US Open: First Match on The Renovated Grandstand

I have always loved the atmosphere of matches on Grandstand, and wondered how the renovation would change the experience. Traditionally, the matches are the most entertaining and the players often cite it as one of their favorite courts for its intimate feel. The matches on this inauguration day promise to be  noteworthy: Wozniacki vs. Townsend, Isner vs. Tiafoe, Tsonga vs. Andreozzi and Konta vs. Mattek-Sands. This American heavy schedule is a true gift to US Open attendees and a sign of the resurgence of American tennis. 

The first match on the new Grandstand will be a thriller.  Caroline Wozniacki (DEN) and Taylor Townsend (USA) took to the court on a warm but not yet blistering and clear NY morning. 2016 has not been kind to either. They both come into the slam after a rather tough year, Wozniacki ranked #74 and Townsend #146. From injury to poor performance and coaching changes, they both need this win to begin their turn-around and to salvage their season. Straight from Rio and one match in New Haven Wozniacki is the fresher of the two, as Townsend played three qualifying matches to get into the draw. Using her leftyness, great hands and unique game, Townsend has an excellent opportunity to best the veteran who was number 1 in 2011. However, if Wozniacki pushes the match to three sets, the odds are in her favor with her competitiveness, speed and experience.

In Set 1, Wozniacki was off to a great start-up 3-1 with a point for 4-1, until Townsend settled in and got down to business; Townsend broke her at 3-3. With the momentum in her favor and using her unconventional game, she propelled herself to set point, but botched it for deuce. She showed her steely nerves, with a 89 MPH serve out wide. She won the set on the second set point, 6-4. The crowd rocked for Townsend, but there was also support for Wozniacki.

By Set 2, Townsend had the upper hand, but she came-out slow and sloppy with errors galore. Wozniacki capitalized on this quickly closing out a game 40-o for a 3-0 lead. Townsend does not win a game until the fourth game in the set. By then she has lost all momentum. She pushes to win the sixth game for 2-4, and in the eighth game, when she is down 2-5, she forces her opponent to serve out the set to win it 3-6. Townsend totally went away in this set and it may cost her the match. When she fizzled, the crowd’s enthusiasm did too, if just a tad

In the third and final set, Townsend came out strong. Her body language did not portray nerves or lack of focus. She was positive and showed great energy, winning the first game. This was a much more competitive set on the scoreboard. Neither player took the lead until the fourth game when Wozniacki broke Townsend via a forehand error. Serving for the set at 5-4, Wozniacki had a stranglehold on the game up 30-0, but Townsend forced three backhand errors for 40-30 lead only to err for deuce with her own backhand. Wozniacki wins the next two points and the match.

Townsend lost this game with poor shot selection, often the drop shot or a slice to bail out of a long rally. She also played too many risky shots with little margin and her forehands were sailing long, especially in the second set. It was also surprising how weak her returns were on both sides. She only won 29 points on her opponent’s serve. Wozniacki is not a strong server, but she out served her Townsend; not their average speed 90/88 and fastest serves 108/105. Townsend did have more winners 25/22, but she also had a lot more unforced errors 45/26. Though Townsend has a lot of upside to her game, at age twenty, she will have to make some major decisions soon. Will she polish-up her game-doing all she can to move up the ranks or will she use her leftyness and great hands for doubles success.

The commentators were surprisingly well-prepared, sharing comprehensive knowledge of the players’ games and lives. Even their banter was appropriated and even enoughable. However, they showed their bias, though they did try to balance each other. Mark Donaldson, was clearly the straight man in this duo, as Cindy Schumuer was routing for Wozniacki. She also showed herself to be a critic of Townsend’s fitness if not physique. Though the three set game was 2:12 minutes, the big framed Townsend did not seem unduly out of breath. Sure, she bailed out of a few long rallies, but this could be a result of a lack of patience and age more than fitness. She did not show her self to be any slower than #11 Karolina Pliskova or #16 Petra Kvitova. Though her body is atypical for the sport and I have always wondered about her pouch, I have never doubt her fitness or ability to get to a ball. Surely, she is no Stephens or Wozniacki, but neither is 99% of the tour.

Wozniacki vs. Townsend was a great opener for the great Grandstand after its renovation and the second match on Grandstand is proving to be as intriguing. Young American #125 Tiafoe is up two sets on #20 Isner and showing promise in the third set 6-3, 6-4, 6-6 (TB). The place is rocking for these Americans, showing that the DNA of the court is in tact. I sit here wishing I was there to not only enjoy the match, but the fans…

UPDATE: Isner ultimately defeated Tiafoe in 3:27,  3-6, 4-6, 7-6 (5), 6-3, 7-6(3). Tiafoe was rightfully crushed by the loss. Isner’s experience, serve and age won him this match, but Tiafoe has announced his arrival!

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