Peschke and Qureshi took the fight to Huber and Bryan, giving the favorites just the few break points they needed to win the match 6-4 6-4. Qureshi hopes that Friday morning will yield better results as he partners with Rohan Bopanna to take on the Bryan brothers for another shot at U.S. Open glory.
2010 U.S. OPEN BRACKETS
So just who is Aisum-ul-Haq Qureshi? The top tennis player in Pakistan over the past decade, the 30-year-old Qureshi came to the game late after his mother — ten-time Pakistani national champion and Fed Cup representative Nausheen Ihtisham — introduced him to the game at 14. He took quickly to the sport, climbing as high as #7 in the world juniors rankings before pro in 1998.
Over the past decade he’s amassed an impressive journeyman’s career, faring well in regional competitions and playing doubles respectably. He first partnered with Bopanna in 2003 to compete for the Manchester Trophy in England; the Pakistani and his Indian partner advanced all the way to the final four before losing. They’ve had a strong run ever since at the Challenger and Futures series events, winning nine titles together (including the 2010 ATP Johannesburg hard-court tournament this past February) and reaching nine more finals in a sporadic association over the past seven years.
The two have found themselves rising up the doubles rankings this season as they play together more; it was a major factor in the team obtaining the final seed in the doubles draw. Their familiarity level is certainly evident, and it will be a great battle to witness — Qureshi and Bopanna teaming up across a contentious border to try to earn their first Grand Slam title, the Bryan brothers chasing history as they go for their eleventh…
The rest of the grounds at the USTA National Tennis Center were reserved solely for the juniors and the start of the wheelchair competitions. The latter, especially, never ceases to intrigue me. Once again the favorites coming in on the men’s and women’s side had to be Shingo Kunieda and Esther Vergeer. Kunieda, the 26-year-old Japanese star with ten Grand Slam wheelchair singles titles to his name and is going for second consecutive calendar Grand Slam this year after winning the Australian Open and French Open already this season. (Wheelchair competition is only offered in doubles format at Wimbledon, and the 2008 U.S. Open lacked wheelchair competitions altogether.) Over the past four years, the Japanese right-hander has won every Grand Slam singles title on offer. Counting Kunieda’s doubles championships, he could potentially be going for his twentieth total Grand Slam title in all draws this year in Queens.
At 29 years old, Vergeer has had even more chances to dominate the wheelchair competitions at the Grand Slams. Her streak began in Melbourne back in 2002; since that first victory at the Australian Open, the Dutch dynamo has won all of the Aussies in which she’s competed (Vergeer sat out in 2005 and 2010) — a streak currently standing at seven and counting. In addition she has won all of the four wheelchair tournaments at the French Open since Roland Garros began hosting the competition in 2007. With her streak of four straight U.S. Open victories (2005-2007, 2009) her Grand Slam mark is at 15 singles championships (as well as 15 more doubles titles) and counting.
It’ll be hard to bet against either of them prevailing in this year’s draw as well. Vergeer had a bit of a tough time in her quarterfinals match against Florence Alix-Gravellier, though she got the breaks she needed to advance to the semifinals 7-5 7-5. Kunieda had a much breezier time with Dutchman Ronald Vink, yielding not a single game as he bageled the competition 6-0 6-0. A win is a win whether you need one dozen games to finish the match or two dozen, though, and both should be fine and on course for the finals going forward.
There were also a couple of men’s semifinals taking place at Arthur Ashe Stadium, as the final two spots at the top of the draw were settled for the semifinals. In the early match, Mikhail Youzhny did what his countryman Mikhail Kukushkin (not to mention Juan Ignacio Chela, Andy Murray and Sam Querrey) could not — defeated the upset machine Stanislas Wawrinka in a tense four-hour match that went all five sets. The match was as evenly balanced as one could ask, both men winning two 6-3 sets and 154 total points apiece. Ultimately, though, it was the result of the second-set tiebreak that settled which man advanced. Prevailing 9-7 in the extra frame of the second, the Russian outlasted the Swissman and returned to the semifinals at the U.S. Open after reaching the final four in 2006.
He will have a tough path to the final as, predictably, Rafael Nadal continued his march toward his career Grand Slam with a straight-sets win over Fernando Verdasco in the prime-time match. Going up against the start of the NFL season as well as SEC football on television, those viewers that deigned to turn their channels to ESPN2 were treated to a valiant battle between two southpaw Spaniards. Verdasco acquitted himself as well as possible in defeat, showing poise despite being easily overmatched on the court. Nadal would take two and a half hours to close things out against his countryman, serving cleanly (66% first serve, zero double faults, four aces) and playing largely mistake-free tennis to outlast Verdasco 7-5 6-3 6-4.
It is unfolding into one hell of a weekend ahead, with the championship vibe already in the air thanks to today’s mixed doubles final. Consider the win by Bryan and Huber an appetizer for the greater smorgasbord to come…