U.S Open 2011: Rocked by Mother Nature and Early Upsets

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It was an ominous beginning for the season’s final grand slam. Aftershocks from the 5.8 earthquake that hit the east coast last week rattled some U.S. Open tennis players prepping for the big tourney. It also prompted NYC mayor Michael Bloomberg to quip "Who knew we lived near a fault? Luckily it wasn't a double fault." .

When Hurricane Irene bore down on the Northeast on Sunday, Mother Nature looked to be as much a contender as the seeded players. Tournament officials took the unprecedented step of canceling Arthur Ashe Kids’ Day on Saturday and closing the Billie Jean King Tennis Center on Sunday, preventing the customary pre-event practice sessions and interviews.

Neither an earthquake nor Irene can keep tennis fans from flocking to New York's National Tennis Center however. The U.S. Open is always one of the best attended sports events attracting celebrities, fashionistas and an assortment of rich and famous.  Designers and models (who follow up the U.S. Open with New York's Fashion Week) will be among those at center court for adrenaline-pumping action.

Legendary crooner Tony Bennett, fresh off his tribute to Amy Winehouse at the VMA's, was on hand for the opening ceremony. Alec Baldwin and Vogue editor Anna Wintour were also spotted.

Many players heading to New York from other tournaments had to adjust their travel and practice plans. Despite the hectic prelude, the first volleys took place according to schedule on Monday in Flushing Meadows.

Early Upsets

Both the Wimbledon champion and and the French Open winner have flamed out in early rounds of the U.S. Open. No. 5 seed Petra Kvitova, who won Wimbledon just last month, was upset yesterday while  French Open winner Li Na is also heading home early after being defeated by unseeded Romanian teenager Simona Halep 6-2 7-5.

Two-time reigning US Open champion Kim Clijsters, who is ranked No.3, will miss the tournament with a stomach muscle injury. With Clijsters’ withdrawal and Kvitova and Li’s first-round exits, there will be no reigning Grand Slam champions in the second round of the Women’s Singles draw.

Moving On

2008 French Open champion Ana Ivanovic took to the court two days after the death of her grandfather and though she appeared emotional, she managed to survive the first round.

No. 7 Francesca Schiavone of Italy, No. 10 Andrea Petkovic of Germany, No. 20 Yanina Wickmayer of Belgium, No. 23 Shahar Peer of Israel and No. 26 Flavia Pennetta of Italy all advanced to the second round. Svetlana Kuznetsova of Russia, the 15th seed and the 2004 U.S. Open champion, is also moving on.

Women To Watch

Denmark's Caroline Wozniacki in action during her first round match. (Credit Image: © Jason Cairnduff/Action Images/ZUMAPRESS.com)

Caroline Wozniacki - the 2009 US Open runner-up (above - check out those guns), is the No.1 seed in the women's singles field this year. Wozniacki, who has yet to win a grand slam despite nearly a year with the top ranking,  has been dealing with inconsistent play this summer, losing her first two hard-court matches.

Although she embarks on her fifth U.S. Open campaign and easily won her first round, the 21-year-old Dane has been in the news more of late for her budding romance with golfer Rory McIlroy than her on-court triumphs. Maybe this time will be the charm.

Maria Sharapova - The 2006 champion in New York moves up to third in the seedings. Sharapova just won the Cincinnati title with a hard-fought victory over Jelena Jankovic in the final. Still recovering from shoulder surgery in 2008, her serve remains a work in progress, but she battles with tenacity and can never be ruled out.

Fans have been on wedding watch since Sharapova became engaged to NBA  player Sasha Vujacic last October. Off court she's been sporting a huge engagement ring. Watch for her to be as fierce as ever.

Serena Williams - The former No. 1 returns to the scene of three major triumphs and looks to be back in business. With major illness and injuries behind her, she’s the clear favorite despite having played just five tournaments this year. This is her first time back to Flushing Meadows since a lashing out at a linesman led to her default from the 2009 tournament’s semifinals. 

