NEW YORK, Aug 29, (Agencies): Angelique Kerber needed just over 30 minutes to get her pursuit of a first US Open off to a winning start Monday.
Second seed and Australian Open champion Kerber was leading Polona Hercog 6-0, 1-0 when the Slovenian called it quits, clearly wilting in the crushing 33-degree heat, having won just nine points.
“It’s not the way I wanted to win, but I am playing well and feeling good,” said the German star.
Hercog, ranked at 120, needed a lengthy medical timeout after five games of the opening set with a doctor and trainer called.
Kerber, who next faces either Alize Cornet of France or Mirjana Lucic-Baroni of Croatia, insisted she will not be distracted by possibly dethroning Serena Williams as world number one by the end of the tournament.
“If the day comes, I will be very happy but for the moment, I am going step by step,” said the 28-year-old, a semi-finalist at the US Open in 2011.
Three seeded players lost early on the opening day with French 13th seed Richard Gasquet, a semifinalist three years ago, the biggest casualty.
He went down to 6-2, 6-2, 6-3 to British world number 84 Kyle Edmund.
Croatian seventh seed Marin Cilic, the 2014 champion, eased past Brazil’s Rogerio Dutra Silva 6-4, 7-5, 6-1.
Double Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova beat Jelena Ostapenko 7-5, 6-3 while former world number one and two-time US Open runner-up Caroline Wozniacki downed US qualifier Taylor Townsend 4-6, 6-3, 6-4.
The Flushing Meadows complex was showcasing its gleaming $600 million refit which includes a retractable roof over Ashe and a brand new Grandstand court.
However, the old Grandstand court, due to be demolished after the tournament, was pressed into action after Court 10 was deemed unplayable.
In between, the tournament will stage its opening ceremony with British singer-songwriter Phil Collins making his first concert appearance in six years.
Play on the cavernous Ashe stadium got underway with 2015 women’s runner-up Roberta Vinci, the Italian seventh seed, beating Germany’s Anna-Lena Friedsam 6-2, 6-4.
Vinci stunned Serena Williams in the semi-finals in 2015 before losing the championship match to Italian compatriot Flavia Pennetta who retired in the immediate aftermath of her first and only Grand Slam win.
Women’s top seed Williams and 2012 champion Murray will get underway on Tuesday. Williams is chasing a record seventh US Open and will equal Steffi Graf’s record of 186 successive weeks at world number one.
For all the talk of banned performance-enhancing drugs in sport, mundane over-the-counter anti-inflammatory pain medications may be more of an issue on the tennis tour, according to numerous players.
Indeed, players competing at the US Open which starts on Monday could be risking their long-term health by playing through pain to achieve their goals.
In the final grand slam event of the year, when the likes of Novak Djokovic and Serena Williams are battling injuries, many are likely to popping pills to push their aching bodies one more time.
“You would be surprised how many anti-inflammatories I take,” said 15th-ranked Richard Gasquet, a Frenchman who has suffered numerous injuries during his career.
“I do it a lot. Not during practice, but before matches. It’s not something I would choose to do, but sometimes I have no choice.
“It’s nothing crazy to take anti-inflammatories. I imagine all the players are doing it. I know a lot of football (soccer) players, they do it a lot.”
Taking pain medication, before and after matches, has become the norm as the boundaries of physical possibility continue to expand.
But taking too much is believed to actually slow down the recovery process after injury and taking them too regularly can cause long-term harm, some experts say.
“With respect to non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, persons should take as little as possible for the shortest duration possible,” Dr Eric Matteson, a consultant in the Division of Rheumatology at the Mayo Clinic, said by email.
“The concerns with prolonged use are risks of developing kidney failure and hypertension, as well as stomach ulcers.”
Goran Ivanisevic said taking anti-inflammatories was a necessary evil.
“When I won Wimbledon (in 2001), I was smashing them,” he told Reuters.
“I took them like candies. After a while I didn’t even feel it, it didn’t do me any good. But when you have a chance, in my case, to win Wimbledon, you take whatever, you don’t care.
“I hated pain so if the doctor said ‘take two’ I’d take five. But in the end I had shoulder surgery. The pain was so big that pain killers didn’t work so I had to have surgery.
“Pain-killers are actually the best thing you can take, it just prevents (pain) for that moment, for a week or two, but hopefully something worse doesn’t happen and then you are in more trouble.”
The women’s tour, the WTA, distributes detailed information to its players warning them of the dangers of over-use, while the men’s tour, the ATP, says its physicians only prescribe anti-inflammatories “when indicated for the treatment of an injury”.