Can the new Louis Armstrong Stadium now officially be called the Graveyard of Champions?
On Saturday, Dominika Cibulkova knocked out reigning Wimbledon champion Angelique Kerber. On Monday, in the very first match on the new court, reigning French Open champion Simona Halep was upset by Kaia Kanepi. On Thursday, Australian Open champion Caroline Wozniacki was ousted by Lesia Tsurenko. Two-time Grand Slam champion Garbine Muguruza was evicted by Karolina Muchova and you can throw in former Open champion Stan Wawrinka, beaten by Milos Raonic.
Defending Open champion Sloane Stephens did manage to survive there on Monday. Whew!
The players are pretty much universal in their praise for the court, but in its first year there has been a heavy toll among the highly ranked and highly accomplished with Kerber the latest to go.
Cibulkova changed her shoes at 3-2 in the second set and her happy feet carried her to a 3-6, 6-3, 6-3 victory and into the round of 16, the furthest she’s been in eight Open appearances since losing to Wozniacki in the 2010 quarterfinals.
“I sweat a lot, so in some of the matches, I had to change my shoes four times. This match was only once, so I was pretty lucky,” Cibulkova said. “Nice conditions. We played in the shade. Shadow? Shade. OK. The conditions today on the court were the best so far for me during this U.S. Open.”
Cibulkova had been up 3-0 in the second, gave back a break, but ever the aggressor she broke Kerber in the ninth game to even up the match at a set apiece. She was starting to dictate the points, whether she won or lost them, going for winners and challenging the defensive-minded Kerber on every point. An early break put Cibulkova up 3-1 in the third. After giving that up in a spirited four-deuce fourth game, she broke right back in the sixth and held serve for the match.
This Open run, after a run to the quarterfinals at Wimbledon, is validating her work. “It’s just true that hard work pays off, because I was really working hard the whole year and the preparation before the year,” she said. “I felt like I'm not getting the results that I want and I deserve for the way I play. It's just, you know, I won some more matches and it give me confidence. Tennis is all about mental and confidence. That's what I'm having right now.”
Cibulkova must have a thing for roofs, though Armstrong’s wasn’t closed on Saturday. In 2016, she upset No. 7 seed Ana Ivanovic in the first match played on Arthur Ashe Stadium with its new roof super structure in place.
For Kerber, it was a loss to an old foe.
“It was a really tough battle against Domi again,” said Kerber, who met Cibulkova for the 13th time going back to 2008. “I had my chances, but I couldn't take it, especially in the third set. Also, I mean, I was not able actually to play my best tennis in the important moment. She was going for it, and she hit the balls really good and played the winners when she has to. I think that was the difference about the match today.”
As far as new Armstrong was concerned, Cibulkova was happy to win, though she found all that was going on there a bit of a distraction.
“I like to play on big stages, so yeah, of course, the fans are helping always when you're winning. It gives you special energy,” she said. “But today was my first time playing on Armstrong, and it was just so busy. You know, it was really hard to concentrate from the beginning, because the people are just walking around and talking and just eating, I don't know, and going up and down. So it was really hard. Sometimes you have to play the rally and somebody there is walking. It's not very usual, but, yeah, so this was a little complaint. But overall, the court was nice and everything went well.”