After four days and two rounds of U.S. Open play, the dominant stories of the tournament are just coming into focus. Unsurprisingly, it’s been smooth sailing thus far for the likes of Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, and Serena Williams, but not all the presumptive breakouts handled the big stage accordingly (apologies to my Greek prince Stefanos Tsitsipas).
With the tournament’s bigger matches set to start over Labor Day weekend, here’s a roundup of the biggest happenings from the first two rounds of action at Flushing Meadows.
It Has Been Very Hot
As a New York resident, I’ve complained several times this week about commuting in the sweltering heat; the 10-minute walk from the subway to my apartment has been almost unbearable. Meanwhile, in Queens, U.S. Open competitors have been on the court as early as 11 a.m., playing for hours in these conditions—and it’s had a substantive effect on everybody’s performances.
On Tuesday alone, five players retired from “heat-related” issues, including 36-year-old Mikhail Youzhny, who was playing in his final Grand Slam. For the first time, the United States Tennis Association installed an extreme heat policy for the men’s draw—meaning, if a match was still underway after three sets, the players could take a 10-minute break to cool down. (The WTA has an extreme heat policy, but the ATP doesn’t, hence the USTA’s intervention.)
The remedial measures of the 10-minute break notwithstanding, it’s been one of the most physically challenging Grand Slams in recent memory. Sorry for ever complaining about the commute, Novak! Enjoy your magnificent ice bath.
Simona Halep’s Slam Slump Continues
After career-best Grand Slam performances to open the year—a finals appearance at the Australian Open and a title at the French—women’s no. 1 Simona Halep has now tumbled out in the first week of both fast-court majors. After falling in the third round of Wimbledon, Halep was ousted in her first match at the Open, losing in straight sets to unseeded Kaia Kanepi.
To Kanepi’s credit, she spent most of the match pounding the ball and keeping Halep on the defensive—the number of winners from the Estonian’s aggressive approach more than making up for the unforced errors. But for Halep, the loss is a second consecutive first-round ousting at the Open and a disappointing end to a career year. If she doesn’t make another deep run at the Aussie Open, Halep will risk falling out of the WTA top 10 for the first time since 2014.
David Ferrer Is Human After All
The 36-year-old David Ferrer played compatriot Nadal in what ended up being his final Grand Slam match on Monday. Ferrer has made a career out of being a nuisance; he’s diminutive and doesn’t have a signature weapon, but he rarely gave up easy points and was elite at covering the court. Despite never winning a Grand Slam—he did make a French Open final in 2013, only to lose to Nadal (who else?)—Ferrer was long a mainstay in the ATP top 10, reaching a career high of no. 3 in the world in 2013. Not bad for an athlete whose playing career has overlapped with Federer, Nadal, Djokovic, and Andy Murray.
Sadly, Ferrer’s workhorse-like efficiency came to an uncharacteristic end: He retired in the second set against Nadal due to injury. It was the first time he’d ever retired in a Grand Slam match. “I’m so sorry because I can’t finish the match,” Ferrer told the Ashe crowd after the match. Feds said it best:
Alizé Cornet Scares an Umpire
Hurry, avert your virgin eyes! Upon returning to the court from a heat break on Tuesday, Alizé Cornet had her shirt on the wrong way, and very briefly took it off to fix it on the court. This was too much for Puritan chair umpire Christian Rask—note: it’s amazing his first name is Christian—who slapped her with a code violation.
The U.S. Open issued a statement on Wednesday, expressing “regret” that the violation was assessed to Cornet, while the WTA ended its corresponding statement that day more bluntly: “Alizé did nothing wrong.” Considering the fact ATP players routinely remove their shirts on the court, there was no better circumstance that encapsulates the disparity between how the men’s and women’s bodies are perceived by the sport. After all: The French Open just announced that Serena Williams’s catsuit will be banned from the tournament next year because it went, um, “too far.”
Is Jack Sock Just … Bad?
American Jack Sock is, ostensibly, a top 20 player—he was ranked eighth in the world as recently as last year. But when it comes to Grand Slams, Sock’s level always seems to drop: Prior to the Open, he hadn’t made it out of the first round at any Grand Slam this year, and hasn’t advanced to the third round of a Grand Slam since the 2017 Aussie Open. Even more disconcerting is that Sock hasn’t won back to back singles matches the entire year. On the Grand Slam front, his performance at this year’s Open was technically an improvement. Sock got out of the first round against a player ranked outside the top 100. (Hey, it still counts!)
Sock then promptly lost to Nikoloz Basilashvili in four sets on Wednesday. Perhaps it’s time he learned how to hit a backhand.
Nick Kyrgios’s Coach Is an Umpire?
It’s been a bizarre U.S. Open for umpires. With the perpetually temperamental Nick Kyrgios in the midst of another tank job against Frenchman Pierre-Hugues Herbert—the Australian lost the first set and was down 3-0 in the second—chair umpire Mohamed Lahyani took it upon himself to give Kyrgios a pep talk. (Lahyani is heard saying, “I want to help you.”) Kyrgios went on to win the match in four sets.
Kyrgios won the second set after a pep talk from the chair umpire Mo Lahyani.— Ben Rothenberg (@BenRothenberg) August 30, 2018
A USTA rep told me it is already looking into Lahyani's conduct in this match.
Absurd scenes. #USOpen pic.twitter.com/6qTMaoqPQd
The interaction can be perceived as Lahyani imploring Kyrgios to obey the “Best Efforts” rule—which is exactly what it sounds like—but in the eyes of other players, the talk went a bit too far. “You as an umpire take a decision on the chair, do you like it or don’t you like it. But you don’t go and speak like that, in my opinion,” Federer said about the incident.
Ultimately, the USTA said in a statement that Lahyani was concerned for Kyrgios’s health, and he will be allowed to continue officiating at the Open. If I’m being completely honest with myself, I’m just glad we’re getting a Kyrgios-Federer third-round matchup this weekend. Happy Labor Day to us.