US Open: A Crunchy Hors D'oeuvre

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THE SERENA SLAM: There has never been a Slam where a single story line – Serena‘s quest for the Grand Slam – has been so dominant.

SERENA’S SLAM KICKOFF – AN EDISONIAN POWER OUTAGE: Kimiko Date-Krumm famously said that her goal in a long-ago match against Serena Williams was to last for more than an hour. She succeeded, lasting 61 minutes – but Vitalia Diatchenko didn’t do so well. The slim veteran, who had a slim chance of winning, served with obvious fear and a funky rigid motion that offered powder puffs Serena pounced on. In just 21 minutes, Williams began her quest with a 6-0 bagel win, then won two more games with an embarrassing ease before the Russian pulled out with an ankle injury.

In arguably the most dramatic quest in Open tennis history, Serena’s journey to equal Steffi Graf‘s record of 22 majors and the achievement of a calendar-year Grand Slam began in the most nondramatic of ways. This was a monumental woman-against-girl mismatch that had virtually no redeeming features. Then again, when Graf won the Grand Slam in 1988, she did it in the most methodical, almost emotion-free manner.

Where’s the fire?

Serena now faces the not-exactly formidable Kiki Bertens in the second round. The Dutch woman is No. 110. Amazingly, with the withdrawal of Sharapova and the upset losses of No. 7 Ivanovic, No. 8 Karolina Pliskova and No. 10 Carla Suarez Navarro, the top remaining seed in Serena’s half of the draw is a teen, 18-year-old Belinda Bencic. Yes, the Swiss prospect seems to have given her more trouble than her coach, Martina Hingis. Bencic beat Serena in Toronto just weeks ago. Still, the Open has suffered a power outage of Edisonian proportions.

Already two formidable seeds on her half of the draw – her prime rival Maria Sharapova, who withdrew from the tournament; and Ana Ivanovic, who lost today to Dominika Cibulkova – are out of the draw. Yet somehow the phrase, “Don’t count your chickens before they’re hatched” comes to mind. After all, Serena thrives on challenges and drama. And as forgettable as tonight’s happenings were, we can’t imagine Ms. Williams – tennis’ reigning champion and glorious diva – will not by the end of the Open deliver a storyline to be remembered.

ONE TASTY MORSEL: Alec Baldwin said Serena‘s opening night mismatch was like a crunchy hors d’oeuvre. The actor told Pam Shriver, “Serena’s having a Diatchenko as an appetizer.”

SERENA WON’T BE FORCED INTO STILLNESS: Leading into the US Open, Claudia Rankine, whose National Book Award-nominated book Citizen includes a long chapter devoted to Serena, wrote in the New York Times Magazine about the meaning of Serena’s career in relation to race.

“The word ‘win’ finds its roots in both joy and grace. Serena‘s grace comes because she won’t be forced into stillness; she won’t accept those racist projections onto her body without speaking back; she won’t go gently into the white light of victory….She shows us her joy, her honor, and yes, her rage. She gives us the whole range of what it is to be human, and there are those who can’t bear it, who can’t tolerate the humanity of an ordinary extraordinary person…In the essay ‘Everybody’s Protest Novel,’ James Baldwin wrote, ‘our humanity is our burden, our life, we need not battle for it, we need only do what is infinitely more difficult – that is, accept it. To accept the self, its humanity, is to discard the white racist gaze.’ The notable difference between black excellence and white excellence is white excellence is achieved without having to battle racism. Imagine.”

MARIA’S MUDDLE: Maria Sharapova, who pulled out of the Open with a leg injury, won the 2014 French Open, but she hasn’t made it past the fourth round in 11 of her last 19 Slams.

