NEW YORK -- Part of the value and joy of the tennis calendar is watching for the players who begin to surge, and on which surfaces. And if the momentum of these moments will translate into the two most important elements for all tennis players: consistency and Slam-readiness.
Court 13 filled up as the rain torrent sputtered to a stop. Sabine Lisicki was set to resume against Sorana Cirstea. Lisicki was once such a climber who ended 2010 ranked 179 but surged to No. 15 in 2011. She reached as high as 12th in May and is always dangerous in the draw, armed with a big forehand and serve. Lisicki is a fashionable pick to damage the bracket and take her place amongst the elite, especially in majors. At Wimbledon, she escaped the third-round scare with Sloane Stephens and wound up silencing Maria Sharapova before losing in the quarters to another climber, her red-hot German counterpart, Angelique Kerber.
It wasn't to be, for me or Lisicki. Court 13 was packed. The Bryan Brothers were out front, signing autographs and not a sliver of metal bench was to be had. No room at the inn. Bad news for me, but worse for Lisicki, who won the first set before being dumped 6-2 , 6-2 over the next two. Lisicki has been up and down all season. She has now lost her past three matches, and is 16-17 on the year. She has been knocked out of a major in the first round for the second time this year (Bethanie Mattek-Sands got her 6-4, 6-4 at Roland Garros) and risks falling out of the top 25.
No seats at 13 meant a return to Ashe and Andy Murray, another compelling figure trying to climb the steepest steps of his career. He is now for the first time in his career a 3-seed at a major and a Wimbledon finalist. He already has Olympic gold and needs nothing else except to break the glass ceiling that haunts him and win a Slam.
All of which presented the perfect challenge: to avoid an upset that would send him back scrambling. It is a challenge that immediately conjures thoughts of Roger Federer and his consecutive quarterfinal streak in majors. The beauty of the Federer streak is the consistency and the subtle toughness and single-mindedness. He never succumbed to a bad day, where the fates just weren't right or allowed a barking injury to force him out or let himself be overcome by a guy who was having a Lukas Rosol afternoon.
Since the start of 2011, Murray has made at least the quarterfinals (including two finals) in seven straight majors, which made his debut afternoon at Ashe against Alexander Bogomolov Jr. more compelling than a first-round match deserved to be.
Murray began by being broken, and then was broken again. Yet after four games he was tied 2-2, before ripping off the rest of the set, 6-2. That isn't a misprint: Bogomolov broke the third seed twice yet couldn't hold serve for the entire set.
In the second, Murray tossed his racket, played soft and loose and lazy points, opting for slices and drop shots and bad body language. He looked as though he was ready to give into the "not my day" narrative and dropped an audible "F-bomb" after one point. He was down 4-2.
Then he won four straight games and broke Bogomolov's will in the third set relatively quickly, and the day was done, 6-2, 6-4, 6-1.
Bogomolov, an angry sort who plays as though he expects to be done dirt by the linesmen, the chair umpire, the world, ripped forehands. He moved his feet. He broke Murray's serve four times. He served 72 percent for the match to Murray's 49 percent. On several occasions, he was serving with a break in hand. Despite a running feud with yet another chair umpire (a staple during his matches), Bogomolov had what he wanted. He essentially played as well as he could play and had created a positive situation for himself but nevertheless still lost in straight sets.