Day 1 of the 2021 US Open is in the books, with Naomi Osaka, Sloane Stephens and Stefanos Tsitsipas all advancing to the second round with contrasting victories on Centre Court.
After the ongoing coronavirus pandemic saw fans locked out of Flushing Meadows last year, fans were allowed to return this year, on the strict condition that they have received at least one dose of an approved COVID-19 vaccine.
This has been made possible because 173.5 million people, or just over 50 per cent of the United States’ population, are fully vaccinated, while 62.3 per cent of Americans have received at least one dose of the vaccine.
Those lucky enough to be inside Arthur Ashe Stadium for the first day session of this year’s tournament saw a pair of thrilling matches that went down to the wire.
Firstly, in a reprisal of the 2017 final, Sloane Stephens repeated the dose on Madison Keys, claiming a three-set thriller, which went down to a final set tiebreak, before Stefanos Tsitsipas fought back from two sets to one down to oust 2012 champion Andy Murray in five.
Four years after Stephens, then ranked 83rd in the world after struggling with injuries following her breakthrough in 2013, thrashed her best friend Keys for the loss of just three games to win her only major title to date, the 28-year-old had it tougher this time.
She won the first set 6-3, but Keys hit back to take the second set for the loss of just one game and force a deciding set.
Neither player could gain an advantage of more than one game, so a tiebreak was used to settle the matter. Stephens would require three match points to win and thus advance to the second round, where she will face another American, Coco Gauff.
Gauff also went through her first-round match in three sets, coming from a set down to defeat Magda Linette, while 2016 champion Angelique Kerber did likewise defeating Dayana Yastremska. It was the first time the German had won a match at the US Open after losing the first set.
In the evening, two-time champion Naomi Osaka demonstrated the form that took her to two previous titles, in 2018 and 2020, defeating Marie Bouzkova for the loss of just five games.
It was her 15th consecutive grand slam match win on a hard court, and ensured she also remained undefeated at the majors this year, though she did skip the French Open and Wimbledon due to mental health concerns.
Former grand slam champions Victoria Azarenka and Garbine Muguruza were also victorious, with the pair now just one win away from facing each other in the third round.
Reigning French Open winner Barbora Krejcikova also progressed, as did 12th seed Simona Halep, who ousted Rogers Cup champion Camila Giorgi, fifth seed Elina Svitolina and second seed Aryna Sabalenka, who needed three to get past Nina Stojanovic.
In the men’s draw, the blockbuster first-round clash between third seed Stefanos Tsitsipas and 2012 champion Andy Murray produced not just brilliant tennis from both players, but also controversy at the end of the fourth set.
The Scot, who has been plagued by injuries over the past four years, won the first set 6-2 before the Greek star hit back to take the second in a tiebreak.
Murray then took the third set 6-3, leaving Tsitsipas at risk of a second consecutive grand slam first-round exit following his run to the French Open final earlier this year.
After the 23-year-old levelled the match at two sets all, a long break ensued, leaving Murray incensed.
Ironically, it was at this stage in the 2012 US Open final where the Scot, who to that point had lost his only previous four major finals, took a toilet break at the end of the fourth set to regain his composure and focus before winning in the fifth set to win his first of three major titles.
Tsitsipas emerged to break the 34-year-old for a 2-0 lead in the final set, leaving Murray on the back foot for the remainder of the match, which stretched past five hours and went the way of the Athens native.
Following the match, Murray, now ranked 112th in the world, said that he’d “lost respect” for his opponent and that Tsitsipas “knew it was nonsense”.
His loss, as well as Marin Cilic’s injury-enforced retirement in the fifth set of his match against German veteran Philipp Kohlschreiber, means Novak Djokovic, who gets his campaign underway this morning (AEST), is the only active former champion remaining in the draw.
Tsitsipas now goes on to face France’s Adrian Mannarino in the second round, and will not have to face a seed until the fourth round after another Brit, Cameron Norrie, was knocked out in straight sets by rising Spaniard Carlos Alcaraz, who was contesting his first US Open.
Alcaraz entered the US Open having won his first ATP title in Umag, becoming the youngest man from his country to win a title since a then-18-year-old Rafael Nadal won his first career title at Sopot in 2004.
He has been seen as a natural successor to the legendary King of Clay, who is now 35 and is almost certainly nearing the end of his illustrious career.
Fifth seed Andrey Rublev defeated 42-year-old serving machine Ivo Karlovic in straight sets, bringing to a close a colourful career for the Croat which began when, as a qualifier, he upset then-defending champion Lleyton Hewitt at Wimbledon in 2003.
Second seed Daniil Medvedev, who is the favourite to reach the final from the bottom half of the draw, defeated French veteran Richard Gasquet to advance to the second round in a match that finished just short of 1:00am in the morning.
Of the four Australian men in action on Day 1, only Alexei Popyrin tasted success, defeating Radu Albot in four sets to set up a second-round clash against Bulgaria’s Grigor Dimitrov.
The top halves in both the men’s and women’s draws get underway this morning (AEST), with Olympic gold medallist Alexander Zverev and Australian world number one Ashleigh Barty headlining the day session on Arthur Ashe Stadium.
Men’s top seed Novak Djokovic kicks off the evening session, followed by women’s sixth seed Bianca Andreescu making her return to the Big Apple for the first time since upsetting Serena Williams to win the 2019 title.
Wimbledon runner-up Karolina Pliskova and Olympic gold medallist Belinda Bencic will treat the fans on Louis Armstrong Stadium, as will Australian 14th seed Alex de Minaur, who faces local favourite Taylor Fritz.
The Grandstand schedule is bookended by 2014 runner-up Kei Nishikori and two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova, with Matteo Berrettini and Iga Swiatek in between.
Arthur Ashe Stadium
Day session – play starts at 12:00pm (2:00am AEST)
 Alexander Zverev (GER) vs Sam Querrey (USA)
 Ashleigh Barty (AUS) vs Vera Zvonareva (RUS)
Night session – play starts at 7:00pm (9:00am AEST)
 Novak Djokovic (SRB) vs Holger Rune (DEN)
Viktorija Golubic (SUI) vs  Bianca Andreescu (CAN)
Louis Armstrong Stadium
Day session – play starts at 11:00am (1:00am AEST)
 Karolina Pliskova (CZE) vs Caty McNally (USA)
 Belinda Bencic (SUI) vs Arantxa Rus (NED)
Federico Delbonis (ARG) vs  Denis Shapovalov (CAN)
Night session – play starts at 7:00pm (9:00am AEST)
Alison Riske (USA) vs  Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova (RUS)
Taylor Fritz (USA) vs  Alex de Minaur (AUS)
Play starts at 11:00am
Sonego Caruso (ITA) vs Kei Nishikori (JPN)
Jeremy Chardy (FRA) vs  Matteo Berrettini (ITA)
Jamie Loeb (USA) vs  Iga Swiatek (POL)
 Petra Kvitova (CZE) vs Polona Hercog (SLO)
For the full Day 2 schedule, please check the US Open website.