US Open 2021: Former champion Sloane Stephens wins thrilling opener

Former champion Sloane Stephens overcame best friend Madison Keys’s aggressive play to secure a 6-3, 1-6, 7-6(7) win in the first round of the US Open on Monday (August 30). The 2017 winner quickly took control of the first set on Arthur Ashe Stadium, putting up a strong defensive performance to fend off three break points as Keys committed 15 unforced errors.

But Keys roared back in the second, winning all of her first-serve points and firing off 11 winners compared to just three from Stephens, who struggled to find her power.

After trading breaks in the third set, they headed into a tiebreak, where Keys’s unforced errors proved to be her undoing. After fending off two match points, she shouted in frustration as she whacked the ball into the net to set up a third. It was the first time the pair had met on Ashe since Stephens defeated Keys in the final four years ago for her first – and thus far only – Major title.

“We’re both looking to get back that form we had in 2017. Maddy is my best friend on tour and it is always difficult for us but we’re always able to separate the match and come out and compete,” said Stephens. “I thought today we played a really solid match.”

Stephens said she was thrilled to compete in front of a packed New York crowd – including her mother – a year after she played to empty stands due to the pandemic. “Being an American playing at the US Open is incredible,” said Stephens. “I think this atmosphere, out of all the slams, is pretty unmatched. I think this is like the peak of the peak.”

Jennifer Brady and Jelena Ostapenko among Monday withdrawals
American Jennifer Brady was among a handful of players who withdrew from the U.S. Open on Monday, adding to the list of competitors who had already announced they were skipping the year’s final major due to injury. Brady, who reached the tournament’s semi-finals in 2020 and earlier this year lost in the Australian Open final to Naomi Osaka, pulled out with an unspecified injury, the Women`s Tennis Association (WTA) said, with lucky loser Stefanie Voegele of Switzerland replacing her in the draw.

Latvia’s Jelena Ostapenko, who won the French Open in 2017, pulled out with a medical reason, the WTA said, while Briton Johanna Konta withdrew due to a left thigh injury. The players were replaced in the singles draw by Belgian Greet Minnen and Russia`s Kamilla Rakhimova, respectively.

On the men’s side, France’s Jo-Wilfried Tsonga had also withdrawn from the tournament, the ATP announced. Japan’s Yuichi Sugita replaced him in the opening round against Norwegian Casper Ruud. The tournament kicked off on Monday without several of the sport`s biggest names, including Roger Federer, Rafa Nadal, men’s title-holder Dominic Thiem and Serena Williams, all of whom were unable to compete due to injury.

Carla Suarez Navarro given standing ovation as she bows out
Carla Suarez Navarro received a standing ovation at Flushing Meadows on Monday after the fan favourite brought down the curtains on her Grand Slam singles career following her first round loss at the US Open.

The 32-year-old Spaniard announced in September 2020 that she was being treated for early stage Hodgkin lymphoma and underwent several months of gruelling chemotherapy and radiotherapy before returning at the French Open in June.

The former world number six, who is known for her sublime single-handed backhand, had already announced she would be making her last Grand Slam singles appearance in New York.

“I lost, but this year was a gift,” Suarez Navarro said after her 6-2, 6-4 loss to Danielle Collins. “Last year on these dates, I didn’t know if I could be here one more time or not, and I’m here,” said the Spaniard, who had been in hospital on this date a year ago. “I’m happy for that.”

Suarez Navarro, who twice made the quarter-finals in Flushing Meadows, said she is proud of what she’s achieved in the game. “I’m happy with the person and the player I have been during all these years,” she said.

“I had dream when I was young, and it was to be top-10 player in the world. I think this is so difficult. Of course I have more dreams, but I never get it. I never won a Grand Slam. I never was No. 1 in the world, but this is so difficult.”