A BOUCHARD DAY’S NIGHT: The struggling Genie Bouchard said she prefers having no coach to working with Sam Sumyk because it is “better [to have] nobody than someone who causes harm.” The Canadian, who has suffered an astounding free-fall since reaching the 2014 Wimbledon final, is now working during the US Open with Jimmy Connors, who formerly coached Andy Roddick and very briefly taught Maria Sharapova. Bouchard, whose baffling failure to shake hands with foes before Fed Cup matches drew ire, is scheduled to play mixed doubles with another young controversial player – Nick Kyrgios. She defended the embattled Aussie, saying that “at the end of the day I think he’s good for the game.”

JUST WONDERING: Are Nick Kyrgios and Madison Keys an item?

NICE WORK IF YOU CAN GET IT: Do injured players play in the first round of Slams just for the money? Vitalia Diatchenko, who didn’t come close to winning a game against Serena, earned a hefty $39,000. That’s $4,888 per game. There probably should be some rule against the practice.

MCENROE’S CALL FOR PROFESSIONALISM: John McEnroe, who could create hefty storms in the calmest of seas, said Nick Kyrgios would “be well-served to look at the guys like Nadal, the guys that go out there, tremendous effort players. These guys are so professional now that he can’t afford to waste as much energy as he’s wasting with these sort of off-court comments that he’s making that just cause more problems for him.”

MAKES KYRGIOS SEEM LIKE AN ANGEL: Italy’s pouting, preening, profane Fabio Fognini.

SEEDS TOPPLE: No. 7 seed Ana Ivanovic lost to 2014 Aussie Open finalist Dominika Cibulkova, and last year’s finalist Kei Nishikori suffered a shock upset to France’s Benoit Paire, despite having a match point in the fourth set tie-break. He confided that he lost his concentration.

VENUS ON HER LITTLE SISTER: “She deserves every single thing that she has. At the same time, she’s not focused on the attention, she’s focused on her tennis. So she’s focused on the important things, and the results show.”

GO FIGURE: Rafa Nadal said Novak Djokovic is his toughest-ever opponent…Djokovic brought a stuffed Mickey Mouse toy to his first US Open press conference…Tumaini Carayol noted that Karolina Pliskova won the US Open Series without reaching the quarters of a big event or beating a top 50 opponent. She did reach the Bank of the West Classic final at Stanford…Victoria Azarenka‘s former boyfriend, Redfoo, has been watching Lucie Safarova and hanging with her camp…Six women’s seeds – Ana Ivanovic, Karolina Pliskova, Carla Suarez Navarro, Jelena Jankovic, Sloane Stephens and Svetlana Kuznetsova – fell on day one, while only one men’s seed, last year’s finalist, No. 4 Kei Nishikori, fell.

RAFA SETS THE RECORD STRAIGHT: Nadal was said to decline an opportunity to play doubles with Nick Kyrgios at a fundraiser for John McEnroe‘s foundation. But Rafa insisted that in fact he didn’t ask not to play with Kyrgios. “I was never supposed to play a doubles match,” said the Spaniard. “That was wrong information. I was told I was going to play Lleyton [Hewitt].’’

GENERATION GAP: Venus Williams, 35, is the oldest player in the woman’s draw. Before losing, American Sofia Kenin, 16, was the youngest.

QUOTEBOOK:

“They usually get me for ID. People think I can get anything because my name’s on the door. it’s hilarious.”—Billie Jean King, about having to show ID at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center.

Tiger Woods. I like his mentality. I like his eyes when he’s competing. I am a big fan of him.”—Rafa Nadal, on who he’d most like to play in tennis.

“It’s great to get one win.”—Eugenie Bouchard, after her first first-round victory at a Slam this year.

ON-COURT INTERVIEW: Coco Vandeweghe didn’t just defeat Sloane Stephens 6-4, 6-3 today, she also became the first player to give a TV interview during a competitive match. ESPN’s Pam Shriver asked Coco a few questions on-air and on-court between the first and second set. While Coco viewed the experience in a positive light on Twitter, Caroline Wozniacki was less enthusiastic: “Did I just see Coco do an interview on court, mid match, after the first set?? Surely you would wanna focus on the game out there? No.”

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