The roof was closed, then it opened, and thousands cheered.
And therein a major milestone was reached last night by the United States Tennis Association on the first day of the U.S. Open at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center.
There wasn’t a drop of rain in the region, and the chances of any this week in the New York area are slim, but last night the roof over Arthur Ashe Stadium was operable, it was official, and the USTA wanted to make sure it was the star. Years in the making as part of a half billion dollar tennis center re-invention, the two 800-ton panels were opened to the heavens before the start of the play.
Novak Djokovic played Jerzy Janowicz in the first match last night, followed by Americans Madison Keys against Alison Riske. For all the drama the USTA planned for the opening ceremonies, there was a fair amount in Djokovic’s match against Janowicz, which he won, 6-3, 5-7, 6-2, 6-1.
After the fifth game of the first set, Djokovic called for the trainer. A three-minute injury timeout was taken while the trainer deeply massaged the back of his right arm above the elbow. Djokovic was able to serve out the first set, but a left wrist injury suffered during the Rio Olympics put a question mark on the defending champion’s chances coming into the Open this year.
“It’s not easy to play on this level throughout the year, there are days and weeks when you aren’t feeling your best,” Djokovic said. “I don’t feel it’s necessary to talk about it now. I’m through to the next round.”
After winning the first two Grand Slams of the year, Djokovic was knocked out of Wimbledon by Sam Querrey and after winning at Toronto (his seventh victory of the season), was ousted in the first round of the Olympics by Juan Martin Del Potro. Djokovic said then that a left wrist injury, one that he couldn’t identify, was bothering him and he chose not to play in Cincinnati as a tuneup for the Open.
Now he was playing Janowicz, a rangy 25-year-old from Poland who had sat out the first half of the season with knee and back troubles. He had played only two ATP matches, losing both of them, and lost in the first round of the Olympics. His ranking had fallen to 247, but because of the injuries he had a protected ranking of 94 that got him directly into the Open draw.
After losing the second set to Janowicz, Djokovic sat in his chair and cringed, appearing to be flexing the right arm in pain. He had never played Janowicz, who had one significant Grand Slam run when he reached the quarterfinals of Wimbledon in 2013, losing to Andy Murray. He had made it to the third round of major a total of seven times.
But after his emotional second-set win, it appeared that Janowicz had nothing left in the tank and went down quickly to Djokovic in the final two sets.
In the late match, which ended at 1:49 a.m., Keys, the No. 8 seed, came back against Riske, 4-6, 7-6 (5), 6-2.
Patrons of the opening night ceremony, featuring rock icon Phil Collins and Hamilton star Leslie Odom Jr., found the massive roof closed and the arena filled with a wafting dry ice fog, a touch of surreality. After statements by Billie Jean King, Mayor Bill de Blasio and USTA chairman Katrina Adams, Collins took the stage to sing, what else, “In the Air Tonight.”
For a couple of sets last night, there was something in the air, but Novak Djokovic sniffed out a victory.