Irina Falconi of the United States celebrates match point against Dominika Cibulkova during Day Three of the 2011 US Open.
© Michael Heiman, Getty Images
Donald Young defeated two seeded players en route to the fourth round.
© Matthew Stockman
Melanie Oudin (R) and Jack Sock pose with the mixed doubles championship trophy after defeating Eduardo Schwank and Gisela Dulko.
© Chris Trotman
By E.J. Crawford
The ball was inches from its second bounce and Irina Falconi was closing in, fast, on the umpire’s chair. But with a final stretch she lunged for the ball and flicked it cross court, sending it whispering across the top of the net for a perfectly placed winner that secured her 2-6, 6-3, 7-5 victory over No. 14 seed Dominika Cibulkova in the second round of the 2011 US Open.
Then things went nuts. The crowd in Arthur Ashe Stadium, thinking the point was lost, hesitated and then erupted, and the 21-year-old Falconi started jumping around wildly and seemingly uncontrollably, with the enthusiastic energy of a 3-year-old who had just discovered ice cream.
It was that kind of tournament for the young Americans at their hometown Slam. Round after round through the first week, they fired off answers to those who questioned the future of tennis in the United States. In all, eight U.S. players 22 and younger would win at least one round in the main singles draws of the 2011 US Open. That included 16-year-old Madison Keys, who became the youngest player to win a main draw match at the US Open in six years (since Nicole Vaidisova in 2005), and Jack Sock, who became the first USTA Boys’ 18s champion in 16 years to win his first-round match (since Justin Gimelstob in 1995).
Moreover, five of those eight knocked off seeded players to advance to the third round or better, including Falconi, 22-year-old Vania King, who eliminated No. 29 Jarmila Gajdosova, and one-time wunderkind Donald Young, who pulled out a fifth-set tie-break in the second round to defeat No. 14 seed and 2010 US Open quarterfinalist Stanislas Wawrinka. That prompted USTA Player Development General Manager Patrick McEnroe to tweet, “In tennis terms Donald Young became a man today.”
Said Young, who also knocked off No. 24 Juan Ignacio Chela in the third round before falling to Andy Murray in the round of 16, “I think everyone’s light turns on at their own time. I’m starting to feel like mine is turning on. Not everybody does it when everybody expects it to be done.”
For Week 1 of the US Open, however, “everyone” did not seem to include 19-year-old Christina McHale, who pulled the biggest upset of them all, defeating No. 8 seed Marion Bartoli in straight sets en route to the third round, or the delightful 18-year-old Sloane Stephens, who upended No. 23 seed Shahar Peer, 6-7, 6-3, 6-1, on her way to the round of 32. Want more good news for the future of American tennis? Following the US Open, McHale became the youngest woman in the Top 50 and Stephens supplanted McHale as the youngest woman in the Top 100.
“I think there’s a healthy jealousy going on right now, which is good; it’s only going to help,” Andy Roddick, the longtime standard-bearer for U.S. tennis, said of the young Americans’ emergence. “It’s a great thing to see. You just feel there’s a little bit of momentum. There is a bit of a snowball effect at times if it goes the right way [and it] seems like there’s some of that right now.”
And for the fortnight the U.S. success extended beyond the singles. Melanie Oudin (19 years old at the time) and Sock (18) became the first teenage pair in the Open Era to win the US Open mixed doubles title, upsetting the defending champions and top seeds Liezel Huber and Bob Bryan en route; unseeded Grace Min defeated No. 2 seed Irina Khromacheva in the first round and No. 1 seed Caroline Garcia in the final to win the girls’ singles crown without dropping a set; and 15-year-old Taylor Townsend had an Open to remember, teaming with 17-year-old Jessica Pegula to advance to the round of 16 of the women’s doubles and with 14-year-old Gabrielle Andrews to reach the final of the girls’ doubles.
