When three-time major-tournament champion Andy Murray withdrew from the U.S. Open on Saturday, one day after he was seeded No. 2, it triggered a Grand Slam directive that appeared to be a solution in search of a problem.
Instead of simply moving third-seeded Roger Federer into Murray’s spot in the draw — which coincidentally would have set up the appetizing possibility of a Federer-Rafael Nadal men’s championship final — officials invoked a rule then moved two other players, No. 5 Marin Cilic and No. 17 Sam Querrey, to new positions in the bracket.
Cilic, the 2014 Open champ, was plugged into Murray’s vacancy against a far less accomplished opponent than originally scheduled. Instead of facing 39th-ranked Gilles Simon of France — against whom Cilic has a 1-5 career record — he got 26-year-old Tennessean Tennys (that’s his name) Sandgren, ranked 105th. Cilic, facing Sandgren for the first time, prevailed, 6-4, 6-3, 3-6, 6-3.
“Definitely, I would rather play Tennys than Gilles in first round,” said Cilic, who nevertheless pronounced the rule “fair to everyone.”
Querrey, instead of starting against qualifier Tim Smyczek, a fellow American ranked 203rd, was forced to deal with Simon, who had beaten Querrey four of the previous six times they met. (Querrey is 2-1 against Smyczek.)
“I certainly didn’t like Gilles Simon first round here,” Querrey said of how the switches impacted his tournament prospects. “The only thing I don’t understand is why the 3 doesn’t go to 2.”
He nevertheless didn’t let it spoil his day, romping past Simon, 6-4, 6-3, 6-4.
The re-draw rule, determined by the Grand Slam committee without input from player representatives, clearly states that a withdrawal among seeds 1 through 4 will result in No. 5 seed moving into the open position — in this case, Murray’s. And the No. 5 position “shall be filled by the 17th seed, and the 17th position shall be filled by the next highest ranked player eligible to be seeded.”
That player became Germany’s 37th-ranked Philipp Kohlschreiber, who will play Smyczek today.
As for the rule’s reasoning — why, specifically, No. 5 and 17 are moved? — the Grand Slam committee simply declared, “That’s the rule.”
Had Murray, who came to the conclusion that his ailing hip would not allow him to compete efficiently, withdrawn before Friday’s draw, the seeding would have been readjusted to make Federer No. 2. Had Murray waited until Monday to pull out, his spot would have been taken by a so-called “lucky loser” in last week’s qualifying tournament — and everyone else would have held his initial position in the draw.
Of course, Murray could have chosen to start the match with no intention of finishing and retired mid-match. That would have brought him $50,000 as a first-round loser, but would not have been well received by fans or fellow players. (There were several such incidents with lesser players at this year’s Wimbledon.)
In the end, the usual first-day, pillar-to-post action in this annual tennis festival — 64 men’s and women’s singles matches — got a bit more intrigue.
Play begins on all courts at 11 a.m.
Arthur Ashe Stadium
n Karolina Pliskova (1), Czech Republic, vs. Magda Linette, Poland
Not before 1 p.m.
n Naomi Osaka, Japan, vs. Angelique Kerber (6), Germany
n Rafael Nadal (1), Spain, vs. Dusan Lajovic, Serbia
Night session (7 p.m.)
n Elise Mertens, Belgium, vs. Madison Keys (15), United States
n Roger Federer (3), Switzerland, vs. Francis Tiafoe, United States
Louis Armstrong Stadium
n Elina Svitolina (4), Ukraine, vs. Katerina Siniakova, Czech Republic
n Henri Laaksonen, Switzerland, vs. Juan Martin Del Potro (24), Argentina
n Alison Riske, United States, vs. Coco Vandeweghe (20), United States
Not before 5 p.m.
n John Millman, Australia, vs. Nick Kyrgios (14), Australia