Despite Irene's threats to lay waste to the U.S. Open this week, the tournament will start today on schedule, with matches beginning at 11 a.m., as planned. Whether the fans will be there remains to be seen. With the transit system in flux — as you might have noticed this morning — opening day may lack much flair.
This may explain the only notable revision to today's order of play: Matches won't start on Arthur Ashe Stadium's center court until 1 p.m. Ashe is the most camera-ready court, and it generally features the most in-demand players as a result; before broadcasting to the world, it's desirable that the stadium — which has a tendency to look cavernous even with a healthy turnout — appear as full as possible. This small delay allows attendees (58 percent of which arrived via public transport last year) more time to overcome transit woes, so that top-ranked American Mardy Fish and Maria Sharapova can play their day matches in front of a lively New York crowd instead of a ghost town.
Still: Ashe can be difficult to fill on day one, regardless of the weather, because the most competitive matchups are often scheduled on the other courts. Today, you’ll want to arrive by 11 a.m. to catch a tantalizing battle on Louis Armstrong between Ryan Harrison and Marin Cilic. Based on rank and career results, the towering Cilic should be the favorite, but he's been plagued by inconsistent results since falling from the top ten last spring. Meanwhile, the scrappy Harrison has had a fantastic hard-court season, logging his first two semifinal appearances this summer. He'll be eager to build on his breakthrough success at last year's Open, while Cilic will be looking to put his disappointing second-round loss in 2010 behind him.
After that clash, stay seated at Armstrong for the reigning Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova and, much later, an intriguing match between French acrobat Gael Monfils and Grigor Dimitrov, a player sometimes referred to as "Baby Federer." If you prefer an outer court, consider checking out Alexandr Dolgopolov, an underappreciated Ukranian player with an abbreviated service motion that's almost transfixing (as is his affinity for a Claire's–like zigzag headbands and a ponytail). There's also a public family feud scheduled between the two sisters Radwanska, Urszula and Agnieszka. (See if you can spot favor on their parents’ faces.) Or settle in for Sergiy Stakhovsky and Richard Gasquet, both players that possess a one-handed backhand — an increasingly rare (but frequently lovely) tool in the tennis arsenal.
Lindsay Sakraida will be covering the Open over the next fortnight for The Sports Section.