US showing in Australia Open just ‘a bad day’
ABS-CBN Sports on Jan 16, 2018 08:47 AM
United States' Sloane Stephens bends over while playing China's Zhang Shuai during their first round match at the Australian Open tennis championships in Melbourne, Australia, Monday, Jan. 15, 2018. (AP Photo/Dita Alangkara)
By Howard Fendrich, Associated Press
All it took was one bad day at the Australian Open to unravel all those good feelings about American tennis generated by so much success at the U.S. Open only a handful of months ago.
Maybe, though, that should not be the takeaway from Day 1 in Melbourne.
Maybe neither the shock over opening-round losses by more than half of the U.S. women in the field at the first Grand Slam tournament of 2018, nor the euphoria over four women from the United States reaching the semifinals at the last Grand Slam tournament of 2017, is appropriate. Maybe neither should be viewed as a meaningful statement about the state of American tennis.
It’s better to see each as an isolated occurrence and take the long view: Progress is being made, and it’s simply inevitable that there will be a mix of good days and, well, not-so-good ones.
“It was a tough day, and this is a tough sport,” said 113th-ranked Nicole Gibbs, who won NCAA titles in singles and doubles at Stanford, and was the lone U.S. woman to win a match out of the 10 in action Monday at the Australian Open. “This isn’t an indication of anything, except we have a lot of depth (on the WTA tour) and we had a bad day.”
And it wasn’t just the women who fared poorly by going 1-9 — including exits by U.S. Open champion Sloane Stephens , seven-time Grand Slam title winner Venus Williams , and 10th-seeded CoCo Vandeweghe . Each member of that trio reached the final four at Flushing Meadows in September, the first all-American semifinals at that major tournament since 1981.
The men hardly distinguished themselves Monday, either. Two of the three highest-seeded U.S. men lost, too: No. 8 Jack Sock and No. 16 John Isner .
It’s been nearly 15 full years since any American man won any Grand Slam singles title, so let’s keep the focus on the women for the moment. That is where there have been some real positive signs recently.
With Serena Williams out of competition since winning her 23rd major singles championship at last year’s Australian Open — she was pregnant at the time, then dealt with health complications after giving birth in September — there has been an opportunity for other players to step forward.
Older sister Venus, for example, reached the Wimbledon final for the first time since 2009, and then the U.S. Open semifinals for the first time since 2010. She had started last season by getting to the Australian Open final for the first time since also finishing as the runner-up to her sibling there in 2003.
And yet, there she was on Monday, losing right away to 78th-ranked Belinda Bencic of Switzerland 6-3, 7-5, joining not just 20-somethings Stephens and Vandeweghe on the way out, but also CiCi Bellis, Jennifer Brady, Irina Falconi, Sofia Kenin, Alison Riske and Taylor Townsend.
“Last year is last year. This is, like, a new year,” the 37-year-old Venus Williams said. “You can’t live in the previous year. It’s impossible.”
Stephens knows that all too well.
She made a real breakthrough at the U.S. Open by earning the trophy. Remarkably, she has not won a match anywhere since, extending her losing streak to eight with a 2-6, 7-6 (2), 6-2 setback against 34th-ranked Zhang Shuai of China on Monday.
Taken on its own, that result is truthfully not all that surprising, given Stephens’ recent form, the fact that she hasn’t won an Australian Open match since 2014 (first-round defeats in 2015 and 2016; an injury absence in 2017) and her opponent’s ranking.
“Tennis is definitely a roller coaster. But I have learned to just not panic. It will be OK. There’s always going to be times when it’s really tough, and there will be times when you’re on an extreme high,” Stephens said. “I think for me now, it’s not that great, but it’s nothing to panic about.”
The same could be said about the entire American contingent Down Under.
AP Sports Writer Dennis Passa in Melbourne, Australia, contributed to this report.