venus & serena williamsDay 1 of the US Open featured dominant action from the most successful sister act the WTA have ever seen; James Blake, a former top 10 player on the ATP made a big announcement; Sloane Stephens narrowly escaped a 1st round upset; and Lenny Kravitz put his rocker hat back on and headlined opening night ceremonies.

Here’s how it all went down …

Venus Finds Top 10 Form to Oust No. 12 Seed, Kirsten Flipkens

After false starts at the French Open and at the Rogers Cup in Toronto due to rust and nagging injuries, 7-time Grand Slam champion, Venus Williams, was able to find and display her former top 10 form in an opening round match at this year’s US Open.  She’s won the event twice (’00, ’01).

The unseeded elder Williams sister was firing on all cylinders today in a day match on Ashe Stadium when she ousted no. 12 seeded Kirsten Flipkens, who recently eliminated her in 3  heartbreaking sets at Rogers Cup in Toronto.  During that match, Flipkens fought back from losing the 1st set to love and upended Williams by digging out a win at  0-6, 6-4, 6-2.

But revenge is always sweet.

Williams, 33, and currently ranked world no. 60, was moving efficiently – producing only 11 unforced errors, her 1st serve had more gusto (topping out at 120mph) than in the recent past, and her net play was sublime, all enabling her to exact revenge and defeat Flipkens in straight sets, 6-1, 6-2.  She looked like the Venus we’re used to seeing in New York – where she’s never dropped a 1st round match.

After Venus dominated the 1st set, Flipkens put up a fight in the 2nd, breaking the purple-haired former champion once and pushing her to a couple of 10 minute or more service games before she was able to regain control and close out the match.  Despite the last minute resistance from Flipkens, there would be no repeat of Toronto, and the match concluded with the Belgian on the losing end in just 1 hour and 24 minutes.  Between Venus’ reclaimed form and Flipkens crafty slices and near-perfect net play, the two gave the fans a thrilling overall match on Ashe Stadium court, with Venus advancing past the first round for the 15th time in 15 tries at the open.

Sloane Stephens narrowly escapes 1st round loss, Comeback Electrifies Armstrong Stadium

The heir apparent in American women’s tennis, 16th ranked and 15th seeded Sloane Stephens, seemed to have trouble stringing points together in her 1st round match early Monday on Armstrong Stadium.  She dropped the first set, 6-4, against world no. 110, Mandy Minella, in an error-strewn display of roller coaster tennis; Stephens’ lethal forehand was wayward for a spell.

Stephens was shaky with her play from the start, which she attributed to nerves, and Minella saw it as her golden opportunity to claim the biggest and most high profile scalp of her career.  The Luxembourgian capitalized on the wild forehands, poor footwork and double-faults to convincingly claim the first set … only to lose belief and collapse – ultimately in tears – in a close 2nd set and a thrilling see-saw 3rd set tiebreaker.

In the breaker, Minella drew first blood by stealing the mini break at 1-1 to go up 2-1, but nervously lost the next 4 points, allowing Stephens to go up 6-2 on serve.  The match was then on Stephens racquet, but Minella took the next three points, reaching 6-5 on serve, but was broken immediately to lose the match, 6-4, 3-6, 6-7 due to a botched net volley.

Minella realized she’d missed a golden opportunity and sat courtside sobbing over the narrow loss, while Sloane appeared to be soaking in the miraculous rebound to build match toughness toward propelling her into the deeper rounds of the tournament.  Her signature dimpled bright smile told the story as she waved and signed autographs for the fans.

Both women are sure to have their regrets about the play during the match, but their back and forth had the capacity crowd on the edge of their seats – sometimes cringing, making for the first 3-set thriller of this year’s Open.

Lenny Kravitz Prepares Court for Reigning US Open Queen, Serena Williams; World No. 1 Dazzles Under the Lights

Rocker and actor Lenny Kravitz headlined opening night festivities this year with a lively performance of his hit song, “Are You Gonna Go My Way,” flanked by a performance by subway sensations, The Drumatics; a presentation of “the key to the stadium – the new Arthur Ashe stadium, that is, which will come complete with a retractable roof by 2017 – from tennis legend Billie Jean King to Mayor Bloomberg for all his help in bringing the dream to pass; and a rendering of the Star Spangled Banner, complete with bombs bursting in air.

All that hoopla was really to prepare the royal court for the reigning US Open Queen, Serena Williams, to demonstrate just why she reigns, however.

Under the lights, where many have crumbled under the pressure of the spirited New York fans, Serena Williams is most comfortable, doling out her beat downs to anyone who dares to challenge her rulership.  On the receiving end on Day 1 this year was Italy’s Francesca Schiavone, a former French Open champion.  No, she really did win a Slam one year, even though it would be hard to believe based on the results of her match against Williams.

Schiavone never stood a chance, being broken in the first game, never finding her footing and succumbing 0-6 in the first set to the powerful and accurate strokes of Queen Serena.

Serena has been known to lose focus when she’s winning too easily – as was the case last night – or the stakes aren’t high enough, but on the heels of a loss to world no. 2, Victoria Azarenka in Cincinnati, there was no such loss of focus and each point was played with the intensity of a match point.  There was no strategy that could’ve pulled the 16-time Slam champion off her game – not even a playful hug Schiavone solicited from a linesperson, thus she went on to close the door on the Italian’s US Open hopes in just 1 hour, 6-0, 6-1.  And to further punctuate her rulership, the impending NY rains held off precisely until Serena wrapped the match and her on-court victory interview, after which play was suspended for the rest of the night.

She completed the match with 1 ace, 13 winners and 8 unforced errors … not her usual jaw-dropping stats, but it certainly got the job done.

Former World No. 4 James Blake Follows Compadre Andy Roddick in Tearful Retirement Announcement

Former American tennis world no. 4 has followed in the footsteps of former colleague and friend Andy Roddick by announcing his retirement from the sport at this year’s US Open.  Blake is still in the field of competition for the tournament, but it will be his last.

At age 33, Blake cited inconsistent performance due to a fussy “matured” body and a strong desire to focus on the next chapter of his life, which includes a wife and a new daughter.  He was unsure about what the future holds beyond that, but tossed around the idea of finishing a degree that he started at Harvard – but online this go ’round – and being a captain for the US Davis Cup team (read MORE here).

American Results
In other American tennis US Open news, Lauren Davis fell to Carla Suarez Navarro 6-0, 6-0 ; Vania King fell to Kaia Kanepi 6-4, 6-7, 1-6; Madison Keys falls to Jelena Jankovic 6-3, 6-4; Jamie Hampton, Bethany Mattek Sands, and Coco Vanderweghe all move on to the next round on the women’s side and Ryan Harrison fell to Nadal 6-4, 6-2, 6-2; , Michael Russell fell to Richard Gasquet  3-6, 4-6, 2-6; Rhyne Williams fell to Nikolay Davydenko 3-6, 6-4, 6-1, 5-7, 0-6, but wildcard Klahn move on.