Serena cited a big toe injury when pulling out of the Cincinnati hard-court tournament this month (though there was some speculation she wanted to attend friend Kim Kardashian's wedding). Even though she's only seeded 28th, Serena leads active women with 13 Grand Slam singles titles.

Venus Williams - Older sister Venus, a five-time Wimbledon champion isn't seeded at all for the US Open, which she won in 2000 and 2001. Fun to watch for both her powerful style of play and her outfits as she wears creations from her very own EleVen line. She hadn't played a match since Wimbledon but easily moved on to the second round today.  This is the 10th anniversary of Venus' last (and second) title at the US Open, when she beat Serena for the title in the tournament's first prime-time women's final.

Men to Watch

Novak Djokovic On the men's side, top-ranked Serbia's Djokovic grabs the top seed for the first time, followed by defending champion Rafael Nadal and five-time winner Roger Federer.

Djokovic is having one of the best seasons in tennis history: 57-2 with nine titles, including Wimbledon and the Australian Open. He's seeking his first championship at Flushing Meadows, where he was runner-up to Nadal in 2010 and to Federer in 2007. Defending champion Nadall has a 0-5 record against Djokovic this year, all in finals, and upset losses at Montreal and Cincinnati. He opened with a blistering round of play and is headed into round two.

Roger Federer, who counts five U.S. Open titles among his record 16 Grand Slam trophies, also exited relatively early at those two key hard-court tune-up tournaments. Now he is facing the real possibility of ending his streak of winning at least one major championship eight years in a row. He also turned 30 on Aug. 8, and the last man to win a Grand Slam title after that milestone birthday was Andre Agassi at the 2003 Australian Open.

Rafael Nadal The 25-year-old defending champion launches his campaign looking less than invincible, with a burned right hand derailing his tune-up in Cincinnati. But the big question is whether Nadal has found a solution to Djokovic, who is 5-0 against him this year, should they meet in the final.

Worth Noting:

Not a hard-core tennis fan? Never fear. Regardless of your interests, here are a few posts that will have you caught up to date in no time.

History buffs:

To honor the U.S. Open, the New York Times Magazine  took a look back at some of the game's greatest male players. Photographer Walter Iooss Jr. and the comedian Andy Samberg recreated memorable photographs, playing iconic stars like John McEnroe, Bjorn Borg, Pete Sampras and Jimmy Connors. 

Fashion hounds:

Want a peek at the player's fashions? Wozniacki is wearing Stella McCartney, Serena is donning red, white & blue courtesy of Nike and Venus debuted a lace draped little black dress. Heather over at a Glam Slam has a great run-down of all the fashions:

Tennis has influenced fashion and vice versa, and the game’s biggest stars have become known for their sartorial selections in addition to their style of play. Players’ on-court ensembles are attracting more and more attention, especially during the U.S. Open, forcing sponsors to bring their very best designs to the Big Apple.

Jeopardy players:

Flushing facts: 10 things you didn't know about the U.S. Open.

Not only has the U.S. Open had the same prize money for winners of the men's and women's singles since 1973, they also pick up exactly the same trophy. Designed by Tiffany and Co. the newly-crowned champions are able to keep replicas.

And for those that do want to follow the action:

The 2011 US Open begins on August 29 and runs until the men's championship on September 11. The tournament will be featured on ESPN, CBS and the Tennis Channel throughout the two weeks of coverage.

After all the hype and hoopla, the Open is scheduled to conclude on a somber note, with the men’s championship to be played on the 10th anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks.

 If you can't make it to Flushing Meadows, Madison Square Park will host a free viewing party with TV’s showing the live matches, along with games, food and giveaways between September 5-11.

Goodnight Irene. G'day Tennis.

@jschonb

dare to dream

Also online at prettytough.com and womentalksports.com

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