Jerzy Janowicz, Milos Raonic, Grigor Dimitrov suffer growing pains

Jerzy Janowicz reacts to a point against Maximo Jerzy Janowicz reacts to a point against Maximo Gonzalez during their U.S. Open 2013 men's singles match at the USTA Billie Jean King National Center. (Aug. 27, 2013) Photo Credit: Getty

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It turns out that one does not have to be an American male to experience a keen Grand Slam tennis letdown.

Poland's Jerzy Janowicz, lately built up as a prime candidate for future major-tournament success, Tuesday endured a crushing first-round U.S. Open loss to the world's 247th-ranked pro, Maximo Gonzalez of Argentina.

In straight sets, 6-4, 6-4, 6-2.

Janowicz cited a back injury suffered during a gym workout three days earlier. "I couldn't serve, I couldn't turn my body, I couldn't jump," he said. At one point, he attempted an underhand serve that the chair umpire ruled a let because the linesman didn't see it.

"Must've been too fast," Janowicz said, throwing a brief bit of wit into an otherwise glum postmatch analysis conducted in a droning murmur.

"Disappointment," he said. "Bad luck in New York."

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A year ago, after straining a leg muscle just before the Open, he was beaten in the Open's first round by 18-year-old American Dennis Novikov, who was ranked 1,098th at the time.

This may have been worse. Janowicz -- the name is pronounced YAIR-zhee YAN-o-vitz -- is just seven weeks past reaching the Wimbledon semifinals, having rocketed up the rankings to No. 14.

In the often semi-hysterical search for the sport's next great champion, Janowicz has appeared prominently on the radar. So, too, have Canada's Milos Raonic and Bulgaria's Grigor Dimitrov, who join Janowicz as the three youngest men -- all are 22 -- ranked among the world's top 30.

Yesterday, all three faced fellows far down the sport's pecking order. Raonic, riding the wings of a sonic serve that reached 145 miles per hour, defeated No. 176 Thomas Fabbiano of Italy in straight sets. But Dimitrov, whose elegant style has drawn Roger Federer (without the success) comparisons, was beaten in five sets by Portugal's Joao Sousa, ranked 95th.

Which proves . . . what? That next-superstar predictions are a fool's errand? That the current royalty of men's tennis -- Andy Murray, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Federer -- need fear no palace revolt?

Djokovic easily eliminated 112th-ranked Lithuanikan Ricardas Berankis last night, 6-1, 6-2, 6-2, and Federer had no difficulties in a 6-3, 6-2, 7-5 victory over 62nd-ranked Grega Zemlja of Slovenia. And no intention of going anywhere.

"I love it," Federer said of his long life as a tennis pro. "Clearly, when you win everything, it's fun. That doesn't necessarily mean you love the game more. You just like winning, being on the front page, lifting trophies, doing comfortable news conferences. It's nice.

"But for me, winning or losing, practice court or match court, I love it."

Meanwhile, Raonic will keep an eye on his fellow young guns, despite Tuesday's crash landings. "Jerzy has been great for -- what is it, nine, 10 months?" Raonic said. "Grigor, everybody knows is immensely capable."

Of himself, Raonic decided, "I think I can put myself in that position" to win a big tournament. "I just have to make the opportunities and convert them." What he would consider a good U.S. Open, he said, is "win my next match and the match after that and the match after that."

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But nothing is promised.

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