Eight matches worth watching on the opening day of the 2013 U.S. Open:
(12) Kirsten Flipkens vs. Venus Williams
Head-to-head: Tied 1-1
They opened the U.S. Open Series squaring off in Toronto, where Flipkens rallied for an 0-6, 6-4, 6-2 win, saving 11 of the 16 break points she faced. Both have been banged up this summer: Williams has battled a bad back and Flipkens has been slowed by a sore knee. Flipkens has failed to survive the second round in three of four prior Flushing Meadows appearances, but she’s played her best tennis this year, reaching the fourth round of the Australian Open and the Wimbledon semifinals, though her knee has limited her to four matches since her SW19 run. Look for the Belgian, whose fast hands complement an attacking mindset, to vary the depth and angle of her slice backhand to set up her forehand. Venus must serve with command and be quick off the mark, as Flipkens can either attack or draw opponents to net.
(1) Serena Williams vs. Francesca Schiavone
Head-to-head: Williams leads 5-2
This battle of current and former French Open champions matches the world’s most dangerous player against one of the game’s most exuberant competitors. They met earlier this month in Toronto and the expressive Italian was up a break before Serena lowered the boom, winning eight straight games in rolling to a 6-3, 6-2 rout. If Serena is timing her returns she can ravage Schiavone’s second serve, which means the 2010 French Open champion must either play for a higher first-serve percentage or take some big risk on the second delivery. Either option won’t detract from the fact Williams has more weapons, she’s won all six sets they’ve played on hard courts—and respects Schiavone’s game, so it’s unlikely she’ll look past the 2010 quarterfinalist.
(9) Jelena Jankovic vs. Madison Keys
Head-to-head: First meeting
Former world No. 1 Jankovic reached the U.S. Open final five years ago; the 18-year-old Keys is one of America’s top young talents with Top 10 potential. This match pits Jankovic’s precise return and consistency against Keys’ authoritative serve and explosiveness. Look for Keys, who pulled out of Cincinnati qualifying with right shoulder tendinitis, to try to dictate points by taking the first strike. Jankovic, who remains one of the game’s smoothest movers, is the in-form player fresh off her run to the Cincinnati semifinals. JJ has played some of her best tennis on North American soil this year, reaching the Miami semifinals and Charleston final. Jankovic will want to extend rallies and make this match about movement, while Keys will try detonate points with her heavy serve and forehand. She must guard against the Jankovic backhand down the line, which is the Serbian’s kill shot—and the shot she sometimes over-plays early in rallies.
(30) Laura Robson vs. Lourdes Dominguez Lino
Head-to-head: Dominguez Lino leads 2-0
The left-handed Brit produced a major break-out tournament at last year's Open, beating former Grand Slam champions Kim Clijsters and Li Na in succession to reach the round of 16. Robson is the bigger hitter and her baseline aggression is better suited for Flushing Meadows’ fast track; however, this is a danger match. Dominguez Lino beat Robson, 7-5, 6-3, in their lone hard-court clash in Beijing last fall, and since reaching the Wimbledon fourth round, Robson has been hampered by a right wrist injury. The 5’4” Spaniard is most comfortable on clay and doesn’t own an imposing shot, but will rely on her consistent counter-punching skills and court craft to try to coax errors from the sometime erratic Robson.
(2) Rafael Nadal vs. Ryan Harrison
Head-to-head: Nadal leads 1-0
Harrison exchanged high fives with First Lady Michelle Obama at Arthur Ashe Kids' Day on Saturday and has already traded shots with the King of Clay this year. Nadal defeated Harrison, 7-6, 6-2, in Indian Wells in March, and the 97th-ranked American is well aware he will face a barrage of lefty topspin forehands to his weaker backhand wing. Rafa is 15-0 on hard courts this year and tuned up for his return to the Open by winning successive Masters titles in Montreal and Cincinnati. When Nadal establishes his curling cross-court forehand to the Harrison backhand it will be very tough for the underdog to neutralize that pattern, so he must be assertive on serve, try to take charge of points with his forehand, and, most importantly, serve boldly—as the 2010 champion is playing the best hard-court tennis of his career and has a clear advantage in running rallies.
(7) Roger Federer vs. Grega Zemlja
Head-to-head: Federer leads 2-0
Considering that Federer has not permitted more than five games in either of their two prior hard-court meetings and Zemlja did not win a main-draw match during the North American summer hard-court season, you might write this off as a routine first-rounder. However, little has come easy for Federer this season. Still, the five-time U.S. Open champion possesses more power, is the more versatile player, and he’s quicker around the court. The last time Federer fell to a man ranked outside the Top 30 at the U.S. Open was way back in 2002 when he lost in the round of 16 to his former doubles partner, Max Mirnyi. Coincidentally, that was also the last time the Swiss was seeded outside of the Top 3 in New York. In his pre-U.S. Open press conference, Federer said his sometime troublesome back is feeling fine; if he’s firing with accuracy, he shouldn’t encounter much trouble here. As an added bonus: One of Federer's favorite musicians, Lenny Kravitz, is scheduled to perform "Are You Gonna Go My Way?" as the opening-night headliner, which may well put Roger in a rocking mood.
(27) Fernando Verdasco vs. Ivan Dodig
Head-to-head: Verdasco leads 1-0
They’re separated by one year in age, eight spots in the rankings, and both are coming off career-best Wimbledon results: Verdasco held a two-set lead over Andy Murray before falling in five in the quarterfinals, while Dodig reached the fourth round for the first time. The big-serving Croatian is an aggressive player and a flatter hitter who will take his cracks, so Verdasco must maintain depth. If he’s landing his shots, Dodig can be dangerous: He upset another Spanish lefty, Rafael Nadal, at the 2011 Montreal Masters, and partnered Marcelo Melo to reach the Wimbledon doubles final last month. The 30th-ranked Verdasco plays with more spin and greater margin for error and the two-time U.S. Open quarterfinalist is the more accomplished player. However, Dodig has three times as many hard-court wins this season: He’s 12-10 on hard courts, while Verdasco is 4-6. The 38th-ranked Croatian cannot be discounted if he has a strong serving day.
(19) Tommy Robredo vs. Marinko Matosevic
Head-to-head: Matosevic leads 1-0
Matosevic relied on aggressive court positioning, a sound second serve, and his two-handed backhand struck down the line to sweep the Spaniard in Indian Wells in March. Robredo’s inside-out forehand is his signature shot and also feeds directly into Matosevic’s two-handed backhand, which is the Aussie’s sturdiest stroke. Though Robredo has managed just four wins in six hard-court tournaments this year, the longer this match goes, the more it favors the world No. 22: He owns a 13-4 lifetime record in five-set matches, including a 3-0 mark this year. Matosevic is winless in two career five-setters. The 56th-ranked Matosevic is also 2-20 when losing the first set this season, so a fast start is critical as Robredo is a tenacious competitor. At Roland Garros, Robredo turned the art of the comeback into a monumental trek in becoming just the second man in history to come back from two sets down to win in three consecutive Grand Slam matches, joining Henri Cochet, who did it at Wimbledon in 1927.