The first-round matches on Tuesday at the US Open were a bit of a bloodbath for top 10 men’s seeds. The bottom half of the men’s draw was blown wide open today with four top 10 seeds crashing out
Fourth seed Dominic Thiem lost to world No. 87 Thomas Fabbiano while 2017 quarter-finalist Andrey Rublev stunned eighth seed Stefanos Tsitsipas. Tenth seed and Wimbledon semi-finalist Roberto Bautista Agut lost a five-setter to Mikhail Kukushkin while Vasek Pospisil beat Karen Khachanov. It should be noted that Alexander Zverev did not lose despite needing a decider after winning the first two sets against Radu Albot.
While these may not come as a complete surprise given how the US Open is traditionally the Slam of upsets, very few would have predicted first-round exits for Thiem and Tsitsipas given the season they have had.
Thiem – who beat Roger Federer at Indian Wells to win his first Masters – said he was sick but it was Tsitsipas’ second straight first-round loss at a Major that really raised questions. Both the gruelling match and the testy reaction of the Greek youngster showed that all is not well with the 21-year-old.
Stefanos Tsitsipas at Grand Slams in 2019
Australian Open – semi-final loss to Nadal
French Open – fourth-round loss to Wawrinka
Wimbledon – first-round loss to Fabbiano
US Open – first-round loss to Rublev
The breakout star of the first Major of the year was out in the first round of the last in a tough four-setter.
Admittedly, it was a tough first-round match against the 2017 US Open quarter-finalist Andrey Rublev. In the morning match between the two talented 21-year-olds, it was Rublev who seemed to be a little better physically, winning 6-4, 6-7(5), 7-6(7), 7-5 after three hours and 55 minutes as the eighth seed began cramping late in the match.
Once again, it was the manner which he lost and his reaction to it that is as telling as his game. He fought till the very end but was just not able to be a 100%, physically and mentally.
Around this time last year, Tsitsipas had his first big breakthrough run on the North American hard courts. He reached the semi-finals in Washington and lost to Rafael Nadal in the final of the Rogers Cup beating Theim, Novak Djokovic, Zverev, and Kevin. Anderson. He lost in the first round at Cincinnati and then to Medvedev in the second round at US Open, but went on to win the Next Gen ATP Finals.
But 2019 was supposed to be his breakout season in Majors and Masters after beating Roger Federer and reaching the semi-finals of the Australian Open at 20. He lost an epic five-setter to Stan Wawrinka 8-5 in the fifth at the French Open – a loss he admits still rankles – and raised the hopes of the tennis world.
While he has had a terrific season for any 21-year-old – winnings two titles, reaching a career-high of No 5 and a Grand Slam semi-final – the slump in the last few months has been troubling.
After a semi-final at Washington, he lost in the first round of Cincinnati and Montreal Masters and doesn’t seem to have recovered. The frustration spilled over as he was embroiled in an ugly spat with the umpire even as he was cramping badly by the fourth set. After the match, he said he was not inspired. Not good signs.
Ugly spat with umpire
Even with the drama, the tennis on display was entertaining from the time the Russian broke serve in the opening game of the match and would be broken while serving for the match the first time. But it was the altercation between Tsitsipas and the chair umpire Damien Dumusois that took the spotlight.
The youngster is in a habit of screaming at his box during a match and copped a code violation for coaching. Incidentally, Patrick Mouratoglou, Tsitsipas’s consultant, was in the box.
But all hell broke loose when the cramping started and he needed more time between games. He had seen a trainer, been broken was trailing 4-5 on the changeover when Dumusois warned him that he was taking too long to get a bandana.
“I have to change,” Tsitsipas protested. “I don’t care,” he said. “Do whatever you want because you’re the worst. For some reason, you have something against me, I don’t know what—because you’re French probably. And you’re all weirdos. You’re all weirdos. Give me warning, I don’t care. Give me warning, give me warning, yeah, give me warning, I don’t care. Give me warning!
Tsitsipas did get the violation, which came with a point penalty and it really riled him. He stopped short of calling it a factor in his loss but said he felt the impact.
The physical and mental derailment was not a pretty sight but he kept the fight going till the end. He reeled off winners on groundstrokes when he could barely move and tried to rain down aces to finish points. He kept himself in the match as long as he physically could, losing serve in the fourth set after four deuces, even breaking Rublev when he was serving for the match once.
But it was not enough in the end.
“I’m not going to react again like Wimbledon, that’s the only thing I know,” was the first thing he said in the press. After his first-round loss at the All England Club, a stunned Tsitsipas had been self-deprecating and compared himself to Nadal and Federer.
But in New York he said he was struggling to offer positives.
“I feel like I’m doing the same thing over and over again, and my brain can’t really take it anymore... I don’t feel inspired.”
At a time when former world No 1 Andy Murray is playing a Challenger tournament to be able to make his way back to top-tier tennis, a 21-year-old talking about lack of inspiration is jarring.
The onus will be on the youngster himself and the team to find the inspiration and mental fortitude again. The Grand Slam season may have ended but with plenty of tournaments lined up at the end of the season, the Greek must find his philosophy of winning crunch moments again.