2020 in microcosm: A trainer works on the neck of Novak Djokovic during his match with Ricardas Berankis during the second round at the Western & Southern Open tennis tournament Monday, Aug. 24, 2020, in New York.
2020 in microcosm: A trainer works on the neck of Novak Djokovic during his match with Ricardas Berankis during the second round at the Western & Southern Open tennis tournament Monday, Aug. 24, 2020, in New York.| AP Photo/Frank Franklin II
Tennis

Tennis: At the Western & Southern Open in New York, many top seeds are rusty, out of shape and out of the tournament

What this tune-up for the 2020 CoronavirU.S. Open is showing, is that the world's best players may need a lot more tuning up.

Neal Abrams

Neal Abrams

Hello From Cincinnati in New York City.

Second Seed Dominic Thiem. POOF, gone! Women’s top seed Karolina Pliskova. BAM, goodbye! Second seeded Sofia Kenin. WHOOSH, see ya! Men’s 5th seeded Alex Zverev. CRASH, later! Gone too are Felix Auger-Alliasime, Alex de Minaur, Benoit Paire (without winning a game!!), Taylor Fritz, Frances Tiafoe, Sam Querrey, and Andrey Rublev from the Men’s draw. We already lost Amanda Anisimova, Cici Bellis, Marketa Vondrousova, Coco Gauff, Mady Keys, and the whole freaking bottom quarter of seeded players on the Women’s side. We knew to expect the unexpected from the first tournament back, but this is ridiculous!

Some players at the revamped Western & Southern Open looked out of shape (Thiem). Some looked like they weren’t tournament tough (Zverev, Rublev, Anisimova, Sloane Stephens—although admittedly Stephens has looked like this ever since she got married). And some looked like they just didn’t belong here at all (Paire).

But there were surprises galore, and at least one new name to figure out how to pronounce (18-year old Finnish player Emil Ruusuvuori who has taken out Sebastian Korda and 6th seeded Mateo Berrettini already). Andy Murray has shown that he can survive best-of-three set matches, (while Zverev showed that he needs a good hour’s lesson on how to hit second serves) and that his spirit is still intact. Whether this can translate into the best-of-five-set format of next week’s U.S. Open is another matter entirely. Serena Williams willed her 38-year-old body to a decrepit two-tiebreaker victory that the American media will sing hosannas about, but was really a very tricky win over an almost unheard of player, in which the American lost more games than she won.

But the tournament is off and running….one thing that I had doubted would happen for the better part of the summer. No one has tested positive for COVID-19, although some players have previously tested positive, like Novak Djokovic, Thiem, Tiafoe, Grigor Dimitrov, none of whom looked particularly good. Djokovic looked ragged as he dragged himself through a second round win over Ricardo Berankis after having received a first round bye. Thiem now becomes a question mark looking toward next week’s Grand Slam, as do the pantheon of American men and women who haven’t made it through to Wednesday this week.

Who looks good? Stefanos Tsitsipas. He could win this. Daniil Medvedev could too. Reilly Opelka, who at 7-foot looks down on almost all his opponents, even American John Isner, both of whom look good and have the kind of games that can win this tournament with its best-of-three format. Next week is another matter entirely for the big guys, although Isner has had loads of experience winning big, long matches on fast courts. Maria Sakkari, who held Coco Gauff to just four games in their first round match, looked good, as has 28-year-old New Jersey native Christina McHale. But really, with the bottom quarter totally open on the women’s side, almost anyone still in the tournament could loft this trophy this weekend.

One thing appears assured: the surprises aren’t over yet, and with my pick of Bianca Andreescu now having pulled out of the Open, your guess as to who will win these tournaments is as good as mine.

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