*Flushing , NY – Day one of the US Open is in the books and here’s how it went: Althea Gibson was posthumously honored for her pioneering contributions to the sport of tennis by receiving a commemorative garden right outside Arthur Ash Stadium at the Billie Jean King Tennis Center.
USTA leadership, including Billie Jean King herself, unveiled an interactive bust sculpture of the “first African American to win a tennis championship (French, US and Wimbledon, 11 total including doubles)” along with supporting granite blocks.
Gibson had long been a footnote in tennis history, with figures like Arthur Ashe receiving the bulk of the trailblazing glory. The honor serves to right the wrongs of the oversight and give our first tennis champion her due. Much respect to those who commit themselves to opening difficult doors for the sake of their successors.
Up and comer Chris Eubanks is a name you don’t often hear in tennis news. The lanky Atlanta native played one of the first matches to go live on opening day at the Open and he gave quite the valiant fight. Checking in at 6’7″ and 180 lbs, his game is predicated upon his big serve and relatively nimble movement due to his streamlined frame. It was only his second main draw appearance and he was up against Cristian Garin of Chile.
He handily took the first set and looked like he was poised to make quick work of the Chilean, but he let off the gas. He had to take command of the second, but he wobbled during the important moments and surrendered it in a tiebreaker, 5-7. And being the game of momentum that tennis is, the American couldn’t overcome the swing and went on to also drop the third set, 4-6. However, competing on home soil comes with its perks. There were a legion of American tennis fans on hand during the match and their cheers and chants helped Eubanks find his game and hold steady thru to a 4th set tiebreaker. He seized the moment and took the set, forcing a fifth decider.
Eubanks came out strong and almost grabbed an early break, but the Chilean held him off and in the process wrested the momentum once again and broke the American the very next game. Eubanks fought hard to stay in it, but he was unable to recover and went down in flames, 6-3, 6-7, 4-6, 7-6, 4-6.
Venus Williams was also on tap for Day one play. She was up against Sai Sai Zheng of China on Armstrong Stadium. She started strong out of the gate, coming from 0-40 down to get an early break. Venus dazzled the crowd with her nimble movement and net play, which earned her a quick 5-1 lead in the first set. She had to battle to close it out, though, having to save a couple of break points and dropping a few set points to do so, but a 117 mph serve and a final foray to the net saw her through, 6-1. She carried that same play into the second set, quickly leaping out to a 5-0 lead and earning a chance to serve for the win. She took full advantage and crossed the finish line in just 1:07. The 39-year-old never lost a first round in NY and this year was no different.
“You’ve gotta fight and you’ve gotta stay in there and that’s what I do,” she said of the quick win. “I love what I do. I now look forward to the next round and rooting for Serena tonight.”
17-year-old Whitney Osuigwe played 5th seeded Elina Svitolina and struggled mightily in the first set, dropping it 1-6. She unexpectedly found her groove in the second, however, and almost forced the veteran-in-comparison into a tiebreaker. She was unable to overcome the experience of Ukranian, ending the match on an error after a nail biting 40-shot rally. She would’ve faced Venus Williams for an all American affair and accomplished a dream had she won, but it wasn’t to be and her dreams will remain deferred.
In other first round news, Arthur Ashe stadium was all electric during the start of the night session with the energy from the buzz surrounding Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova battling it out. After the ceremonial opening night business, both ladies came out to raucous applause, but for Serena, Williams there was a little extra New York sauce on it. Also, the fact that she emerged from the tunnel wearing a cat suit reminiscent of the one that rock the world some years ago had to have amped up the “heroes welcome” decibels. Controversies and all, the New York crowd loves them some Williams sisters.
Serena Williams, the 8th seed, chose to serve first after winning the coin toss and brought her “A” serve game from the first ball struck. She quickly and decisively held, then Maria quickly followed suit. Serena, however, got it done on her second service game then saw an early opening to break her steely opponent … and she capitalized … then did it again for a second break and held to love to take the set, 6-1. It took just under 25 minutes.
After that demoralizing first set, Maria came out of the gate vulnerable and immediately dropped her serve. She allowed Serena to carbon copy the first set scoreline and dart out to a 5-1 lead. She did push Serena to a couple of break points in the middle of the set, but the 6-time champion found another one of her many gears with her humongous serve and shut the Russian completely out. And that was pretty much her last gasp. Even before the deciding point, I looked over at her box – including her new coach who sent her out with a new plan – and they were putting their things back in their bags. It was a wrap and they knew it … and she knew it. Serena Williams dominated and downed her “rival”, 6-1, 6-1 and improved her record against her to 20-2.
Katie Couric, Daymond John, Danielle Brooks (Orange is the New Black), Regina King, Alec Baldwin, Robin Roberts, Mike Tyson, Lara Spencer and Spike Lee were all on hand to witness the routine beatdown. Mike Tyson was also spotted in the crowd, who’s the owner of a quote commentator Patrick McEnroe at the end of the match to sum it up: “everybody’s got a plan, until they get hit in the mouth.”
“I know I have to play my best tennis when I play Maria,” Serena said. “Maybe it’s her height and the ball is always in my strike zone, but I her game just suits me.”
Last up to show and prove on day one was Madison Keys. She’s was fresh off winning the title in Cincinnati, taking out Svetlana Kuznetsova, and she’s no stranger to doing well here at the open. She’s made the 4th round or better in New York since 2015, even reaching the finals where she lost against her best friend, Sloane Stephens, in 2017. She was pegged to face Misaki Doi of Japan on Louis Armstrong. Doi had beaten Keys before, but it was unlike during this fortnight, because the American came to the Open with a new groove. She was still hot after the Cincy win and she as a new coach who’s harnessed her raw power and steadied her game. Doi made an effort to hang in there for the first set, grabbing five games off the American for 7-5, but she had no such luck in the second. Keys seemed angry that she allowed the Japanese to stay in that first set so long and roared out to a 5-0 lead in the second with Doi on serve. The 10th seed then broke her to sign, seal and deliver her first-round win and wrap up the day’s schedule.
On to day two …