US Open Day 2: Rafael Nadal stutters; Swiatek, Alcaraz coast; Raducanu, Osaka crash out

Rafael Nadal made his long-awaited return to Flushing Meadows on Tuesday. The Spaniard, a four-time US Open champion, has not played the final Major of the year since his 2019 triumph and this year, he got his campaign off to a winning start against Australia’s Rinky Hijikata 4-6, 6-2, 6-3, 6-3.

The Spaniard came out to the night session at the Arthur Ashe Stadium in rusty fashion, as can be expected from the 36-year-old who has played one match since withdrawing from the Wimbledon semifinal due to an abdominal injury. After a poor serving performance saw him drop the first set, the Spaniard reset to take the next three. His serve and forehand are both finding their feet.

Up next is a tricky assignment against Italy’s Fabio Fognini, the only player to have defeated Nadal from two sets down, doing so at the 2015 US Open itself. Fognini may not be the same force he was a few years ago, but after getting past Aslan Karatsev in five, he would be high on confidence.

Rafael Nadal, Rafael Nadal, of Spain, serves to Rinky Hijikata, of Australia, during the first round of the US Open tennis championships, Tuesday, Aug. 30, 2022, in New York. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

Swiatek, Alcaraz win routinely

Following the shock defeat of Simona Halep on Monday, World No. 1 Iga Swiatek has become the prime contender for the title in New York. And the Pole did not disappoint as she opened her campaign with a stellar 6-3, 6-0 win over Italy’s Jasmine Paolini.

Swiatek did not need to be at her best to put up a dominant display, in the kind of result that she needs to be able to play herself into form in the early rounds of the Open. The Pole went on a remarkable 37-match winning streak back in the summer but has gone 6-4 since. The title race in New York is opening up, and she needs to get into rhythm to have a chance. Next up: 2017 US Open champion Sloane Stephens.

Iga Swiatek Iga Swiatek, of Poland, reacts after defeating Jasmine Paolini, of Italy, during the first round of the US Open tennis championships, Tuesday, Aug. 30, 2022, in New York. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

Elsewhere, teenage sensation and third seed Carlos Alcaraz got his US Open campaign off to a great start, navigating a tricky assignment against Argentina’s Sebastian Baez. Baez went toe to toe with Alcaraz for the first two sets, and the Spaniard had to produce some of his trademark highlight reel-worthy moments to eke out the first two sets. 5-7, 5-7, 0-2 down, following which Baez pulled up with cramp and had to retire.

The Spaniard proved himself on the big stage at this event last year, reaching the quarterfinal. He will be looking to go a few steps further this time around.

Former champion out at the first hurdle

Emma Raducanu Emma Raducanu, of Britain, serves to Alize Cornet, of France, during the first round of the US Open tennis championships, Tuesday, Aug. 30, 2022, in New York. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

2021 champion Emma Raducanu and 2020 champion Naomi Osaka both lost their first-round encounters after anticipation had built over their chances this year. A year ago, Raducanu pulled off the biggest fairytale run in the history of this sport, winning the US Open from the first round of qualifying. But since then, she has struggled with physical issues and the pressure that has been on her while she has been on her first full year on tour.

Despite a decent buildup, the Briton was blown away by France’s Alize Cornet 6-3, 6-3. The match was played on Cornet’s racket, for the most part, her variety allowed her to dictate the rhythm, and disrupt Raducanu from the baseline. Despite getting an early break in the second, Raducanu, who will now fall to World No. 80 at least and will need to build on tour all over again, was no match.

During the late session on Arthur Ashe, Osaka was taken down by Australian Open finalist and big hitter Danielle Collins 7-6, 6-3. Osaka was once the most dominant hardcourt player on the tour, but ever since her break last year, injuries and her subsequent low ranking have created problems. The Japanese was handed a terrible first-round draw in Collins, whose power and suitability to New York’s quick conditions proved to be too much for Osaka.

The 24-year-old will now go a full season without a Grand Slam title for the first time since 2017.

Other notable results

– Alison van Uytvanck def. Venus Williams 6-1, 7-6
While Serena may take all the high-profile adulation this week, older sister Venus may also be in the final few Majors of her career, making her first-round loss a significant one. Venus has struggled to put together results on tour this year, and the doubles along with her sister may well be where she sees the most success.

– Jannik Sinner def. Daniel Altmaier 5-7, 6-2, 6-1, 3-6, 6-1
Sinner was expected to be one of the young players to take the mantle from the ‘Big 3’ but his results have been obscure lately. The Italian really struggled to get past Altmaier, but if he remains fit, he has gotten the kind of result that might just jolt him into action.

– Clara Burel def. Elena Rybakina 6-4, 6-4.
Rybakina has been vocal about how she has not been given enough credit for winning Wimbledon – especially without the ranking privileges. A lowkey first-round exit, full of unforced errors and bad decision-making, during the day session on Court 12 will add insult to injury.

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