For the first time at the U.S. Open, the ball boys and girls have names on their backs. But not their own.
Instead, the heroic health-care workers who have been on the front lines of the battle against COVID-19 in New York City will get well-deserved publicity in Flushing Meadows.
It’s a nice thought gleaned from the NBA, where players are wearing messages in support of the Black Lives Matter movement.
Ralph Lauren, the official outfitter of the Open, which provides uniforms for all on-court officials and the ball boys and girls, partnered with New York’s Mount Sinai Health System to honor their essential workers from the New York area in recognition of their efforts during the pandemic.
Mount Sinai, the Open’s medical services provider, chose the 50 employees to be feted out of 600-plus submissions.
However, a good chunk of the ball girls wore ponytails blocking out almost all of the name.
At this point, there are no ball boys or girls being used except on the two showcourts, Arthur Ashe and Louis Armstrong stadiums. (Grandstand is not being used).
Taylor Fritz, the rising American who is seeded 19th, shook off blowing a set point in the first-set tiebreaker to roll to a 6-7 (9-7), 6-3, 6-2, 6-4 triumph over German Dominik Koepfer.
After he sailed a forehand long to lose the first set, an emotional Fritz bellowed “You can’t play any worse.’’ The tall, hard-serving Fritz is trying to turn back the flagging fortunes of American men’s tennis.
Because the event is fan-less, Fritz was put on the smallest court on the grounds — Court 5 — which has only two rows of bleachers. A cozy 10 people watched the match, including the USTA player development director Martin Blackman. … There’s another young American to keep an eye on, 19-year-old Brandon Nakashima, who got a wild card into the Open and captured his first-rounder Monday over Paolo Lorenzi of Italy, 6-3, 6-2, 7-6. Nakashima dropped out of Virginia to turn pro last year after earning ACC Rookie of the Year. The young American, who works with Pat Cash, will play seeded fifth-seeded Alex Zverev in the next round. According to a source, he hit with Novak Djokovic last week.
Reilly Opelka’s latest chance to prove he’s the next American men’s tennis hope did not last long. The unseeded 23-year-old went one-and-done at the U.S. Open, falling to No. 7 David Goffin, 7-6, 3-6, 6-1, 6-4.
Opelka, who retired with a knee injury in the semifinals of the Western & Southern Open last week, had split the first two sets with Goffin and was tied 1-1 in the third set before the German took over.
Frenchman Benoit Paire, who tested positive for COVID-19 Sunday, won’t take anyone down with him for now, but seven players in contact with him were put in a “bubble within a bubble’’ for a few days, a tournament official confirmed.
One of those players, Kristina Mladenovic, the 30th seed also of France, won her first-round match Monday over American wild-card Hailey Baptiste, 7-5, 6-2 but explained it’s been an ordeal.
“It’s been very tough the last two, three days for me, emotionally, nerves,’’ Mladenovic said. “I’m in a new bubble within a bubble very little I’m allowed to do.”
Mladenovic said she’s under heavier restrictions than most other players regarding training, even though she’s been tested twice since and was negative.
“I’m allowed to play my match but literally I’m not allowed to do anything else,’’ she said. “Literally seeing no one else. Mentally it’s very tough. I had one practice with him and 35 minutes with him in the lobby [in a group]. I feel very unlucky there. It’s pretty tough to accept it because I’m not close in his entourage.”
Tournament director Stacey Allaster told Tennis Magazine players believed to be in contact with Paire will remain in the tournament. Allaster said safety and health protocols were implemented with contact tracing but nobody else is being bounced for now.
In the biggest upset and turnaround, ninth-seeded Diego Schwartzman of Argentina surrendered a 2-0 set lead and lost to Britain’s Cameron Norrie 3-6, 4-6, 6-2, 6-1, 7-5.