Women’s number-one player in the world Simona Halep already lost on Monday afternoon.
It’s the first time a top-seed had been eliminated in the first round during the Open Era.
The Queens-based classic has hosted a number of tennis’ most memorable moments throughout the years, the first 90 minutes of this year’s edition included. The game’s also come a long way from the West Side Tennis Club in Forest Hills 50 years ago.
“The game has changed so dramatically, it’s incredible,” said 1968 Open winner Virginia Wade on Friday to media members in the new Louis Armstrong Stadium. “I don’t know how people had so much vision as to start developing these big stadiums and making it as big as it is.”
Wade has attended every US Open for the last 50 years, including last year’s event, which was won by Sloane Stephens and Rafael Nadal, both of whom return as top-seeds this summer.
“Being honest, I always had a great connection with the crowd here. The court brings me to another level of energy and that’s something that I enjoy,” said 17-time Grand Slam singles champion Nadal, who also won the Open in 2010 and 2013.
“But now, it’s a whole new tournament. New seats, new draw, you’re starting from scratch,” added Stephens, whose 2017 US Open triumph was her first Grand Slam single’s crown. “You’ve just got to do your absolute best and whatever happens, happens.”
Of course, in order to repeat, both Nadal and Stephens have to survive the deep pools of talent flooding Queens over the next two weeks. Madison Keys, who lost in straight sets to Stephens in last year’s final, enters the field as the 14th seed.
“I think the biggest thing that I learned was that it wasn’t always perfect,” said Keys on Friday. “There were a lot of matches that, even within the match I wasn’t playing my best tennis, but I really used the crowd to help me get through and they turned out to be some of my favorite.”
Another danger to Stephens’ chances at becoming the first repeat champion since 2014 is Serena Williams, who has won six times in Flushing Meadows over the course of three decades, including three straight from 2012-2014.
Williams, still working her way back from giving birth to her daughter late last year, is the tournament’s 17th seed, but still widely considered to be the best player in the world.
For Nadal, he’ll be looking over his shoulder for Roger Federer, who at 37 is looking to add one more benchmark to an already illustrious career, which includes five consecutive US Open victories from 2004 to 2008. Nadal and Federer have one of the sport’s keystone rivalries, facing off on 38 occasions, with Nadal emerging victorious 23 times.
“I think the mix of Arthur Ashe Stadium, Billie Jean King National Tennis Center and New York City right next to it, it’s a wonderful place to be at,” Federer said of the atmosphere. “I think the crowds, of course I’ve got to mention the crowds, they’ve been most unbelievable for me through all the years. I just think it’s a cool place to be.”