McEnroe, however, would sound a note of caution, saying it was a bit early to proclaim a new golden era for American tennis. After all, it was just two years ago that Oudin reached the quarterfinals of the US Open and was proclaimed the next big thing in U.S. tennis, only to be worn down by injuries (she is working her way back into form now on the USTA Pro Circuit), and since 2003 no American other than Serena or Venus Williams has won a Grand Slam singles title. McEnroe says we’ll only know which of the current crop of youngsters has arrived when they’re playing into the second week of Grand Slams on a regular basis. Or as Stephens was quick to note after losing to Ana Ivanovic in the third round, “It was only the third round, so you can’t boost it up that much. Then I’m going to be like ‘Oh my God, I’m a star,’ and I’m not.”
At least not yet. For while both McEnroe and Stephens make wholly valid points, Falconi, who was born in Ecuador but grew up in New York City, was having none of it after beating Cibulkova. She ran to her bag and unfurled an American flag, dancing around and waving to the crowd in Arthur Ashe Stadium, somewhere between euphoria and disbelief. In her press conference after the match Falconi described the experience as a “dream come true” and the “time of her life,” predicting that this wouldn’t be the last U.S. fans see of the US Open Class of 2011.
“I’ve heard so much about media talking about American tennis, and I really wanted to portray that there’s a huge wave of American players,” said Falconi. “I strongly believe in all that is U.S.A., and I wanted to represent it and show the world that it’s coming. It’s coming. No need to wait any longer.”
FOREVER YOUNG: AMERICANS 22 AND UNDER AT THE 2011 US OPEN
Jack Sock, 18
First Round – defeated Marc Gicquel, 6-4, 6-3, 1-6, 6-4
Second Round – lost to No. 21 Andy Roddick, 6-3, 6-3, 6-4
Donald Young, 22
First Round – defeated Lukas Lacko, 6-4, 6-2, 6-4
Second Round – defeated No. 14 Stanislas Wawrinka, 7-6, 3-6, 2-6, 6-3, 7-6
Third Round – defeated No. 24 Juan Ignacio Chela, 7-5, 6-4, 6-3
Fourth Round – lost to No. 4 Andy Murray, 6-2, 6-3, 6-3
Irina Falconi, 21
First Round – defeated Klara Zakopalova, 3-6, 6-4, 6-2
Second Round – defeated No. 14 Dominika Cibulkova, 2-6, 6-3, 7-5
Third Round – lost to No. 22 Sabine Lisicki, 6-0, 6-1
Madison Keys, 16
First Round – defeated Jill Craybas, 6-2, 6-4
Second Round – lost to No. 27 Lucie Safarova, 3-6, 7-5, 6-4
Vania King, 22
First Round – defeated Greta Arn, 6-1, 6-4
Second Round – defeated No. 29 Jarmila Gajdosova, 6-2, 6-0
Third Round – lost to No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki, 6-2, 6-4
Christina McHale, 19
First Round – defeated Aleksandra Wozniak, 6-3, 6-7, 6-4
Second Round – defeated No. 8 Marion Bartoli, 7-6, 6-2
Third Round – lost to No. 25 Maria Kirilenko, 6-2, 6-3
Sloane Stephens, 18
First Round – defeated Reka-Luca Jani, 6-2, 3-6, 7-6
Second Round – Defeated No. 23 Shahar Peer, 6-1, 7-6
Third Round – lost to No. 16 Ana Ivanovic, 6-3, 6-4
CoCo Vandeweghe, 19
First Round – defeated Alberta Brianti, 7-5, 6-3
Second Round – lost to No. 9 Samantha Stosur, 6-3, 6-4
Doubles & Juniors
Melanie Oudin, 19, and Sock won the mixed doubles title, defeating the top seeds and defending champions Liezel Huber and Bob Bryan en route.
Jessica Pegula, 17, and Taylor Townsend, 15, won two matches to reach the round of 16 in women’s doubles.
Grace Min, 17, won the girls’ singles title without dropping a set, defeating the top two seeds en route.
Gabrielle Andrews, 14, and Townsend were the girls’ doubles runners-up, falling in a third-set super tie-break in the final.