WHAT HAPPENED: In a late-afternoon battle of young guns seemingly on vastly different career trajectories, No. 7 Grigor Dimitrov rolled over Ryan Harrison, 6-2, 7-6, 6-2. It was Dimitrov’s first win at the US Open after three consecutive first-round exits dating back to 2011.
This year, Dimitrov, 23, said on-court after the victory: “I have high expectations for myself.”
Harrison looked to make a match of it in a tight second set inside Louis Armstrong Stadium - mostly on the strength of sharp serving, firing a pair of aces and winning 20 of 30 points on his first serve - but Dimitrov recovered and ran away with the match.
While his girlfriend Maria Sharapova labored mightily next door in front of the Arthur Ashe Stadium crowd, Dimitrov experienced no such difficulties. In fact, the talented and fluid Dimitrov, like his stylistic inspiration Roger Federer, makes the game look effortless. Dimitrov broke serve to win the first set in style: He ran down a drop shot, hit a sharp angle and then backpedaled and leapt high in the air to smack a powerful overhead for a winner.
While there were isolated glimpses of the ability that made Harrison, currently ranked No. 184 in the world, a highly touted youngster not so long ago, they were too few and far between to make a dent in Dimitrov’s game on this day. The Bulgarian’s range and variety – drop shots off of hard, slapped shots from Harrison and touch lobs alternating with big rolling forehands and crisp volleys – proved too much.
Dimitrov broke early in the final set and then cruised to victory, finishing Harrison off with a big serve and forehand put-away. Dimitrov struck eight aces and 37 winners for the match, against just 19 unforced errors.
WHAT IT MEANS: Dimitrov, a talented and athletic shotmaker, has come into his own this year: he has risen to a career-high ranking of No. 8, having won three tour titles in 2014. He has also reached the semifinals at Wimbledon and in two Masters events, at the Rogers Cup in Toronto this summer and the Internazionali BNL d'Italia in Rome in the spring.
Harrison is just 5-13 on the year. Beset by injuries, he required a wild card for entry into the US Open. The 22-year-old American is now 0-21 against Top 10 opponents and has now lost five consecutive matches at Slams, dating to Roland Garros in 2012.
THE QUESTION: With Roger Federer in Dimitrov's quarter, can "Baby Fed" surpass the Swiss in this US Open?