Jonathan Newman and James Rogers are the hosts of The Body Serve Tennis Podcast. In The Body Serve Diary, Jonathan and James write conversationally about the various happenings in the wild world of tennis.
James: We were all ready to finish this evening watching Serena’s opener, but we’ve just received the news of her withdrawal, basically at the same time as the rest of the world. The skies then immediately opened and poured down a near-whiteout, interrupting Roger Federer’s opener with Juan Ignacio Londero. Western New York homegirl Jessica Pegula will take Serena’s spot and face Zarina Diyas in tonight’s second match. I can’t say Serena’s withdrawal is a shock, but we were all optimistic once we saw her practicing on-site this morning.
The fortunes of the elder Williams sister, however, have suddenly turned brighter. Venus had been struggling mightily throughout the past few months, losing in the first round in her last three tournaments. (In the last two, the caliber of her vanquishers rang alarm bells, especially Bethanie Mattek-Sands in her return to singles after many months). Today, Venus was crisp, clever, and strong in taking out Cincinnati defending champ Kiki Bertens. Jonathan, you’ve written a piece on Venus tonight -- would you care to add a bit of color?
Jonathan: The tennis Venus displayed in the first set should put all those fears to rest. I can’t recall the last time Venus looked that good on a tennis court. Dare I say I saw shades of 2017 Venus during today’s match against the defending champion? Even when she fell behind 0-4 in the second set, she immediately got both breaks back and threatened to get things done in straight sets. However, Bertens showed her class and didn’t make things easy for Venus. What was really cool to witness was the crowd throwing everything behind Venus, willing her to the finish line. We KNOW the fraught history of the Williamses playing on home soil in the past, so this is always lovely to see. Anyway, you can read my piece here.
Venus was the highlight of our day, but we got things started on the Grandstand with Frances Tiafoe (surprisingly?) taking out Monfils in straight sets. What made it even more surprising was the fact he was able to do it after falling behind 1-4 in the first set while being completely outplayed.
James: Frances’ first few games were atrocious; he could barely find the court. As the set progressed, though, his volleys suddenly started landing, his groundstrokes started touching lines, and frankly, his opponent choked a few times. Monfils held four set points in the tiebreak, but Tiafoe found a way to gut it out. A question you asked in press elicited an interesting response from Frances; his volleys clearly weren’t working early in the match, but he decided to keep returning to the well because he knew it was the right play. Eventually, it worked, and his entire game seemed to follow.
Following Monfils-Tiafoe on Grandstand were 2017 champ Garbine Muguruza and Madison Keys. Muguruza is here with Anabel Medina Garrigues after parting ways with Sam Sumyk (Medina is not officially her coach, though). Muguruza has been in the wilderness for quite a while now, but she put in a solid performance against Keys in what turned out to be an entertaining match. Keys, for her part, needed this win after a few disappointing showings recently, including a truly shocking loss to 17-year-old debutante Hailey Baptiste in Washington. It’s easy to forget that Madison won Charleston and reached the quarters of Roland Garros this year. But this is a matchup that Madison likes (she’s now 4-1 vs. Garbine) -- and I do too, as a fan of all-out baseline power tennis.
The schedule was absolutely jam-packed today. It was tough to decide where to go; it’s crazy how much you can miss even being on-site.
Jonathan: To that point, Venus vs Bertens and Madison vs Muguruza were on Center Court and the Grandstand at the same time. I was particularly looking forward to the Keys-Muguruza match because it was a rematch of their tussle two years ago here, when Muguruza beat Keys in three sets on her way to the title. Honestly, both women needed the win today. Who also needed a win big time? Grigor Dimitrov. Poor guy. He drew Stan Wawrinka for the fifth time in the past 13 months (all of which Dimitrov lost), with four of those being first round matches, including last week as well in Toronto. Grigor found himself down 1-5 in the third set and somehow managed to get it back on even footing before Stan closed him out in the tiebreak. I’m heartened that Dimitrov is still going out there and giving his best like the professional he is, despite this incredible run of what can only be deemed bad luck.
You mentioned the schedule was wild today, and that included two high profile men’s doubles matches. We had Kyrgios-Tsitsipas and Murray-Lopez in action, but fans had to cram in to see them on the outer courts. Maybe someday these tournaments will figure out when particular doubles matches have as much interest as these did, and put them on appropriate courts?!
James: I’m trying to keep in mind that the singles schedule was absolutely packed. But, in my experience over the last few years, Kyrgios is THE biggest draw here outside of the Big 3 and Serena. The Cincinnati fans go -- to paraphrase Venus Williams -- hog wild over Nick. On top of that, he was playing with top 5 player Stefanos Tsitsipas against the best doubles team in the world, Robert Farah and Juan Sebastian Cabal. But enough about court assignments!
A few other notable stories today: Denis Shapovalov overcame a one-set deficit to beat Joao Sousa, Basilashvili lost to Rublev in 3, Kontaveit handed Kerber another early-round loss, and the reunited Vandeweghe-Mattek-Sands doubles team took out the 6-seeded Chan sisters.
Tomorrow I’m looking forward to Barty-Sharapova, a rematch of their Australian Open fourth round, which Barty won in 3. Barty has actually improved since then, while Sharapova has been in crisis mode. Maria’s victory over Riske was a good sign, though. Look out for Azarenka-Vekic, Paire-Medvedev, and Kyrgios-Khachanov.
Jonathan: I’m really looking forward to Court 10 action tomorrow, especially the Azarenka-Vekic match. It’s my favourite court to watch tennis on and I’ve seen Sveta there so many times over the years, and I’ll get to see her there again tomorrow! One final point to add regarding the doubles. We take for granted that doubles is the ugly stepchild to singles. But, I would argue that those two matchups today trump Strycova-Kasatkina and Carreno Busta-Isner, both on Stadium 3. Anyway, I think we’re done here with this Diary. We’ll be back soon with more from Cincinnati!